If you have read The Cross and the Switchblade, you would remember the angry young man who spat on Pastor David Wilkerson.
Nicky Cruz had a childhood overshadowed by demonic spiritualism in his Puerto Rican home and a harsh and violent adolescence as the leader of one of New York’s toughest street gangs. Nicky’s heart had turned to stone when he was only three.
His mother nicknamed him the “son of Satan,” and he was severely abused, both physically and mentally. After moving from Puerto Rico to New York, Nicky became the leader of a notorious street gang– the Mau Maus. He turned into a violent street criminal before he was eighteen.
Knife fights, chilling torture and murder dominated the life of the young man proud and feared on the outside, but inwardly scared and running. His fears and loneliness were brought to the surface through an encounter with the unlikely character of preacher David Wilkerson, who led Cruz to open his life to Christ – an incredible conversion that amazed all who knew him. The skinny preacher from Pennsylvania reached out to him with relentless love. He said, “Nicky, Jesus loves you,” and this simple message opened the door to a new life for Nicky Cruz.
Run Baby Run, now a classic that has sold over 12 million copies, tells his exciting story with gripping openness.
Pastor David Wilkerson prayed that God would send him to one of the worst gang leaders in New York City. “Save him and put your hand on him, and then let him walk the streets with me.” That young man would be an example like Paul. And before long, Wilkerson stood on a stage in New York, and the most feared gang of New York – the Mau Maus – were in the auditorium. Wilkerson said God had the power to change the people—he meant the people there this night.
Their leader Nicky Cruz jumped up, pointed at Wilkerson, and yelled, “You shut up. Don’t open your mouth anymore. If you say anything, you’re gonna drop dead. … This is not God power here … this is man power and this is gang power. And there’s no way that God has the power to change anybody.”
“He was standing calmly on stage,” Nicky said about Wilkerson. “His head bowed. I knew he was praying. Here was this skinny man, unafraid, in the midst of all this danger. Where did he get his power? Why wasn’t he afraid like all the rest of us?”
Nicky was irate, told his gang the preacher was crazy, took them down to a certain basement, and promised them a good time. Fifteen minutes later, without even knocking, Wilkerson opened the door and walked into the basement room, the Brooklyn headquarters of the Mau Maus. He said, “Where’s Nicky?” as if he had known him a long time.
Nicky stood and yelled at him, told him to stop, pointed his gun at Wilkerson, and said if he took another step Nicky would blow his head off. Wilkerson hesitated for a moment. Nicky said, “But he didn’t stop … he was a skinny man, but he kept walking straight toward me and said, ‘Come on, Nicky, shake my hand.’”
Nicky slapped Wilkerson’s face, spat on him, cursed at him, and threatened to kill the young preacher. Then he headed for the door.
Before he reached the door, Wilkerson yelled at him, “Nicky, just a moment.” He said, “You could kill me, Nicky. You could cut me in a thousand pieces and lay them out on the street. But every piece would cry out Jesus loves you.”
Trying to scare Wilkerson away, Nicky gave him a death stare.
“Nicky, I’m not scared of you,” Wilkerson said. “You’re just like the rest of us. You’re afraid. You’re lonely. But Jesus loves you. One day, Nicky, you are going to stop running and come running to Him.”
Crying, Wilkerson put his hand on Nicky’s head and prayed for him—the first time Nicky had heard anyone pray out loud.
Nicky swore he wouldn’t cry; he hadn’t cried since he was eight—but this man was talking to God about him. Nicky pushed Wilkerson away, but then he saw a vicious gang member on his knees and bawling his head off, asking Jesus to help him. Two more gang members were on their knees and crying.
Nicky thought this was crazy. He was so confused. Could it be true that God loved him? After a gut-wrenching struggle, Nicky asked God—if it was true—would God help him.
Within minutes, a burden lifted off his shoulders, and he told Wilkerson that he knew that Jesus loved him.
God began a great work in Nicky that night. And he went on to enter the ministry full time.
Billy Graham wrote, “The story of Nicky Cruz is remarkable. It has all the elements of tragedy, violence, and intrigue, plus the greatest ingredient of all: the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“Run Baby Run is a thrilling story. Thousands of troubled young people have read this story and turned their lives over to Christ!” Jamie Buckingham, co-author.
Nicky’s personal challenge to young people today, his thoughts regarding teen violence, and a helpful and practical action plan for concerned parents ensure that this classic testimony will continue to change the lives of our young people. He wants you to know the truth of the life-changing words that penetrated his heart when he was a violent young man who abused others, alcohol, and drugs: “Jesus loves you!”
Nicky’s classic testimony is still compelling reading more than forty years after its first publication.
Christ & Co.