LEWISTON – Most stood and began to clap and sing when the praying began. Others stood in stony silence with the beat of the organ around them. Some held both arms to their sides and swayed back and forth. One man jumped up and down while another did laps around the chairs, running as fast as he could, eyes closed, in his Sunday best.
Welcome to an old-fashioned tent revival.
Inside a mammoth tent in Kennedy Park, Evangelist James Reynolds was about to take the stage. So far, his trip to Lewiston had not been entirely inspiring. The times, he said, are changing.
“It’s very strange. People are almost afraid of me. They back away as though they’re afraid of catching something,” the tall and trim preacher said. “There is so much negative today toward the gospel.”
Earlier in the park, Reynolds approached a man sitting next to a tree wearing a backpack. The evangelist introduced himself and wanted to share some of his wisdom with the stranger because that is what he has been doing more than five decades.
Not everybody wants to be saved.
“He got up very fast and just moved away from me,” Reynolds said, with an air of sadness.
At least in the circle of the giant white tent, people were willing to listen. They were men and women, young and old and they sung when the evangelists did. They prayed and yelled “hallelujah” on cue.
If only it was like that everywhere, Reynolds said.
Back in the day, he could count on at least courtesy from strangers wherever he went. If a person swore or smoked in front of him, that person would be quick to apologize.
“These days, they’d spit on me,” Reynolds said. “People go by and they laugh and they scoff. They don’t understand.”
What they don’t understand, Reynolds said, is the glory of salvation. He has known it since receiving a letter in 1952, while serving in the Marine Corps.
“In 1952, I didn’t know what I was doing. My brothers were wild, and I was wild. The first time I started to understand Christianity was when I got a letter from my brother. He said, ‘I’ve never been so happy in my life,'” Reynolds said. “He was a thief. He was a drunk. And he had found all this happiness.”
That happiness came from faith and from spreading it to others, the evangelist believes. And so, for more than 50 years, Reynolds has been traveling around the country spreading the word. He comes with his son and grandson and a team of others dedicated to the salvation of others. He travels from Florida to Georgia to Virginia. From Portland to Canada and then back again to spread the message.
“There is such a need for people to understand the truth,” Reynolds said.
A flyer advertising the Tent Revival Crusade offers not only salvation, but healing and miracles, too. The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will walk, according to the literature.
On Monday night, it was mostly singing, prayer and praise for Jesus under the big tent in Kennedy Park. The revival began July 6 and will remain here until the 15th. Reynolds hopes that in that time, more will come with open minds and listen to what he has to tell them.
“People don’t understand,” he said, “that what we have is what they need.”