On Feb. 9, 1958, a young Assemblies of God pastor in a rural town in Pennsylvania was watching the late show on TV while his wife and small children were asleep. On that night he evaluated his life.
"How much time am I spending in front of the TV each night?" he asked himself. "A couple of hours at least. What if I sold the TV set and spent that time praying?" The next morning he and his wife agreed to sell their TV if, after putting the ad in the paper, it sold within on hour after the paper hit the streets.
At the 29th minute the phone rang. “How much?”
The young pastor had not even thought of the price—but he instantly said, “$100.”
The caller said, “I’ll take it. I’ll be there in 15 minutes.”
On Feb. 25, a late Tuesday evening near the end of his prayer time—just 2 weeks and 2 days after the decision to sell the TV—this young pastor was in his study praying and began to feel a great heaviness. He felt an urge to pick up Life magazine, but resisted at first because he didn’t want to fall into a trap of reading a magazine on his prayer time. He had been fidgeting that evening—his wife and children had been away visiting grandparents in Pittsburgh. The magazine beckoned to him from his desk. Finally, he said, “Lord, is there something You want me to see?” He sat down in his brown swivel chair and opened the magazine.
He leafed along and came to a page that at first seemed to have nothing to interest him. It carried a pen drawing of a trial taking place 350 miles away in New York City—a place he had never been. The eyes of one of the seven figures in the drawing, on trial for murder caught his attention. The look in the boy’s eyes was one of bewilderment, hatred, and despair. The young pastor began to cry. He said aloud to himself, “What’s the matter with me?”
He looked at the picture more carefully. The boys were all teenagers. They were members of a gang called the Dragons. They had brutally attacked and killed a 15-year-old polio victim named Michael Farmer. The seven boys had stabbed Michael in the back seven times with their knives, and then beat him over the head with garrison belts. They went away wiping blood through their hair, saying, “We messed him good.”
The story revolted the young pastor. It turned his stomach. And, then a thought came—Go to New York City and help those boys. On Friday morning the young pastor was in the courtroom—and the rest of the story is history. Had David Wilkerson not given himself to prayer, Teen Challenge would never have happened.
Since that time the ministry of Teen Challenge has transformed hundreds of thousands of lives. Around the world today and every day, 24,000 men and women are currently in a center being sent free by the power of Christ.
There’s a needlepoint in David Wilkerson’s office from his daughter, Bonnie: “My dad is famous not for who he is, but because he dared to listen when God wanted to hold conversation.”
May we also listen when God wants to hold conversation. The Early Church father, John Chrysostom, expressed it eloquently and succinctly: “God can refuse nothing to a praying church.”
George O. Wood is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.