1931 – 2011
From: New American
Teen Challenge Founder David Wilkerson Dies
David Wilkerson, who pastored the 5,000-strong Times Square Church (left) in one of New York City’s seedier red light districts, and who founded the highly successful faith-based Teen Challenge drug treatment and Christian mentoring program, has died at the age of 79. As reported by the Associated Press, Wilkerson was killed April 27 “in a car accident in East Texas, Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Tela Mange said. Wilkerson’s car smashed head-on into a tractor-trailer rig after veering into oncoming traffic on U.S. 175 west of Cuney, about 95 miles southeast of Dallas, Mange said.”
Nicky Cruz: David Wilkerson ‘Never Lost His Heart’
Gang leader-turned-evangelist misses his spiritual father.
Nicky Cruz remembers the David Wilkerson he met on the streets of New York in the 1950s—the “skinny preacher” who walked a message of Jesus’ love into gang-owned neighborhoods that police were afraid to enter and faced, without flinching, people most gangs didn’t dare mess with; people like Cruz, who back then led the feared Mau Maus of Brooklyn.
He remembers the forceful pastor who led ministries with worldwide influence like Teen Challenge and Times Square Church, a “straight shooter” who “never danced around anything. He was very straight, and always you said, ‘Wow, Dave, he’s hard.'”
But over the last 15 years, the man who counted Wilkerson as a close friend and spiritual father for half a century says what he gradually came to understand: “All these years … Dave Wilkerson was a teddy bear.”
“Always when I see him and I hug him … I say, ‘I love you.’ Even on the telephone, ‘I love you.’ And Dave is not expressive, [but] whenever we were alone, always he told me ‘I love you, son,'” Cruz told Christianity Today in an interview Thursday.
The last time Cruz saw Wilkerson, some weeks ago, they spoke for three hours. Cruz told him about Thousand Pieces, a film in the works about Cruz’s life, including the encounter with Wilkerson that led to his transformation. Wilkerson related his side of that story in the classic book The Cross and the Switchblade (which later became a film starring Pat Boone as Wilkerson and Erik Estrada as Cruz). The new film’s name comes from something that Wilkerson said to Cruz after the gang leader threatened to kill him: “You could cut me in a thousand pieces and lay them out in the street and every piece would love you.”
“New York in that time was bombarded by gangs, and we were the prime leaders of the gangs,” Cruz said. “Even Frankenstein and Dracula were afraid to walk in that neighborhood. And he’s a skinny preacher! Came from nowhere. There’s no way that a type of guy like this can be so strong to stand [on] his own and to really really really take it.”
“He can take a bullet, he can be killed, but he stood because [he was] obedient to Jesus. Jesus sent him there to bring the message to the gangs. … I almost killed him then because I really was totally full of hate. That was when he told me that Jesus loved me.”