Our Founder – David Wilkerson
“You can’t do everything. But you have to do something.”
Our founder didn’t coin this creed. But to him, they were words to live by. David Wilkerson knew that God’s love transforms every realm of life. And he made it his mission over six decades to see that happen. For David, it began with heroin addicts on the streets of New York City’s boroughs. There wasn’t a known cure for heroin addiction then, in the late 1950s. So David founded Teen Challenge, a biblically based recovery program to reach the whole person—not just with physical healing, but with hope. As its success spread, David became famous through his multi-million-selling book, The Cross and the Switchblade. Today Teen Challenge continues helping people with life-controlling problems, with 1,100 recovery centers in 96 countries.
But to David, recovery from addiction wasn’t enough. He wanted to get to the roots of addiction before it could claim people’s lives. So he started preschools in poor urban neighborhoods, to keep children from drifting into drug use. Then, for two decades he toured the U.S. conducting youth rallies to give teenagers hope against despair. He also traveled the globe, especially to poor nations, with the same hopeful message of God’s transforming love.
His pioneering spirit is what fuels World Poverty Solutions. You see, at the heart of all he did, David maintained a priority for the poor and hurting. He took seriously the mandates of Matthew 25:34–46 and James 1:27. So everywhere he traveled, he supported works that helped people mired in poverty. If a work was needed but didn’t exist, he founded it. He funded or staffed feeding programs, orphanages, widow care programs, and a range of other charitable works.
Even in retirement, David reinvigorated his mission to help the suffering poor. That’s when the seeds of World Poverty Solutions took root. David began exchanging ideas with his son Gary, who at the time was director of World Challenge missions. Both father and son shared a conviction to aid the poor, but Gary actively studied ways to address the roots of poverty. David responded to his ideas—he saw the wisdom in Gary’s suggestions for long-term solutions—and a shift began. Over eleven years, World Challenge missions gradually refocused its aid work to development work, through an effort called Community Ministry. That work formed the foundation of World Poverty Solutions. Eventually, Gary’s vision to build empowering hope in the poor grew to inform all sectors of World Challenge missions.
In 2010—approaching his 80th year—David installed Gary as President of World Challenge, to lead the vision forward. The following year, David died, leaving a beautiful legacy of service—and this guiding mandate: we can’t do everything, but we must do something. Our founder showed us how.