October 16, 2017

David Wilkerson: May 19, 1931-April 27, 2011

I first read The Cross And The Switchblade in its comic book format. I had been a Christian for less than a year when I picked this up and read it. What struck me was the story of a man who heard the Lord calling him, and he obeyed.

He heard the Lord calling and he obeyed. And that set the course of my life. No, I have not always obeyed when I have heard the Lord calling me. But that is the desire of my heart—to hear and obey. And this desire was planted in me from the story of David Wilkerson.

The whole strange adventure got its start one night as I sat in my study reading Life magazine. I merely turned a page, and at first glance it seemed there was nothing to interest me. The page showed a pen drawing of a trial taking place in New York City, 350 miles away from my home in rural Pennsylvania. I’d never been to New York, and I’d never wanted to go, except perhaps to see the Statue of Liberty.

I started to flip the page over. But as I did, something caught my eye. It was the eyes of a figure in the drawing – a boy. He was one of seven boys on trial for murder. I held the magazine closer to get a better look. The artist had captured a look of bewilderment, hatred and despair in the young boy’s features. Suddenly, I began to cry.

“What’s the matter with me?” I wondered, impatiently brushing away a tear. Then I looked at the picture more carefully. The boys were all teenagers. They were members of a gang called the Dragons. Beneath the picture was the story of how they had been in Highbridge Park in New York when they brutally attacked and killed a fifteen-year-old polio victim named Michael Farmer.

The story revolted me. It literally turned my stomach. In our little mountain town, such things seemed mercifully unbelievable. Yet I was dumbfounded by the next thought that sprang into my head. It came to me full-blown, as if from somewhere else: Go to New York and help those boys.

The thought startled me. “I’d be a fool to do that,” I reasoned. “I know nothing about kids like these. And I don’t want to know anything.”

It was no use. The idea wouldn’t go away. I was to go to New York. And I was to do it at once, while the trial was still in progress.

He obeyed the Lord and went to New York, and there founded Teen Challenge from a small storefront office on Staten Island. Today, Teen Challenge has more than 240 centers in 77 countries reaching out to those whose lives are being destroyed by addictions, abuse and violence.

The first time I ever visited New York City was in 1987 for a conference of radio and television journalists. I ventured out the first evening and walked through Times Square. It was a foreboding place at the time, with adult bookstores, prostitutes and drug dealers plying their wares openly. I quickly retreated to my hotel thinking, “Why in the world would anyone want to come to this place?”

Wilkerson saw the same scene in 1986, only his response was different. From the Times Square Church website:

In 1986, while walking down 42nd Street at midnight, Pastor David Wilkerson’s heart broke over what he saw. At that time, Times Square was populated mainly by prostitutes and pimps, runaways, drug addicts and hustlers, along with live peep shows and X-rated movie houses. Pastor David cried out for God to do something—anything—to help the physically destitute and spiritually dead people he saw.

Recalling that life-changing night, Pastor David says, “I saw 9-, 10- and 11-year-old kids bombed on crack cocaine. I walked down 42nd Street and they were selling crack. Len Bias, the famous basketball player, had just died of a crack overdose, and the pusher was yelling, ‘Hey, I’ve got the stuff that killed Len.’ I wept and prayed, ‘God, you’ve got to raise up a testimony in this hellish place…The answer was not what I wanted to hear: ‘Well, you know the city. You’ve been here. You do it.’”

Again, Wilkerson obeyed the Lord. Today, the Times Square Church has more than 8,000 members. Oh, and Times Square itself is a much cleaner, safer place to be. I was there for a publishing conference not long ago, and the most dangerous thing I encountered, other than taxis who see sidewalks as shortcuts, was the temptation to eat way too much cheesecake at the Roxie Deli.

The only time I heard Wilkerson in person was in sometime in the 1980s when he came to Christian college where I was an instructor. He preached in chapel, sharing his prophetic vision of hard times ahead for America. I took him for a very humble man, one whose eyes were firmly fixed on Jesus. He was not well-received in his prophetic visions by many who thought him harsh and unsympathetic. In other words, he was received about as well as any of the prophets we read in the Old Testament. Wilkerson never saw himself as a prophet, however. He was a pastor—first of all to those on the streets who had been abandoned by all others, including themselves, and then a pastor to those who gathered at Times Square Church.

Here are some comments written today on ChristianityToday.com:

This God-fearing man was my first Pastor. He was also a friend and a brother in Christ as I worked with the Ministries of Times Square Church in NYC.

Me and my husband both went through Teen Challenge, that is how we met. I will forever be grateful for the way he allowed God to lead him to save thousands of lives. I can’t wait to see him again one day!

Because of his ministry I am no longer a heroin addict but a Pastor in San Angelo, TX reaching out to other drug addicts and lost souls!

What a mighty man of God pastor David was. I listen to his sermons online and was strengthen so many times. He gave the word of God that drew in to my bones and challenged me to live right with the Lord.

Times Square Church was my home for over 14 years. Pastor David was my Pastor and Shepherd for all of those years. I will be eternally grateful for his ministry and the love that he bestowed upon me through my early Christian years. I have a deep love for the Lord. A love that Pastor David exemplified through his preaching and sermons which I studied voraciously. He taught me the meaning of having an intimate relationship with the Lord.

Yesterday as he was driving with on Highway 175 in east Texas with his wife, Gwen, Wilkerson inexplicably crossed the center line and hit a truck head on. He was pronounced dead at the scene just a few weeks shy of his 80th birthday.

“A man after God’s own heart” is not a phrase I toss out lightly, but I have no hesitation in saying that David Wilkerson was such a man. He heard God, he obeyed God. There is no greater measure of a man than this.

Yesterday David Wilkerson left this world. Before he got in his car for his ride home, he posted these words on his blog.

To believe when all means fail is exceedingly pleasing to God and is most acceptable. Jesus said to Thomas, “You have believed because you have seen, but blessed are those that do believe and have not seen” (John 20:29).

Blessed are those who believe when there is no evidence of an answer to prayer—who trust beyond hope when all means have failed.

Someone has come to the place of hopelessness—the end of hope—the end of all means. A loved one is facing death and doctors give no hope. Death seems inevitable. Hope is gone. The miracle prayed for is not happening.

To those going through the valley and shadow of death, hear this word: Weeping will last through some dark, awful nights—and in that darkness you will soon hear the Father whisper, “I am with you. I cannot tell you why right now, but one day it will all make sense. You will see it was all part of my plan. It was no accident. It was no failure on your part. Hold fast. Let me embrace you in your hour of pain.”

Beloved, God has never failed to act but in goodness and love. When all means fail—his love prevails. Hold fast to your faith. There is no other hope in this world.

David Wilkerson, a man after God’s own heart.

 

Comments

  1. Never was there a day that I needed to read this! I laughed. I cried.

    Just prior to coming on and reading this, I had read Lamentations 3:1-20…..Jeremiah had found himself in some dire straits. Verse 21 is where I am today……..Daring to hope!

    Thank you IMonk for an edifying and encouraging post!

    Must be some kind of party goin’ on in Heaven!

    Rest in Peace David! We will see you again some day!

  2. It was through a Nicky Cruz crusade in Edmonton Alberta that my wife’s sister came through Christ. Through her my wife and mother-in-law followed. In time, my father-in-law also became a Christian.

    So this work of David Wilkerson had a direct impact on my family, many years later, and many miles away.

  3. Incidentally, that The Cross and the Switchblade comic book is online. Of course, the book is better.

    • When I was a little kid, my mom always left “The Cross and The Switchblade” comic book on the front porch for my neighborhood friends and me to read, along with christian-themed comics of “The Archies” from a place called Spire Christian Comics.
      In the comic above, notice the resemblance of the girl’s face (in the lower right corner) to Veronica from The Archies.
      Man, that brings back some memories!

      Oh, and she also threw in some Chick tracts for good measure.

      • My Mom did something similar. She gave those Archie comics (and other Spire Christian-themed comics) to the neighbor kids who were growing up in a very dysfunctional, abusive environment. Years later, after they moved away, the older of the two did become a believer.

  4. I remember reading The Cross and the Switchblade, also going to see the movie when a local church showed it. He was truly an amazing man, and an amazing servant.

  5. This is a sad day. I think Wilkerson was in the Post-evangelical wilderness back in 1986 when he ran out of a Mylon LeFevre concert shouting, “Ichabod! Ichabod!”. Below is Wilkerson’s account of what happened. It is a fitting footnote on the discussion regarding the coming evangelical collapse.

    [Link removed. Please see announcement on front page.]

    • Cedric Klein says:

      I am a big admirer of Pastor Wilkerson. Heck, I tackled reading TC&TSB in fourth grade (my teacher then particularly extolled him- this was around 1971?) but got (and still have) the comic… from the literature stand at our Catholic church! (I think I also have God’s Smuggler from the same visit.)

      However, the Mylon LeFevre incident, the “Set The Trumpet to Thy Mouth” book & his whole ultra-Holiness denunciation of Christian rock (& a lot of other trivial things) show that the man was not perfect or infallible. BUT he was faithful & used to God to save many souls & many lives, and stayed above scandal. Compared to all that, the occasional culture-clash freak-out is small potatoes. Christ grant him rest & reward, and grant Gwen recovery, strength & comfort.

      • yes, it was his “Sipping Saints” argument not only about drinking, but alcoholic beverages in total including his belief that the wine Jesus drank or turned from water was simply grape juice made me wonder what it was he really considered essential behavior that marked one as a ‘true’ believer…

        his stance against drinking & so-called Christian rock music seemed to me to be an over-reaction of a person with personal convictions now making them universal in application & God’s perspective. i simply decided to see this as zeal without anything applicable to me. he was not alone in such posturing, but it was the beginning of my awareness as a young Christian that building one’s doctrinal soapbox where none was ever meant to be erected a waste of effort & an artificial religious barometer of holiness…

        however, it is obvious he had quite the impact in the area of NY he felt called to. since he is gone now i suppose it is not being disrespectful if i toast him with the fine Pinot Noir i am enjoying right now? not sure if our sense of humor is enlarged once we get to be with Jesus. i hope so. there is enough seriousness in this life to make one hope for a merry heart in the afterlife. RIP Mr. Wilkerson…

  6. Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

    I’ve always really admired Wilkerson and love his testimony. He’ll definitely be missed.

    “Most merciful Father, who hast been pleased to take unto thyself the soul of thy servant David; Grant to us who are still in our pilgrimage, and who walk as yet by faith, that having served thee with constancy on earth, we may be joined hereafter with thy blessed saints in glory everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

  7. In 1973 I was a confused member of the counterculture who stumbled into the Christian club at high school. Before I left they gave me a brightly coloured magazine called ‘Jesus Christ Solid Rock’ written by a guy called David Wilkerson. I took it home an read it.
    Within weeks I surrendered to Christ. I started going to Teen Challenge and became involved. I was in bad shape.
    Because of Teen Challenge I am alive and well. I saw many peoples lives transformed, as well as mine.

    One night I met David at World Challenge headquarters at a service, he spoke to me a bit, I am just a nobody. A few years later I met him again, and took his picture.

    A remarkable man who just listened to God, and di what he was asked to do.

    I can’t believe he is gone.

  8. David Cornwell says:

    Powerful and moving story.

  9. Adrienne says:

    Thank you for this post. I so agree that David Wilkerson’s life was used to show what one man can do when he says yes to God. I was just at Teen Challenge at Reherersburg PA two weeks ago. To see the young men whose lives have been redirected is just so wonderful. “The Cross and the Switchblade” book played a big role in my life. We need to also remember Pastor Wilkerson’s wife Gwen, who walked with him so faithfully for so many years. Never have the words, “Well done good and faithful servant” seemed so poignant as today. Thank you Lord for this man.

  10. David Wilkerson’s obedience to God and willingness to love the most despised among us led to a life marked by remarkable fruit. For a short while a number of years ago, I went to a Victory Outreach church. Victory Outreach was started by a heroin addict that David Wilkerson ministered to. Its a world-wide church that has a mission for reaching drug addicts and gang members.

  11. Janice Tomac says:

    David Wilkerson will always be a part of my life. Reading his books have been a great help for me as I was growing in the Lord. Especially The Cross and the Switchblade. Seeing the movie made a real impact on my life. We had a group of men from Teen Challenge at our church and listening to their testimonies of how the Lord saved them blessed me and I talked with several members after church and went home feeling the great love of God. I know that David followed the Lord with everything that the Lord gave him. I receive the pamphlets from the World Church and they have given me such hope, and support . Thank you Lord for sending David to us.

  12. Believe it or not I still have that comic. I need to pull it out and reread or give it to my kids. It was inspiring and he was a courageous man.

    May his memory be eternal!

  13. Todd Anderson says:

    I too read this — post-confirmation over 40 years ago…………it was good to read what
    he did after penning C&SB………….
    May David, a Faithful SOLDIER of our Lord Christ — Rest in Peace — and Rise In Glory.

  14. David spoke at a morning chapel service at Central Bible College when I was a student there in the late 70s (or around 1980). His message was about unreserved commitment and was very powerful! I heard David again at a church in Houston, TX a couple of years later. That evening, his message was directed to married folks. I was single then, still am now, but what he preached is fresh in my mind. He compared the faithfulness of Jesus to His Followers to: faithfulness in marriage. He openly challenged men to repent from pornography (which you didn’t hear very often back then)! He urged husbands and wives to forsake any adultery, and to forgive one another if their had been any. At the end he asked couples to come forward to renew their commitment in marriage and to Christ. David prayed with and for them. It was just incredibly moving, something I will never forget. RIP Brother Wilkerson. Prayers for his widow, Gwen, that she may recover her health, and for the Wilkerson Family in their time of grief, through Christ our Lord, Amen.

  15. I didn’t agree with everything David Wilkerson said, but I had to respect him and how he always sought to proclaim God’s holiness. We’ve lost a real man of God and honestly, there are some things we could stand to learn from him that Churchianity is too bankrupt to teach us.

  16. I attended TSC while living in NYC years ago when they first got started. You always knew where David’s heart was and it transformed that theater into a house of God.

  17. Barbara says:

    It would change the world even more for the better if all the preachers were like David Wilkerson.

    The man shone for Jesus. Not a prosperity preacher, but a minister with a true and real love for the lost.
    He has blessed me so much. His humility touched me most of all.

  18. mike wilkerson says:

    Great loss, may Christ richly bless him and his family.

  19. I still have my copy of that comic book. David is cool. God has used him in so many ways. Glad to know he resting with the Lord he served so faithfully. 🙂