Thursday, April 28, 2011

Yes, David Wilkerson inspired me too.

Some might be utterly surprised by this confession, but its true. I am a big fan of 'The cross and the switchblade', the book. In my teen years, this is perhaps the book that played the biggest role in shaping my calling to work with young people, but more so to share the love of God.

Of course, some of you might remind me that Wilkerson was a very conservative (perhaps righwing?) Baptist pastor. Perhaps, his interpretation of history and scripture makes the hair to stand up. Yet what we cannot deny is the fact that the story of his pioneering efforts in connecting with some of the fiercest gangcrews, and marginalised young people in New York City, hit a nerve amongst people growing up in impoverished gang and drug infested communities. In these communities it (still) seems as if God's people have left the city and handed it over to the Devil. Wilkerson's theology of course didn't allow him to probe deeper into the social factors which gave birth to these realities. For him, the change in these communities would come, as individual young people made a decision to accept Jesus Christ. This, he felt would bring change in the communities.

Today we are still confronted with new generations of gangsters and new drugs in the States and other cities of the world. I don't see this as a failure; I do see this as a reminder that he was also human afterall. One need to see Wilkerson, the Baptist pastor, as a image of something more. He was a prototype, and in that sense an inspiration for many of us, for youth ministy or the being church not merely as a means for institutional survival, but as an embodiment of a love that take God's world serious. Yes, this is a divinely inspired love that is still human and therefore in many ways flawed and open to critique. Its a love that struggled to find expression in the real world, yet the ultimate transformation of people and communities remains God's work. Pastor David Wilkerson, a son of his time, believed that God so loved this world; this dirty, broken, messy world. And he acted upon this belief. Yes, this remains Gods work, and this world is where God is still touching the lives of those who often are not clean enough, predictable and obedient enough for the church. The lines between church and world, between sacred and secular is not so clear anymore, because God's love is much more then our little circles and humanly flawed efforts, yet our hearts are taken up in God's passion for the excluded.

Perhaps in this sense, it was another childhood hero, Erik Estrada, who in the movie played the role of Nicky Cruz, former gangleader turned evangelist, who did it for me. After all these years, I still don't know what turned me on. What I do know is that I also wanted to share in God's love with a community. This is still a dream and I am often so aware that I haven't yet been able to fullfil the promise. At least this can explain my restlessness and impatience with my own faithtradition and church and with a formalism that's cold towards the dire needs of our trapped communities and untapped generation (a term coined by David and Don Wilkerson, published in 'The Untapped Generation, 1971).

Whatever one wants to say about Wilkerson, one need to remember that he was one of the few willing to get out and do something, willing to risk not just ridicule and misunderstanding or risk making mistakes and errors in judgement, but more so, he was willing to die. Perhaps that's the biggest factor which inspired a young teenager, trying to find his way, in the ganglands of the Coloured communities in South Africa.
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Musings.....