On the Front Lines of the Culture Wars

On the Front Lines of the Culture Wars

Famed New York City street preacher, author David Wilkerson killed in car crash

Wilkerson speaking at a NYC prayer event

David Wilkerson, 79, author of the bestseller The Cross and the Switchblade, founder of Teen Challenge rehabilitation outreaches worldwide, and longtime pastor of the 8,000-member Times Square Church in New York City, was killed Wednesday in a car crash.

His wife of more than 50 years, Gwen, was hospitalized with injuries.


A prophetic voice calling America to repentance for the last half century, Wilkerson burst onto the national scene in 1958 when he saw a Life magazine cover photo of seven New York City teen street gang members on trial for murder. At the time, he was pastor of a small church in rural Pennsylvania. He felt driven by the Holy Spirit to share Jesus with the teens.

Cruz, Wilkerson and Arguinzoni


Thwarted by police who would not let him visit the teens, he ended up on New York City newspaper front pages holding up his Bible as he pleaded to be allowed to counsel the youths. The run-in with authorities gave him credibility with the Brooklyn street gangs and he spent the next decade ministering to youthful drug addicts and gang members.

Christian authors John and Elizabeth Sherrill heard about his work and worked with him to write The Cross and the Switchblade, which sold over 50 million copies in more than 30 languages since 1963. In 1970, a Hollywood movie based on the book starred Pat Boone as Wilkerson and Erik Estrada as the leader of the street gang, Nicky Cruz. The book was included on Christianity Today‘s “The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals.”


A number of the gang members went into ministry. Cruz has written more than 20 books and conducts evangelistic crusades worldwide. The first herion addict won to the Lord at Teen Challenge, Sonny Arguinzoni, is the founder of Victory Outreach, a Los Angeles-based street ministry that has established more than 500 churches in tough urban neighborhoods across the globe.

Wilkerson posted a message dated April 27 — the day of his death — titled “When All Means Fail.” In it, he encouraged those facing difficulty to “hold fast” and stand strong in faith.

Wilkerson and Cruz, 1959


“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,'” Wilkerson wrote. “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.”

In 1971, he started World Challenge, Inc. as an umbrella for his crusades, conferences, evangelism and other ministry. Times Square Church was founded under the group in 1987.

The church is now led by Pastor Carter Conlon and has more than 8,000 members.

Wilkerson is survived by his wife, four children and 11 grandchildren.

  • http://GodisGreatandIdon'tmeanallah nestor rivera

    What a great lost God has used this man to touch my life many times.I considerd him a watchman for this coutry

    • Rob Kerby, Senior Editor

      And what is extraordinary is that Dave touched those hundreds of lives that you have impacted as a result of your work with low-income folks in the rural Ozarks. No one will ever be able to catalogue Wilkerson’s impact on this nation through people such as Nicky Cruz, Sonny and Julie Arguinzoni … and Nestor Rivera.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Beatrice Anyona

    Shocked of David’s death.. but am glad because He did his work and did it very well….. He built his foundation on the ROCK – JESUS CHRIST.

    I have been thinking of reaching the teens in my estate on drugs.. and surprisingly I thought about David and Nicky CRUZ…. just yesterday….

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Claudette

    The Lord has lost a powerful voice here on earth. He will be greeted with open arms at the Gates of Heaven!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Immaculate Maima

    I heard of this great man of God way back when I was a young child in the 1980’s through his book ‘The Cross and the Switchblade. He is a powerful voice that will not be silenced by death. The works of his hands and those he led to the Lord will remain as a voice for what he stood for.

    May the Lord heal the deceased’s wife.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment allen dixon jr

    a true man of God who has been an inspiration for years.america and the church should take heed to his predictions.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jan Erickson

    Since 1964, I have been blessed by Dave Wilkerson’s Ministry and Words. I know his Spirit was CHRIST in him the hope of Glory and he is now with our LORD. May his family be comforted knowing that for Dave to live was CHRIST but to die was gain….I am 78 and look forward to joining him in Heaven….singing HOLY,HOLY,HOLY is the LORD.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment juanita cassie

    He will be sadly missed but, his work on this earth was completed. He is now in heaven where all that he has done will be remembered by the God of our salvation and Jesus who so willingly died to set us all free from eternal damnation.He will be worshiping the Father eternally now , that is his just reward , HALLELUJAH to the lamb of God !!!!!!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Adeka Godswill

    He will be greatly missed. A man that shook his generation despite the odds. A great challenge for us today. He will always be remembered by the legacy he left behind.

  • Linda G. Howard

    My life was radically changed after I read Wilkinson’s book more than 40 years ago. For the first time, I realized that the God of the Bible was able to work in my life. I thank God for his faithful life of service.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Sophia McKenzie

    He has impacted the life of so many, he has finished the race now he is with the father.

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