Alisa Branch, a confessed night owl, knew the parties she was going to were contrary to God's will, but the 18-year-old just didn't feel like getting dressed up and walking inside a church on a Sunday morning.
Then the Bladensburg woman was invited to a big circus tent pitched by First Baptist Church of Glenarden, whose members vacated their sanctuary last week, put on casual clothes and spread the gospel to people in the streets.
"Somebody here tonight is in bondage. . . . Somebody tonight will be delivered from drugs. You are going to be addicted to Jesus," preached the Rev. John K. Jenkins, pastor of First Baptist. The church hosted a five-day tent crusade last week that drew more than 5,000 people.
"This is war, and we have come out of our buildings because some of you will not step inside of a building, so we brought the church to you," Jenkins said.
Last year, about 75 churches came together and sponsored the tent meeting as the United Crusade for Christ at First Baptist Church of Glenarden, but when the ministers decided against having the joint event this year, Jenkins's church, which has nearly 5,000 members, decided to host the event alone.
"We are just trying to touch hurting people with the message of Jesus," said Jenkins, who concluded the revival with a picnic Saturday to celebrate the church's paying off its $2.5 million mortgage in just six years.
With high-octane gospel and a cordless microphone, Jenkins whipped the gathering into a spiritual storm that went unabated for nearly an hour. People were shouting, "Amen," waving their hands in the air and constantly jumping to their feet during a sermon that spared no one.
"Tonight I am calling you, backsliders. I am calling you," Jenkins preached as gospel recording artist Shirley Berkley played the organ in the background. "Unsaved backsliders, this is the day the Lord has made for you."
People began to stream down the aisle. Minister Shirley Onque said 44 people came forward to give their lives to Christ. Some asked for prayers because they had fallen away from the church while others said they never had developed a personal relationship with God.
There were people such as Rhonda Workman, 32, of Beltsville; Larry Hill, 19, of Landover; and Donald McWaters, along with his friend Amy Elliot, of Edgewater.
"You got to realize the devil is trying to put a stronghold on you," said McWaters, a carpenter who became familiar with First Baptist when he built a playground for the church. He decided to come back and attend services there because he is having some personal concerns. "I am going through the fire right now."
Each person who came forward was given a counselor who read scripture and prayed with them. "I'm like your spiritual mom," Belynda Gentry told Workman after they prayed together.
Alisa Branch held another counselor's hand as they prayed, "Father, in the name of Jesus, you are able to deliver." Branch had vowed to "repent" her sins and live a new life. When asked what "repent" meant, she said, "It means that I should change my ways."
CAPTION: At top left, Gerald Wilson, of Landover, prays during the tent crusade. At bottom left, a child sleeps through a resounding gospel song. Above, a church member counsels a participant during Bible study.
CAPTION: A worshiper follows a reading from the Bible.
CAPTION: Raising their arms, worshipers give praises under the tent pitched by First Baptist Church of Glenarden. At left, the Rev. John K. Jenkins delivers his message to the crowd. Above, members of the men's choir of First Baptist Church of Glenarden raise their voices. "We are just trying to touch hurting people with the message of Jesus," Jenkins said of his church's five-day tent crusade.