Services for the Rev. David Wilkerson, age 79, of Lindale, are scheduled for 3 p.m. Monday in Tyler at the Rose Heights Church of God, with burial to follow in the Lindale City Cemetery under the direction of Caudle-Rutledge Funeral Home in Lindale. The family will receive friends at the funeral home in Lindale Sunday from 5 to 7 p.m.
Rev. Wilkerson, best known as author of "The Cross and the Switchblade: and founding pastor of Times Square Church, an interdenominational church in New York City, was killed in a car crash in Texas on April 27, 2011.
Rev. Wilkerson was born May 19, 1931, in Hammond, Ind. He served as a pastor in small churches in Scottsdale and Philipsburg, Pa., 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 City in February 1958. It was then that he began his street ministry.
Rev. Wilkerson was 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, "The Cross and the Switchblade," which became a best-seller. The book includes the story of the conversion of gang member Nicky Cruz, who later wrote the autobiographical "Run Baby Run" about his own life. Since it was published in 1963, "The Cross and the Switchblade" has sold over 50 million copies in over 30 languages. In 1970, a Hollywood movie based on the book starred Pat Boone as David Wilkerson and Erik Estrada as Nicky Cruz. The book was included on Christianity Today's "The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals."
His ministry to young drug addicts led the Rev. Wilkerson to establish Teen Challenge ministries in Brooklyn in 1959, which has reached youth and adults with life-controlling problems through its 414 centers worldwide. The ministry's biblically-based recovery program for drug addicts has been recognized as one of the most effective efforts of its kind.
In 1967, he began David Wilkerson Youth Crusades, an evangelistic ministry to reach teenagers he called "goodniks" - middle-class kids who were restless and bored - to prevent them from being seduced into a life of drugs, alcohol, violence and lawlessness. Through this ministry, CURE Corps (Collegiate Urban Renewal Effort) was founded in an effort to harness the idealism and sacrificial zeal of many Christian young people who knew about the Peace Corps and Vista but wanted to give their lives to Christ-centered efforts.
In 1971 the Rev. Wilkerson moved his ministry headquarters to Lindale, where he founded World Challenge Inc., which serves as the corporate umbrella for the Rev. Wilkerson's crusades, minister conferences, book and tract publishing, video production, street evangelism, literature distribution, feeding programs, drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers and other charitable outreaches. World Challenge Inc. has a mailing list to hundreds of thousands of people who regularly receive copies of his sermons and ministry updates.
In 1986, while walking down 42nd Street at midnight, the Rev. Wilkerson's heart broke over what he saw. At that time, Times Square was populated mainly by prostitutes and pimps, runaways, drug addicts and hustlers, along with live peep shows and X-rated movie houses. He cried out for God to do something - anything - to help the physically destitute and spiritually dead people he saw.
Recalling that life-changing night, the Rev. Wilkerson said, "I saw 9-, 10- and 11-year-old kids bombed on crack cocaine. I walked down 42nd Street and they were selling crack. Len Bias, the famous basketball player, had just died of a crack overdose, and the pusher was yelling, 'Hey, I've got the stuff that killed Len.' I wept and prayed, 'God, you've got to raise up a testimony in this hellish place… The answer was not what I wanted to hear: 'Well, you know the city. You've been here. You do it.'"
Rev. Wilkerson obeyed God. He opened Times Square Church in October of 1987, first in rented auditoriums in Times Square (Town Hall and the Nederlander Theater) and eventually in the historic Mark Hellinger Theater, which the ministry purchased in 1989. Today, Times Square Church, with a missions-focused congregation, is a virtual microcosm of New York City. Nearly 8,000 people representing over 100 nationalities worship together under one roof.
For over four decades, the Rev. Wilkerson's evangelistic ministry has included preaching, teaching and writing. Throughout that time a distinctive characteristic of his work has been his direct efforts to reach the neediest among us with help for both body and soul. He has authored authored over 30 books including "The Cross and the Switchblade," "The Vision," "Revival on Broadway," "Hungry for More of Jesus," "Have You Felt Like Giving Up Lately?" and "The New Covenant Unveiled."
In his 70s, the Rev. Wilkerson traveled extensively throughout the world to exhort pastors and their spouses to renew their passion for Christ. "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."
He is survived by his wife Gwen, his four children, 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Caudle-Rutledge Funeral Directors, Inc.
206 West South
Lindale, TX 75771
Published in Tyler Morning Telegraph on May 1, 2011