This obituary, written by David Wilkerson’s family, appeared in the program for his funeral in Tyler, Texas, on May 2.
Loving husband and father, doting
grandfather. Friend to the outcast and hurting. Fearless witness to
Christ’s saving power. Passionate voice for God to his church. Tender
supporter of widows, orphans and the poor. And spiritual father to
generation upon generation—from the destitute to the powerful, from
adults to teenagers, from loved ones to strangers from every walk of
These traits only begin to define David
Wilkerson. For over six decades he served the Lord faithfully in
ministry, founding and leading outreaches that have grown
international with each decade. Behind it all has been an unwavering
belief in God’s love for ever human being and His relentless desire
to reach them.
“Brother Dave,” as he liked to be
called, was known literally to millions for his unlimited faith. He
believed God could change the lives of gang members and transform the
most desperate drug addicts—and the Lord did. He believed a dynamic
church could be launched in the heart of Times Square, New York
City—and God brought it to pass. He believed he could be a man who
loved his wife and children well—and he did.
David Ray Wilkerson was born May 19,
1931, in Hammond, Ind., to a line of devoted Pentecostal preachers.
After he was ordained in the Assemblies of God, he married the love
of his life—Gwendolyn Carosso, who would serve beside him in
ministry for 57 years.
From the very beginning Brother Dave
applied a creative, innovative spirit to ministry. In an early
pastorate, he a car drove up the aisle of the church to illustrate a
humorous point. Yet he preached from anguish and pain, believing God
works through our weakness. He knew that God confounds the wisdom of
the world to reveal Himself—and that the truth was proved again and
again by the ministries Brother Dave founded.
In 1958, he traveled from his small
church in Phillipsburg, Pa., to reach out to gang members on trial in
New York City. “He had never been to New York—he had certainly
never met a gang member or a drug addict,” according to his
brother, Don Wilkerson. “He just came home, with his simplicity,
with his naivete, whatever you want to call it, and he changed
As Brother Dave’s friend McCandlish
Phillips, the New York Times reporter, wrote: “His method
was an absolute model of simplicity, directness and total
non-sophistication—he just went out there on the streets and mixed
with the kids and reasoned with them face-to-face, often quoting the
Bible—and it worked.”
Out of that bold move was born the Teen
Challenge ministry, a Christ-centered drug and alcohol rehabilitation
program. The ministry became well known through the book The Cross
and the Switchblade, which has
sold over 50 million copies and been translated into 30 languages.
The ministry has grown to more than 1,000 centers in the United
States and 80 other countries.
Lord then stirred Brother Dave to found Youth Crusades, his
evangelistic ministry to young people. An entire generation became
inspired that their lives mattered greatly to God. Brother Dave also
wrote prolifically, his books moving generations of readers toward a
life of holy devotion in Christ. The dozens of books he produced were
filled with powerful insight, clarity and conviction. And he lived
out the Christ-like example he wrote of, speaking continually of his
own weaknesses and Christ’s faithfulness to him.
his namesake, King David of old, Brother Dave served God’s purposes
in his generation. He preached with uncompromising passion and
relentless grace. He was not one for fanfare, acclaim or ceremony. He
turned down invitations to meet with world leaders, yet he would give
everything he owned to support a poor orphan or widow in distress.
last mission on earth was to be an advocate for the poorest of the
poor—to provide relief and support for hungry children, widows and
orphans, in the U.S. and in impoverished countries. The outreach he
founded to do this, Please Pass the Bread, ministers to thousands of
children daily through 56 outreaches in eight countries.
his race well, and when he was finished he was called home by his
Lord. David Wilkerson impacted the lives of literally millions, and
the God-inspired works he founded now outlive him. The impact of his
life is immeasurable—not only in his preaching, writing and
founding of world-changing ministries, but in his love, devotion,
compassion and ability to stir our faith for greater works. David’s
son Gary offers this word to all who knew and loved his dad: “I
know if my father were able to encourage you with his words today, he
would invite you to give your all to Jesus, to love God deeply and to
give yourself away to the needs of others.”
Dave’s final blog posting, titled “When All Means Fail,” is a
fitting word of departure to all whose lives he touched: “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 hope in this world.”
Wilkerson’s passing is a deep personal loss for many. Yet we rejoice
knowing he lived life to the very fullest, in obedient devotion to
God and with a radical love for Jesus.
survived by his wife, Gwen Wilkerson; daughter Debi Jonker, her
husband, Roger, sons Brent and Matthew and Matthew’s wife, Christina;
daughter Bonnie Hayslip, her husband, Roger, sons David and Brandon
and Brandon’s wife, Christina; son Gary Wilkerson, his wife, Kelly,
and children, Ashley, Elliot, Evan and Annie; son Greg Wilkerson, his
wife, Teresa, and their children, Alyssa and Ryan; brothers Don
Wilkerson and Jerry Wilkerson and sister Ruth Harris. His grandsons
served as his pallbearers.