History: Teen Challenge Grads Enrich Emmanuel Community

September 17, 2020

This year, as we celebrate Emmanuel’s eightieth anniversary, we will be posting monthly articles on the history of the College.

For Steve Prendergast, May 17, 2007, was a day of profound significance. For many years he had led a life fuelled by drugs and alcohol and had seen important relationships become seriously damaged. After losing the lower half of his left leg due to a motorcycle accident, he had slipped from drug abuse to extreme drug dependence and had become desperate for a change. At the promptings of his faithful Christian mother, Steve had joined a waiting list for the Teen Challenge rehabilitation program and on that day in May was admitted.

Steve was less than excited about entering a faith-based rehabilitation program such as Teen Challenge. He had renounced the evangelical Christianity of his youth and was an adamant atheist. However, he knew that he needed help, and at that point Teen Challenge seemed to be the only hope. To Steve’s surprise, throughout the twelve-month residential program he experienced a dramatic change of heart. He returned to his faith and was especially moved by a sermon in which a speaker said that God would reimburse, with interest, the years he had lost to sin. Changed from within by God’s grace, Steve resolved to go wherever God would send him and tell his story of redemption.

Steve had many opportunities to share his message as he toured with the Teen Challenge Choir, on one occasion being featured on the popular evangelical television program 100 Huntley Street. God, however, had much more planned. During the Teen Challenge program, it was suggested to Steve that he attend a Bible college, and while he was initially resistant, a clear message from God led to him attending a Look-In event at Emmanuel Bible College in 2012. He proceeded to register for the next semester, becoming one of many Teen Challenge graduates who came to the College throughout the decade.

For Steve, starting an undergraduate degree as a middle-aged adult was a daunting endeavour that brought many challenges, such as becoming comfortable with a laptop computer and developing stronger academic-writing skills. However, he persevered and excelled in his studies as he completed a Bachelor of Religious Education and a Professional Studies Certificate in Addictions Counselling. At Emmanuel Steve also met his future wife, Rachael, with whom he is now raising two sons.

After completing his degree, Steve began working for Teen Challenge and became the development officer for the Ottaway Valley location. He continues to share his story with others and has returned to Huntley Street (the videos can be viewed here and here). Steve is also the subject of a short documentary video that may be viewed for free online.

During Steve’s time at Emmanuel, a number of other Teen Challenge graduates began attending the College. One such student was Evan Dunne. In his earlier teen years, Evan turned to drugs as a means of coping with the emotional pain of being bullied. But instead of giving him solace, drugs tore apart his life and left him homeless and with many broken relationships. Realizing that the path he was on was leading him toward serious harm or death, Evan decided that he wanted to make a drastic change and lead a full life—and he knew that he could only do that with God.

Evan completed the Teen Challenge program and decided to stay for an additional nine months as an intern. Subsequently, he became a student of Emmanuel Bible College and resolved to help others who faced struggles like his. In 2019 he graduated with a Bachelor of Religious Education in Counselling and Human Services and was elected class valedictorian. Today he works at a rehabilitation centre and is also pursuing a Master of Arts in Spiritual Care and Psychotherapy at Martin Luther University College at Wilfrid Laurier University.

Evan is grateful for the education he received at Emmanuel, which helped him grow in compassion for people and in his ability to interpret Scripture. He also, however, acknowledges the influence that Teen Challenges graduates such as himself have had on the Emmanuel community. For example, their presence on campus has helped other students see just what God’s grace can do in someone’s life, how it can help those battling addiction to see their true identity and a higher purpose in life. This powerful testimony to God’s power, along with the multifaceted enrichment coming from building relationships with Teen Challenge graduates, has been an important factor in the formation of many Emmanuel students and alumni who are now serving as leaders across Canada and beyond.

Those interested in learning more about Teen Challenge are encouraged to visit their website: https://www.teenchallenge.ca.

The featured image shows Steve Prendergast receiving his academic hood from Professor Aaron Smith at the 2017 graduation ceremony.