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Sunday, May 10, 2009

(Nicky Cruz and David Wilkerson) Many years ago, I attended an event at Waverly High School that featured an inspirational talk by Nicky Cruz, the gang-leader subject of the movie The Cross and the Switchblade. Cruz was born in 1938 to a Theistic Satanist family in Puerto Rico, a home where his parents brutally abused him, both physically and mentally, his mother hatefully saying that she did not want him and his father brutally locking him in a room full of pigeons. Nicky's mother often referred to him as the "Son of Satan." Nicky told us that by three and a half years old, his heart had "turned to stone." Nicky continued, "Since the day when I was eight years old and my mother threw me out I had rejected everyone who had even tried to show me love. If my mother did not love me, I could not expect that any strangers could love me. That’s why I became such a bad man on the streets." When Nicky was fifteen his parents sent him to New York, to live with his brother Frank, but Nicky decided to go solo and ventured onto the streets alone. He was beaten-up by a gang leader in a gang initiation ceremony, and then left unconscious, trying to heal for ten days. After he did heal, he improved his fighting tactics, and sought out after the gang leader to teach him a lesson. Cruz found the man, and beat him so badly that the leader was left unconscious and bloodied. He gained instant notoriety for his violent, bold behavior. According to his biographer, Nicky found this gang existence in New York City: Tough, but lonely, by age 16 he became a member of the notorious Brooklyn street gang known as the Mau Maus (named after a bloodthirsty African tribe). Within six months he became their president. Cruz fearlessly ruled the streets as warlord of one of the worst gangs in New York. Lost in the cycle of drugs, alcohol, and brutal violence, his life took a tragic turn for the worse after a friend and fellow gang member was horribly stabbed and beaten and died in Nicky's arms. (The Nicky Cruz Outreach, Cruz told us that as he walked along the streets of New York the people were "scared of him because he a bad reputation." As a gang leader of 205 boys and 175 girls, he controlled everything they did from murder to bad little delinquent crimes. The Mau Maus, least of all Nicky Cruz, had no respect for life nor for anything else. By the age of 18, Nicky had been arrested twenty one times and had been charged with almost every crime, from robbery to assault with intent to kill. Although the judges ordered that he go for six months of psychiatric treatment, he felt that he was so deep down in hell that no therapy in the world could have saved him from the darkness. The court-ordered psychiatrist pronounced Nicky's fate as "headed to prison, the electric chair, and hell." Nicky, himself, believed his future held exactly those outcomes. Then, Nicky met a skinny preacher named David Wilkerson. The preacher told Cruz that God loved him and would never stop loving him, but the conversation ended when Cruz threatened to kill Wilkerson. When David did not want to give up, Nicky screamed: "Be quiet you, I am God! This here is people power, ghetto power and that is gang power! God doesn’t have anything to do with us and we don’t want anything to do with him. See that you get out of here and don't ever come back!" ( That afternoon the preacher showed up at the Mau Mau's headquarters to repeat his message. According to Nicky, this is what happened next in Cruz's basement during a dope and booze party: "He didn't have permission, just a big smile on his face. David Wilkerson was consciously aware of what would face him but he came in anyway. He asked: 'Where is Nicky Cruz?' I pushed a girl to one side and stormed up to him: 'I am Nicky, what do you want? ' David said: 'I want to be your friend.' I retaliated: 'I certainly don't want to be your friend!' He came over to me. Then I hit him. Blood came out of his nose; I attacked him and spat on him like a wild animal! Then I called him every bad name under the sun.

I even bad-mouthed God. Then I grabbed him by the hair and hit his head against the wall until some of my friends pulled me away. They tried to tell me that: 'The preacher means no harm!' I went to the door.

Then David Wilkerson called after me: 'Nicky, before you go out of the door, I just want to tell you that Jesus loves you!'" (

Nicky describes the words "Nicky, Jesus loves you" as a knife that pierced his heart. He continued going out with the gang. However, every night to him was like hearing a broken record which kept playing in his heart saying: "Jesus loves you, Jesus loves you!" A short time later, Nicky met with David Wilkerson, confessed his sins, begged forgiveness, and allowed Jesus to enter his life. He has since become one of the most effective witnesses for Christ and for troubled youth everywhere. And, Nicky proudly reported that his mother has changed as well. She is not a Satanist anymore, now she loves Jesus too. His brothers have also given their lives to the Lord along with many of his friends who were in the gang. Over the years since I heard Nicky Cruz, I have often thought about his testimony. It had been a story I could never forget. The one question that always reoccured in my mind when I thought about the horrible life Nicky first endured was "What would I have done if my mother had told me she hated me, wishing I was never born?" Often, since seeing Nicky, when I have encountered a particularly tough young man filled with hatred and bent on self destruction with hatred for the world, I have wondered why he acted so badly. Then, suddenly, I thought of Nicky's response to his horrible treatment. My mind confirmed the reality that I had just met another young "Nicky Cruz." Some thing, or many things, unspeakably terrible had probably happened to this delinquent. Now, filled with rage to avenge his wounds of the past, the teen had just become a new name playing an old part in the age-old drama of human brutality. I hoped, like Nicky, some day he would find salvation. I felt compassion for this pitiful kid. But, then, I would shutter as the answer to my question began to resister in my brain. I might have been a "Nicky Cruz" myself if I had encountered such rejection. And, finally, the answer came to me as clear as the conscience of our Savior: I would have done anything, absolutely anything at all, no matter how horrible if I had been treated the way Nicky Cruz was treated by the ones I was trying to love. Thank God I was born into a loving, caring family. Through nothing I had any control over whatsoever, I had been spared the life of a gangster. Postscript: A film, Run Baby Run: The Nicky Cruz Story, based upon Cruz's book of the same title, is set for release in 2010.
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