Don Stephens, the Founder / President of Mercy Ships, a global charity that has operated hospital ships in developing nations since 1978, has revealed the key role that David Wilkerson played the organization’s relocation to Texas.
Stephens told the ASSIST News Service about Wilkerson’s key involvement with Mercy Ships following the shocking news that the founder of Times Square Church and co-author of “The Cross and the Switchblade”, had died on Wednesday in an automobile accident in Texas. He was 79 and lived near Tyler, Texas.
Rev. Wilkerson’s car veered into oncoming traffic on a highway near Cuney, about 110 miles southeast of Dallas, and was hit by a tractor-trailer, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety told The Associated Press.
“David Wilkerson was a key in Mercy Ships relocation to Texas,” said Don Stephens in an exclusive interview. “We began in 1979 in Lausanne, Switzerland and then in 1982 we opened our first US office in San Pedro, California.
“David Wilkerson let us know that part of his property in Garden Valley, Texas was for sale and we moved 1,500 miles inland. At what is now the Mercy Ships International Operations Center in East Texas, Brother David, as he liked to be called, gave the dedicatory sermon from the life of the prophet Elisha The Lost Axe Head – the place where iron floats.(2 Kings 6:1-7).
“Mercy Ships is one of two organizations that literally floats iron. David Wilkerson was truly a prophet to the 20th and 21st centuries. His first book, ‘The Cross and the Switchblade’ was seminal in inspiring me, as well as many others, to trust God for great things.”
Stephens went on to say, “Ten years earlier, David Wilkerson had sold his 400 acre ranch to Leland Paris, Director of Youth With A Mission (YWAM) for the Americas and now Mercy Ships and YWAM Tyler are neighbors.
“Teen Mania, another near neighbor ministry, now owns the property developed by musician Keith Green’s ‘Last Days Ministries’. Christian recording artist Dallas Holmes is another Christian ministry that Wilkerson influenced to locate nearby.
“David Wilkerson was the magnet that drew several Christian organizations to Garden Valley, Texas.”
“The Cross and the Switchblade” was released back in 1963 by David Wilkerson with John and Elizabeth Sherrill. It tells the true story of Wilkerson’s first five years in New York City, where he ministered to disillusioned youth, encouraging them to turn away from the drugs and gang violence they were involved in. The book became a best seller, with tens of millions of copies distributed in over 30 languages, according to its current publisher, Chosen Books.
In 1970, a film adaptation was released, starring Pat Boone as David Wilkerson and Erik Estrada as Nicky Cruz, the teen gang member whose life was transformed by Wilkerson’s ministry. It is said have been viewed by an estimated 50 million people in over 30 languages in 150 countries, according to World Film Crusade.
About Mercy Ships:
Mercy Ships uses hospital ships to deliver free, world-class health care services, capacity building and sustainable development to those without access in the developing world. Founded by Don and Deyon Stephens, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 70 countries providing services valued at more than $834 million, impacting more than 2.9 million direct beneficiaries. Each year Mercy Ships has more than 1,200 volunteers from over 40 nations. Professionals including surgeons, dentists, nurses, health care trainers, teachers, cooks, seamen, engineers, and agriculturalists donate their time and skills to the effort. Mercy Ships seeks to become the face of love in action, bringing hope and healing to the poor. It’s latest vessel, Africa Mercy, is billed as “The World’s Largest Private Hospital Ship”.
For more information, please go to www.mercyships.org
Note from Dan Wooding. I would like to thank those of you who sent me your memories of David Wilkerson. A story is now being written up based on many of them by my colleague, Jeremy Reynalds.