Hustling For Souls
His flock includes some of the meanest on Washington's mean streets. But the man they call rev sees a truth so many miss: They want out, if only someone could show them the way

By Peter Perl
Sunday, August 26, 2001

The church ladies cooked up a particularly fine Saturday supper for the drug dealers. Reverend Anthony Motley had told them he wanted things fixed up especially nice at Redemption Ministry, so they put out clean white tablecloths and now the ladies were parading out from the kitchen with paper plates piled high with barbecued chicken wings, macaroni and tuna, green beans, salad, sweet iced tea and cakes.

Four young gang members, part of the South Capitol Street Crew, took seats along with five church men at the large rectangular table. They sat silent, expressionless; cornrowed hair, a shaved head, baggy pants, a gold chain here, a gold watch there, black T-shirts with the arms cut off. Terry, Anthony, Terronce and Snoop. Ages 23 to 27. The South Cap Crew looked like many other young men in the Congress Heights neighborhood of Southeast Washington, except they were the ones responsible for much of its persistent traffic in marijuana, PCP, crack cocaine and, occasionally, heroin.

After a prayer, Motley stood and opened his Bible, choosing an obscure Old Testament passage from the Book of Nahum: "Ah, city of bloodshed, all full of lies and booty -- no end to the plunder!" Motley interrupted himself. "When he says 'booty,' he doesn't mean 'booty' like you do," he said, with a mischievous smile, " 'Booty' meant jewels and money back then. Y'all know I had to break that down for you." The crew members snickered.

Prostitutes, bloody swords and naked corpses littered the landscape in the Bible's vision of the ancient city of Nineveh. "A bloody city. Reminds me of today," Motley said. "I watch the violence on the news today and I get depressed. When are they gonna tell the stories about real-life struggles of people? What about people not being able to get jobs, because you have a record? . . . What about our struggles?"

The South Cap Crew knew that the man they call "Rev" was speaking from experience. Years ago, before he became a preacher, Motley was a street hustler, selling marijuana, hashish and amphetamines, and then using and selling increasing amounts of cocaine. Rev knew their life. He knew how to talk to them, and how to listen, which was why they agreed to come to dinner.

They also came because they knew that Rev was not just trying to sell them Jesus. He was talking about jobs, too -- if they took the first step toward faith, Redemption Ministry could help steer them to find the skills, the tools, the education, the connections to change their lives. {+0}

Motley introduced his main speaker, Kennard Coleman. The South Cap Crew already knew him by his street name, Bark, because of his resemblance to burly, bruising NBA basketball star Charles Barkley. Coleman is powerfully built, his thick arms covered with tattoos from his street life -- a fierce lion's head on his left biceps and, on his right, "BARK" beneath the skeletal face of the Grim Reaper, smoking a joint.

With his pastor's prompting, Coleman haltingly described 15 years hustling, living off the street, dealing drugs, getting locked up; a downward spiral that turned around three years ago at Redemption. Now, at age 29, "I have my first real job. It's a blessing. It's the ultimate blessing," he said. He's only earning a fraction of what he made as a drug dealer -- $21,000 a year as a D.C. Recreation Department youth mentor -- but said he is much happier now, with feelings he's never experienced.

"I feel love. I feel compassion," he said, in a deep voice. "I feel hurt, too, but it's a good hurt. The hurt feels good, man." Coleman shook his head. "Back when I was on the street, nobody cared if I lived or died. God shows me people care. People care about me. It's a blessing, and now it's a blessing for me to care about other people."

"Amen! Amen! Amen!" Motley shouted, as he and the men of Redemption whooped and applauded. The South Cap Crew remained silent, though one or two nodded.

The pastor raised his voice: "We're either gonna die, or we're gonna go to jail. Everyone in this room has to make that decision, whether they want to live or die -- or get locked up." His eyes swept the South Cap Crew, "It's better to be free than caged. It's better to get old than die young. You don't have to go that route. What is really keeping you from getting a job? Is your life so good now?"

The South Cap guys shifted in their seats, glancing at one another. They were not comfortable. But slowly, a conversation happened. Anthony, in gold chains and a black kung-fu shirt, spoke first: "In today's society, you got people going home to a roach-infested house; your mother is on crack, your father is gone. How you gonna feed your family? If you don't have no type of training, and you don't get a college degree?"

Terry, his head wrapped in a black bandanna, said, "If I was from Montgomery County, I graduate and go to college. From Ballou, you graduate and you are back here on the street." Then he added, "You also gotta have training. But even if you have training, then they say, 'Sorry, you gotta have experience. You don't have no experience.' "

Motley asked if they had kids. Three said they did, the fourth had one on the way. The South Cap Crew said they worried about raising kids in a violent neighborhood that lacked good schools and didn't have enough decent parks and playgrounds.

"Young'uns don't have any place to hang out. They are taking away kids' alternatives," Anthony said. "If you have alternatives, you might do something else."

"Yeah, some of us, as kids, we were just playing ball," Terry said. "Kid's don't play no more. These kids are walking to school and smokin' a blunt!"

Terronce, big, bearded and the oldest at 27, had his own lament: "When we was young, people looked out for each other . . . Older kids kept us in line. Smacked you in the head . . . Now if you smack a kid in the head, he may pull out a nine."

After a silence, Coleman spoke up, pointing at Terronce: "I love him with all my heart. I know him all my life, since we were in Pampers." The ex-gang member turned to face his friend: "Sooner or later, it's gonna click for you, man. Sooner or later . . . I am guaranteeing, man, give God your life, and He will show you better things. You dare God to do it. That is what I did. I dared God."

"I dare you to try," Coleman said, his voice rising and his eyes glistening. "Stop acting like a baby and try. Keep trying . . ."

Terronce was silent. The others looked at him, and then Motley made his pitch: "One big thing Kennard looked at was his son, and the future he wanted for his son. When Kennard made that decision to change his life, he became my responsibility, and I had to help him." The South Cap Crew had several options, he said. If they wanted to change their lives, Redemption could hook them up with job training at CVS pharmacies, or mentoring, like Kennard Coleman, or a high school degree program, or coaching in how to handle job interviews and write a resume. Redemption had even helped seven church members start small businesses: a beauty salon, a cleaning company, a copy center, a T-shirt shop and others. Maybe, Motley asked, they wanted to turn their business skills to the "legit."

"I'm willing to be involved and be a mentor, and get paid for that, too," Terry began.

"You can't get paid for that, too," Motley cut in. "You gotta give up your other job."

The South Cap Crew laughed at Terry.

The Rev. Motley was not smiling as he firmly delivered the message he repeats almost daily, "You gotta give up your old life."

Anthony Motley's unusual street ministry was essentially created by crack cocaine. The District's late-1980s drug epidemic ruined countless lives, broke apart families and unleashed a fearsome wave of violence. The unprecedented plague of homicides -- rising to nearly 500 a year by the early 1990s -- hit home for Motley when a 17-year-old he mentored for several years was shot to death in an alley.

The death of this playful teenager known as "G.D." was the final blow for Motley, then a history teacher at Ballou Senior High School. He felt powerless to change young lives within the confines of classrooms. Surveying the mayhem in his native Southeast, "I wondered, 'Where are our people? Who's taking responsibility? Where is everyone?' " he recalled. "Most of the people I knew were dead, locked up, or moved to Maryland. So who's going to take responsibility?"

Motley, who had spent almost his entire 52 years here in the city's poorest and most crime-ridden quadrant, somehow could see hope where others could not. He could envision a ministry that would reach out into the streets in unorthodox ways, offering healthy alternatives to young people, evangelizing door-to-door in housing projects, and using pickup basketball and football games and sports tournaments as a back-door way to draw in even the most hard-core cases, like Kennard Coleman.

Motley took to those streets, day and night, counseling young hustlers like the South Cap Crew, while also ministering to their parents and grandparents. He spoke up for them in school and in court, intervened with their parole officers, helped them get jobs, coaxed and cajoled them to straighten out their lives. He has welcomed about 15 former drug dealers among the hundreds of young and old who have joined Redemption. A few joined but fell away. Others, he has visited in jail. And, for too many, he has performed funerals.

On the streets of Southeast, Motley rarely encounters danger because almost everyone knows him and because he always travels with several of Redemption's bigger male evangelists, who also are products of these streets. Not long ago, though, one drug dealer warned the pastor such travels could get him killed. Without hesitating, Motley replied, "I am ready to die. Are you?"

Out on those streets, Motley, at about 5-foot-8, is not at all physically imposing. In middle age, his short hair is thinning and his waist is thickening. The dark olive skin of his mustachioed face bears a few telltale scars of his Southeast childhood. He has warm eyes and a calm air about him. He speaks quite softly -- except when he is preaching. Then, his voice soars, as when he recently preached at Redemption about his personal deliverance from the perils of the city and of his own behavior: ". . . Taking drugs day in and day out, but Jesus kept me! . . . Bullet whizzed by, but Jesus kept me! . . . Car accident -- could've been me -- but Jesus kept me! . . . Stabbed in the side, and it could've hit an artery, but Jesus kept me! . . ."

The parable, drawn from events in Motley's life, conveyed a central message of his ministry: No matter what you have done in the past, no matter how many times you go astray, and no matter how worthless your life may seem to you, it is never too late. There is always hope.

It took Motley himself a long time to learn that. He was raised in a solid, two-parent working-class family, although like many teenagers in 1960s Southeast, he'd already taken a taste of street life. After graduating from Anacostia High School and serving as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army in Panama, Motley came back to Washington in 1974 and let himself be lured by the fast money available on the streets. Soon, the young hustler thought he was living large -- a big 10th-floor apartment in Prince George's County with a view of the Washington Monument, a succession of women, a pair of sports cars, a pile of cash, and a gun strapped under his arm.

The life lasted three years, but he could sense it crashing. Between the cops and the competitors, business got really tight. His closest drug buddy got busted by the feds. Fear penetrated his nights; fear of arrest, fear of violence from other dealers. A growing sense of dread. Then a bigger dealer ripped him off on a big coke sale in Takoma Park and Motley pulled his gun, threatening to blow the guy's head off, just as the dealer stuck his gun in Motley's face. Eventually, they backed down, but he was shaken. "I don't think I really woulda shot him," Motley recalled, "but I don't know."

He soon got an urgent phone call from his grandmother in Detroit, saying she'd been worrying and praying about him, imploring him to leave D.C. and come to her. He was ready to listen. "I'd had my hands on so much money, the money didn't excite me no more," he said. "And I was afraid." At age 28, sensing his high life sinking, he left the city. Motley used his Veterans Administration benefits to enroll in 1977 at the University of Detroit. He ended up graduating with honors in communications and Afro-American studies.

He also returned to church there, attending the Shrine of the Black Madonna, whose black nationalist message instilled in him the idea that churches had to become more deeply involved in the community, reaching out to establish neighborhood institutions that could help people heal and sustain themselves --

especially those people everyone else had given up on.

They started the ministry in their living room. Eight years ago, Motley and his wife, Felecia, a veteran D.C. schoolteacher, invited a handful of neighbors and children to join in prayer at their comfortable home on Halley Terrace, overlooking South Capitol Street. Soon, the word spread about these spirited worship services, and before long the Sunday prayer crowd spilled downstairs. Motley used his communications training to hook up a closed-circuit TV in the basement so people could worship in two rooms.

Since returning to Washington in 1980, he had been working in cable TV, community development, public health and teaching. Through those years, religion was assuming a larger role, as was Motley's nagging sense -- fueled by the epidemic of homicides -- that he could be doing more for the community in full-time ministry.

Redemption quickly outgrew the Motleys' home and spread out to a school auditorium, then a larger one. Three years ago, the ministry took over its current home -- a large storefront on South Capitol Street that used to be a Safeway, then a Trak Auto, then a Payless Shoe Source that was looking for someone to take over its long-term lease at a bargain price.

Ordained a Baptist minister, with a master's degree in divinity from Howard University, Motley decided that the church he would launch would be different. Actually, it would not be a church, because the Motleys sought to take away the formality, the rigidity and even the physical boundaries that people associated with that word. Instead it would be a ministry, a "nondenominational, evangelical, outreach ministry" whose inclusiveness would be summed up in the banner on the front wall: "At Redemption, You Can Come As You Are, and God Will Do The Rest."

Redemption would also work in tandem with a faith-based nonprofit offshoot created by the Motleys, called Inner Thoughts Inc., to obtain private and government funds to steer people to social services -- after-school day care, summer camp, tutoring, job training, high school equivalency degrees, drug and alcohol treatment, even entrepreneur training to launch small businesses.

But what would give the ministry special energy was Motley, who relentlessly involved himself in the pain of his community -- midnight phone calls from police to deal with grief-stricken families; late-night trips to housing projects to try to head off gang shootings; nightly forays into the toughest neighborhoods, just to spread the word of God. Ride with him down a Southeast street, and he slams his car into reverse, intervening when he spots in his rearview mirror a curbside domestic dispute turning violent. Although he's running late, Motley stops and patiently mediates for 10 minutes to make sure the young woman, whom he doesn't even know, is safe.

"Some people think what I'm doing is abnormal. Not many ministers do on-street intervention . . . and all the rest," Motley said. "People say we are a ghetto church, a hoodlum church. That we don't have a real church, that we don't follow the Bible. These are people that don't even come in and see what we are doing."

D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey, though not a member, is among the believers. Ramsey, who has walked dangerous streets in plain clothes with Motley at night, said he was particularly impressed at his ability to talk to the very toughest cases. "It's remarkable. They know him by name, and he knows them. They're glad to see him," Ramsey said. "Reverend Motley is not a one-day-a-week evangelist. He is out there all the time, really living what he talks about."

Long before President Bush promoted his "faith-based initiative," Motley and other city churches were already using government programs to help needy neighborhoods. Ramsey recruited Motley in an antiviolence campaign two years ago and they formed the Clergy Police Community Partnership, which signed up 20 churches and obtained $250,000 in Justice Department and foundation grants. Motley also worked with police to obtain a $175,000 Justice Department grant as a "Weed and Seed" site, to help weed out crime and plant seeds in the form of positive programs for young people such as computer classes, tutoring, mentoring, athletic programs and summer camp.

In Redemption's back yard, nine students at Ballou High School were killed in street violence in the 1999-2000 school year. In the past school year, only two died, a change that Ballou Principal Arthur Bridges credited in part to Motley's work, along with better policing and improved economic development. Bridges said he has used Motley frequently as a peacemaker among warring crews of "gangbangers."

"It's this tranquil aura he gives off," said Bridges. "He has an unusual relationship with these kids. They would treat him like one of their peers. Hug him and greet him . . . I don't have the patience he has, to let kids vent to the extent he does. Once a child vents his anger, he's willing to listen. Then

Rev says, 'Okay, you did this

right, but you did this wrong.'

And the kid will listen . . . and

he gets them to apologize."

Pastor Motley was hoping that one street kid in particular would come through the door at Redemption. At Sunday services on July 1, he was hoping to see Albert, a 21-year-old Ballou graduate facing drug charges. Albert favored gold chains, gold earrings, and a busy cell phone and beeper. Motley knew Albert's mother, who had recently died of cancer, and he had pledged to her that he'd try to save her son from his downward path.

Baby-faced with crooked teeth and a trace of a mustache, Albert had followed the pastor's request to come to his office six months earlier for an intense lecture from Coleman and Motley -- after which Albert vowed to change his ways. But Albert had only shown up at services once, and he wasn't coming to a training course affiliated with Redemption, even though a government grant would have paid him $100 a week.

Albert did not show up again that Sunday. But Motley was pleasantly surprised to see a new face and a new reason for hope: It was Joseph Williams, who had flagged the preacher down at a car wash a week earlier and told him, "Rev, I'm tired of the street . . . I want to come in." At 22, Joe Williams, a Ballou dropout, had already served time in D.C. Jail and in Lorton Reformatory, had fathered two children by two past girlfriends. Now, facing an assault charge in connection with a 1998 drug-related murder, he told Motley his life was not working.

Williams's words resonated with the pastor. As Coleman and Motley himself had learned, the lure of drug dealing was always overrated and it always faded; whatever money, cars and women it promised, it eventually wasn't enough to outweigh the constant fear of getting nailed by the cops or, even worse, by the stickup boys. It still left you with a sense of emptiness and dread. Motley had heard countless laments like this from young men in the drug trade, though most often they still never came in.

Yet here was Joe Williams, wearing bluejeans and a clean white shirt, his cornrows wrapped in a white bandanna, quietly taking a seat in a back row. On this day, as on most Sundays, Redemption was rocking with the spirit. Deacons and ministers and evangelists -- the formal titles of the ministry's 25 top officers -- led songs and prayers, and gave passionate personal testimony about their doubts and their faith. Gospel music poured from the giant speakers as four deacons urged members to step forward with their weekly offering envelopes. Then, a six-piece band of teenage members belted out gospel-style go-go on guitar, drums, keyboard and congas with a funky, relentless rhythm: "D-I-E-D! Jesus died for me! Jesus died for me! D-I-E-D!

Jesus died for me! . . ."

Suddenly, as the music stopped, 26-year-old Shawn Richardson popped up to the pulpit on Motley's signal and passionately proposed marriage to fellow member Terrica Rodney, who shrieked in surprise, covered her face, laughing and crying, and then said yes, as the whole congregation burst into cheers. And as she came forward to embrace her fiancee, Motley crooned into his microphone: "Didn't you know how much he loves you? Didn't you know? Didn't you know?"

Everyone cheered more and clapped, and then they prayed and sang and sang and prayed. In the back row, Joe Williams participated but was subdued, closing his eyes several times. As the three-hour service climaxed, Motley was revved up high, alternately shouting at the congregants and whispering as he boomed out a call to give themselves to Jesus. "How do you get right by God? You get right by surrendering! . . . God frees us from self! God frees us from drugs! God frees us from alcohol! . . . from fornication! . . . from adultery!"

As he finished, a bank of 16 colored lights bathed the altar in red, yellow, blue and white. Then, as recorded gospel music played, Motley softly urged the crowd, particularly the newer participants, to dedicate themselves to God.

"Won't you come forward?" he whispered into his mike. "Is there anyone here? Won't you come forward? Won't you come? Won't you say, 'Lord, here I am'? . . . Won't you come?"

One by one, three people stepped forward and knelt at the altar, bent in prayer. As the soft music continued, Motley urgently whispered, "Does anyone want to become a member of Redemption? . . . Will anyone come forward to join? Will anyone join us?"

And after a minute, Williams stood up, his soft, young face framed by a faint goatee. He came forward, with long, slow strides, and knelt down at the altar, resting his arms on the table before an open Bible, a gleaming cross and two burning candles. He buried his face in his folded arms, as the soft music continued, "My life is in your hands, I don't have to worry . . ."

After a few minutes, Williams stood up and then Redemption did what it always does to welcome a new member: Everyone lined up, and, one by one, they walked up to Williams and hugged him. He appeared stunned, then smiled, looking a bit embarrassed as he stood awkwardly waiting for each of nearly 100 embraces that took several minutes.

Afterward, Williams said, "This was the first step. I will try to stay with the Word, and live up to God's expectations" as well as Motley's, who urged him to continue coming not only on Sundays, but also to Wednesday-night prayer and Friday-night Bible study. Yet minutes later, Williams also sounded weary and discouraged. "I have to try to live righteous, but this could easily lead nowhere," he said. "I could easily turn back to the streets."

Joe Williams did come back to Redemption, the very next Sunday, carrying his offertory envelope and a fresh paperback given to him by Motley, The New Believer's Bible. This time, in a most unusual worship service, Redemption showed on a giant screen a Christian movie called "Escape From Hell." Hot dogs and popcorn and punch were served to the entire congregation by the junior deacons, starting with dozens of young children who lined up quietly to wait their turn for food. The event was in keeping with the motto on the cover of Redemption's 12-page weekly bulletin: "Havin' Fun, Gettin' It Done, In 2001."

"Escape" was a dramatic made-for-TV-quality film with a rousing ending that brought the audience to its feet, cheering and shouting. "Victory is ours! Hallelujah!" Motley shouted. "Victory is ours! Hallelujah!" And the music came up loud, and again Motley urged the congregation to come forward and be saved.

And Joe Williams stood up again, and came forward first, kneeling again at the altar, bent in prayer. After five minutes, Williams stood and was embraced by Minister Jeffery Johnson, a burly man who drives trucks for a living and manages the ministry's transportation needs. He and Williams faced each other, holding hands. Williams's eyes closed and he stood motionless as the minister quietly preached to him. As the music played for two more minutes, Williams wiped tears from his eyes and sat back down.

Afterward, Williams talked about what it meant to join Redemption and, on this day, to accept Jesus as his savior. "It's very difficult to be what I was. And what I am trying to become. It is so easy to do wrong, especially when you've been doing it so long. Here, you gotta relate to people different . . . I was in D.C. Jail and Lorton, and I tried to find God, and I tried hard. But then the minute I got out, the minute I got free, I went back to what was easy for me . . ."

"I come here, I feel rejuvenated," Williams continued. "This, it's a whole environment that makes me feel comfortable. Nobody making me do this . . . If this was structured or formal, I would feel so uncomfortable." The other important thing, he said, is that "people here are struggling. They don't look down on me. They don't act like they're any better than anybody else." Williams said that when he feels the odds are hopelessly against him, he has been particularly inspired to hear of the stories of other church members, who are willing to share their past:

People like Eric Tripp, who was once known as one of the biggest and baddest drug dealers in Southeast, the kind who are usually dead or jailed by 25. Instead, Tripp, at 40, is the senior deacon of Redemption, lives with his wife and five children, works installing telephones, and owns a house and two cars.

Or like Kani Shorter, who is 24, works construction with his wife, and has two children: "I'd been carrying a gun since age 14, 15, selling weed, then heroin, loveboat and crack . . . Jailed, kicked out of school, in trouble all my life. I came to church but I'd go back to the street. At Redemption, I saw young people, just like me, guys from the 'hood, and I said, 'Okay, this place must have something special,' and I started coming more and more. But I still had crack in my pocket. I came with hangovers. I came drunk. But Rev, he said, 'Keep on coming,' and I did.

"One time, I was playing conga drums at a Saturday service and I started feeling real bad and they took me in back and I puked on the floor and passed out. Out for the count. I woke up hours later and nobody was there but the Rev, and he said, 'I got you man, you aw'right.' And after that, I prayed to God, I prayed and prayed to please take the taste away from me so I would stop drinking . . . and later I told God, 'If I give You this crack, if I flush it down the toilet, will You take care of my family?' And I flushed it, and I said, 'God, will You take care of me?' . . . And He did."

Or like Shelly Thomas, who is 32, whose already troubled life collapsed after she was raped as a teenager: "I lost all respect. I lost all my dreams. Ran away, came back. Used alcohol, marijuana, PCP, crack, LSD, pills, heroin . . . started working at a strip club, gettin' high, sellin' PCP and crack. My street name was 'Money.' Before I knew it, I went from being a stripper to being a prostitute.

"I been hung out windows. I was raped again. I've had knives stuck up in me. I've OD'd three times. I've been set on fire and pistol-whipped, tied up, and duct-taped in an abandoned building and left to die. My life has been a seesaw . . . And Rev has come to get me in strip clubs, at pimps' houses, crack houses, at the police, at shelters, hospitals, oil joints, alleys and park benches . . . He has rocked me and held me in his arms. I lived with the Motleys between my bouts." She said she has been clean for the past year, and involved in her first healthy relationship with a man. "Jesus has won my heart," she said, but added, "God is still working on me."

At the end of the Sunday service, as the plastic chairs were being stacked up by the deacons and the Maccabees (Redemption's security force, named for the ancient Jewish warriors), Joe Williams sat against the wall and tried hard to sound positive: "I truly, truly, truly believe things are gonna work out." But he also acknowledged that he had been skeptical about all the warm camaraderie. "The Bible talks about false prophets, and all," he said. "Well, if all this is a show, it is a show that I need. If it is a fake, I don't care. It is helping me."

A week later, Williams faced Motley across a battered old table in the pastor's cramped back office. Motley initiated the private meeting only after Williams had proved his seriousness by showing up for his fifth church event, including three straight Sunday worships. Motley rarely gives the young hustlers such one-on-one audiences because over the years he's heard too many halfhearted confessions and too many bogus promises.

Take Albert, who had sat in that very same chair six months earlier, promising to get off the streets. Motley had recently learned that Albert had gotten shot in a 3 a.m. crossfire at Barry Farms, the housing project where he had sold drugs. When Motley heard of the shooting, he'd gone there late one night and found Albert back outside with a bandaged hand. The pastor told him the shooting was a warning from God, and Motley invoked the name of Albert's late mother to again urge him to change. But Albert insisted he wasn't dealing, saying he'd only been in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

"I get discouraged. I get to the point I want to quit sometimes," Motley confessed in talking about Albert. "And then, something greater happens, like Joseph walking in."

In Motley's office, Williams spoke softly but clearly. Beneath his open white shirt, he wore a silver cross on a chain that he had found on the street. On his right arm, among his tattoos, a big dollar sign. His story was all too familiar. Dropped out after ninth grade. Father gone, mother ailing. Bills piling up -- one easy way to make quick money. "I don't wanna carry drugs. I don't wanna do wrong. But I got people dependin' on me," he told Motley. "I wanna hold up my hands and say, 'No more' . . . But I don't have no certificates, no high school, no GED . . . I wanna say, 'I'm not doin' it anymore.' But Rev, where do I begin?"

Motley nodded knowingly. "We have to believe we can do all things, through Christ. That He will take care of you," the pastor said. "That is what this walk is about. It is a faith walk."

"I don't question God. I don't question my faith. I question me," Williams said. "I just don't believe in me . . . Am I gonna resist temptation? How will I do it? I've been locked up and I've turned to God, and it was in my heart. But as soon as I got home, the world got me again. The women. The cars. The whole thing. I just doubt me."

"You are behind enemy lines," the pastor said. "But you are among us now."

"Rev, my life is filthy," Williams said. "I live with a woman and we're not married. And the people I am with, on the street, they are filthy." He shook his head, pain on his face. "I have lived this way so long. It hurts me to my heart."

Williams said he faced cutoff of his electricity and phone, but said he'd given almost all his money to his mother, who had come banging on his door, crying hysterically because she faced eviction. "It's hard, Rev . . . It's just, oh my goodness," he cut himself short, burying his face in his hands. "I am trying, Rev. I am trying."

"You are making some good decisions, Joseph. Every day you walk in here, it's a good decision."

"But, Rev, you know, I am still outside. And I am still kickin' it with the boys . . . I feel bad. I feel bad. I feel like a hypocrite," Williams said. Then he asked Motley, "How will you know what God exactly wants you to do?"

"He will tell you," Motley said. "It'll be in a dream, or when you are driving and He'll tell you to pull over to the side of the road . . . I was 22 when God spoke to me. I was drinking and drugging, and God said, 'I want you to come out from among them, and lead my people.' But I didn't do it. I kept running the streets 'til I was almost 30."

Motley had Williams take down the names and phone numbers of contact

people at Redemption's affiliated nonprofits who could help him pursue his high school equivalency, get job training and help his mother.

Williams said he was struggling to do right, "but then I see a guy on the street who says, 'Hey, Joe, I got something for you,' and there I go again . . . I make promises, but then I break them."

"You put yourself in a very dangerous situation when you backslide," Motley said. And he counseled patience: "When I started going to church, after a while, finally, God would not let me get high anymore. And then I just said, 'It's over, I can't do it no more.' And that was it." With women, Motley said, "I had relationships; today one, tomorrow another, and so on . . . And when we got married, it was under a covenant, and I said I would be with only her, to the ends of the earth. And I never thought I would ever have that, and keep that. But it's God's force in me that says, 'I can do it, I can make promises.' "

Williams nodded his head, seeming overwhelmed.

The pastor said, "This is a beginning, man. The only thing I can say is that I am very proud of you. You have come a long way."

As he got up to leave, Williams said, "Rev, you heard about Pat?" He was referring to a young drug dealer shot to death several weeks earlier by a disgruntled customer.

"Yeah, Brian found him," Motley said.

"PCP," Williams said, shaking his head. "Dude said something wrong, and next thing you know . . . I gotta weave away from the street."

"The street will always be there," Motley said. "Don't be afraid to be on the streets."

Through his many years selling crack cocaine and carrying a gun, Kennard Coleman often promised himself that he would give up drug dealing by the time he turned 30, but it was a vow he doubted. So it was with a particular joy that he and his fiancee, Armenta Shields, had chosen to marry on July 28, the date of his 30th birthday.

They met at Redemption two years earlier in a job-readiness class offered by the Motleys' nonprofit Inner Thoughts. Coleman was learning how to seek his first legitimate job and Shields, then 24, was expecting her fourth child, rebounding from her third failed relationship, and definitely not seeking another man. "I was always aggressive with men, before I was saved," she said. "Previously, I went to clubs all the time. I drank and I smoked weed."

The Shields family for many years lived next door to the Motleys, and Shields's brother and mother were longtime Redemption leaders before she joined in 1998 and later took a job as Motley's office assistant. Initially, she said, she liked Coleman but did not pay him much attention, "because God was telling me to concentrate on Him and not meet another man."

"I had said to God that I wanted a man to come to me this time, that I was not going to be looking," she said, "and then Kennard came to me, with a letter and a poem" about his feelings for her and his search for God. They became good friends, they worshiped together, and eventually declared their love, though pledging chastity until marriage.

Initially, Coleman had been drawn to Redemption by a basketball tournament. He later stopped in to say hello to Motley and unexpectedly burst into tears in his office. "I cried for about an hour. We prayed and I cried and we prayed and I cried and I got saved," he said, but the next day, he got high and started hustling again. It took months of struggle, he said, until "Rev came with me and we prayed, and flushed all the rocks down the toilet and flushed all the weed. I didn't know how I would survive and I didn't have a job -- and at that Sunday service, I got a $1,000 check to pay my rent" from Redemption's emergency fund.

Now, two years later, Coleman said, "I don't worry about backsliding anymore. I have the love of my parents. I have the love of my fiancee. I have the love of my pastor. I can't think of why I would want to go back."

At the wedding, Coleman was resplendent in a long black tuxedo with silver shoes, silver vest and tie. Redemption was filled to near capacity with more than 125 church members, family and friends, including South Cap drug crew members, who had listened to Coleman's story nearly a year earlier at dinner at the ministry. The South Cap Crew dressed casually and sat quietly on the sides -- except his old buddy, Terronce, who wore a black tux and served as a groomsman. "This is beautiful. I am really happy for him," said Terronce, who said that over the past year he, too, has stopped selling drugs and hanging with South Cap.

"It's a very special day," Motley said, reflecting on Coleman's journey before the ceremony started. "It shows that God is still in the miracle-making business. God is showing Kennard that he had something waiting for him all along. It was waiting here, all along, until Kennard made the decision to find it."

Motley had arrived late because he encountered a major accident on South Capitol involving three young men who stole and then overturned a speeding SUV. When he arrived, Motley told Coleman and Terronce, "When I saw that accident, I thought about you, and how it could easily have been you. But you all are here on the inside now, and not on the outside, and I thank God." Then all six young men in Coleman's wedding party, including his 6-year-old son, known as Little Kennard, joined hands in prayer.

At the ceremony, just after pronouncing Kennard and Armenta husband and wife, Motley exclaimed, "This is it! . . . Now, when she gets on your nerves, you can't walk out. And when he won't do what you want, you can't say, 'Hey, brotherman, get out!' " The couple was beaming and laughing, and Motley joked about how overly eager the groom appeared to kiss the bride. And when they finally did kiss, it was passionate and so very prolonged that the crowd began to laugh and applaud.

Afterward, the wedding party walked across South Capitol Street to take photographs on a wooded lawn opposite Redemption. The D.C. police, who previously haunted him, held up traffic so that Coleman and his bride could safely cross. The couple's photographer shot pictures for 40 minutes, including one that Coleman wanted to take with both his tuxedoed groomsmen and half a dozen of his former drug buddies who used to scorn him as "preacher boy." Coleman smiled broadly. "This is wonderful. The main reason I invited them is to show them how much my life has changed, and to show them that God is good."

In late July, Joe Williams cut off his cornrows because they reminded him too much of his past life on the streets, and he came with his hair shaved short on the night of his baptism. Williams had missed a baptism-training class at Redemption that week, but Motley had predicted confidently that he would show up for the ceremony. "I have a solid feeling about Joseph now," he said. "He has shown over the last two months that he's willing to do what it takes."

Williams himself was not feeling all that solid. "You didn't think I'd show up, did you?" he said when he saw Motley in the ministry parking lot.

"Sure I did," Motley said, embracing him.

Williams took Motley aside and told him he felt troubled. He'd landed a job restocking shelves at night at a discount store, but his employer went bust. He'd signed up through Redemption for high school equivalency exam training, but he badly needed a paying job -- right now. "I just found out I got a baby on the way," he said as they stood at the ministry door. His girlfriend of six years, Danielle Johnson, stood nearby with a camera to capture the ceremony.

Williams squinted as if in pain. "I know I can't live my old life no more. But I gotta take care of my family," he said. "My first instinct was to get out there, get some money and get some stones, and go back to the street long enough to pay my bills

. . . But that's a direction I don't want to take my life."

Williams had signed up to earn $100 a week to train for his GED exam, a deal similar to the one that Albert had passed up. But Williams would see no money for at least two weeks. Motley urged him to be patient and keep his faith. Williams said, "I know I gotta take my burdens and give them to God and let Him handle it. That worked for me last month, but now it has to work for me this month, right now."

After their talk, Motley walked off, mingling with a throng of people gathered beneath the brightly lit South Capitol Shopping Center sign that listed the names of a liquor store, pawnshop, pizza place -- and Redemption. A few minutes later, Motley returned and handed Williams a business card from a federal court agency, with a name and phone number written on the back.

"Call this person and talk to them about gettin' a job," Motley said.

Williams looked stunned, shaking his head. "Okay."

It was the card of a retired D.C. cop who'd known the Motleys for years and had stopped by just to say hello. Motley had seized the chance to ask about a job for Williams and was assured that one was available. "The Lord does work in all kinds of ways," Motley said, smiling.

Then everyone squeezed into Redemption's big blue van for the trip to a joint service with congregants at First Rising Mount Zion Baptist Church in Shaw, Motley's old church, which has a baptismal pool. There, Motley took to the pulpit to welcome three new Redemption members into the faith: Williams, an 8-year-old girl and her 6-year-old brother.

Invoking the resurrection of Jesus, the preacher delivered a message aimed squarely at Williams: "Going into this pool of water is like going into a grave. What you are taking into this water is the old you. All the sins. All the transgressions. All the misgivings. All the miseries. All the things you've done, and gone through . . . Christ emerged from the grave as a new creature, and so we go down in the water and we come up new."

But Motley also issued a warning about what comes afterward. "When we come out of this water, we have to walk a new walk, talk a new talk. The places we used to go, we can't go. The things we used to do, we can't do. The people we used to hang around with, we can't do that no more . . ."

And then the congregation started to sing the soulful hymn "Wade in the Water," and Joe Williams and the children, all in long white robes, climbed the stairs that raised them high above the altar to the highest point in the church. Motley was waiting for them there, standing in the water in his long white robe. Williams climbed into the pool and Motley took him in his arms. As he held him, he folded the young man's arms over his chest, and then the pastor lowered him backward into the water.

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