The shopping outlet at Capital Plaza Mall in Landover was crowded with young people one recent night when the shooting started. People were screaming. A young man pleaded for his life. But a man named Raymond still used a 9mm pistol to settle a score with a man who he thought had molested his little sister.
Moments later, the casket containing the remains of "Guy" was rolled on stage as his mother sobbed and wondered whether her other son could avenge his brother's death with a bullet.
Suddenly, there was a giggle.
"You simple fools are laughing, you simple girl," the Rev. Deron Cloud told a young girl who was watching a play at Church of the Lord's Disciples. "Look at you, baby. Y'all don't understand. We are losing kids over and over again, and Satan got y'all so bad until you are laughing."
He was addressing some of the more than 5,000 people who came out to see a play called "Simple." Elsewhere in Prince George's, many churches are putting on huge theatrical productions to persuade young people to come to Christ. And more and more are using a high-tech approach to evangelism because many young people today are captivated and distracted by MTV and videos.
The production at Cloud's church cost about $75,000.
"We are just trying to reach people who are not being reached in the traditional church," said Cloud, whose church has gone from 30 members in 1996 to more than 2,000 people today.
At Trinity Assembly of God in Lanham recently, another play was being performed.
A dispute erupted over a girlfriend. Gunfire crackled. Then there were screams, flashing lights and two dead teenagers on the ground.
The audience sat motionless as the dead teenagers woke up at Heaven's gate to learn whether their names had been written in the Book of Life or whether they would be condemned to Hell's flames.
"Where are you going to spend eternity? That's the question!" intoned Mark Ivey, part of a roving ministry that trains actors in church productions. Ivey wrote and produced "Heaven's Gates and Hell's Flames," the play at Trinity.
In the play, many people who seemed to be living successfully died and went to Hell because they didn't obey the gospel, while others who turned their lives around made the spiritual cut.
Ivey worked with church leaders to put on a production that included flashing lights, booming sound, a two-story gold-tone staircase leading to the gates of Heaven, a sound synthesizer for the voice of Satan and a cast of 60 representing all walks of life.
"We wanted to spread the gospel to the community; we mailed out several thousand fliers and our members went door-to-door," said the Rev. William Ferguson, Trinity's pastor, who estimated that more than 3,000 people attended the play during its run from Nov. 14 to 17.
"Many young people today are exposed to the old-time gospel. This gives them an opportunity to witness the suddenness and unendingness of eternity," said Ferguson, who last week celebrated his 40th anniversary as pastor of the 1,100-member church.
Cloud, 33, is more comfortable evangelizing in baggy jeans than in a business suit, and he is relentless about trying to win souls for Christ. Last month, he parked the church's school bus outside Constitution Hall and began blasting gospel rap music to startled concertgoers and passing out free tapes that featured the gospel rap group the Chozen Da-Scyplez.
"We are just trying to reach people who are not being reached in the traditional church," said Cloud, whose church has gone from 30 members in 1996 to more than 1,700 today.
"Many parents overlook the struggles that their children experience," Cloud said. His production centers on the story of two young men and how they deal with troubles in their world. "This play exposes the hypocrisy of parents and the church that overlooks the needs of the youth."
Cloud says he likes to put on productions because they are similar to the methods used by Jesus in the New Testament. "Jesus spoke in parables, which was a story . . . that the people of his time could relate to his message, and that's what we are doing today."
CAPTION: At Church of the Lord's Disciples, Landis McEachin, left, and Monte Dugger perform in the play "Simple." Below, Maceio Choice, 5, of Greenbelt, cowers behind a pew near his mother, Robin, as they watch a play at Trinity Assembly of God in Lanham.
CAPTION: Jodi Schmuck and Keith Southworth play workers who get into heaven.