Had they been in their home country that Sunday morning in 2002, Alba and Hilberto Canales might have been at church. Instead, they were at home in their Silver Spring apartment complex. She was a Salvadoran Pentecostal and he was a Catholic, but while they had found each other, they had yet to find a spiritual community of their own in America.
Nearby in Silver Spring, senior Sayda Cruz-Abreu was slowly working her way up Piney Branch Avenue. She had just spent the better part of an hour knocking on door after door, distributing religious literature and answering questions about her faith, evangelism, in the summer heat.
When she finally made her way to the Canaleses' door, she knocked with her Bible at the ready. "Hi, my name is Sayda,” she began. "May I come in and talk with you about the word of God?”
It was chance that brought Cruz-Abreu to the Canaleses' door. Not everyone is receptive to their message, but Cruz-Abreu and the handful of other Blazers who devote their time to the door-to-door mission know it's a game of numbers: Every slammed door brings them that much closer to an audience like the Canaleses, and personal faith is more than enough motivation in the meantime.
According to Dewey Wallace, a theology professor at George Washington University, door-to-door missionaries are bound to find success given the time they commit to the cause. "Relatively few groups do this, but those who do know that if you've knocked on enough doors, certainly someone will respond,” he says.
For junior Iris Parham, faith is all it takes to stay motivated for the four hours a week she spends walking door to door in local neighborhoods, regardless of the response she receives. "We don't determine if a day is successful or not,” she explains. "We just want to go out and educate people like the example Jesus set for us.”
Parham is a Jehovah's Witness, part of a Christian group whose members spent approximately 1.2 billion hours worldwide evangelizing door to door in 2003, according to The Watchtower magazine. Parham herself has been going door to door with her mother since she was able to speak, driven by the same strength of faith that has kept her from expressing any political affiliations.
She shares literature printed by the Jehovah's Witness community and educates residents about her religion, and according to James Collins, a minister at a Silver Spring congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, this is the primary goal of missionaries of his faith"to provide residents with access to religious resources.
Cruz-Abreu, who aims not only to spread information but also to bring people to her church, has found an added fulfillment that accompanies personal involvement in the recruitment of individuals like the Canaleses. "We've seen a lot of success in this method,” she says of her church's door-to-door efforts. "It makes me feel so good to take a part in this.”
Cruz-Abreu's unshakable religious conviction is evident even in her speech"she never curses"and in the long skirts she wears as a constant reminder of the modesty mandated by her faith. Although door-to-door work is not compulsory for Cruz-Abreu, her efforts are driven by the desire to help other people find the same defining force in their lives.
Still, junior Leslie Hong, a former Jehovah's Witness, jokes that she has never received a single "thank you” for the literature she distributed. In fact, Blazers' responses to door-to-door missionaries vary little. "If I see them there, I don't even open the door,” says sophomore Jacqueline Fombu about the missionaries that have come to her doorstep.
The fact remains that most missionaries are treated like solicitors, and Cruz-Abreu was heartened to find herself even allowed into the Canaleses' apartment complex.
The occasional success, however, doesn't make the process any easier. Hong recalls that her efforts were not always welcomed by residents. "A lot of people don't answer their door, even if it's obvious they're home,” she says. "Some people decline the literature and say that they already have a faith.”
Hong, who went door to door for almost 14 years, remembers her excitement when she spoke to a resident for the first time. She was five and had accompanied her mother from babyhood. "This elderly lady opened the door, and I started talking, and she just kept smiling and nodding,” Hong laughs. "When I finished, she turned to my mother and said, 'I didn't understand a word of that.' I was almost in tears!”
Hong says that at first, her weekly missions reinforced her faith. But as her religious conviction deteriorated, Hong began to question the morality of spreading a faith she was unsure she believed in. "I am in no position to go door to door and preach to other people if my own faith is weak,” she says. "My parents say that it's okay, since I have a knowledge of the faith and what I'm spreading is knowledge, but still, it just doesn't feel right.”
However, Cruz-Abreu maintains that her work strengthens her faith. "It makes me appreciate [my religion] so much more,” she says of the hard work involved in spreading her faith.
For Cruz-Abreu, it's work that pays off with every answered door, every extended invitation and every Saturday when she walks into church. It's been two years since her first meeting with the Canaleses, but one opened door has found them a place within her church community ever since.
Pria Anand. Pria is a senior. She loves Silver Chips, movies and, most likely, you. More »