David Wilkerson was born on May 19, 1931 and called home to glory on April 27, 2011. Pastor Wilkerson made many inroads throughout the world reaching others with the gospel. He was a highly respected, amazing individual, a true man of God whose call to evangelism proved to be a tremendous success. He is best known for his famous book, The Cross and the Switchblade and for his addiction recovery ministry, Teen Challenge. He was also founding pastor of the Times Square Church in New York City. He was a man who stood on the front lines of spiritual warfare and did so relentlessly.
His strong, direct no-nonsense sermons have been distributed all over the world. He was a man who did not worry about being “seeker-sensitive” or politically correct. He preached the gospel for the gospel’s sake not for personal gain. He delivered the gospel without fillers or apologies. He stood up for the Word of God and did not back down under pressure. It was his dedication and authenticity that gave him an edge when dealing with troubled teens and people in general.
Pastor Wilkerson began serving the Lord early in his life by pastoring some small churches in both Scottdale and Philipsburg, Pennsylvania. It has been reported that the direction of his life’s calling started to become clear to him in 1958 when he saw a photograph in Life Magazine of seven New York City teenagers charged with murder. In his personal writings he later wrote that he felt that the Holy Spirit touched him with compassion for the plight of lost young people and went to New York City and began a street ministry to young drug addicts and gang members─which he continued into the late 1960s. From this initial ministry, Teen Challenge, affiliated with the Assemblies of God was started.
David Wilkerson gained national and later worldwide recognition after he co-authored the book The Cross and theSwitchblade in 1963 with John and Elizabeth Sherill, about his street ministry. The book became a best-seller with over 50 million copies in over thirty languages, and is included in Christianity Today’s “Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals.” In the book, Wilkerson tells of the conversion of gang member Nicky Cruz who later became an evangelist himself and wrote his autobiograhy, Run Baby Run. In 1970, The Cross and the Switchblade was turned into a Hollywood movie starring Pat Boone as Wilkerson and Erik Estrada as Cruz─the teen gang member whose life was transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit through Pastor Wilkerson’s ministry. The film has been viewed by an estimated 50 million people in over 30 languages in 150 countries, according to World Film Crusade. In 1972, the book was adapted into a comic book published by Fawcett Comics under under their Spire Christian Comics label.
In 1967, Pastor Wilkerson began Youth Crusades, an evangelistic ministry aimed at teenagers whom he called “goodniks”—middle-class youth who were restless and bored. His goal was to prevent them from becoming heavily involved with drugs, alcohol, or violence. Through this ministry, the CURE Corps (Collegiate Urban Renewal Effort) was founded. It was intended to be something of a Christian version of the Peac Corps and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA).
In 1971, David Wilkerson moved his ministry headquarters to Lindale, Texas where he then founded World Challenge, an organization whose mission is to promote and spread the gospel throughout the world.
Pastor Wilkerson spoke often about a vision he had in 1973 regarding the future of the United States which was documented in his book, The Vision. In that book he wrote about what he saw in his vision concerning these topics: “Worldwide Recession Caused by Economic Confusion, “Nature Having Labor Pains,” “A Flood of Filth and a Baptism of Dirt in America.” Rebellion in the Home,” and “Persecution Madness against Truly Spirit-filled Chritians Who Love Jesus Christ.” One cannot help but see that his words ring-true today. Since his death that book is selling for large sums of money up past $150.00 a copy by sellers on Amazon.
David Wilkerson also often shared an experience he had in 1986. While walking down 42nd Street in New York City at midnight, he felt that the leading of Holy Spirit appealing to him to return to New York City to raise up a ministry in Times Square. He founded and became the pastor of Times Square Church which opened its doors in October 1987. The church first occupied rented auditoriums in Times Square (Town Hall and the Nederlander Theater), later moving to the historic Mark Hellinger Theater which the ministry purchased in 1989 and in which it has operated ever since.
According to some published testimonies about his life, beginning in the 1990s, Pastor Wilkerson’s primary focus shifted somewhat to encourage pastors and their families throughout the world to “renew their passion for Christ.” Wilkerson and his wife Gwen managed to maintain a modest apartment (second home) in New York City at the inception of Times Square Church in 1987, and in 2006 began dividing their time between New York and Texas.
On April 27, 2011, while driving east on U.S. Route 175 I in Texas, for some unknown reason Pastor Wilkerson crossed into the westbound lane and collided head-on with a tractor-trailer. He was pronounced dead on the scene and his wife was injured but did appear to have quite a good recovery after some time spent in the hospital. The next year on (July 5, 2012) she, too went to be with the Lord.
Pastor Wilkerson’s last blog post stated the following:
“To those going through the valley and shadow of death, hear this word: Weeping will last through some dark, awful nights,” he wrote, “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.”
David Wilkerson will be deeply missed by all those who loved him and whose lives he touched. He is now reaping the rewards of his dedication and faithfulness to the Lord by residing with the Him along with his lifelong love and ministry partner, Gwen Wilkerson. May all Christians emulate their forthright-conviction in sharing the gospel truth.