was February 28, 1958 when the 26-year-old Pentecostal preacher from
rural Pennsylvania disrupted a highly publicized murder trial in
New York City. David Wilkerson had made the eight-hour drive from
his quiet mountain village to downtown Manhattan for a simple
reason: to speak to the seven accused gang members about their
salvation. In a grave attempt to share the love of God, Wilkerson
had rushed to the front of the courtroom at the close of trial
proceedings and pleaded publicly with the judge for permission to
meet the teenage defendants. News media were everywhere, and
Wilkerson unwittingly made himself the source of headline news
throughout New York City. The judge had been receiving death
threats during the trial, and Wilkerson was almost arrested as a
presumed assailant. The judge later refused Wilkerson's request to
see the boys and ordered him never to return to his
the one-time rural preacher is known as the founder of a
international drug rehabilitation program called Teen Challenge
that has one of the highest success rates anywhere in the world.
Since it's first center opened in New York in 1960, Teen Challenge
has grown to over 170 centers in 48 states and nearly 250 centers in
80 countries. In Puerto Rico the organization is building an AIDS
hospital, the first of its kind. Wilkerson also founded a global
evangelistic ministry, World Challenge. Yet the Pentecostal
preacher remains today what he was 40 years ago-a man dedicated to
preaching the gospel in the heart of New York City. He pastors
Times Square Church in Manhattan, which he founded in 1987.
Wilkerson made more than the news back in 1958-five months after
his discouraging day in court, his compassion for teen-age gangs
and drug addicts make history.
year later he established the first Teen Challenge center in one of
the roughest areas of Brooklyn. Addicts and other troubled youths
poured into the center and were delivered by God's power. One
skeptical psychiatrist observing the program remarked, "It
seems to me you're just using Jesus as a crutch." "Then
give me two of them," a resident of the center responded.
"What is the program?" the psychiatrist asked. "God
in the morning, Jesus in the afternoon and the Holy Ghost at
night," the resident replied. The good news spread quickly, and
Wilkerson was deluged with pleas for help with drug problems from
all over the country. "I raised funds for the first 10-12
centers that started," he said. Answering appeals got so
demanding that he allowed the ministry to come under the Home
Missions department of the Assemblies of God. His brother Don then
took over as director of the center. Based on strong Christian
principles, the intensive program runs from 6 to 14 months.
Residents come from the streets, detoxification facilities,
hospitals or jails. Some are referred by pastors and counselors or
court-ordered into treatment by judges. HIV-positive students are
normally accepted. Teen Challenge teaches that the key to abstinence
from substance abuse is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.