I read today that David Wilkerson, the evangelical leader who founded the Times Square Church and Teen Challenge Ministries, died at age 79 in a car crash in East Texas.
I first met David Wilkerson when I was a young minister in Texas. He invited me to stay in his home for a couple of weeks. I was young in the ministry and was a youth pastor at First Assembly of God in Graham, Texas. The senior pastor was Rev. Forrest Gibbs who was a good friend of David, and he arranged for me to spend time with him so I could learn about youth ministry outreach.
I was all too familiar with his book, The Cross and the Switchblade, and was honored that he would take the time to teach me. I remember being amazed at the deep compassion that he had for the lost, those who were on the streets in particular. He told me that God had called him to save those that no one else wanted. He believed that the time to reach the lost was when they were young. As a young pastor he recalled that his grandfather had encouraged him to go back to New York after his first attempt to help gang members had failed. The second time when he returned God opened the doors and his ministry to gang members and drug addicts began. He founded Teen Challenge Ministries to provide recovery groups and social programs for at risk teenagers, as this was his heart’s passion. There are now 233 Teen Challenge centers in the United States and 1,181 centers in total worldwide. Teen Challenge is an evangelical Christian recovery and discipleship program that teaches biblical principles to help young adults struggling with addictions, including drug and alcohol problems.
It was a couple of years later that I had the opportunity to preach at a youth rally with Nicky Cruz who was the subject of David’s bestseller and movie, The Cross and the Switchblade. I shared with Nicky that I knew David and told him what an impact he had on my life. I can still remember as Nicky shared with me the tremendous love and respect that he had for David Wilkerson. He told me that if it wasn’t for David, he probably wouldn’t be alive talking to me here today. As Nicky went on sharing with me the relationship that he and David had, I was amazed to see how the hand of God had brought salvation to him through David’s ministry and love.
That night as I sat praying, I asked the Lord to let my life have the kind of impact that was clearly evident in the life of David Wilkerson. If you ever met David in person the first thing that you noticed was the boldness of his pure heart as he shared Christ coupled with genuine compassion that was evident in everything he did. Raymond Billy of Resonate News wrote a short story on what the mentorship of Pastor Wilkerson meant to me at http://www.resonatenews.com/newsmap/207-denver-man-recalls-wilkersons-mentorship-in-east-texas
In 1986, after 30 years of ministry David was thinking about retiring to writing books and doing occasional outreach and was thinking about moving to Colorado. He went to New York for a rally. He was walking down 42nd St. at midnight, and was stunned and horrified as he saw young children on crack cocaine. David cried out to God to raise up a ministry in Times Square to reach and save these children from drug addiction. He said that the Lord began speaking to his heart, “David you will be the one to do something. I want you start a church. You know the city and you love it.” It was then and there that Times Square Church was placed by God in David Wilkerson’s heart. He began the church in October 1987. The church first met in rented auditoriums in Times Square and eventually moved into the in the historic Mark Hellinger Theater, which the church purchased in 1989. Today, Nearly 8,000 people worship at Times Square Church representing over 100 nationalities worship together under one roof.
From a small start in rural Pennsylvania, to a worldwide ministry the life and compassion of David Wilkerson’s life has touched millions upon millions. His mission in life was to lead the lost to Christ and to share the love of God giving hope to those in need. He is greatly loved and will be greatly missed. In his last blog which he wrote yesterday, he wrote the following….
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. Stand fast in his Word. There is no other hope in this world.