Nicky Cruz was one of the bad guys. He did drugs, got laid, stole things. He was violent. While his initial encounters with gang brutality in 1950s New York City made him queasy, he rose through the ranks to become the bloodthirstiest member of the bloodthirstiest gang, the Mau Maus, named for a particularly vicious revolutionary group in Kenya.
In Run Baby Run, one of the most dramatic spiritual autobiographies ever written, Cruz spares no detail. It's a rough book, capturing with intensity and sorrow the mean streets of a New York washed in blood and sweat and alcohol. He tells about his childhood in Puerto Rico, the extreme physical and mental abuse he endured, the mother that called him "son of Satan," and the father that told him to run.
But it's a redemptive book, too, as Cruz is befriended by a slightly loony country preacher named David Wilkerson who braved the gangs, the violence and the ridicule to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to inner city teens. When Cruz accepts Christ it's kind of funny and kind of scary—he doesn't act like we'd expect, that is to say, he doesn't act like a kid whose been in Sunday school his whole life.
Which he hadn't. Unless being beat to a pulp and stabbed and attacked with baseball bats and car aerials is at all like Sunday school. We're spared some of the more salacious details and most of the language, but we get the violence head-on, and it's enough to make even a Terminator-desensitized reader squirm and feel sick. As it's supposed to.
The eventual exodus out of gang violence to Christ's peace is as exhausting as the numbing brutality, but it leaves us rejoicing instead of depressed. This isn't just some exposé, it's the real story of a real man brought to real conviction and surrender to Jesus Christ. It's not a book for kids, though most of the main characters are (tragically) kids. But it is a book for those who love Jesus and other people.
Most of this book is very dark. But it ends exhilaratingly in triumph and hope and love. Not for the faint of heart, not for the young, this book should nevertheless be required reading for anyone interested in inner city ministry. The other side of Wilkerson's story as told in The Cross and the Switchblade, Run Baby Run will break your heart while showing you how another man's was healed.
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