We have updated our Privacy Policy to provide you a better online experience.

Overcoming Youthful Strongholds

Former drug addict is now helping guide youth as North Carolina pastor.
W. Josh Brown is passionate about raising up young people in ministry, and it has a lot to do with the youth minister overcoming life-controlling strongholds.

Brown, 36, began working as youth pastor at Rise Church in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, in 2021. Before that, he recovered from a lengthy drug addiction and graduated from Adult & Teen Challenge of Sandhills.

"Pastor Josh had built our young adult ministry as a volunteer director, so we knew he was gifted to lead the next generation,” explains Rise Church lead pastor Richard C. Gurganus.

Gurganus says Brown’s history with Adult & Teen Challenge, a department of U.S. Missions, helped shape the ministry.

“He is so good at helping the youth develop spiritual disciplines like daily devotions and understanding how to defend their faith,” Gurganus says. “The brotherhood that he learned at Teen Challenge also shapes the way he leads our youth, teaching them to protect one another in times of struggle."

Being part of an Adult & Teen Challenge program seemed a remote possibility during Brown’s youth in Tarboro, North Carolina. Although he grew up in a Christian home with two loving parents, he says being spurned by a girl during elementary school proved formative.

“That day I believed I was rejected and worthless,” Brown recalls. “Every moment of rejection after that just confirmed that it was true.”

A deep sense of failure and hopelessness then led to him often being placed in school suspension because of behavior issues.

At age 15, a girlfriend left Brown, causing further anxiety. To mitigate the hurt, he turned to drugs. His journey spiraled downward for the next five years as he dropped out of high school twice and became a violent and angry person.

By age 19, Brown moved into a mobile home with a 36-year-old woman and her 12-year-old daughter. The residence had no flooring, air conditioning, or even furniture. A hopeless Brown began a drug binge. On the fifth day, his mother, Susan T. Brown, knocked on the door.

Susan said she sensed God telling her to find her son; otherwise he would die.

“If she didn’t find me that day, I don’t believe I would have made it another day,” Brown says. “I decided that I needed to get help.”

Older brother Daniel had benefited from the transformational Adult & Teen Challenge program, so Josh called Sandhills Adult & Teen Challenge. Co-director Debbie Dibianca answered the phone.

“As soon as she started to talk to me, I felt immediately loved and wanted,” Brown says. “God's love for me radiated through the phone.”

In 2006, at the age of 20, he enrolled at Sandhills Adult & Teen Challenge. There he experienced deliverance from drugs, while developing spiritual disciplines. Soon he sensed a call to ministry.

Dibianca and her husband, Sal, served as directors for more than 25 years at Sandhills Teen Challenge.

“Josh’s life is a miracle,” Dibianca says. “When he came to Sandhills, he was a very angry and bitter young man with a life-controlling addiction and no direction. Josh committed his life to Jesus and was radically transformed.”

Gurganus likewise has no qualms about Brown.

“He was a spiritual son and we knew his heart so well,” Gurganus says. “Teen Challenge taught Josh to live with spiritual discipline and transparency. His leadership carries that over to our youth as he teaches them to live with spiritual discipline and transparency.”

After Adult & Teen Challenge, Brown received a degree in biblical studies from Lancaster Bible College and he is set to receive his Assemblies of God ministerial credentials in February.

Eric Tiansay

Eric Tiansay has been a full-time journalist since 1993, writing articles for Christian media since 2000. He lives in central Florida, where he is an active member of an Assemblies of God church.