“You can get high on sex. You can get high on alcohol. You can get high on all kinds of drugs. I was high on hate and violence.” – Nicky Cruz.
In 1938, Nicky Cruz was born in the countryside of Puerto Rico. He was brought up in a spiritual nightmare of witchcraft and brutality, so when he hit the streets of New York in 1958, he was a hardened man void of love and full of hate. As a teen he found a conduit for that hate. Seduced by the power of gangs, he joined for his own protection and a sense of identity. Nicky quickly demonstrated his ruthlessness and leadership and rose to be the leader of the renowned Mau Maus — the toughest gang in New York City. When Nicky Cruz showed up on the scene, people had every reason to run and hide. He was vicious and he was feared.
“New York was a jungle. The law of the jungle… you behave like an animal,” Nicky Cruz recalls. “Animals don’t know the difference between right and wrong. An animal has to kill another animal for survival.”
But at the pinnacle of his fame, his personal battles brought him to his knees. Instinctively Nicky knew he had to do something different. “The most you can live the way I lived is 20 years. I was 19 already. One year, I probably would be dead.”
Only two people saw Nicky in a different light. One was a psychologist. Nicky recalls that “he told me about five times. ‘There’s a dark side in your life that nobody can penetrate. Nicky, you are walking straight to jail, the electric chair, and hell. There’s no hope.’”
The other was a pastor named David Wilkerson. He risked his life to tell Nicky there was hope. “I heard his voice: ‘God has the power to change your life.’ I started cursing loud,” says Nicky. “I spit in his face, and I hit him. I told him, ‘I don’t believe in what you say and you get out of here.’”Nicky never expected what he heard Wilkerson say next.
Wilkerson replied, “You could cut me up into a 1,000 pieces and lay them in the street. Every piece will still love you.”
“It did damage. Good [damage] in my brain and in my heart. I began to question, and for two weeks I could not sleep thinking about love.”
Nicky and his gang showed up at one of Wilkerson’s rallies. One by one, they gave their lives to Christ. It was the crucifixion – Jesus’ death on the cross — that grabbed Nicky.
“I was choked up with pain, and my eyes were fighting and tears began to come down and more tears and I was fighting and then I surrendered,” says Nicky. “I let Jesus hug me, and I let my head rest on His chest. I said I’m sorry. Forgive me, and for the first time, I told somebody I love you.”
The love of Jesus Christ would radically change his life. Several movies and books have been made and written on Nicky’s life. The movie is called Run Baby Run and is a dramatic testimony of his desperate battle against drugs, alcoholism and his violent environment. A best selling book written by David Wilkerson called The Cross and the Switchblade was also made into a movie.
Nicky left the gang scene. He enrolled in Bible college and met Gloria. The two married and moved back to New York City where they ran “Teen Challenge,” a program to help troubled teens. Since then, Nicky has raised four girls and traveled all over the world as an evangelist and head of Nicky Cruz Ministries.
“I am the most happy human being because I have reached thousands of people that have come to Jesus through my message,” says Nicky. “But the greatest success of my life was when I brought my mother to Jesus and my father and my brother.”
Once an “animal” filled with hate is today a lover of souls. If you would meet Nicky Cruz on the streets, you probably wouldn’t run from him. You would run to him.