The Cross and the Screwdriver
From deep within the sanctuary, loud and desperate screams were heard: “Stop that man! He just stole a purse from one of the choir members! Stop him!” Mark and I were both standing at the front door of the church, the only way out. We could easily have prevented that guy from getting past us if we had had a few seconds to process what was happening. We should have at least tried to trip him as he flew past us. He tucked a large leather purse under his shirt like it was a football and ran down the street, darting around peo- ple and poles and cars. He crossed Seventh Avenue and disappeared down the subway steps. Mark and I looked at each other, nodded in agreement, and took off after him.
After all, we were in charge of security in the new church. It had been going for only a few months, but already hundreds of people were attending. How was that possible? David Wilkerson announced Times Square Church’s opening through his mailing list many months before starting in Town Hall. He rented those facilities for Sunday morning and Tuesday evening services. A few weeks after a very successful launch, the church outgrew that space and moved into the Nederlander Theatre on 41st Street, right in the middle of
busy Manhattan. The services were packed, dynamic, and filled with spiritually hungry people from across the Tri-State region.
David Wilkerson, the author of the best-selling book (and movie) The Cross and the Switchblade, heard from God that he was to raise up a church in Times Square of all places! Surely God had not writ- ten off New York City, as many people in the Body of Christ had been feeling for the past few years. The mass exodus to the suburbs had officially ended. The Lord still had great plans for this city! The enthusiasm and expectations were so high that everyone involved was extremely excited, including me and Mark. We were both in our twenties and felt so blessed to be on staff. Along with Wally and Alex, we actually lived in the theater, and our duties were to main- tain the facilities and handle security issues. Sometimes we found homeless people hiding in the bathroom stalls or in the closets after church services were over. A few times, we discovered the door to the roof opened, apparently because someone was intending to come back in the middle of the night to take whatever they could carry out.
We never actually had anyone come into the building in broad daylight and steal anything, not until the purse snatcher. The female choir members left their purses on the front row seats when they went up to the theater’s stage to rehearse. The shady character walked right into the church and slowly made his way down the aisle. (Everyone must have assumed he came for an audition.) All the women’s purses were in plain sight on the front row, right where they could keep an eye on them. That guy took the first purse he came to and took off like a late freight train. Mark and I noticed as we came to the top of the subway steps that he didn’t anticipate anyone following him. There he was, on the bottom step, casually rummaging through the large purse as though it was his! He saw us coming and darted across the subway station, heading toward another stairway exit. We somehow reached that exit first and cornered him against a wall. I grabbed the purse from his trembling hands. (He must have been a drug addict.) Then I declared in my most authoritative voice,
“How dare you walk into a church and steal a purse…from a choir member!” I looked up the steps in the direction of the church, realizing it actually looked more like a theater than a house of worship. When my eyes glanced back upon our little criminal, I saw his face grimacing as though he was exerting all his strength.
Before I realized what was happening, he pulled out a long, razor-sharp screwdriver and plunged it toward my stomach. A second before it reached its target, Mark’s hand came pounding down on his wrist, and the screwdriver fell to the ground. The addict reached down for it but suddenly decided against that course of action. He lifted himself up, took one last defiant look at us, and ran up the steps and back into the hustle and bustle of the city streets, never to be seen by us again.
Mark and I just stared at each other, soaking in all that had hap- pened in the past three and a half minutes. He picked up the weapon and almost touched the tip of that screwdriver, but he decided against it because of its sharpened, razor-thin point.
“Thank you so much, Mark!” I exclaimed. “Thank God, Charles. Thank God.”
We soon noticed that the lady whose purse was stolen (and recovered) was nervously waiting in front of the church. On our way back, Mark jokingly repeated my remarks: “How dare you walk into a church and steal a purse from a choir member! Boy, Charles, you sure convicted him!” We broke out into hearty laughter, both because it was quite silly of me and because we were so relieved that things turned out OK.
As we approached the theater, Mark read aloud from a poster taped on the inside of one of its advertising windows: “Come hear David Wilkerson, the author of The Cross and the Switchblade.” Mark then held up the screwdriver and joked, “Hey Charles, maybe one day you’ll write a book called The Cross and the Screwdriver!” Again, another round of laughter as we entered the sanctuary and secured
the doors behind us. For years after this incident, Mark would occasionally ask when I was going to write my book The Cross and the Screwdriver. I passed it off as a foolish notion. But for the next six years, I did my best to soak in all I could from Pastor Dave, who was such a great example of a man of God to all who received from him, either through his sermons or newsletters (regularly sent out to over a million homes) or by working alongside him. In the churches and Bible schools that I’ve pastored and taught in since, people have been blessed when I’ve shared bits and pieces of what I experienced and learned directly from him. Many times have I heard these words: “I just love it when you share your stories about David Wilkerson!” I will do my best to share everything exactly as it occurred, starting in Tennessee, thirty-nine years ago.- Charles Simpson, author of Walking in the Footsteps of David Wilkerson