Woke up this morning to see the sad news on Twitter that the evangelist David Wilkerson, a man who lived his life in service, was killed yesterday in a road accident. His wife Gwen remains critically ill in hospital and their family have asked for prayers at this time.
Wilkerson served as a pastor in small churches in Scottdale and Philipsburg, Pennsylvania, until he saw a photograph in Life Magazine in 1958 of seven New York City teenagers charged with murder. He later wrote that as he felt the Holy Spirit move him with compassion, he was drawn to go to New York in February 1958. It was then that he began his street ministry.
Wilkerson is well-known for these early years of his ministry to young drug addicts and gang members in New York City in the 1950s and 1960s. He co-authored a book with John and Elizabeth Sherrill about his work with the New York drug addicts, The Cross and the Switchblade, which became a best-seller. Included in the book is the story of the conversion of gang member Nicky Cruz, who later wrote the autobiographical Run Baby Run about his own life. The Cross and the Switchblade has sold over 50 million copies in over thirty languages since it was published in 1963. In 1970, a Hollywood movie based on the book starred Pat Boone as Wilkerson and Erik Estrada as Cruz. The book was included on Christianity Today's "The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals"
In 1958, Wilkerson founded Teen Challenge, an evangelical Christian recovery program and a network of Christian social and evangelizing work centers. In 1967, Wilkerson began Youth Crusades, an evangelistic ministry aimed at teenagers whom Wilkerson 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 Peace Corps and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA).
In 1971, Wilkerson moved his ministry headquarters to Lindale, Texas, where he founded World Challenge, an organization whose mission is to promote and spread the Gospel throughout the world.
Wilkerson believed that In 1986, while walking down 42nd Street in New York City at midnight, the Holy Spirit called him to return to New York City and to raise up a ministry in Times Square. This resulted in the establishment 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 Theatre, which the ministry purchased in 1989 and in which it has operated ever since.
From the 1990s, Wilkerson focused his efforts to encourage pastors and their families throughout the world to "renew their passion for Christ". In his own words:
- "I've been an evangelist for 50 years, but I didn't want to preach to pastors until I had gray hair, until I'd pastored. Now after 15 years of pastoring, sharing the hurts, pains, and difficulties of the ministry as a pastor, I felt the Lord finally release me, that I might have something to say."
You can see The cross and the Switchblade here.