One day in the late 1960s, when I was in high school, somehow—and I don’t remember the details—I came across a book that made a major impact on my thinking and my understanding of a relationship with God. It was a book that also took me into a world of which I had no knowledge. It was called The Cross and the Switchblade.
It was the story of a rural minister in Pennsylvania who sensed that God had called him to reach out to the gang culture in New York City. He had no knowledge of how to do that; he knew nothing of the culture. Yet he believed he had received a “call.”
That young backwoods minister was named David Wilkerson. His new ministry started in fits and spurts, and he sometimes questioned the calling. Yet he persevered. Amazingly, some of those gang leaders repented and turned their lives over to Christ. It was a small beginning, but it blossomed into a ministry now called Teen Challenge, which continues that outreach—to gangs, drug addicts, and anyone lost in the mire of sin and despair. Currently, Teen Challenge has more than 200 locations in the United States and over 1100 centers spread through 87 countries. Its success rate has astonished secular programs, who can’t believe how low their recidivism rate is.
Lives are being changed, all because of one man’s obedience.
Why am I highlighting this ministry today? The sad news earlier this week is that David Wilkerson was killed in an auto accident in Texas. He was 79 and still actively ministering to those who needed to be lifted out of their pits.
For the Christian world, and those to him he ministered, this is a tragedy. Yet he lived a full life and left a testimonial to inspire others. There comes a time when every faithful servant of God goes home. That’s what this was for Wilkerson—a homecoming.
While those who knew and loved him will grieve, and rightly so, they also will rejoice that he is now with the One he served so well all these years. May we all leave as solid a testimony as David Wilkerson.