Copeland was skeptical of his new girlfriend’s schedule — did anyone really go to church that much?
“I told him, if you want to get to know me that’s where I’ll be,” Natasha Copeland recalls.
Within a year, he was baptized at Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church on Rhode Island Avenue in Northeast and had asked Natasha to marry him.
“Something was missing,” Copeland recalled. “Because of the relationship I began to have with God, I became committed. I began to look better, feel better, do better.”
His family expanded with four more children. About five years ago, Copeland’s prayers began to move him to follow the tenets of Matthew 28:18-20, and he felt moved to “go into all the world and preach the gospel,” he said.
The Copeland family ministry in Southeast began. What they found surprised them both. There were many needy spirits, yes, but even more practical needs.
“People can’t hear you when their stomach is growling,” Natasha Copeland said. They would say, “Don’t tell me about Jesus if you can’t help me out.”
A list of woes
During one hour on the Friday night in December when he met the two unemployed men outside the Anacostia Neighborhood Library, Copeland heard a constant, depressing list of woes.
One man in his 40s lost two siblings to HIV/AIDS, and his brother was missing. Mayrant graduated from Ballou High School’s night program at age 22, but still didn’t have the skills to hold down a job. Even Copeland’s helper that night, Chris Watkins, was unemployed at 56, a recovering crack cocaine addict who has been seeking his own salvation.
Copeland says he keeps his police career separate from this off-duty mission. He views it as volunteer work to help prevent folks from choosing a life of crime. But he says he will arrest anyone who breaks the law, including those he’s counseled.
Copeland is a self-described evangelical, not a pastor, so he simply urges people to seek a “Bible-teaching church.”
Copeland, his wife and their four children — ages 5 through 12 — spend much of their free time each week focusing on clothing, feeding and otherwise helping poor people. They hold weekly Bible study and annual holiday turkey and clothing drives at community centers and schools, including the Preparatory School of the District of Columbia in Northwest, where he also teaches life-skills classes to teenage boys.
The couple built an ad-hoc network that collects secondhand coats and clothing from friends and co-workers. They store donations in their garage.
Cheryl Hall, 51, and her mother, Betty Jones, 73, were among the early participants, arriving at a study session two years ago with modest expectations. Copeland told them that a visitor would arrive before they were finished and mother and daughter eyed the door expectantly all night, until they realized that Copeland’s visitor was “the Holy Spirit,” they said.