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This Week On Metro Connection: Faith

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

Welcome to "Metro Connection." I’m Rebecca Sheir and today we're going to talk about something that you can have, you can keep or you can break. It can be an act, it can be a leap, it can be bad, it can be good, but if it's strong enough, truly strong enough, it just might be able to move mountains. We're talking about faith.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

And we're not just talking about faith of the religious variety. In fact, in a Gallop Poll last year, just 30 percent of D.C. residents described themselves as very religious. That compares with 58 percent in Mississippi, the most religious state in the nation according to the pollsters. So today we'll bring you a show about faith of all sorts. We'll meet a minister who's trying to keep his faith after his church burned to the ground.

REV. CARL PEREZ

People say the church is the people, that is true, but the people gather in a building, and so that's one of the things that we sort of are missing.

SHEIR

We'll talk with a prison inmate who's learning to develop new faith in himself and his future.

MR. MICHAEL JONES

You wake up and you see this drab paint, these metal bunks and, oh, my goodness, what in the world happened?

SHEIR

We'll also check out a play, by a playwright/priest, that's all about finding faith through family relationships.

MR. RYAN RILETTE

The message of the play is that every 100 years every family should look back at their family story and write that down. And that's how we find God. That's how we add our own book to the Bible.

SHEIR

But first, what happens when a tea-loving British minister walks in to a medium-security prison? Kind of sounds like the set-up to an old joke, right? But it's not. It's what actually happened to professional storyteller and ordained minister, Geraldine Buckley. And Sister Geraldine, as the inmates called her, didn't just walk in to that medium security prison in Hagerstown, she walked in to teach poetry.

MS. GERALDINE BUCKLEY

"There are some nights that change everything. I had one of those on November the 11th, 2004. That was the first time I went to prison."

SHEIR

This is the opening of Buckley's story, "The Night That Everything Changed." You can hear it on her 2010 CD, Destination: Slammer, True Tales of Life and Laughter. She's talking about her first time volunteering to lead a creative workshop at the Maryland Correctional Training Center or MCTC, where, just a few years later, she would become the chaplain.

BUCKLEY

I'd gone in and prayed for the last chaplain on his last day. It was surprise party. And I just prayed that God would protect the church, and that only the chaplain God wanted to come in would come in. And as I prayed, I knew how difficult it would be. And so I thought, the poor next Chaplain. I really pray for the next chaplain. I had no idea it was going to be me, and I was going to need every one of those prayers.

SHEIR

Buckley is ordained with Faith Christian Fellowship.

BUCKLEY

Which is strong on the words, strong on the moving of the Holy Spirit.

SHEIR

But she says she began telling stories long before she found religion.

BUCKLEY

I've always been passionate about creativity. I've done creative stuff since I was knee-high.

SHEIR

And that creative stuff includes radio D-Jing, reading the TV news, ghostwriting books and doing food reviews. And once Buckley found religion, she started infusing it into her creative work, sometimes in the unlikeliest of places.

BUCKLEY

I know I'm a very unlikely slam poet, but I was the 1997 London-Farrago slam champion. I did in-your-face Jesus poems and won these really secular competitions, in the sleaziest places, because when it first started it was pretty underground. But if you're going to do, seriously, in-your-face Jesus poems, in sleazy places, wonderful for learning how to develop audience skills.

SHEIR

And Buckley suspected she'd need all the audience skills she could muster when she led that first poetry workshop at MCTC. Here she is again, telling her story, "The Night That Everything Changed."

BUCKLEY

"Well, I hyperventilated all the way into the chapel, and the men were already there. Well, they weren't men, they were giants. I know that every single one of them was glaring at me. I know that every single one of them was rippling their enormous muscles at me. I know that every single one of them was covered from head to toe in full-body tattoos. I just know it."

SHEIR

But the thing is, really, she didn't know it. Or yeah, even if some of the guys were seriously inked-up, they weren't glaring, they weren't rippling. Or, okay, if they were, it didn't last long because by the end of that workshop, Buckley says, every single one of them was sharing his feelings, his thoughts, his words. And it wasn't long before Buckley returned to lead more workshops, again and again and again.

BUCKLEY

Creativity is powerful. And we all need it. I mean, when I see how those men responded -- I mean, I'd get to them to write sonnets. I mean, and just for fun, we'd go through all these poetry forms, and they were brilliant.

SHEIR

And not just brilliant, Buckley said, but potentially more peaceful.

BUCKLEY

There are enormous surveys that show if prisoners do creativity, there is an enormous decline in prison violence.

SHEIR

And while violence is going down, things like confidence, she says, are going up.

BUCKLEY

If people are going to get out, it strengthens their spirit, enables them to be able to get jobs, and hugely reduces the recidivism rate.

SHEIR

Buckley led her workshops for several years. Sometimes the men would write, sometimes they'd sing or dance. One time, they even put on a full-fledged musical production, called "From Darkness To Light."

BUCKLEY

And it's not like doing a production anywhere else, you have dress rehearsals and you have tech rehearsals. You can't have anything like that in a prison. So we did this whole thing on prayer power, oh God, oh God, oh God, if you don't come through…

SHEIR

Now again, this was all before Buckley was named prison chaplain. Once that happened, she had to juggle a bunch of other duties, like leading prayer, acting as grief counselor, but she did her best to keep the creativity flowing behind those bars.

BUCKLEY

I saw who these men were. I know they were inmates. I know they were all in there because most of them had done something really awful. I didn't want to know what it was. But I called forth their potential.

SHEIR

And they, she says, responded. Many went on to become leaders in the prison church. One guy decided to get his master's degree. And all of them, she says, all of them found a new chance to express themselves, who they really were and who they really wanted to be.

BUCKLEY

All I was doing was just encouraging. And it's taking pain out so healing can come in. And if you get all the noise out, you suddenly realize, I have potential, even if I'm behind the bars.

SHEIR

Buckley left her position as prison chaplain in January 2010. Since then, she's continued telling stories at festivals and events, and she's continued spreading that healing power of creativity.

BUCKLEY

I went into an alternative school for children who are one step away from being in prison, teaching them to tell stories. And so I'm starting to look at doing more of that.

SHEIR

In the meantime, Geraldine Buckley leaves next month for a storytelling festival in New Zealand. Then she's off to Fredonia, New York, to perform her brand new show, "Tea in the Slammer," for the Criminal Justice Department at the State University of New York. After that, she'll be back in D.C., performing her show at Capital Fringe Festival. And the show, by the way, ends with a poem Buckley wrote right after leading that first poetry workshop at the Maryland Correctional Training Center.

SHEIR

It's called "Do Not Think." And it begins, do not think I have forgotten you, though you dwell in this desolate place, though cold and gloom encircle you and despair has pushed out grace…

BUCKLEY

The plans I have for you hold true, though all around has changed. Though your hopes and dreams are smashed, destroyed, your future rearranged. For there is destiny upon your life, I have not changed my mind. Your name is scribed upon my palm. You will not be left behind. My training grounds are mine to choose, this one's austere, no light. But from this stark, dank valley you'll arise to fight my fight. I have called you to the nations, my plans are still in place. This darkness will turn in to dawn. Let me hold you. Seek my face.

SHEIR

For more on Geraldine Buckley and to find links to her blog, visit our website, metroconnection.org. And by the way, this story came to us through WAMU's Public Insight Network or PIN. It's a way for people to share their stories with us and for us to reach out for input on topics we're covering. You can learn more about the network by visiting metroconnection.org/pin.

SHEIR

When it comes to the guy we'll meet next, I have to say, his day-to-day life would probably feel pretty familiar to Geraldine Buckley. That's because Michael Jones is in prison, serving a 15-year sentence for burglary and robbery. But Jones isn't your average inmate. He grew up in the middle class suburbs of Westminster, Md. He went to church. And he never had to scrounge for money or a meal.

JONES

I was on top of the world before I came to prison. I had never gone to bed hungry. I had never gone to bed dirty. I was very blessed, very fortunate.

SHEIR

Fast forward to today and, as Robbie Feinberg tells us, Jones is starting to feel blessed again, for the first time in ages.

MR. ROBBIE FEINBERG

At 18, Michael Jones thought his future was bright. He was heading off to a Division One college. He had a wrestling scholarship and he had his family's support. But once Jones arrived at school things fell apart. He got involved in drugs and he started selling them to make some money, and then he started using. Before long, Jones was robbing people, committing burglaries. And by the age of 26, he ended up in prison.

JONES

When you're going through it you're really just going through the motions, you know, it doesn't impact you one way or another. But then, after a period of time, you wake up and you see these cylinder walls and this drab paint, these metal bunks, and, oh my goodness, what in the world happened?

FEINBERG

Jones says he didn't know the answer to that question. So he took a look at his life. And he asked himself, how did I end up here? And where am I going? All of that has led him here, to Second Chances Farm in Sykesville, Md., about 30 miles west of Baltimore. Jones arrived at Second Chances about two months ago with four other inmates. They work here seven days a week, taking care of the four retired racehorses on the farm. The inmates will spend six months here, learning the ins and outs of horse grooming, as a way to develop new skills before leaving prison.

FEINBERG

Conni Swenson is the program coordinator for Second Chances and she says grooming isn't easy for the inmates. You can't just walk up to a horse and start brushing it. You've got to work with the horse and get to know it.

MS. CONNI SWENSON

They learn how to open themselves up and find the most patient part of themselves, the most compassionate part of themselves. The animal has to learn to respect them and that takes time, and that takes a certain way for people to act.

FEINBERG

Second Chances was launched in 2009, as a joint program of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. The program isn't just here for the inmates, though. Swenson says that without Second Chances, these horses may not be around, either.

SWENSON

These are not your Kentucky Derby, high-level horses. So what happens to these horses is they're very vulnerable, because once they can't make any money anymore, they've lost all their value for their owners.

FEINBERG

Swenson says that without any racing value, these horses are normally sold and sent to Mexico, where they're killed for their meat. But she says Second Chances gives these horses a new purpose, as teachers.

FEINBERG

Out on the farm, Michael Jones is relaxed, with a wide grin across his face. He softly pats his horse, a thoroughbred named Greek Ruler, and feeds him a few blades of grass. Jones is gentle with him, carefully lifting up each hoof.

JONES

Just make sure he's shining, like a diamond. He misses that attention, that limelight. He's a thoroughbred, he's a racer.

FEINBERG

Jones says that he sees a little bit of himself in his horse. They're both stubborn, a little childish, stuck in their ways. But Jones says that once they both got a little guidance they've learned and changed.

JONES

When I first started grooming him and picking his hooves, he wasn't having none of that. Well, I’m his handler. I'm his groomer. Why is he giving me the hard way to go? And that's when Ms. Swenson, you know, put me down with that, you know, you have to earn their trust. And like the day, actually, today was the first day that from beginning to end of grooming him, there was no hiccups, no hiccups, none.

FEINBERG

Jones has changed, too. He says that in the past he'd only think about himself and his problems. He blamed the world for where he'd ended up, but out here, Jones has 1000 pound animal to take care of. He can't goof off or blame anyone else. He's got to focus on the job at hand.

JONES

Those things that I'd be contemplating and dwelling on and, you know, I'd come out here, they're out the window. I mean, because right now this horse has this particular injury, this attention needs to be given to this horse and it raised my awareness and it prevents me from making that lack of judgment, that lack of thinking at that crucial moment.

FEINBERG

That awareness is something Jones wants to take into the future. When he gets out of prison, Jones says he wants to travel, maybe drive a truck. And he wants to try out a second career in relaxation therapy. Those types of plans, they're new for him and he knows that without Second Chances he probably wouldn't even be thinking about them.

JONES

I would either be dead or be locked up for an extremely long amount of time if it wasn't for this program. I wish I didn't have to learn it this way. Believe me, I really wish I didn't have to learn it this way. But I'm also smart enough to know I wouldn't have learned it any other way.

FEINBERG

What may be the toughest challenge students like Jones face is making sure they don't end up back in prison once they've left. More than 40 percent of Maryland inmates are back in prison within three years. But the Second Chances graduates may have a better shot. Eleven inmates have graduated from the program since 2009, and none have ended up back behind bars. But Jones still has a long way to go. First, he needs to keep coming out here for the next few months to care for these horses. And then he needs to take the grooming certification test and pass it. And then there's his parole hearing in about six months, where he hopes to finally get released from prison and begin a new life. I'm Robbie Feinberg.

SHEIR

You can see photos of Jones and his horse and learn more about Second Chances on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Time for a break, but when we get back, starting a new church from scratch.

MR. KEVIN LUM

I kinda felt a little bit awkward as, you know, the white kid going into this neighborhood to say, here I am, I've got a new church for you.

SHEIR

Plus, the fight over a Muslim group's potential move to rural Maryland.

MS. CHAUN HIGHTOWER

The idea of having a really huge community being built out here didn't seem to fit in with the landscape.

SHEIR

That and more in just a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.

ANNOUNCER

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INTERVIEWER

I'm Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today our theme is Faith. And in just a bit we're going to hear from a Virginia minister whose church sanctuary burned to the ground in January, and find out how the rebuilding process is renewing his faith. But to kick off this part of the show, we're going to meet a D.C. pastor who's trying to build a new church from the ground up. His name is Kevin Lum. And shortly after turning 30 he knew he was ready to lead a congregation. The only question was, where?

LUM

One of my beliefs is, is that God not only calls you to a vocation, but God also calls you to a place.

INTERVIEWER

So, as Emily Berman tells us, Kevin and his wife Charla set out on a road trip to find the place where their church should be.

MS. EMILY BERMAN

When the road trip started out, Kevin says, they had no idea where they'd end up.

LUM

You know, we started out in Denver, Colo. And I think we hit Ft. Collins. And then began to drive down south and went to New Mexico.

MS. CHARLA LUM

New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah.

LUM

Utah. And I particularly was really praying that California would be where God called us, maybe San Diego or someplace warm all year long.

BERMAN

Every night they'd arrive in a new city, Find a restaurant for dinner, walk around, and wait for some sort of sign that this was where God wanted them to be.

LUM

We like to joke we were basically giving God some suggestions of places we might like to go.

BERMAN

They were on the road for a month, and still, no sign. Then they got back home to Washington.

LUM

It was unanimous. We looked at each other and said, no, like, we're supposed to stay in D.C.

BERMAN

And that's how the church started.

LUM

If we were going to stay we had to take responsibility to make D.C. the place that we wanted it to be.

BERMAN

Now, just one year later, Kevin is the pastor of his own congregation, called The Table Church. Members meet on H Street Northeast, right near the Lums' apartment. It's called The Table, Kevin explains, because of the bond that forms over shared meals, an idea that comes up again and again in the Bible. Services are held inside a more established church, Douglas Memorial United Methodist. A year ago, Kevin says he had no clue how he'd go about starting a church in a historically African American neighborhood.

LUM

I kind of felt a little bit awkward as, you know, the white kid going into this neighborhood to say, here I am, I've got a new church for you.

BERMAN

He sent emails to pastors in the area, not expecting anyone to write back. But by the end of the evening, Douglas' reverend, Dr. Helen Fleming, wrote back.

LUM

And we probably met an hour, an hour and a half. We prayed together. And it was this great meeting. But she ends by saying, well, why don't come partner with us? We've got lots of space. You could hold your services in our church. And one of the beauties of it, is it gives us a root in the community.

BERMAN

The next step was attracting church members. The Lums threw parties, brunches, dinners and talked with their friends and friends of friends about a vision for a new church. It would be a church devoted to helping everyone in their neighborhood, connecting over meals and meeting not just on Sundays, but throughout the week at gatherings like this, ten people in a basement apartment in Bloomingdale, sipping hot tea from mismatched mugs, talking about how to grown and distribute food in a Christian way.

BERMAN

The group is making plans for a produce market, where both church members and neighbors can buy fruits and vegetables on a sliding scale. Approaching this issue as a faith community, Charla says, bonds people together for the cause.

LUM

Faith communities can speak into the myth that I am a completely separate entity from everything going on around me.

LUM

The call we hear from Jesus is that true change only happens in the context of community.

BERMAN

The Table Church is now pulling in about 60 people to services on Sunday evenings. The crowd is a lot of young professionals, but also some members of the host church, Douglas, and some children as well.

LUM

Probably three-fourths found out about it through some sort of social media. Yeah, I saw one of my friends liked your Facebook page and I thought, well, I trust them, so I'll come check it out.

BERMAN

Corey Self is a member and says finding a group of people committed to staying in D.C. has changed the way he practices his faith.

MR. COREY SELF

Because there are so many negative things that go along with the church. And church being this institution that oppresses and manipulates. But being a group of people who want to love each other, because we're called to love each other, with no exceptions.

BERMAN

And after only a month of gatherings, Kevin says, that's just about the best response he could have wished for. I'm Emily Berman.

SHEIR

We turn now from a faith group that's just getting started, to one that would like to expand. The Dar-us-Salaam Muslim community was founded in Silver Spring in 1995. Since then, it's moved to College Park. And its school for pre-K through 12th graders has grown from some two dozen students to nearly 650. Now, the leader of Dar-us-Salaam would like to move again so they can grow and expand the services they offer their members. But, as Tara Boyle tells us, some residents near Dar-us-Salaam's proposed new home are fighting those plans.

MS. TARA BOYLE

It's the last Friday before spring break and teachers at the Al-Huda School are scrambling to wrap up lessons before saying goodbye to their students for a week.

MS. TARA BOYLE

Several dozen first-grade girls, dressed in blue dresses and white headscarves, stretch their hands in the air, waving for teacher Shirin Ishaq's attention.

MS. TARA BOYLE

Down the hallway and around a corner, an older group of girls are in Hifz class. They're memorizing the Quran and rock back and forth as they recite the words on the pages in front of them.

MS. TARA BOYLE

This classroom is in use all day, every day, which is pretty much the case for every classroom in this school.

MR. HAROON BAQAI

We've maxed this building out. We're using every single room, every single closet.

BOYLE

Haroon Baqai is the principal of Al-Huda School.

BAQAI

Some of the closets have been converted into office space. Some, you know, rooms which were really not classrooms, we had to convert them into classrooms.

BOYLE

And Baqai says the space crunch doesn't just affect students. Their parents and other adults in the Dar-us-Salaam community have no room at the Al-Huda campus for their prayer services.

BOYLE

So they hold them several miles away in a Knights of Columbus hall. Amman Sofikan (sp?) leads those services.

BOYLE

Members of Dar-us-Salaam would like to be able to house all their programs, Friday prayers, their school and their newspaper among others, in a single location, one that will allow their community to grow and thrive. And they think they've found the perfect spot.

BOYLE

It's about 9:00 a.m. on a Tuesday morning and I'm here in front of the site of the former Woodmont Academy, a Catholic school here in Howard County.

BOYLE

The Woodmont Academy in Cooksville, Md. Close in 2011 and now the site is shuttered with a chain link fence blocking off the school's driveway.

HIGHTOWER

So we're surrounded by what is really a rural landscape. We have horse farms, fences, open spaces as far as you can see.

BOYLE

Chaun Hightower has lived a few miles from the Woodmont Academy since 2005.

HIGHTOWER

I was just really attracted to the idea of my kids going to school and being able to see cows right, you know, from their classroom.

BOYLE

But last fall she heard about Dar-us-Salaam's plans to move here and redevelop the Woodmont site. And she says she started to worry about the future of this rural enclave 30 miles west of Baltimore.

HIGHTOWER

The idea of having what looked like a really huge community being built out here didn't seem to fit in with the landscape.

BOYLE

So Hightower and other residents formed a formal coalition, Residents for the Responsible Development of Woodmont, or RRDW. They created a website and started voicing their concerns to local officials. Paul Skalny is an attorney working with the group.

MR. PAUL SKALNY

The RRDW is comprised of over 500 people. We represent somewhere in the tune of, I think, 12 or 13 different homeowners associations.

BOYLE

They're big concern, he says, has to do with zoning. Allowing a new large-scale development at this site, they worry, might open the floodgates to other big developments in some of the last large tracts of open space in Howard County.

SKALNY

So what the petitioner has asked for here is a change of zone from RC to an institutional overlay. Which would really expand--

BOYLE

The zoning lingo here gets wanky (sic) pretty quickly, but Chaun Hightower says what this whole dispute boils down to is development.

HIGHTOWER

Our issues, as it relates to the purchase, has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that this is a Muslim community, nor does it have anything to do with the religion as a whole. Our issue is land use.

BOYLE

Paul Skalny says RRDW would be fine with Dar-us-Salaam's move to Cooksville, if it'll agree to use the land according to the more conservative zoning rules that applied to Woodmont Academy.

SKALNY

This is really about setting a precedent in the western part of this community and allowing a zone to become prevalent in a location where it really doesn't belong.

BOYLE

Back in College Park it's lunchtime at Al-Huda School. Hundreds of girls are eating pizza at long tables in the cafeteria. Minhaj Hasan is a board member of Dar-us-Salaam. He says he and other members of his community are still hoping Howard County officials will grant their zoning request. But he also says preliminary concerns about the size of their plan, including a proposed mosque that could hold thousands of people, have been overblown.

MR. MINHAJ HASAN

If we, you know, can have a site that could accommodate unlimited growth, of course, why wouldn't anyone have that? But we recognize the reality. The reality of our growth it's not going towards 5,000. I mean, there's no Islamic center in the country, I think, that gets 5,000 congregants.

BOYLE

And Hasan wants residents in Cooksville to know that, if the sale of the Woodmont Academy goes through, Dar-us-Salaam will work hard to be a good neighbor and build strong ties to the local community.

HASAN

Dar-us-Salaam means the abode of peace or the home of peace. So that's what we want. We want people to know us, not from our pamphlets and our marketing material on our website, but we want people to know us when they interact with us.

BOYLE

He'll find out soon whether that interaction is in the cards. Howard County planning officials will make a recommendation on the zoning of the Woodmont site to members of the County Council in the coming weeks and the Council is expected to vote on the matter by this summer. I'm Tara Boyle.

SHEIR

You can see photos of Dar-us-Salaam's current and potential future homes on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

So while we're talking about having a place to worship, that very thing has been on the mind of Carl Perez a whole lot lately.

PEREZ

The pulpit used to be right here, a chair there, my chair was right there. And the choir was behind me and the keyboard was there.

SHEIR

Perez is the minister of Adams United Methodist Church, in the small town of Whitesville, on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. His church's sanctuary burned to the ground back in January. Stained-glass windows, furniture, church records, all of them were lost in the blaze. Interestingly enough, the fire happened in a region that's seen a lot of arson in recent months, but this particular fire was not an arson. In any case, Bryan Russo visited the site and talked with Perez about how he and his congregation are keeping the faith after losing a precious piece of their history.

PEREZ

I thought well, it must be something small or maybe just a mistake. By the time I got to the road I could see smoke and I thought, okay, just smoke damage. We can handle that. And then when I got to the front part of the steps and I just saw the flames just come right out and shoot to the roof, it was just one of those weird feelings of just despair.

MR. BRYAN RUSSO

How long did the fire go on and rage through the night?

PEREZ

Well, they did about three hours. I think the first hour they were trying the best that they could. They ran out of water. They went back and got more tanks of water, so there was tankers from five fire stations here, going back and forth. By the end of the time it was over, we had five feet of water stuck in the basement and it was still blazing, so…

RUSSO

Well, I know this church has been here for more than 100 years in this community. You know I'm looking and I'm seeing, you know, charred pews and just the old stained-glass covered in ash and soot. Tell me about just some of the historical and valuable things to this congregation that was lost in this fire.

PEREZ

Well, I think the stained-glasses are old, they are original, 1925. That was a big hit. They were donated, of course, from family members. Some of the family members are still around. The pews, you can still see some of the little brass markers on those.

RUSSO

Um-hum.

PEREZ

Who they're given in honor of. The pulpit furniture is the original pulpit furniture from when they got it in 1925, and so that's been very hard for us to look at, especially when the seats are burned and the altar's charred and things like that. That has been kind of hard for us to look at. There are some things that we found that were buried, so we were able to give some of those mementos back to the families that donated them.

RUSSO

Looking around now, I mean, there's obviously the gaping hole that is on the right side towards the road here, what was off to the left here, that is now just charred boards.

PEREZ

Off to the left was what we called a Sunday School room, but we had used it for overflow. We had big funerals, so we would overflow these two windows here that are off on the left-hand side, they would open up and you would be able to sit 20 to 30 people in there. We'd pack them in like sardines, of course, but you fit them in there, they would be able to hear the service and be a part of the congregation. And so that became a room where it was just decorated and people would go in there and sit and talk and have refreshments and things like that.

RUSSO

And you know, we just walked around the building and there's a gigantic gaping hole, almost looks like a plane flew into it. Talk about your feelings now, months later, standing here.

PEREZ

I think it still hurts. I think when you've been in a place that you're used to going to for three years every single Sunday at 9:00, you get to this site and you just revisit the memories, the fun times, Easters, Thanksgivings, Christmas times, you know. And then you look at what you see here and it sort of just creates just--like something's missing, someone's missing. And that someone is the building. People say the church is the people, and that is true, but the people gather in a building. And so that's one of the things that we sort of are missing.

SHEIR

That was Reverend Carl Perez of Adams United Methodist Church in Whitesville, Va., speaking with coastal reporter Bryan Russo. You can see a photo of Reverend Perez and his damaged sanctuary on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Up next, taking a leap of faith as a family.

MS. ELAINE FARLEY

All I know is that she was from the Congo, coming out of Morocco and a refugee camp. And that's all I knew.

SHEIR

Plus, going behind the scenes of a play penned by a Tony Award winner and a Jesuit priest.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN

That's what he's trying to point out, is don't look at the Bible for the message of what you're supposed to do, what you're not supposed to do. Look at it from the standpoint of the families in the Bible.

SHEIR

That and more is coming your way on "Metro Connection," on WAMU 88.5.

SHEIR

Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and this week we're talking about faith, acts of faith, leaps of faith and in this next story, what it takes to have and keep faith in the people who are closest to you.

MR. RAY FICCA

"People said there would be things I would regret not asking her. There is one thing I regret not telling her, I wish at that moment, the moment you said everything was all right, that you weren't going to get better, I wish I had said I was proud of you."

SHEIR

We're at a rehearsal for "How To Write a New Book For the Bible," a play making its East Coast premiere at Maryland's Roundhouse Theater this month. This here's the show's narrator, a Jesuit priest named Bill Cain, who returns to his ailing mother's home to care for her.

FICCA

"You're smiling in your dream. What were you dreaming about?"

MS. MARYBETH WISE

"Willie Mays. I've been dreaming about Willie Mays. I was at Shea Stadium and I was watching Willie make this amazing catch. Say, hey, Willie."

SHEIR

The play jumps around in time a lot, portraying the mother, Mary, when she's 60, 40, 80. And as director Ryan Rilette points out, the play also tells a true story. That of playwright Bill Cain, who's also, yes, a Jesuit priest.

RILETTE

Jesuits believe that you find God in everything. And one of the things he says in the play that's really fascinating is that priests and writers do the same thing. They point things out. They notice things. They say, look at that thing over there. That's the thing that is different and thus that's the thing that is special, that's the thing God cares about.

SHEIR

But for all this talk of God, Rilette makes clear that "How To Write a New Book For the Bible" isn't what you'd think of as a religious play. I mean, you're not going to see the Garden of Eden or Moses parting the Red Sea. And you're not going to hear a lengthy treatise on the Ten Commandments or the Golden Rule.

RILETTE

As Bill says in the play, people tend to think about the Bible as a rule book for morality. And that's not what it is. What he says in the play is the Bible is a family story. And the message of the play is that every hundred years, every family should look back at their family story and write that down. And that's how we find God. That's how we add our own book to the Bible.

SHEIR

And mind you, Rilette says, not all those stories are going to be pleasant. Take this scene, where Bill comes back to Mary's house and discovers that, in her worsening state, she has inadvertently soiled the living room.

WISE

"Billie?"

FICCA

"There was one last stupendous outburst of rage."

RILETTE

"Billie, I'm out here."

FICCA

"I've been out running errands and avoiding coming home."

WISE

"I'm in the kitchen. Look, Billie, Gloria came and did my hair. Doesn't it look nice?"

FICCA

"I think you should go to the bathroom, Mom."

WISE

"Well, I don't have to, Billie."

FICCA

"I think you should try."

WISE

"Billie, what's wrong?"

FICCA

"The living room. It's soiled."

WISE

"What's soiled?"

FICCA

"The couch, the rug, just don't look, Mom. I'll take care of it. I'll clean it up. You should just go into the bathroom. Okay?"

WISE

"Okay."

WISE

You know, talking about, where do you find God, and sometimes you find God not in the beautiful things but some of the most difficult things.

SHEIR

MaryBeth Wise plays Mary Cain.

WISE

So when Mary and Bill fight each other, that kind of conflict can be revelatory. So it's the line--what is the line about families are a cauldron? No. A family is a crucible.

FICCA

It's a crucible to turn passion into love.

SHEIR

That's Ray Ficca. He plays the character of Bill Cain. And he says one of his favorite things about "How To Write a New Book For the Bible" goes back to what director Ryan Rilette said before, about how playwright Bill Cain defines God. As opposed to…

FICCA

Some Charlton Heston bearded presence in the sky with stone tablets…

SHEIR

Cain portrays God as more of…

FICCA

A spiritual presence in all of us, in humanity, in existence.

SHEIR

Ficca points to this one moment in the play, where Bill's father looks at his son and smiles.

FICCA

And the Bill character says, you know, I'm always searching for God. And what is God? And I'm paraphrasing. I'm not giving you the lines. But then, my father looks at me with such loving eyes. I can't define what it is. I can't put a name on it, but I think that is God.

SHEIR

So what the playwright does, Ficca says, is he takes religion out of the institution, if you will.

FICCA

And puts it into almost a humanism thing.

SHEIR

A humanism thing, says Ryan Rilette, that makes your own personal religion, whatever it may be, kind of a moot point.

RILETTE

You know, whether you are a spiritual person or not, whether you are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, it doesn't really matter. The message of the play is to take a really good long look at your family and your relationships with each other. And that's where you find--what is the word I'm looking for for this? That's where you really find the ineffable. You know, that's where you find infinity.

SHEIR

"How To Write a New Book For the Bible" runs at Round House Theatre in Bethesda from April 10 through May 5. To see photos of the cast and to read more about playwright Bill Cain, who, by the way, is a writer on the Washington-inspired TV series, "House of Cards," visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Faith and relationships and the meaning of family are also at the heart of our next story. Becoming a foster parent and welcoming a child you barely know into your family can be a big, big leap of faith. But some foster parents make an even greater leap, taking in traumatized children who are refugees from war torn regions. There are currently about 700 refugee foster kids across the United States. Many have come from camps for displaced people, have been scooped up by aid organizations and then placed in the US foster system.

SHEIR

These children are living with families in cities from Phoenix, Az. to Fargo, North Dakota. They're also right here in Washington, D.C. Jacob Fenston brings us the story of one young woman who's still getting accustomed to life in the nation's capital.

MR. JACOB FENSTON

She landed here about a year ago.

CAROLINE

My name is Caroline. I'm 19 year old.

FENSTON

Caroline, who doesn't want to use her full name, is still learning English. Right now, she's still more comfortable speaking French.

CAROLINE

(Speaks foreign language).

FENSTON

She came from far away, she says, from the Congo.

CAROLINE

(Speaks foreign language)

FENSTON

She left there at age 12 because of the ongoing war, one of the deadliest conflicts in the world in recent years.

CAROLINE

(Speaks foreign language)

FENSTON

She spent two years traveling across Africa, Cameroon, Niger, Burkina Faso, finally arriving in Morocco, more than halfway across the continent of Africa.

CAROLINE

(Speaks foreign language)

FENSTON

"It's a long story," she says, and when I ask her about that period, she clenches her hands, and presses on her forehead. She doesn't want to think about those two years, or talk about them. In Morocco, she lived in a refugee camp for three years.

CAROLINE

(Speaks foreign language)

FENSTON

It was a nightmare for her, but when she found out she was coming to the United States, she was worried. The people in the refugee camp had become her support system.

CAROLINE

(Speaks foreign language)

FENSTON

"They were like family," she says, and she didn't want to leave them.

FARLEY

My name is Elaine Farley. I'm a foster parent with Lutheran Social Services.

FENSTON

Last year, Lutheran Social Services called up Farley and said they were looking for a home for a young woman, a refugee.

FARLEY

The foster child doesn't know anything about the foster mom, and the mom doesn't know anything about the foster child, no more than what the social worker tells you, or either what the child tells you. All I know is that she was from the Congo, coming out of Morocco and a refugee camp, and that's all I knew.

FENSTON

Farley's been a foster parent since 1994. She has one daughter by birth, and she's had 12 foster children over the years. But Farley says at first, she wasn't sure it would work to have someone from such a different background.

FARLEY

When they told me about Caroline, I said, well, can I meet her? I guess we kind of like gelled, I guess you might say. We talked, and she liked me and I liked her, I said, okay, this might work.

FENSTON

But that doesn't mean it's always easy.

FARLEY

And there is communication problem, but we're working it out. She tells me sometimes, when she understands me, she says, you know. And then when I don't understand, then I call the social worker, she talks for me, and she talks for her too. Rachel.

MS. RACHEL PIERRE

My name is Rachel Pierre. I am the program manager for the unaccompanied refugee minors at Lutheran Social Services.

FENSTON

There are currently seven kids in the program in D.C. Most are from Africa.

PIERRE

We've had children who've been trafficked, we have children who are dealing with emotional trauma, past sexual abuse, past physical abuse, and have children who've experienced all of the above.

FENSTON

That trauma can make it difficult for kids to trust anyone, even someone who's trying to help.

PIERRE

Often times unfortunately, we do have some placement disruptions because it becomes very difficult for the foster parent to continue to try to support and nurture a child who is really pushing them away, or who appears to be pushing them away.

CAROLINE

(Speaks foreign language)

FENSTON

Caroline says when she first got to the United States, she was afraid of meeting people she didn't know.

CAROLINE

(Speaks foreign language)

FENSTON

Afraid people would hurt her, like people hurt her in the past.

CAROLINE

(Speaks foreign language)

FARLEY

Whatever went on, if you notice when she talks about it, she come very tearful, so I don't, I don't go that way unless she wants to go that way. Now if she talks to me about it, fine, but she has not got to the point that she talks about what happened over into the Congo.

FENSTON

So Elaine Farley says she tries to stay focused on the present.

FARLEY

Here, here and now, in the United States.

FENSTON

And Caroline is doing well. Her English is getting better, she's figured out the Metro system, and she's got dreams for the future.

CAROLINE

By six months, I can finish my GED classes. When I finish, I'll go to college.

FENSTON

She wants to be a doctor or a nurse, because, she says, so many people have helped her, now she wants to help others. I'm Jacob Fenston.

SHEIR

And now, our weekly trip around the region. On today's "Door to Door," we visit Brandywine, Md., and the Capitol View neighborhood of southeast D.C.

MS. JOYCE DOWLING

I'm Joyce Dowling, and I'm 59 years old and live in Brandywine, Md. Brandywine is about 18 miles southeast of Capitol Hill, between the suburban neighborhoods and rural countryside, between Clinton and Waldorf, in Prince George's County. Brandywine was the railroad village, so it was the site of the first major store in the area of the county. Most of the Brandywine area contained farms, many of which were tobacco farms. The old tobacco barns are already starting to become rare historic sites.

MS. JOYCE DOWLING

There are people of all walks of life here, government workers, teachers, administrators, construction, transportation, and we still have agriculture here in Brandywine. Well, I like that Brandywine is an old-fashioned community, for the most part, where people actually know each other and work together to continue to make it a better place to live.

MS. SIRRAYA GANT

My name is Sirraya Gant, and I'm 42 years old, and I live in the neighborhood of Capitol View. My neighborhood is located in southeast Washington, in Ward 7, in between the streets of East Capitol Street and Central Avenue, and it is in walking distance from Capital Heights subway station, and 15 minutes away from downtown.

MS. SIRRAYA GANT

The neighborhood is an older neighborhood. Before they built the subdivision, it was public housing here, on the southeast side and also on the -- across East Capitol on the northeast side. My grandmother, she's been living here for over 50 years. People stay around here usually until they pass. And then their children usually takes over their houses. Capitol View neighborhood is unique because of the longtime residents that you have here that has been living here, that was also part of the working class back in the sixties and that are still here.

MS. SIRRAYA GANT

And with the new people moving in the subdivision, you have the mixture of the two. So that's what makes it unique. You have homeowners and people that have been here for decades. I grew up around here, my grandmother lives on the next street, and it has changed over the last six years. It is a family-oriented, upper middle class neighborhood, where everyone knows each other. And we are -- it's like a suburb in the city.

SHEIR

We heard from Sirraya Gant in Capitol View, and Joyce Dowling in Brandywine. If you'd like us to knock on your door, so you can talk about your neighborhood, send an email to metro@wamu.org, or send us a tweet. Our handle is @wamumetro. And to see a map of all the doors we've knocked on so far, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Jacob Fenston, Emily Berman, Tara Boyle, Bryan Russo, and Robbie Feinberg. WAMU's managing editor of news is Memo Lyons. Metro Connection's managing producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Our intern is Robbie Feinberg. Lauren Landau, Robbie Feinberg and John Hines produce "Door To Door." Thanks, as always, to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website.

SHEIR

Our theme song, "Every Little Bit Hurts" and our "Door To Door" theme, "No Girl" are from the album Title Tracks by John Davis, and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. All the music we use is listed on our website, metroconnection.org. Just click on a story and you'll find information about its accompanying song. Also on metroconnection.org, you can read free transcripts of stories. And if you missed part of today's show, you can hear the whole thing online anytime. You can also find us on iTunes and Stitcher.

SHEIR

We hope you can join us next week when we'll gear up for tax day, with a show about debt. We'll learn how much college debt D.C. denizens are carting around. We'll hear how federal workers and contractors are feeling about the big S word, sequestration, and we'll meet a Vietnam veteran who's forever indebted to a fellow soldier, for putting him on a different path.

MAN

I raised my rifle, and I put a bullet in the chamber, and Joe comes flying over, grabs the gun, and you know, reality set in.

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 News.
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