When Doctors Told Rich Wilkerson to Pray for His Son's Death, He Refused
In 1987, Rich’s son, Graham, was 6 months old. Robyn took Graham to the doctor for a routine ear infection but instead of getting better, Graham’s condition worsened. He had a grand mal seizure. Doctors didn’t realize Graham had spinal meningitis. “He coded. The doctors did everything they could,” says Rich. Graham died for 10 minutes. After calling for fervent prayer from loved ones and with the tireless work on the part of the doctors, Graham was successfully resuscitated. Doctors broke the news to Rich and Robyn that Graham suffered brain damage and may not make it through the night. “They said, ‘You should pray that he dies due to the oxygen deprivation,’” says Rich. “They told us he would be severely retarded, blind, deaf and unable to function any of his limbs.” Rich called everyone he knew to pray for Graham’s healing. Friends went on 24-hour prayer cycles. Rich’s friend, Dr. Yonggi Cho, pastor of the largest church in Korea, had his church members praying too. “We had worldwide prayer going for Graham,” says Rich. James Robison was holding a meeting nearby and also came in to pray for Graham.
During a time of intense personal prayer and while Graham still lay in a coma, God reminded Rich of the scripture in John 11:25, I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. Rich claimed that scripture for his son and believed that God would answer their prayers.
Six days later, an orderly carrying plates nearby, dropped them, which crashed loudly on the floor. Graham jerked in the bed and started screaming. Clearly Graham was responding to the loud crash. The nurse in ICU started crying and she said, “He can hear!” A couple of days later, Graham came out of the coma and 16 days later, they took him home. Today Graham, now 27, talks fairly well. He graduated from special needs high school. “It’s been intense,” says Rich. “He’s pretty smart on computer and texts; he has lots of friends, works at the church. He’s a miracle.”
Rich says prayer is a lifestyle and key in church life. His church sees 4,000 people on weekends through 6 services. “The idea of the Bible belt just doesn’t happen in Miami,” says Rich. “You can’t just start a church without fervent prayer.” There are some Spanish-speaking churches and one large predominantly black church. Trinity is a also an all-black church, reaching mostly Spanish, Haitian and Caribbean people. “We’ve touched every kind of poverty you can imagine,” says Rich. “We win the lost, help the poor and teach abundant living. Everything we do is impossible.” Rich says they don’t just visit door to door. “We don’t start by preaching to people; we begin by meeting their needs wherever they’re at.” He preaches an on-purpose message but the people think it’s an accidental message. “They come for something else and they get Jesus,” says Rich. The church is known for their outreach and does so much in the community that they got Joyce Meyer’s attention. Today Joyce Meyer Ministries partners with Trinity Church in several outreaches each year.
Fifteen years ago, Trinity started a summer day camp with a $176,000 grant that Robyn was awarded. “We had some of the poorest children Monday through Friday during summer day camps,” says Rich. Today they still have summer day camps and many of the kids from the early days are all grown now. Because of the message Rich teaches, many of those same young kids are active in the church and attending college. Rich believes as you impact your community, you impact your state and as you impact your state, you impact your nation. “If you can reach children when they’re little, you will end up seeing the fruit of that later,” he says.
LEAVING A LEGACY
Rich knows what it’s like to be part of a godly heritage. Both of his grandfather’s were pastors. His father, John Wilkerson, was in ministry for over 50 years. He impressed on Rich a strong passion for world missions and reaching the youth. Rich’s 1st cousin, David Wilkerson, was the author of The Cross and the Switchblade, the founder of Teen Challenge and Times Square Church. David instilled a strong faith in Rich to follow God’s lead, no matter what the cost.
Rich has been married to Robyn for almost 40 years. Robyn’s father pastored a mega church in Tacoma, Washington for over 50 years; her uncle was Mark Buntain, the famous missionary to Calcutta, India who worked closely with Mother Theresa. Mark made a strong impact on Rich and used to say, “Your God is too small! My God is BIG!!” Mark also taught Rich, “The providence of God will not place you where His grace cannot keep you.”
THE NEXT GENERATION
Rich and Robyn have four boys who are all in ministry. Their oldest son, Jonfulton, just launched a new church plant, Life Center Downtown, in Seattle on the campus of University of Washington.
His second oldest, Rich Jr., is an international evangelist and also leads Rendezvous, a ministry to thousands of young adults in Miami. Rich Jr. just made national headlines as the pastor who married Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. TMZ called him the “hottest holy man around.” Rich Jr. says, “I've decided I'm just gonna love people and let God change them.”
Graham, even while dealing with special needs, has produced a CD and even has his own website. Graham is very active on all social media. Graham often performs “dance specials” for Rich Jr.’s conferences.
The youngest son, Taylor, is working on a master’s degree in theology at Princeton University. His passion is missions. He’s currently doing work in Cambodia with Rich’s organization, Peacemakers, building biogas digesters, which provide clean energy for locals.