More than any other book I’ve read the Bible stands alone in its ability to move me from sadness to gladness, from confusion to certainty and from arrogance to humility. I love the Bible, but I might never have read its pages if not for a book about the things God is doing, not thousands of years ago but within my generation. I found that book in a public school library.
We were living in Germany when the Army sent my father orders that relocated us to Fort Knox, Kentucky where he retired from the military to open his own business. I was accustomed to the modern, clean schools maintained by the military. In my new school, I attended one class in a building with a condemned sign hanging on the door. I wasn’t happy! Being an awkward, socially handicapped child in a dysfunctional family compounded my misery.
I sought refuge from the harsh reality of my life in the school library. My only friends were my books. I spent hours in the barnyard with Wilbur the talking pig, and marveled at the stamina of a great racehorse named Man of War. A book about the beauty and grace of Irish Setters birthed a desire to own one, and I did for six miserable months. That experience taught me reality is not as appealing as fantasy. My beautiful Irish Setter turned my back yard into the Grand Canyon.
After I exhausted the supply of animal books, I decided to read every book in the library. One day, I came to a row of paperback books nestled under a window framed with a dingy, yellow curtain. I pulled out a book titled The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson. It wasn’t the kind of book I normally read, but I had a goal to fulfill and it was next in line. Of all the books that I read Wilkerson’s book made me pause and wonder what was different. I read his book a second time and then reluctantly returned it to the library thinking I had read fiction.
The Cross and the Switchblade is a factual account of Rev. David Wilkerson’s ministry to gangs and drug addicts in New York City. After he won one of the most notorious gang members in the city to the LordRev. Wilkerson established Teen Challenge, which eventually spread throughout the world offering multitudes of young men and women a new way of life. The cure rate for drug addicts that went through the Teen Challenge program was documented at 80%, most other drug programs at that time had a 10 to 15% cure rate. The success of the Teen Challenge program was attributed to the Jesus factor.
About a year after I read The Cross and the Switchblade, my Dad’s business failed. He accepted a job in New Orleans, and we moved to a trailer park on the westbank of the Mississippi River. My mother enrolled me in the 9th grade at the local high school. On the way to my school locker, I saw a poster on the wall announcing David Wilkerson would be speaking at the New Orleans Rivergate. I couldn’t get home fast enough to ask my mother if she would bring me.
My mother asked me why I wanted to go. I didn’t have a reason. I didn’t know why I wanted to go. ”Who is David Wilkerson?” she asked. I didn’t know. I thought the book was fiction, so I told her that he was an author, and I wanted to hear him speak. She informed me that I would be bored and refused to take me.
My mother would have saved herself a lot of heartache if she had heeded my plea. Not long after that incident my life became entangled in the local drug culture. I quickly grew weary of the drug addicts’ way of life but didn’t know how to stop. It’s not as easy as “just say no.” One night at a Rock Concert, I stood in front of a huge speaker booming the Doobie Brothers song, “Jesus Is Just Alright” and asked God to help me. Several months after that prayer, a friend invited me to a Jesus Rally at The House of Living Water. She enticed me to attend with the assurance a lot of good-looking guys would be at the meeting. Her mother dropped us off and left.
There were four people at the rally that night: myself, my friend, and two young girls who had wandered in off the street. At the end of a message proclaiming Jesus is returning and we need to be ready, the preacher invited us to receive Jesus as savior. My friend immediately whispered in my ear that she had received Jesus and that I should receive him too. When I prayed the sinner’s prayer, I felt an unexplainable joy explode within me. I left the Jesus Rally with the knowledge that I had been “born again” but ignorant of what that meant and did not associate what happened to me with church.
For months after that experience I was aware of a comforting presence. At times that presence was so strong I could not contain it. I poured out my frustrations to God. His presence dried my tears. I walked up and down the street in front of a church behind my home praying to find other people who knew God as I did. The following year, a friend invited me to attend the church I often stood in front of praying. The moment I walked in the door, I knew that I belonged there. Within a year I was free from drugs.
In God’s providence a testimony of his power to deliver drug addicts was planted in my heart before I developed a drug problem. Even though my twelve-year-old mind did not comprehend The Cross and the Switchblade was a true account about the ministry of a pastor, the power and presence of God was inherent in its pages. I could not tell you what it was, but I knew there was something different about that book. If I had not read The Cross and the Switchblade it is questionable that it would have been in my consciousness to ask God for help. David Wilkerson will never know how his obedience to God touched my life. His book went places he could not go and turned the course of my life down a path leading me to the House of Living Water where a young preacher’s message dramatically changed my life.