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Family tradition

The Cross and the Switchblade: One family’s story 

By Christina Quick

Grace Tullio remembers when family friend David Wilkerson visited her father’s home in 1958.

Wilkerson wanted to start a center in New York City to get drug addicts and gang members off the streets and teach them about the Bible. Some people thought it was a strange venture for a preacher from rural Pennsylvania. But Tullio’s father, a New Jersey real estate broker, shared Wilkerson’s vision and passion for transforming lives. With a $1,000 donation, he became the first to invest in a ministry now known around the world as Teen Challenge.

Five years later, when Wilkerson was raising funds to publish his first book, The Cross and the Switchblade, Tullio’s father again contributed financially.

It has been 50 years since Teen Challenge was founded. Tullio, now 89, has continued the family tradition of giving to the ministry. She recently donated $150,000 to help make the anniversary edition of The Cross and the Switchblade available to Teen Challenge for evangelism outreaches.

The contribution was overseen by AG Financial Solutions (AGFS), which has managed Tullio’s assets over the past decade. AGFS advised Tullio on how to carry out her giving wishes and helped her set up a trust to transfer the funds to Teen Challenge as they are needed.

Tullio, who lives in Southern California, says she can think of no better investment than reaching others with Christ’s transforming message of hope and eternal life.

“It’s one thing that God has specifically asked us to do — to give of ourselves so that He can save people,” Tullio says. “There’s nothing more important outside of salvation.”

Tullio’s sister, Ruth Hallett, has also been a financial supporter of Teen Challenge over the years. She says she was moved the first time she read The Cross and the Switchblade. She has also witnessed the impact the book has had on others.

“People reading it can find the Lord Jesus,” she says. “Many have already found Christ through that book, and that is the most important thing to me.”

The Cross and the Switchblade tells the story of Wilkerson’s experiences in New York, particularly his encounters with Nicky Cruz, a gang member who eventually accepted Christ and started his own ministry.

Over the past 45 years, The Cross and the Switchblade has sold more than 15 million copies and been translated into more than 20 languages. In 1970, it was made into a motion picture starring Pat Boone as Wilkerson and Erik Estrada as Cruz.

Chosen Books, a division of Baker Publishing, recently printed a special anniversary edition of The Cross and the Switchblade, with several new features, including a forward by Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Ministries Fellowship. The books will be available in stores next month.

“Every week I talk with people who tell me what a powerful impact this book has had in their lives,” says Dave Batty, who formerly served as executive director of the Teen Challenge center in Brooklyn, N.Y. “We have students come to Teen Challenge because they read this book and are desperate to find help for their problems.”

Thanks to Tullio’s contribution, the special edition books will be distributed free of charge to many who still need a miracle in their lives.

“We simply could not do the ministry we do unless we had people like Grace who are willing to invest in this ministry,” Batty says. “Only eternity will reveal the full impact of their generosity.”

Bob Lamb, a certified financial planner and senior vice president for AGFS, says Tullio’s giving has required long-term planning and careful stewardship.

“The secular view of money is that you want to accumulate as much as possible and leave as much as possible for your children,” Lamb says. “The Bible contradicts these notions by teaching that we are simply managers of God’s assets and that we are to honor Him with the resources He gives us.”

Lamb says AGFS is unique in that it maintains a biblical view of stewardship while offering the high standard of fiscal expertise one would expect from any financial institution.

“Our job is to combine those two factors into one offering,” Lamb says. “We’re helping build God’s kingdom, but we’re also helping people take care of themselves and their families.”

Lamb says all Christians, regardless of wealth, have a responsibility to be good stewards of what they have while considering ways to help others.

“I think an important conversation to have when you’re doing a retirement transition is to discuss the role ministry will have in your lives and how you can plan for that,” he says.

Lamb says individuals should next consider whether they want those plans carried out before or after their deaths.

“More individuals are wanting to see that take place during their lifetimes,” Lamb says.

AGFS is available to assist interested individuals with retirement planning and giving. Initial consultations are free. Subsequent money management fees are typically below market average.

CHRISTINA QUICK is staff writer for Today’s Pentecostal Evangel and blogs at

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