Teen Challenge founder David Wilkerson killed in Texas crash


CUNEY, Texas — The Rev. David Wilkerson, who founded Teen Challenge and wrote the best-selling book, "The Cross and the Switchblade," was killed April 27 in a head-on crash in Texas. He was 79.

His wife, Gwen, was also in the car and was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.

"Pastor David Wilkerson's was a life fully given for the glory of God and souls of men," said Carter Conlon, senior pastor of Times Square Church, which Wilkerson founded in 1987. "He was greatly loved and he will be greatly missed."

As word of his death began to circulate on the Internet, it was verified on Twitter by Wilkerson's cousin, Rich Wilkerson.

"It is confirmed my dear cousin David Wilkerson lost his life in a tragic car accident this afternoon. Prayers r needed at this time," he tweeted.

He followed that tweet, with another.

"The term LEGEND is often used to describe a person of extreme influence but what about a man that supersedes superlatives… David Wilkerson."

According to authorities, the couple was traveling on U.S. 175, about 30 miles south of Tyler, Texas when the 1998 Infinity sedan he was driving unexplainably crossed over the center line and collided head-on with a tractor trailer. The 38-year-old driver of the truck was treated and released.

Wilkerson, who, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, was not wearing a seat belt, died at the scene.

"We appreciate your prayers and our hearts are sorrowful, yet we rejoice at the joy of knowing David Wilkerson spent his life well," read a statement by the Wilkerson family and posted on a ministry website.

According to the website, Wilkerson — the son of a Pennsylvania preacher — was born on May 19, 1931 and felt the call into ministry by age 8. He met his future wife, Gwen at a church his father pastured in Turtle Creek, Penn. His bride later said she fell in love with David when she was just 13. The couple wed in June 1952 and has four children and 11 grandchildren. Their son, Gary Wilkerson, is senior pastor at The Springs Church in Colorado Springs.

Quiet influence
Over the decades, Wilkerson became one of the most quietly influential evangelical leaders in the country as he ministered mostly under the radar to gangs and drug addicts on the streets of New York City. The Pentecostal pastor was serving in small churches in Pennsylvania in the late 1950s when a photograph of seven young murder defendants appearing in Life magazine stoked an inextinguishable compassion in his soul. He headed to New York where they faced trial and made national headlines when he interrupted the trial in an effort to speak to the teens about their salvation. The judge turned him down—but a national ministry was launched.

It began in 1959 when he established Teen Challenge, a ministry that used the gospel to transform young lives riddled with the lure of violence and addiction. His first Teen Challenge Center opened in 1960 and has now grown to more than 195 centers across the United States, with 550 worldwide. In some regions, the thrust has expanded to include AIDS care facilities.

In 1963 he wrote about his street ministry in "The Cross and the Switchblade" with John and Elizabeth Sherrill. The best-selling book was later captured on the big screen with a movie by the same name and which starred Pat Boone as Wilkerson and Eric Estrada as Nicky Cruz. Cruz, a former gang leader, later launched his own national ministry.

Ministry expands
After the release of the movie, Wilkerson focused on Teen Challenge but also began youth crusades and street meetings. While he was realizing success through the ministry, he faced critics in the mental health industry and among some pastors. He was undaunted.

"The church has done less to cure drug addicts than anybody else," Wilkerson said in a 1964 interview with Time magazine. "These kids are tired of 'bless-me clubs;' they want a church that's alive and active, not cold and dead."

In 1971 he moved his ministry to Texas where he founded World Challenge International as an umbrella organization for all of his ministries.

He returned to New York City in 1986 for a street rally that would, once again, change the direction of his life.

"Coming back to New York City for a street rally, David Wilkerson was shocked by the depravity of the place," his website said. "Praying that God raise up a testimony in his hellish place, he was shocked when he heard God direct him to move his family back to New York City …"

The following year he launched Times Square Church, which now has more than 8,000 members. At the time of the church's founding, the area was a magnet for prostitution, pornography and drugs.

Since 1999, Wilkerson had been traveling around the globe holding conferences for Christian ministers. For the past five years the couple began splitting their time between New York and Texas.

Prophetic word
A prolific writer, many of his works touched on prophetic ministry. In addition, Wilkerson had also embraced modern technology, using a blog on his website. The two seemed to converge in Wilkerson's final blog, posted just hours before his death, encouraging those facing difficulty to "hold fast" and stand strong in faith.

"To those going through the valley and shadow of death," Wilkerson wrote, "hear this word: Weeping will last through some dark, awful nights, and in that darkness you will soon hear the Father whisper, 'I am with you.'

"Beloved, God has never failed to act but in goodness and love. When all means fail—his love prevails. Hold fast to your faith. Stand fast in his Word. There is no other hope in this world."

Times Square Church will stream the memorial service live. The details of the service will be updated on the church's website.

David Wilkerson's last blog entry When all means fail

By David Wilkerson | April 27, 2011

To believe when all means fail is exceedingly pleasing to God and is most acceptable. Jesus said to Thomas, "You have believed because you have seen, but blessed are those that do believe and have not seen" (John 20:29).

Blessed are those who believe when there is no evidence of an answer to prayer—who trust beyond hope when all means have failed.

Someone has come to the place of hopelessness—the end of hope—the end of all means. A loved one is facing death and doctors give no hope. Death seems inevitable. Hope is gone. The miracle prayed for is not happening.

That is when Satan's hordes come to attack your mind with fear, anger, overwhelming questions: "Where is your God now? You prayed until you had no tears left. You fasted. You stood on promises. You trusted."

Blasphemous thoughts will be injected into your mind: "Prayer failed. Faith failed. Don't quit on God—just do not trust him anymore. It doesn't pay!"

Even questioning God's existence will be injected into your mind. These have been the devices of Satan for centuries. Some of the godliest men and women who ever lived were under such demonic attacks.

To those going through the valley and shadow of death, hear this word: Weeping will last through some dark, awful nights—and in that darkness you will soon hear the Father whisper, "I am with you. I cannot tell you why right now, but one day it will all make sense. You will see it was all part of my plan. It was no accident. It was no failure on your part. Hold fast. Let me embrace you in your hour of pain."

Beloved, God has never failed to act but in goodness and love. When all means fail—his love prevails. Hold fast to your faith. Stand fast in his Word. There is no other hope in this world.

As posted on David Wilkerson Today, Daily Devotions, World Challenge • April 27, 2011

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