NEW YORK – Hundreds of messages offering prayers and honoring the legacy of David Wilkerson flooded Twitter and Facebook as Christians learned of the passing of a "true hero" who founded Times Square Church and World Challenge.
Wilkerson died in a fatal car crash in East Texas Wednesday afternoon. He was 79.
His wife, Gwendolyn Wilkerson, 70, was injured and airlifted to a local hospital.
Those who were moved by his death included Christian music artist Michael W. Smith, who offered his prayers to David Wilkerson's family via Twitter and asked his followers to pray for Gwen.
Rich Wilkerson, pastor of Peacemakers in Miami, Fla., was at a loss for words when it came to describing his cousin.
"The term LEGEND is often used to describe a person of extreme influence but what about a man that supersedes superlatives," he tweeted of David Wilkerson.
Many who followed Wilkerson's work or was personally affected by him called him a "true hero."
"David Wilkerson was a true hero ... A man of conviction not convenience. He lived what he preached. We will miss him greatly!" said one of his relatives, Rich Wilkerson Jr., on Twitter.
On the his Facebook page, scores of supporters, including Melinda Allen-Morales, wrote faith-filled messages that celebrated his legacy and characterized his life as a victory for heaven.
"You will be missed! Your amazing works here on earth will not go unnoticed and the legacy you leave behind will and has touched so many. What is our loss on earth is heavens gain. There you get to spend eternity with our King! We will see you again one day. Blessings to your family in this time of sorrow and in joy knowing your (sic) in a much better place," Allen-Morales wrote.
In addition to being the founder of Times Square Church in Manhattan, N.Y., Wilkerson is known for founding Teen Challenge, an evangelical Christian recovery program connected to the Assemblies of God denomination that teaches biblical principles to help young adults struggling with addictions, including drug and alcohol problems. The nonprofit has 233 locations in the United States and 1,181 centers in total worldwide, helping as many as 25,000 people struggling with addiction.
The minister tells the story of how he began his ministry in New York City and work with youths involved in drugs and gangs in his bestselling book The Cross and the Switchblade.
In their online posts, some people remembered Wilkerson as their "spiritual father" while others credited his book for changing their lives or for inspiring them to go into ministry for Teen Challenge or in New York City.
Joel Houston, son of Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston, said it was from reading The Cross and the Switchblade that "seeded NYC in my heart" as a place for ministry.
"So grateful for the life and legacy of David Wilkerson," tweeted Houston, who now helps lead Hillsong NYC, the Australian-based church's first U.S. plant.
On Thursday afternoon, the Wilkerson family posted a message on David Wilkerson's Facebook page confirming that he has gone to "be with Jesus" and thanking supporters for their prayers.
"We are receiving many calls and inquiries and simply wanted to confirm the fact that he has passed away in a fatal automobile accident. We appreciate your prayers and our hearts are sorrowful, yet we rejoice at the joy of knowing David Wilkerson spent his life well," read the message entitled "In Memory of David Wilkerson."
"More information will be coming soon. Thank you for your prayers."
In his last devotional for World Challenge, written a few hours before his death, Wilkerson encouraged believers to hold fast to their faith even "when all means fail."
"Someone has come to the place of hopelessness – the end of hope – the end of all means. A loved one is facing death and doctors give no hope. Death seems inevitable. Hope is gone. The miracle prayed for is not happening," wrote Wilkerson, painting a hopeless situation.
In his final public words, Wilkerson told those facing despair, "Beloved, God has never failed to act but in goodness and love. When all means fail – his love prevails. Hold fast to your faith. Stand fast in his Word. There is no other hope in this world."
Wilkerson was born May 19, 1931, in Hammond, Ind.
He is survived by his wife and four children.
On the Web: David Wilkerson Timeline