The Brooklyn Bus Ministry of Bill Wilson
Featuring on our Inspirational Breakfast show this week (with John Pantry), Bill Wilson was truly affecting. His is the story of great courage and heroism in the face of poverty, danger, bereavement, abandonment and finally, great influence.
His story, at least in Church circles, begins in 1979 when he moved to the roughest area in Brooklyn New York - Bushwick. Armed with a bull horn, a station wagon and Yogi Bear costumes, Bill created Metro World Child – a bus ministry for children that started to attract attention. Quickly, his congregation outgrew the former brewery that served as the church. Henceforth, he took the ministry onto the streets, creating the idea of a Sidewalk Sunday School, in which he converted trucks to serve as portable stages from which his team of ministers could share their message.
The Spirit of God breathed on this ministry, and congregations now number more than 100,000 children in attendance each week. Word of Bill Wilson’s success in New York spread to other Churches and inner city ministries, and the concept of a bus ministry and Sidewalk Sunday School has now been replicated in 1000 cities and towns all over the world. So impassioned is he with the work, he still lives in a building adjacent to the church and continues the dangerous walk through neighbourhoods ravaged by gun culture and knife stabbings. In fact, Wilson has been shot, stabbed, beaten and hospitalized numerous times – testimonies that now stand as a testament to God’s unfailing hand on his life. And what’s more unbelievable, even through all the success and money that has been generated through this ministry, he is still the bus driver when in town.
Such brutal loneliness and rejection left its mark on his young mind and heart, and formed the seed for what would become an enduring empathy for suffering children everywhere.
As individuals in a dark world, we are looking for those characters that often use their pain and dark times for the betterment of those around them. Every now and then we hear how ‘God uses’ those very same limitations and they become the fuel for the fire that comes to blaze in ways unimaginable, uniting the high and lofty with the humility and simplicity of Christ. In 1992, Bill was the only ghetto resident appointed to President George H. W. Bush's National Commission on America's Urban Families. Later, in 2007, with his name firmly established as a minister and popular speaker, his story was featured on Joel Osteen’s nationally televised programme. In it millions heard about the boy who was abandoned on a street corner by his mother at the age of 12. On that corner for three days, Bill realised she wasn’t coming back. Such brutal loneliness and rejection left its mark on his young mind and heart, and formed the seed for what would become an enduring empathy for suffering children everywhere. Finding him on that corner was a man, himself a Christian, who gave him a hot meal and encouraged the young boy to a attend a Sunday School camp, where, as the saying goes, Jesus came in and took over. Standing at the altar, with no one to pray for him because ‘of the way he looked’, he prayed: “My mother doesn’t want me; the Christians don’t want me. If you want me, here I am.”
And so came the inspiration for that station wagon and a bus full of kids who were lonely and vexed. He could relate to them, and knew that of all the possible remedies, it was only the love of Christ that would really satisfy them. Keeping his promise to God, every week, thousands of needy children would be picked up and brought to church to participate in a unique Sunday School program that incorporated music, games and most importantly, the Gospel.
His legacy endures today, as does his ministry. Find out more on our show here
Bill Wilson is the author of several books, including Jesus Doesn’t Live in Brooklyn, The Blind Guide Chronicles, Christianity in the Crosshairs, and his bestselling autobiography, Whose Child is This? His newest book, entitled "One Eyed Kings" came out in 2009. He has been a featured guest at numerous conferences, television talk shows and news programs and in Churches around the world.