[A research paper submitted in partial fulfillment of MHT557; contact me for complete bibliography and footnotes]
One of the first things we learn about God in the Bible is that He loves to communicate with His children. God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. God spoke to Abram, “while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran”. God told him to leave everything he knew— his land, people, and family to go to the place where God would show him. Abraham believed and obeyed God and so became the father of all who believe.
In the New Testament, during his farewell address to the Ephesian elders, Paul stated that he was compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem, not knowing what would happen there. Already, the Holy Spirit had warned him that prison and hardships awaited him. Paul declared, “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” Paul and many other believers in the New Testament were often led by the Holy Spirit. Paul was willing to face prison, hardships and even death in order to be obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Many Christians today have lost this sensitivity to the Spirit. We are not actively listening to the promptings of the Spirit. The direction for Paul to go to Jerusalem was not found in his copy of the Septuagint. For specific guidance we must be open to the leading of the Spirit. A common philosophy today, even in Christian circles, is the idea that all God requires is for one to live a moral life, share the Gospel occasionally, and attend church. Many believe beyond that, God is not interested in our lives. They say we are free to make our own decisions and God is there if we need His help. For example, one may choose any spouse, as long as he/she is a believer (for we are not to be unequally yoked). Pseudo-Christian wisdom of our day states, “There is not one specific spouse, profession, or calling for each person.” This view of God would be foreign to the New Testament Church and is closer to Deism, or Moral Therapeutic Deism, than the Christianity found in the book of Acts. Deism is the belief that God created the world and set up certain laws but has since remained indifferent to it. On the contrary, God is a relational and communicating being. The same God who spoke to Abraham and Paul is still speaking today. He is Lord of all and transcendent, but also immanent and personal. The question is not whether God speaks today but, “Will we take the time to seek and hear?”
David Wilkerson—One man, listening to God, changed the world
David Wilkerson was a young country preacher in eastern Pennsylvania, in the 1950’s, who had ears to hear the voice of God. He followed the leading of the Holy Spirit and fulfilled the purpose for his life. One man, listening to God, changed the world. David Wilkerson and his wife Gwen were the pastors of a small but thriving rural Assembly of God church in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania. God had led them to that church. Before they were hired by the church board, David had sought the Lord’s guidance through a sign. He sought a sign like Gideon’s fleece in the book of Judges. When Gideon was trying to ascertain the Lord’s will for his life, he put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor and asked God to send dew everywhere but on the fleece. In the morning it was so. The ground was soaked with dew but the fleece was dry.
David and his wife prayed, “Lord, if You want us to stay here in Philipsburg, we ask that You let us know by having the Committee vote for us unanimously.” David’s wife Gwen added, “And Lord, let them volunteer to get rid of the roaches.” The Committee voted unanimously for them to be the new pastors and offered to fix up the parsonage and get rid of the roaches. The Wilkerson’s took the position and the church grew to two-hundred fifty people. Within one year, the church purchased an old baseball field and built a new building and parsonage. The Lord was moving and adding to the congregation. However, David began to feel a divine discontent.
A Man of Prayer
On February 9, 1958, Pastor David decided to sell his television set. Instead of watching the late shows for two hours each night, he would to spend time in prayer. Once again he put out a fleece before the Lord. He told his wife Gwen that he was going to put an ad in the local paper offering to sell the television. He prayed, “Jesus, I need help deciding this thing, so here is what I am asking of You. If it is You behind this idea of selling my television, let a buyer appear within a half an hour after the paper gets on the streets.” Gwen laughed, “Why, David Wilkerson, I don’t think you want to sell that TV set at all! Why not give it a day or two? Half an hour is impossible.” Exactly twenty-nine minutes after the paper hit the streets, the phone rang. The man on the other end of the phone was calling about the television. David told the man he was asking one hundred dollars. The man said, “I’ll take it. Have it ready in fifteen minutes.”
Once again God had responded to David’s request for guidance. This would be the beginning of an adventure as David walked with God into the Divine plan and purpose for his life. Instead of watching television every night, he began to go into his study and pray from midnight to two in the morning. At first it was hard and the time seemed to drag on. David would not be deterred. He made systematic Bible-reading a part of his prayer life. Also, David found a balance between prayers of petition and prayers of praise.
During one of these nights of prayer, he felt incredibly close to God. At the same time there was a great sadness. David felt that he had received orders from the Lord but could not figure out what they were. He turned on the lights in the study and cried out, “What are you saying to me, Lord?” He was drawn to a recent copy of Life magazine on his desk. He thought it was just a distraction from prayer so he tried to put it out of his mind.
However, he kept being drawn to the magazine. Finally he asked, “Lord is there something in there You want me to see?” David sat down in the leather chair with a sensation that he was on the verge of something larger than himself. He picked it up and began to turn through the pages. He came to a certain page that stuck out to him. On this page was a drawing of a trial taking place in New York City. As he looked at the artists’ rendition of the boys on trial he noticed their “look of bewilderment and hatred and despair”. He opened the magazine wide to get a closer look. As he looked closely at the picture, he began to weep. The youth on trial for murder were members of a gang called Dragons. These kids were on trial for the brutal murder of a fifteen-year-old polio victim, Michael Farmer. They had stabbed Michael multiple times and left him for dead at a park in New York City. The story was revolting to the peaceful, country preacher. Then suddenly a thought came into his head—“Go to New York City and help those boys.”
The Call to New York City
Wilkerson had never been to New York City. The thought of going to New York City caused him to laugh out loud. However, it was a thought “completely independent” of his own thoughts and feelings. The idea would not go away. Wilkerson knew he needed to leave for New York while the trial was still in progress. The following night was the Wednesday night service. He shared with the congregation how the Lord had led him to the sketch of the boys on trial. He explained how he began to cry and the Lord told him to go to New York City.
The next day David and Miles Hoover, the Youth Director from his church, got in David’s car and drove to New York City. On the way, David kept wondering why he would weep every time he looked at the picture of those kids. David told Miles he wished there was some way he could be sure this was the Lord’s leading. He asked Miles to open his Bible and read the first verse he laid his eyes on. Miles looked at David as though he were practicing some form of magic, but followed directions anyway. Miles opened his King James Version of the Bible and turned to Psalm 126, verses five and six, “They that sow in tears, shall reap in Joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” Both of them took this as the voice of the Lord and were greatly encouraged.
Once in New York City, David went to the District Attorney’s office several times, asking if he could see the boys on trial for murder. They told him he would have to speak to the presiding judge. David and Miles went to the courthouse the following day, February 28,1959, to attend the trial and hopefully speak to the judge about visiting the boys. They arrived at eight thirty in the morning and there were already forty people waiting to sit in on the trial. Later they were to find out that only forty two people were allowed in to the spectator section.
Once the judge announced that the court was adjourned, David got up, grabbed his Bible, and marched over to talk to him. However, security quickly intercepted David, grabbed him by the elbows and carried him out. The security was cautious because there had been death threats made against the judge. There he was turned over to uniformed policemen. The judge decided not to press charges if David agreed not to come back. The officers escorted David and Miles to the outer corridor where many news people were waiting. They asked David to brandish his Bible. When he did, they snapped pictures. These pictures ended up in the newspaper the following day.
Now that they were banned from the trial, David and Miles headed back to Pennsylvania. Back in Philipsburg, fellow ministers had scathing remarks for David, assuming the pictures in the New York City papers were a publicity stunt. The following Sunday, David addressed the issue at hand with his parishioners. He said, “Maybe you are saying to yourselves, ‘What kind of egoist do we have for a preacher, a man who thinks that every whim he gets is a mandate from God?’” He continued, “If it is true that the job of us humans here on earth is to do the will of God, can we not expect that in some way He will make that will known to us?” The congregation was kind to their pastor. Most believed he had acted foolishly but they knew he was sincere. One woman in the congregation said, “We still want you even if nobody else does.” David continued his nightly prayer sessions and kept having a verse and an idea pop up in his mind. The verse was Romans 8:28, “All things work together for the good…” The idea was: Go back to New York.
David and Miles headed back to New York City. David decided to park in the city and go for a walk. He got out and walked for about a block when a kid who was the president of a street gang called the Rebels said, “Hey, Davie. Preacher!” When David looked at him, the youth said, “Aren’t you the preacher that they kicked out of the Michael Farmer trial?” David responded in the affirmative and asked how they knew. The gang president said his picture was all over the papers. David’s having had a run-in with the law opened doors for him to the gang members and drug addicts all over New York City. They saw David as one of them. The logic was simple— the cops did not like David or them. Therefore, they were on the same side. David saw that God was indeed working all things for the good, including his being kicked out of the trial. David knew he was on the turf of some of deadliest gangs in New York.
These youngsters would kill for fun. David began to share the gospel in love with the gang members that surrounded him. Looking back David says, “I wasn’t afraid of getting killed, but I was afraid of making no impression on these young lives.” Like Paul the apostle, David followed the leading of the Spirit even into life threatening situations. When he got back to the car, David told Miles about the experience with the gangs. Miles said it was only because they were thrown out of court that it was a possibility. God was indeed moving.
They drove back to the District Attorney’s office to ask once again to see the boys on trial. The person at the office said the only way he could see the boys was if the parents of each of the boys would give him permission. However, they could not release the names or addresses of the parents. The name of the gang leader, Luis Alvarez, was printed in the newspaper. David looked up Alvarez in the phone book. To his surprise there were hundreds with that last name in Manhattan alone. David called over one hundred numbers, to no avail.
Discouraged David and Miles began to drive aimlessly around the city. David prayed, “Lord, if we are here on Your errand, You must guide us.” They continued to drive in the direction the car was facing. They got caught in a traffic jam at Time Square and took an exit to get out of the traffic. They ended up on a street that led into Spanish Harlem. Then, suddenly David felt he needed to get out of the car. They pulled into the first empty parking space. David asked a group of boys sitting on the stoop if they knew where Luis Alvarez lived. The boys did not respond, so David began to walk. A kid came running up behind him. He asked David if he was looking for the Luis Alvarez who was in jail for murdering the crippled kid. David responded in the affirmative. Then the kid asked if that was his car parked there. David said it was. The youngster said, “Man, you parked right in front of his house.” David walked up and met Luis’s parents who gladly gave the preacher permission to see Luis. God had once again provided supernatural guidance.
David did not get to see the kids that were on trial for murder. But, God had bigger plans than just seven kids in New York City. God was going to use David Wilkerson to touch the lives of thousands of youth in New York City and beyond. David was very successful in getting many youth saved; however, they were still living in the same environment. According to David, “The flaw was in allowing these boys to be converted, and then abandoning them.” In time, many went back to their old ways of life. Led by the Spirit, David decided to open a home for youth. The home would be a place where they could get off the mean streets and drugs, in an atmosphere of love. The simple theory was that the heart of the Gospel is change and transformation. It’s about being born again to a new life. David and his team believed that a real encounter with God meant change. David noticed that once the youth were baptized in the Holy Spirit, it was unlikely that they would go back to their old lives.
The Birth of Teen Challenge
David planned on buying a building at 416 Clinton Avenue. He asked the Lord if he could put out a fleece again. He needed forty-two thousand dollars, which was ten percent of the total cost of the building. He went to Glad Tidings Assembly of God to raise the money. The most they had ever raised for a home missions’ project was two thousand. He asked the Lord, if this was really the building they were to get that the church would give the entire ten percent. Forty-four hundred dollars came in, which was two hundred more than he thought they needed. When the time came to give the ten percent, the attorney said they needed two hundred dollars more. The Lord had provided the exact amount they needed to move into the building. This was the beginning of Teen Challenge Centers that are now around the globe.
Don Wilkerson, the brother of the late David Wilkerson, was with David from the beginning. Don co-founded Teen Challenge and Times Square Church along with his brother, David. Don is currently the director of the Brooklyn Teen Challenge. In a recent interview, Don stated, “Our intention was never to open a drug rehab center. The first Teen Challenge Center was opened to house workers to go into the streets and work with the gangs.” The workers would bring the troubled youth into the center for chapel services. Once the youth were saved, they needed to get away from their gang and drug infested neighborhoods. More and more gang members began to use drugs. Once they were addicts, the gangs did not want them and neither did anyone else. Ironically, the drug addicted youth were easier to work with, as they were out of options. By meeting the need in front of them and following the leading of the Holy Spirit, David and Don realized the need for a residential rehabilitation home.
The dream of a home where troubled youth could be surrounded by love became a reality. Shortly after the first Teen Challenge resident home opened, “it became the prototype for other Teen Challenge homes in other major cities across the United States.” Eventually, Teen Challenge moved beyond the borders of the United States. Today Teen Challenge is a global Bible-based ministry reaching out to the lost, the last and the least. The philosophy of the program is that the only answer to the power of drugs is a Higher Power. “Leaders of Teen Challenge boldly declare who this ‘Higher Power’ is: Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” From the very beginning, Don Wilkerson has said TC is not for everyone. There are many secular programs that one can attend. Don tells addicts, TC “is not here to help you get your life back. If you get back your life, you’ll mess it up again. We are here to help you give your life away and to give it to God. So that you can discover what God created you to be. We are unashamedly about the power of the Gospel.” Unlike secular programs, the Teen Challenge model is a holistic approach. TC deals with the whole person— physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Deliverance form addiction and lifelong freedom can only be found in a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Unlike Narcotics Anonymous and other twelve step programs, TC does not believe they are treating a disease that the addict must learn to live with. TC believes the Scripture is true when it says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” According to Don, this in a non-negotiable aspect of the TC program.
The Bible is the only rule of faith and doctrine but there are other questions in life. The Bible answers all moral questions; such as, whether or not to commit adultery, lie or steal. Daily Bible reading should be a part of every believer’s devotional life. However, the Bible will not give us specific direction, such as who to marry or which university to attend. For specific direction, we must seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. “In the early days nobody knew how to do rehab. We had to rely on the Holy Spirit to tell us what to do,” proclaims Don Wilkerson. God has a specific plan for each of our lives. “God constantly communicates His will and purposes, and the Holy Spirit assists us in receiving God’s thoughts and in expressing our thoughts to God.” Seven times in the book of Revelation, Jesus says, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit” is saying. When God wants to do something in the earth he raises up a man or woman who hears his voice, as He did with David Wilkerson. His tools are not programs but humans.
In 1986 as David walked down forty second street at midnight, his heart broke for what he saw. Time Square, at that time, was filled with prostitutes, pimps, runaways, porn shops and drug addicts. David wept and prayed, “God, you’ve got to raise up a testimony in this hellish place.” He asked God to do something for these physically and spiritually impoverished people. God responded, “Well, you know the city. You’ve been here. You do it.” David, once again obeyed the voice of God, opening Time Square Church in 1987. Time Square Church grew into an eight thousand member church. David was a modern day prophet who declared the words of God to the church and society at large. He warned of the consequences of apostasy and challenged believers to live holy lives. David’s heart was burdened for the lost. He longed to see the Church revived and brought back to the sincere preaching of the cross, holiness, and the power of the Spirit. On April 27, 2011, David spoke to the Lord face to face, as he was killed in a head on collision in east Texas. But, his life, and legacy and prayers are alive and well, living on through those of us whose lives were transformed.
Victory Outreach Legacy
David Wilkerson and the Teen Challenge Ministry were instrumental in promoting new movements. Founder of Victory Outreach, Sonny Arguizoni, was a Puerto Rican heroin addict from New York City. Sonny was the first drug addict that came to the Brooklyn Teen Challenge, whereas Nicky Cruz was the first gang member. One memory Don says he will never forget is the time he and David met Sonny on the streets. Sonny said, “I’m not ready yet. I’m not ready yet.” In time, Sonny encountered God and was reformed at the Brooklyn Teen Challenge while Nicky Cruz was the director. After TC, Sonny moved to Los Angeles to attend Latin America Bible Institute. There he met his future wife, Julie. They housed recovering heroin addicts in their one bedroom apartment on Gless Street. They hosted gang members and heroin addicts in their home.
After gaining wide popularity in the local community for helping save gang members through faith in Jesus, Sonny and Julie founded Victory Outreach in Boyle Heights in 1967. Victory Outreach expanded throughout Los Angeles and then into inner-cities throughout the United States. Rehab is hard. It requires tough love and discipline. Some rehabs end up just being a shelter rather than a place where lives are being changed. The reason lives are not transformed is because these rehabs want to share the love of God, but not tough love. However, the Lord disciplines those he loves. According to Don, “The thing that has been good about Teen Challenge and Victory Outreach is that they have kept the strong discipline.” Today there are hundreds of Victory Outreach churches and centers around the world. Don Wilkerson says, “Sonny has gone on to be what I would call an apostle.”
The Heroin Addict Meets Jesus
In the latter part of 1998 a twenty-eight year old heroin addict, who was on the run for a stabbing in Albuquerque, New Mexico walked into the Victory Outreach Men’s home in Phoenix, Arizona. There he encountered the living God and his life was radically changed. That former addict is currently writing this report. God used the life and ministry of David Wilkerson to inspire me to seek and obey the voice of God, and to champion the cause of the addicted, incarcerated, broken, and destitute. I pray the same Holy Spirit that touched David Wilkerson will fall upon me and empower me to reach my generation for Christ.