It began with a prophecy, which believers take as a message from God. Spoken through Carolyn Green, a congregant at Rhema Christian Center in Northeast Washington, it instructed Rhema's women to go out and save the city's prostitutes.
"They are crying out in the darkness," Green's prophecy said. "Will you be obedient, women of Rhema, and get these women off the streets?"
Obediently, about 150 women from Rhema, wearing practical shoes and white construction hard hats, walked down both sides of 14th Street NW Friday night looking for their spiritual targets to spread the news that God loves them.
It was women of the light in search of women of the night.
Only problem was, there was nary a hooker in sight.
"It's almost as if they hid from us," said Denise McDowell, a mother of four who lives in Herndon. "We didn't see one, [and] we were ready to just love them in."
Even so, the women were generally well received by passersby as they marched from Rhode Island Avenue and 14th Street to Franklin Square and on to the Washington Convention Center continuing their search for prostitutes.
"Jesus loves you, too!" responded Les Joseph, 40, of the District, who was resting on his bicycle when he met the parade of women at 14th and L streets. "It's something positive."
"Outstanding!" D.C. Deputy Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer replied when told the women found no prostitutes. The police, he said, have "put a lot of time and energy into" enforcing anti-prostitution laws.
And, he added, they "strongly support . . . what those Christian women are doing, which is getting at the root cause of why those women" are streetwalking.
Aldane Cobbs, however, was not impressed.
"I'm hungry. I'm not jokin'," the grizzled, gray-bearded man with alcohol-scented breath replied as the women streamed past, handing him a pocket-sized tract entitled "Have You Heard of the Four Spiritual Laws?"
"God bless you. We love you," the women told Cobbs, who later admitted that he couldn't read the pamphlet. Told it was a Christian leaflet, he replied: "I figured that, but I'm hungry."
Members of Rhema, a nondenominational Pentecostal church, go out every second Sunday after services to witness in Washington streets, said Mary Goodwin, who runs the evangelization program with her husband, Dennit. But the women rarely go out at night.
On Friday, they prepared for saving prostitutes by praying in tongues as they held hands in the aisles of their church. "We call it praying in the spirit," Yolanda Boatwright said.
Then they boarded five buses, one of which was driven by Rhema's pastor, the Rev. Clarence C. Givens. As they rode downtown, the women clapped and sang, "This Is the Night the Lord Has Made" and "The Darkness Is Defeated."
At 9:30 p.m., they disembarked in front of Yum's, a Chinese fast-food place, and the Playbill Cafe on 14th Street. Some pedestrians gave them a wide berth. But others willingly took the pamphlets.
In Franklin Square, the women broke into an anti-devil song, "He's Under Our Feet." Swaying and stomping the flagstone plaza, they circled the fountain in song. Four women made a beeline for a man in jeans and a baseball cap, seated on a bench with his backpack.
"My life, very difficult," he said.
"All the more reason to know the Lord because he can fix it, but you have to know that," said Rosalind Smith, 41, of Hyattsville. A onetime drug abuser, Smith said she was saved by men who prayed over her on a street in Florida.
Kneeling, Smith grasped his hand and asked if they could pray. He had a faraway look on his face as the four loudly besought Jesus to save the man.
"Thank you, but my God is Cosmos," said the man, as he fished a cigarette out of his breast pocket. "I'm sorry. I respect your church . . . but my God is Cosmos."
After the women left, Miro Gacko, 47, said he was from Bosnia, had lived in California five years and arrived in Washington 16 days ago with no job.
"Could you help me?" he asked. "Who help me in America?"
CAPTION: Yolanda Boatwright, center, a member of Rhema Christian Center, talks to a pedestrian on 14th Street NW. She and fellow congregants, who earned the praise of D.C. Deputy Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer for their efforts to reach prostitutes, offered prayers and pamphlets to passersby.