Of Mercy and Grace

David Apple’s Mission to Philadelphia

by Douglas E. Baker November 5, 2019

Born in the shadow of New York City, David Apple never knew life apart from urban America. As the grandson of Russian immigrants, he quickly learned as a child that life in Patterson, New Jersey, was not for the faint of heart. His high school days at Eastside High School proved to be a challenge from the start. Apple was a bookish sort of young man—always interested in reading and writing—and not so much in the rough scenes that greeted him every day as a student at a school that would ultimately become famous. Eastside High School was the place where Principal Joe Clark turned around a failing school as was chronicled in the hit movie, Lean on Me.

David Apple was nothing if not serious. The experiences of poverty and loss that dotted the landscape of his early life caused him no small amount of angst as he contemplated the existence of God in the face of suffering. It was always hard to reconcile the scenes of suffering all around him with the idea of a good God who was in control of a world that seemed to him to be just the opposite. In a small Christian Reformed Church plant, he first heard the words of the Bible being read to him. Immediately, he began to read the Bible for himself and was converted as a high school student.

As he walked on the campus of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI, his world grew to include research about human psychology, sociology, and the way people responded to trauma and pain in their lives. Quite naturally, after graduation from Calvin, he worked as a social worker and later came back to New Jersey to work for Governor Richard J. Hughes in a new program of crisis intervention. Apple helped to establish centers of help in different cities across New Jersey, and these experiences coupled, with serving in the diaconate of the church he attended, began to shape him and the future ministry he would build.

His world crashed when, after marrying at the age of 21, his wife of six years abandoned the family, leaving him with two small children and one adopted child. At 27, David Apple was alone in a large and brutal city and did not know what to do. He made his way back home to take over his father’s small and struggling printing business. It was during his work of teaching the way to print that he met Kate—the woman who would later marry him.

Soon after his 32nd birthday, his life was forever changed. One evening a drunk driver hit his car, and he was seriously injured. Barely able to stand or walk in the aftermath of the accident, he was disabled for almost four years. As he lay in bed, he would pray and ask God why his life had turned out as it had. Sorrow after sorrow, with grief as his constant companion, was something that daily haunted his heart. He knew the answers for his questions were found in the Bible, and he began to read through the Bible again—from start to finish—slowly as his body attempted to heal. He read of Joseph, Job, Hosea, and learned again the Christian life is one of suffering and (often) tragedy. “I began to understand the work and ways of God in new ways as I prayed to be used of God in a way that would impact others who suffered,” stated Apple.

He later enrolled in a biblical counseling course at a Messianic Synagogue in Brooklyn, and it was here he soon found his calling. Captivated by helping others in counseling, he and Kate made their way to the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation in 1986 to study with their faculty. He later enrolled in Westminster Theological Seminary and completed his theological degree in counseling, having studied with professors who helped him better understand the primacy of Holy Scripture and its applications through the church to the world.

“After graduation, I applied to seventeen different ministry opportunities around the country,” he said. “Tenth Presbyterian Church was the eighteenth, and I was shocked when Dr. James Montgomery Boice talked with me about serving on the staff.” Initially, Apple did not want to come to Tenth, fearing that a Presbyterian church could not have a credible urban ministry. “Was I ever wrong,” Apple says as he remembers the work of Dr. Boice.

“I began my ministry here on Jim Boice’s 50th birthday—September 7, 1988,” he said. “I found myself in a small office with a Xerox computer and all the 8 inch disks I wanted to begin to form a mercy ministry.” Dr. Boice’s counsel to him? “Trust God, pray, and get to the work.”

Through the years, he has sought to organize a ministry of mercy to the poor and needy in terms of welcoming strangers into a family. “Scripture is very clear about welcoming strangers, and the Old Testament is filled with the call to care for the poor and feed the hungry—to care for people with critical needs of life,” Apple says. The work of mercy is not to be cut off from the preaching ministry of a local church.

“Jim Boice was the greatest gift God gave me because he helped me to read the Bible better; he prayed for me; and he helped me build the ministry. Over 31 years of ministry here, I have seen people rescued from sin. I have seen people transformed by the power of the gospel to become powerful witnesses of Jesus Christ in this world,” he said.

“Idolatry is at the heart of addiction,” he states. “People replace the truth of God with a lie—just as the book of Romans states. Our challenge as a church will always be to not be shocked or disgusted by the pain of sin, but to be willing to serve others by involving ourselves in their lives as we point them to the only one who can really help them—the Lord Jesus Christ himself.”

David Apple will retire from the Tenth staff at the end of 2019. As he reflects on his time at Tenth he remembers what he learned when he first began more than three decades ago: “I have learned to seek his righteousness through Christ Jesus and know that we are not our own, but we are bought with a price. Our greatest honor is to serve him joyfully and willingly while we are here on earth until that moment we leave this earth to join Christ in that place where sorrow will be no more.”