David Wilkerson dies in car accident, wife suffers injury
Rev. David Wilkerson, a megachurch founder who is distinguished for his work among drug addicts and prostitution, died recently in a car accident in Texas. He was 79.
Wilkerson, who founded World Challenge Ministries, died immediately when his car slammed head on against an oncoming tractor trailer on a highway near Cuney, which is some 110 miles from Dallas, The New York Times said.
His wife, Gwendolyn, suffered severe injuries and is undergoing treatment at East Texas Medical Center in Tyler, Texas, Charisma News said. Her brother-in-law, Rev. Donald Wilkerson, told The New York Times that he thinks she will recover from her wounds.
A statement from Wilkerson’s Times Square Church, issued through Senior Pastor Carter Conlon said, “Pastor David Wilkerson’s was a life fully given for the glory of God and souls of men. He was greatly loved and he will be greatly missed. Our prayers are with the family and we as a church body are committed to standing with them at this time of sorrow,” according to Charisma News.
George O. Wood, general superintendent, Assemblies of God said in a statement, “Today, the Kingdom of God has lost a giant of the faith. His life touched millions. The Assemblies of God enjoyed a life-long relationship with David Wilkerson. He was godly, humble and represented everything that is best in a spiritual leader. Our heartfelt sympathy and prayer is extended to his wife, Gwen, and family,” Charisma News reported.
Wilkerson’s World Challenge Ministries is an umbrella organization for his ministry work, including the 8,000-strong Times Square Church and Teen Challenge, which became a model for collaborations between churches and social service departments in drug treatment, Christianity Today said.
Focus on youth
World Challenge has operated in over 50 nations and is a nondenominational Christian organization that has a strong focus on the youth, WSJ said. Other ministries under Wilkerson include World Challenge Crusades, World Challenge Missions and Mount Zion International School of Ministry.
The Evangelical minister and wrote some 30 books, including the bestseller, The Cross and The Switchblade which Wilkerson wrote in 1963, and which focused on his work as a young preacher dealing with a street gang in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, The New York Times said.
The book was co-written with John and Elizabeth Sherrill. It is available in some 30 languages and has been listed in Christianity Today’s Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals.
In 1969 a movie version of the book was made starring Pat Boone and Erik Estrada. Boone played Wilkerson, and Estrada was gang leader Nicky Cruz, who kicked his drug habit cold turkey through scripture reading, and who later became a Pentecostal
minister oftentimes preaching in Eastern Europe, the Wall Street Journal said.
Wilkerson was distinguished for his work among the downtrodden, including prostitutes and addicts, The New York Times said. His antidrug organization Teen Challenge has 1,200 drug treatment centers globally with 233 in the U.S., WSJ reported.
Start of ministry
An ordained minister of the Assemblies of God in Pennsylvania, Wilkerson’s ministry began in 1958 when he felt God wanted him to pray every night in lieu of watching television, Charisma News said.
After 16 days he saw an article in Life Magazine about the Dragon Gang which was being tried for murdering a 15-year-old polio victim. Heeding the Spirit’s leading, Wilkerson sold his TV set to fund his trip to New York, the WSJ said.
He went to the courtroom where the Dragon Gang was being tried, and in the middle of the hearing asked if he could speak as a gospel minister. The judge had him thrown out of the courtroom, and the incident landed on the Daily News front page, WSJ said.
But the incident and its media coverage helped drug addicts where Wilkerson preached to recognize the pastor. Wood, of the Assemblies of God told Charisma News, “[Wilkerson] obeyed the prompting of the Holy Spirit and every day approximately 24,000 men and women are experiencing the saving and delivering power of Jesus Christ from life-controlling issues in Teen Challenge Centers all around the world.”
Wilkerson leaves behind his wife Gwen, four children and 11 grandchildren, Charisma News said.