Ed Maxwell arrived at Suitland Road Church of Christ, where he is a minister, before 7 a.m. Monday to make sure the maps, water bottles and religious tracts were ready when the “foot soldiers” arrived.
Meanwhile, at the Washington Hilton in the District, hundreds of men and women dressed in bright yellow T-shirts were loading onto buses and singing “When the Saints Go Marching In.” They were Church of Christ members from across the country, and they were headed to join Maxwell at his church.
It was Day 2 of the denomination’s “Crusade for Christ”: five days of revival meetings and old-style, door-to-door evangelizing.
While many of today’s churches use television, the Internet and social networking to spread the gospel, the crusade is part of a tradition that places high value on spreading the gospel face to face.
Even a hurricane didn’t deter the faithful. About 600 people arrived early and were in a ballroom praying and singing by the time Hurricane Irene blew through the Washington area Saturday evening.
By Monday, the crowd at the evening revival meetings had grown to about 2,000 people, organizers said. By the end of the crusade’s final day Thursday, the 10 teams of volunteers had knocked on 14,900 doors throughout the District, Maryland and Virginia. One day, they covered 5,000 homes.
The group also gave away 25,000 pounds of food in Dale City and the District.
In the evenings, the volunteers and many who had been touched by their evangelizing gathered for the revival portion of the crusade in the hotel’s International Ballroom, which had been transformed into a sanctuary with a baptismal pool.
For Maxwell, helping to host the crusade fulfilled a 20-year dream.
“One of the reasons why I moved to this area was to bring the crusade to the nation’s capital,” he said. Maxwell traveled across the country for several years to help raise the $200,000 needed to finance the event.
The crusade is held every two years in a different city. Daniel Harrison, the Chicago minister who founded it 32 years ago, said participants are dedicated to saving souls. “We come out here to work. We are not on vacation,” he said. “There is nothing like making contact with people.”
John Dansby, chief of staff for the crusade, takes care of the logistics so that when the volunteers board buses in the mornings, maps in hand, the routes have already been established.
At the heart of the crusade are people such as Ella Murray, 60, a home health aide from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who took time off from work to knock on doors. On Tuesday, she learned quickly how Temple Hills got its name. About halfway up one of the hills, she knocked on a door.
“Good morning. We are out spreading the gospel with the Crusade for Christ,” Murray said to the woman who opened the door. “Would you like a bible study or prayer? Because everybody needs prayer.”
Pattie Johnson, a court reporter in Hudson County, N.J., has been a foot soldier for nearly a decade. She has traveled on similar crusades to Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles and other cities since 1987.
Being a foot soldier requires long hours and skin tough enough to withstand insults from people who don’t want to be bothered. But, Johnson’s longtime friend Murray added: “It is worth it when you bring somebody to Christ. We are trying to bring people out [of the] darkness into the light.”
When two volunteers knocked on the door of Shaneca Tucker, 35, she was in darkness, literally, because the hurricane had knocked out her power. She told them she was feeling down because her food had spoiled, and she didn’t have the resources to replace all she’d lost.
The volunteers invited her to the non-denominational Suitland Road church, where she shared lunch with the team members, who also gave her bags of groceries from the church’s food pantry. Maxwell then spent time ministering to her.
Tucker joined church members in the ballroom that night for the revival. As part of the crusade, vans and buses circulate among the routes of the door-knockers to transport people who want to attend. After the sermon, Tucker walked up the aisle to dedicate her life to God. She became one of a half-dozen people baptized in the ballroom.
Donald Brice, a member of the Suitland Road Church who had met Tucker while knocking, was deeply moved.
“I was overwhelmed,” said Brice, who’d taken leave from his job as a produce manager at a Bowie grocery store to participate. “It brought tears to my eyes to see that a lost soul had been saved.”