Friday, April 29, 2011

Remembering David Wilkerson

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Wednesday morning I got up, went to my office and read most of the email I had received overnight.

Among my email was a daily devotion I receive and read everyday. The devotion for Wednesday, April 27, 2011, was titled "When All Means Fail" and began with, "To believe when all means fail is exceedingly pleasing to God and is most acceptable."

It continued, "Jesus said to Thomas, 'You have believed because you have seen, but blessed are those who do believe and have not seen.'" (John 20:29) "You may have come to the end of your resources, facing death---hopelessness , prayers seemingly unanswered---even questioning God's existence." Concluding, "To those going through the valley of the shadow of death hear this word: Weeping will last through some dark, awful nights---and in that darkness you will soon hear the Father whisper, 'I am with you...when all means fail...stand fast in your faith. Stand fast in His Word. There is no other hope in the world."

David Wilkerson

Wednesday afternoon, I got a call telling us David Wilkerson was dead. He was killed in a car crash at about 1 PM, 80 miles out of Dallas, Texas. His wife Gwendolyn, I was told, was still alive.

I have linked a news story here which details his life of ministry that touched millions of lives.

Shocked, I began remembering the David Wilkerson I knew. He impacted my life more than he could have known.

May I share it with you?

Graduating from Wapato High School in 1959, I was offered a four year music scholarship to the University of Nevada Las Vegas. In great part this came as a result of much work on the part of my High School and Jr. High music teacher, Mr. Olland Warcup. He had put much of himself into my music and I had excelled.

I'm sure he was stunned when I didn't accept the scholarship. And perhaps a little upset.

Providence provided that this 18-year-old musician did not move to Las Vegas at that time in my life.

I didn't accept it because I really didn't want to become a music teacher, which was part of the deal---and I had a girlfriend that was a couple of years behind me.

Having entered Yakima Valley College a few years later and married my high school sweet heart---the girlfriend, I had begun to think seriously about what I really wanted to do with my life. During that time a friend mentioned a new book---it was titled, "The Cross and The Switchblade". An interesting title.

It was the story of how a self described "country preacher" named David Wilkerson felt called of God to go to New York City and minister to the disillusioned youth in the inner city---the gang members, the prostitutes, the outcasts and disenfranchised.

The book profoundly impacted my life and was one of several factors in sensing that God was calling me to become a minister. Over 15 million copies have been sold over the years and in 1970 the story of the book became a film with Pat Boone playing David Wilkerson and Eric Estrada playing Nicki Cruz, a gang member converted under Wilkerson's ministry. The film has been seen by more than 50 million people in 150 countries.

By 1964, I was enrolled in Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington, studying to become a pastor. In addition to going to school full time, I was also working full time and was music director at Neighborhood Church in Bellevue. By the time I reached my senior year, I was growing weary of the pace, but not the calling.

The offer to become a paid music and youth pastor during my senior year seemed like a God send, so my wife and I left our beloved church family in Bellevue and Pastor Hance and immersed ourselves in our new church in a different suburb of Seattle. At first, driving back and forth between Kirkland and classes and the "other suburb" was okay, but as our involvement increased, it became more difficult until the church offered us an apartment in the church daylight basement.

Great. $85 a month and an apartment. The youth ministry was strong and growing. The choir loft was full and they sounded pretty good. Everyone seemed to be having a great time.

But from time to time, I sensed something wasn't just right. Not just toward me, but in general.

This was before Donald Trump had his" Apprentice" show, and "you're fired" was not so popularized.

I was told I was well liked, and yes the choir and youth ministry were doing well, but I was fired anyway. All on a Saturday night.

I was stunned, crushed, embarrassed, devastated and certain I would never have a ministry following this.

"But why," I asked. My boss told me he felt the church board and some of the church leaders wanted me to be lead pastor instead of him. I had grown up in church and had never heard of such a thing.

With $85 a month you cover gas and groceries, but don't have a savings account. I moved my wife and our little child back to the Yakima Valley with her parents, and got a job to save up enough for first and last on an apartment or house.

The nights in the church basement were lonely and eerie, people tried to contact me, but I tried to avoid them. I did not want to contribute to whatever was going on. However, one evening about 8 o'clock there was a knock on my door. I opened the door to a small Mexican man whom I had never seen.

He handed me a little black hardback book and in very broken English said, "Pastor Gary, God told me to bring this to you. Please read it." I said I would, thanked him and he disappeared. I had never seen him before, nor have I seen him since.

As I looked at the book I could hardly believe it---the author was David Wilkerson. The book is titled, "I'm Not Mad At God". It is a series of short messages or lessons. My eyes fell on page 61. I wept.

Page 61 is about open doors and adversaries. Wilkerson wrote: "I can testify to the world that every open door God has placed before me has been accompanied by the greatest battles of my ministry. Every new book, every great crusade, has brought me new critics, more slander, libelous rumors---and ungracious treatment from ministers whom I believed to be my friends. They became my adversaries." His lesson was this: "Don't pray for open doors or to be effective until you are prepared to walk by faith through an army of adversaries."

I held the book tightly and read and wept and wept and read. After a couple of weeks, I had enough money to rent a house for us and enough courage to talk to the District Supt. of my denomination. I brought my wife and baby back, then met to tell the District Supt. what had happened. And ask for guidance.

Dr. Frank McAllistor was a kind and understanding man. He let me talk and tell my story. He already knew all about it. He said you will come to see this as a blessing very soon, there are serious problems in that situation, which are unrelated to you. You will not be associated with what will happen.

I soon understood.

Some years later, when I was in the church in North Hollywood, I was asked to be a guest speaker in a large church in Dallas, Texas. Just before the service began, the pastor told me David Wilkerson would be attending the service, that this was his home church.

Following the service I met David and briefly told him the story I have just told you. Particularly about page 61. As we parted, I reached out my hand, he wrapped his arms around my shoulders in a hug.

In the late 1970s through 1990, I hosted the Gary Randall Program, as many of you know from reading our bio or having been involved with us during those years. In a production meeting one day, my producer asked if I would like to have David Wilkerson as a guest. I told her it would be great, but that I had heard he did not like television, especially talk shows, so I doubted he would do it.

In our next meeting she told me he was booked. She said, "He remembers you."

When he arrived at the KOIN-TV studios a few weeks later, we hugged, exchanged greetings and I handed him a little black hard cover book and said, "Will you autograph this for me?" He said, "I think you liked page 61."

I'm holding the book now as a write this. Inside the cover is written: "To Gary my beloved friend, David Wilkerson".

I never knew him socially, nor did I spend more than a few hours with him over a lifetime, but I knew him---he helped shape my life in ways he may only now begin to understand.

Thank you, David.

Your friend Gary.