David Wilkerson died in a car crash just short of his eightieth birthday last year. Aside from founding the non-denominational Times Square Church in New York and founding the Teen Challenge recovery program for people with life-controlling problems, he is best known for the biography detailing his work with New York street gangs, the Cross and the Switchblade.
It details how, in the late 1950s, Wilkerson was drawn to New York due to compassion for seven gang members on trial for murder. He began a process of seeking to rescue young people from lives of drug addiction and crime, most notably gang leader, Nicky Cruz. A later book by Cruz, Run Baby Run, gave a more detailed account of his own conversion and ensuing life as a Christian evangelist.
Teen Challenge was established in 1958, as a result of Wilkerson’s initial work, and spread into numerous countries, showing positive results amongst participants who showed low rates of return to addiction and high rates of employment, when compared with alternative programs.
It may seem a stretch, but the life change of thousands of Teen Challenge participants and the countless thousands converted via Wilkerson, and then Cruz, might all be attributed to Wilkerson’s obedience to a single prompting to go to New York all those years ago. Similarly, Jackie Pullinger’s years in the former Walled City of Hong Kong, with drug addicts and criminals, were based on a prompting to embark on a missionary journey, without being clear on the details that were going to unfold. Pullinger was in her twenties when she served. Wilkerson, too, gave the best years of his life and, like Abraham of the Old Testament, “when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8).
What promptings might you obey that could have eternal and significant implications for others, even if the personal cost is great?