Times Square Church founder dies at 79

The Rev. David Wilkerson, the founding pastor of Times Square Church in New York City, died on April 27 in a car accident in East Texas. His wife, Gwendolyn Wilkerson, was airlifted to a local hospital with injuries.

“Pastor David Wilkerson’s was a life fully given for the glory of God and souls of men,” said a statement from the 8,000-member Times Square Church. “He was greatly loved and he will be greatly missed.”

Times Square Church was founded in 1986 after Wilkerson felt called by God to return to New York City. He describes walking down 42nd Street and being heartbroken over the pimps, prostitutes, drug addicts, runaways, and X-rated movie theaters.

“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,’” recalled Wilkerson, according to the Times Square Church website.

“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.’”

In 1963, Wilkerson was launched into worldwide fame as the author of his influential bestselling book, The Cross and the Switchblade, which described his calling in 1958 to New York City and his street ministry with drug addicts and gang members. The book also detailed the conversion of Nicky Cruz, the leader of the New York City gang called the Mau-Maus. Cruz later became an evangelist and bestseller author of Run Baby Run.

The Cross and the Switchblade is ranked No. 32 in Christianity Today’s list of “Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals” and has sold 50 million copies in more than 30 languages. In 1970, the book was adapted into a movie starring Pat Boone and Erik Estrada.

Wilkerson is also the founder of Teen Challenge, a drug and alcohol recovery program for those struggling with addictions. The ministry is connected to the Assemblies of God denomination. There are 233 locations in the United States and 1,181 international centers, reaching as many as 25,000 people struggling with addiction.

“‘Brother Dave’ was used by God in 1958 to reach out to gang members in New York City. Through that singular act of obedience, tens of thousands of those bound by drug, alcohol and other addictions have found freedom through Jesus Christ,” said Teen Challenge USA, in a statement.

David Wilkerson is survived by his wife and four children.

Good News Media Service