Cruz came from a dysfunctional family that engaged
in witchcraft. As a 16-year-old gang leader in Brooklyn,
the Puerto Rican-born Cruz led followers in robberies and
violence. But at age 19, after an encounter with street
preacher David Wilkerson, Cruz made Jesus Christ his Savior.
Cruz went on to become director of Wilkerson’s first
Teen Challenge program. Their story was made into a 1972
film, The Cross and the Switchblade, starring Pat
Boone and Erik Estrada. Cruz’s 1968 book Run Baby
Run has sold more than 12 million copies and has been
translated into 43 languages. For the past decade he has
led an anti-gang ministry called TRUCE — To Reach
Urban Communities Everywhere, based in Colorado Springs.
Cruz, 64, has preached to an estimated 35 million people.
He recently spoke with News Editor John W. Kennedy.
PE: How did
your salvation experience change your life?
I was on a journey of pain and rejection. Then the miracle
happened. God was looking for me through David Wilkerson,
who came to the streets and parked himself a few inches
from hell. David was fishing for fish like me.
PE: Is it
more difficult to reach people with the gospel today than
when you came to know the Lord?
Yes. My biggest concern is that the church has turned too
much to technology. Technology can never replace the heart
of God. The battle is in the field, where people experience
loneliness, insecurity, rejection and sickness. There is
nothing wrong with technology, but it shouldn’t replace
the simplicity of the gospel.
PE: Have changes
in American society made evangelism more difficult?
When I was in the gang people still had a respect for God,
family and authority. There was a fear of God. Now there
is a great disrespect for God in society. It’s a tremendous
disgrace. Still, I believe in evangelism. Jesus didn’t
die in vain. He gave us the Holy Spirit to lead us in the
PE: How are
you able to relate to the young generation?
I have so much gratitude for what God did for me and I can
communicate with young people. I know their music. I know
the way they think, even more now than when I had 25,000
to 30,000 coming to stadiums. I have to be vulnerable because
I’m dealing with a vulnerable society looking for
PE: Are a
lot of parents clueless about what their kids do for entertainment?
There are a lot of things parents take for granted. Fellowship
in the family is imperative if parents don’t want
to be detached from their children and surprised by their
activities. Parents have the responsibility to supervise.
They can never compete with the television channels. Internet
filth can be devastating. Little by little we’re losing
PE: Tell me
a little more about your ministry now.
TRUCE is about aggressive evangelism. It is an approach
to evangelism that we have developed to reach the inner
city, and we see hundreds saved each time. It’s a
great sadness that some churches don’t want the people
we draw to our outreaches. These are the people Jesus spent
His time with while on earth. Inner cities are a wide-open
PE: Gang violence
is no longer confined to the inner city.
Exactly. The ghetto has changed middle- and upper-class
communities for the worse through hip-hop and rap music
messages. We failed to reach the inner city and now the
inner city is reaching — and changing — our
middle-class culture. It has affected the way we think.
And Christians should be unchangeable.
been an ordained Assemblies of God evangelist for 40 years.
Do you have any plans to slow down?
I want to take the most beautiful thing that has happened
to me — Jesus — everywhere. Talking about Jesus
is what makes me happy. I want to die with that passion.
comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.