Today is my birthday. Today is – or was – also David Wilkerson’s birthday, he being the world-famous author of “The Cross and the Switchblade,” founder of Times Square Church, Teen Challenge, you-name-it. He would have been 80 years old today had he not died in a car accident in east Texas three weeks ago.
I was born 25 years after Wilkerson, so do the math. I had two fateful encounters with this man, one in 1989 when I was interviewing him for The Houston Chronicle. Here is a snipped from the chapter “Annunciation” about our meeting:
That same month I was back in New York, on my way to catch the flight to Israel that landed me in that meadow overlooking the Sea of Galilee. I snagged an interview with David Wilkerson in his 2-year-old Times Square Church in the former Mark Hellinger Theater at 51st and Broadway. He was definitely not the showbiz type. He did not like being interviewed, he was uncomfortable posing for photos and low on media savvy. This artlessness made him easier to talk with, especially about his warnings to Jimmy Swaggart before the evangelist’s well-publicized fall in 1988.
“I don’t think sex brings any man down,” he mused. “I think it’s pride.” I asked him what had kept him out of sexual sin. Suffering, he replied. He looked a bit gaunt and obviously tired from having been up since early that morning leading Sunday services. I tried to pry something out of him about Redeemer and Graham. I had heard rumors that he was most unhappy with the turn that events had taken, especially since he was so publicly linked with Graham’s spiritual baptism. Wilkerson was very vague, as if he had long since lost touch with both. As I was packing away my notes, he looked at me,.
“Graham came to me with a problem, you know,” he said. “He didn’t only come for power.” And as far as he knew, Wilkerson added, Graham had had victory over it.
“The only way to stay righteous,” he then said, “is to expose your heart to God every day.”
What is he hinting at? I wondered. It’s either money or sex.
The next time I met Wilkerson was in December 1998 when everyone was worrying about Y2K and I was in New York doing a story for The Washington Times. By then, the news about Graham had long since come out. I went to lunch with David and his wife, Gwen and it was there that David told me more about his fateful – that word again – meeting with Graham in 1963 when he prayed over Graham to be baptized in the Spirit. Graham, David told me, was so tortured by homosexual longings that he was stopping in every rest area between North Carolina (where he was on vacation) and New York. As a former police reporter, I knew exactly what he was talking about; before the Internet, rest areas were where gay men solicited sex. In fact, there was a certain rest area just inside the Texas state line along Interstate 10 where, it was said, one dared not hang out after dark.
I sent a copy of “Days of Fire and Glory” to David’s office a long time ago but never got any indication that he had received it, much less read it. A shame, because he played a crucial role in my narrative. I am on the mailing list for David’s once-every-3-weeks pulpit series and I just got the latest one, penned by him no doubt several months in advance, encouraging Christians not to despair during hard times. He was one of the few well-known preachers out there who got it in terms of how crazed many of us feel. I, for instance, have been out of work almost one year.
His last words to people were to tell them to persevere during these dark nights of the soul, even when you physically don’t feel you have the strength to do so. I can understand that; I often don’t have the heart to sing the hymns I used to but I am still able to play worship music on the harp. That is the best I can do at this point. Discouragement does deaden things. Hope deferred – and deferred and deferred – makes the heart sick, as Scripture says.
At the end of my days whenever they may be, if I have even a portion of the good influence that this great man had on this troubled world, I shall be glad.