He was a simple man, non-descript in appearance, with a driving passion that transformed an ordinary man into an extraordinary man. The New York Times wrote of him “His method was an absolute model of simplicity, directness and total non-sophistication – he just went out on the streets and mixed with the kids and reasoned with them face-to-face, often quoting the Bible – and it worked.”
In 1958, David Wilkerson was the pastor of a small Pentecostal church in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania. He sold his television, dedicating the two hours at night that he’d normally watch television to prayer. It was during this prayer time that God burdened his heart to go to New York City and help teen gang members he had seen in a Life magazine story. They were on trial for the brutal slaying of a fifteen-year-old polio victim.
Only God could motivate a young, country pastor, content in his ministry, with a wife and family, to go 350 miles to the dangerous, gang-ridden streets in New York. Only the Holy Spirit could prompt him to stand up in a courtroom and ask to speak with the judge on behalf of the seven boys who had committed a heinous murder, boys that most would be afraid to encounter on a dark street.
It was this naďve but bold action by David Wilkerson that resulted in the picture that appeared in the newspapers the next day of him holding up his Bible, being escorted by police out of the courtroom.
Feeling foolish and ashamed, doubting that he had heard from God, David Wilkerson left the courtroom that day, got into his car with his youth pastor, Miles, bowed his head and cried for twenty minutes. Disheartened, fearing he had made a mistake, he would now have to face his wife, parents and church.
Returning home, he could not get the picture of those boys out of his heart and mind. The scripture that kept coming to him was “All things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 KJV paraphrased)
He felt compelled to return to New York. Upon arrival, he began to walk the streets where the gangs were. Something unexpected happened. The very thing he considered humiliating was the key that opened the door for young gang members to approach the country preacher. They had seen his picture in the newspapers and felt an affinity to the country preacher being lead out of court by the police. Their logic was simple. The cops didn’t like David Wilkerson; the cops didn’t like them either.
David Wilkerson’s picture in the newspaper opened more doors for him to minister to the troubled teens and their families that he had come to reach. Beyond human understanding and ability, God orchestrated things as only He can.
One of David Wilkerson’s early converts was Nicky Cruz, chief warlord for a Brooklyn gang called the Mau Maus, the most brutal teenage gang in New York. Today Nicky is an internationally respected evangelist with a ministry of his own.
David Wilkerson could not have imagined the thousands that would be transformed through the gospel of Jesus Christ because of his obedience to the prompting of the Holy Spirit in 1958. As a direct result of his obedience the ministry of Teen Challenge was born. From humble and unconventional beginnings, Teen Challenge has currently grown to more than one thousands centers in the United States and eighty other countries. His book, The Cross and the Switchblade, has sold over fifty million copies, been translated into thirty languages, and became a major motion picture.
On April 27, 2011, David Wilkerson passed away as a result of a car accident. His passing was noted in the Christian community as well as secular news media, a tribute to a great man. He was naďve enough to obey the Lord, and brave enough to venture into gang infested territory where most would refuse to go.
I was privileged to work almost nineteen years at Greater Phoenix Teen Challenge. I personally witnessed the power of Jesus Christ, coupled with the structured discipline of this program, to transform and change lives.
Would I have been willing to step out in faith like David Wilkerson? Would you? Or would fear and doubt have kept us immobilized? Most of us wouldn’t be willing to make that kind of sacrifice or suffer the humiliation and inconvenience.
**Information from The Cross and the Switchblade, World Challenge, Inc
The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
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