The Rev. David Wilkerson, a slim, intense, 34-year-old evangelist whose ministry to teen-agers in trouble (especially narcotics addicts) has won national attention, is expanding his Brooklyn-based work, called Teen Challenge. The main new emphases are on mass youth evangelism, magazine publishing, literature distribution, and specialized schooling for converts to Christ. His purpose is to reach a greatly expanded segment of the nation’s immense teen population (those from twelve to twenty years old), now numbering about 29,000,000.

Wilkerson’s work with young people began nearly six years ago when he saw a picture of a gang of New York toughs in Life magazine. Strangely, the picture made him weep. It constituted what he terms a “burden from the Lord” that made him leave his Pennsylvania country-church pastorate to invade bleak tenement hallways and gang “turfs” with a message to socially deprived, hostile youth that God loved them in very fact. Teen Challenge is now a $670,000-a-year operation in the New York area, with similar projects in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, and Toronto.

The Cross and the Switchblade was the title of the book that told the story of his curbstone encounters with the teen-age underworld and his penetration of narcotics cloisters where kids jabbed their arms full of needle holes. Its accounts of about-face turns to Christ and redeemed young lives caused a considerable stir among church people, and the book, which has gone through nineteen printings in hard-cover and paperback, has sold 478,000 copies in paperback alone and well over half a million altogether.

The Cross and the Switchblade has now become the name of a new pocket-sized magazine whose first issue comes off the press this month. Teen Challenge, which plans to make no charge for subscriptions, will publish it every other month and distribute it to individuals and churches.

The Rev. Leonard Ravenhill, British-born preacher and author of books on revivals, has moved his family into one of the Teen Challenge headquarters buildings along Clinton Avenue in Brooklyn to become the magazine’s editor. The magazine intends a double thrust—directly at youth, with a message of personal redemption amid temptation, and also at churches. “What we hope to do is to make this magazine a kind of window in which the churches of America can see the problems that many teen-agers are being caught in, and perhaps get a glimpse of what can be done about it,” Mr. Ravenhill said.

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Wilkerson, no theologian, is a sort of a gut-preacher of the Gospel who believes in directness of thrust. “It works, on the street, changing life patterns,” he says. “This is not just on paper; it’s in hearts.”

Wilkerson and his wife, who has been seriously ill, have four children. They live in a small home on Staten Island. He is an ordained minister of the Assemblies of God but says he differs somewhat with what he regards as the denomination’s traditional stand on glossolalia.

In June, Revell will publish a sequel to The Cross and the Switchblade. Twelve Angels from Hell will show more detail, telling the story of a dozen young lives redeemed from drugs and gross perversions and set on new paths of peace through Jesus Christ.

Life magazine—which in a way started it all—has tentatively scheduled a major report for a February issue. Photographers have been shooting film in a number of Teen Challenge centers throughout the country.

A young businessman in Calgary, Alberta, got the notion of distributing free copies of the original Wilkerson book to high school students last year, and Wilkerson has arranged with Pyramid Publications for a low-cost high school edition to be distributed at $150 per thousand paperback copies. This whole-text edition will also be used in Teen Challenge’s newest ministry—mass evangelism aimed specifically at teen-age audiences.

Wilkerson’s work has been essentially a street-corner affair, with only occasional broader scope; but eight meetings at Carnegie Hall and Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh in as many months have demonstrated to his satisfaction that large numbers of young people can be drawn to auditoriums, and that the same message he presents in his work with individuals can be presented to thousands, with somewhat the same effect.

Although Wilkerson is a little wooden-tongued on the platform and now and then stumbles or halts in delivery, his words have a weight of uncommon authority. He bases his sermons to mass audiences mainly on the experience he has gained talking to kids on corners, so he knows where they’re living. His themes, if a bit startling to adults, are splendidly contemporary to youth. He preaches on “wasting time,” “goof-balls,” and “going against the crowd,” and warns teen-agers that a failure to grasp the difference between love and lust may wreck lives.

A good many youths who come forward to receive Jesus Christ as Saviour at his meetings do so with unhidden tears. “There’s a good deal of talk about manifestations of the Holy Spirit today,” Wilkerson said, “and these are most interesting, but we must remember that when he, the Holy Spirit, is come, he will convict the world of sin. That is why there is a weeping and breaking among these young people. I’ve seen it in all our meetings. We miss the fact that the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the last days is unique in that it begins with our sons and daughters.”

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What happened in Pittsburgh, where the Kathryn Kuhlman Foundation hired the hall and supplied the ushers and choir for the Wilkerson meetings, was a chain reaction. Teen-agers won by the message went home and started chartering buses to bring schoolmates to hear the evangelist. Wilkerson, who weighs 145 pounds, was taken aback when he tried to make his way through a line standing outside Carnegie Hall so that he could get inside to preach. A kid blocked his way and said. “You’ll just have to wait your turn, skinny. I’m next.” Similar meetings have been held in Los Angeles and Minneapolis, and groups of ministers and laymen in Chicago, San Francisco, New Orleans, Detroit, Montreal, and Toronto have asked him to come this year to hold large meetings in those cities.

Teen Challenge has purchased a part of the former Astor estate at Rhinebeck, New York—a magnificent 100 acres set on a broad hilltop overlooking the Hudson River Valley. The thirty-room stone Georgian mansion, with its grand entrance hall and wide staircase, is no longer reserved for the silken footsteps of the privileged; it is soon to be a sanctuary for Bible-school training for youths who have turned to Christ, many of them from slum-ridden ghettos but a few from upper-income captivity to sin.

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