On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, a steady stream of people filed into the front lobby of the Preparatory School of D.C. Each patron received a cardboard box of goodies and posed for a photo with Copeland, who wore his ministry T-shirt and then carried their packages to their cars.
First, Copeland offered encouraging words.
“We’re here. We love you. We just want to be a helping hand.”
Then he brought the hammer — a brief and direct line of questioning just as if he were filling out a police report, but delivered in the sort of velvety voice that even a late-night DJ would covet.
“Do you believe Jesus is coming back? Are you ready for change? If I invited you to Bible study, would you come?”
Only a few questions per customer, though. Copeland has learned to pace himself. Change comes slowly for many. He hands over fliers about his weekly Bible study meetings, makes follow-up calls and then hopes the needy will attend.
On a recent Tuesday night, Joyce Little faced mounting problems with her accounting business, but she skipped a late work meeting to seek “spiritual sustenance” at Copeland’s Bible study session at the library. The pair met several years ago at Operation Hope in Southeast, where Copeland initially borrowed space, but Little never joined him to study or pray. Though she belongs to her own church now, Little sought new energy from Copeland because she trusted his past dedication.
“You can’t always talk to people in the church,” Little told him. “I wanted to come someplace where I knew someone who loved God.”
The pair sat alone as Copeland encouraged Little to read New Testament passages. Little told him that she walks a Christian path free of alcohol, drugs and other “illicit” entanglements, but she can’t seem to shake her disappointments, failures and fears.
“I don’t want to be the weeping prophet. I don’t want to be Job,” Little told Copeland, referring to the Old Testament prophet who was challenged and tested by God with hardship.
Copeland counseled plainly and practically: Put God first, kneel to pray to show humility and study His word every other day for 30 minutes.
“You have to build your faith to get rid of fear,” Copeland said. “I’m telling you sister, all you need to do is get it in your mind, you’re going to sell out for God.”
“I will do that. I’m sure God is out there. I just want it easier,” Little responded.
Copeland leaned forward in his chair.
“We all live through the storms of life,” he said. “There’s only one way to get out of the rain.”