Deep in the Capitol chambers, there’s a whole lot of talk going on.
Senators and members of Congress are caught up in their supremely significant roles of cajoling, persuading, wrangling, and debating their colleagues on legislation that affects thousands of lives. While certain Senators continue their obstinate filibuster of the President’s judicial nominees, Representatives carve up the Global AIDS bill, some lobbying for abstinence amendments while others fight for increased condom distribution. Deals will be made, promises broken and political favors called upon.
But despite their pomp and circumstance, despite the media fanfare that will ensue, these are not the most powerful words spoken from the Capitol this week.
Ironically, the most powerful words being spoken are receiving very little attention. There are no TV cameras, no spotlights, and no big names.
On the west side of the Capitol steps, a modest podium sits on a grassy lawn flanked by a few wooden benches. Atop the podium rests a thick Bible with large print and worn pages. And since Monday morning, April 28, scores of individuals have taken part in a Capitol Bible Readathon, reading 24 hours a day from cover to cover the Word of God.
The event began in 1990 when John Hash, founder of Bible Pathways, and Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, read the entire Bible on the Mount of Olives in Israel. Eventually, the Readathon, which takes approximately 90 hours to complete, was moved to the nation’s capital to coincide with the National Day of Prayer.
Those coming to read hail from all walks of life. Teachers, truck drivers, members of Congress, Senators, housewives, police officers, school children and passersby all take part, reading the Creation story, the words of the major and minor prophets, the Gospels and the Pauline epistles.
Foreign visitors are welcome to participate, as 65 translations of the Bible rest on tables close to the podium; Ukranian, Russian, Cambodian, and Greek Bibles sit alongside Indian, Italian, Korean and Turkish scriptures.
According to Terry Hall, who coordinates the project with her husband Rev. Michael Hall, Christian tourists from other nations have passed the Capitol and been so amazed at the liberties Americans have, that they’ve wept openly and taken part, reading in their own language.
This year Zoma Belete, an American citizen from Ethiopia, took vacation days from her job as a supermarket cashier to read aloud the words of Isaiah.
“God said that the word that comes from Him would not return in vain without accomplishing His purposes,” she said, referring to Isaiah 55:11 as her reason for participating.
Belete learned of the event through a local women’s Bible study. After reading verses in English, she then read aloud the words of Jeremiah from her own Ethiopian Bible, tears streaming down her face.
“I was just speaking out to the people in the offices,” she said, pointing to federal agencies, Smithsonian museums and government monuments.
School children from Christian academies are also eager to participate, sometimes preparing weeks ahead for the event. A few years ago, 28 first-grade students from Calvary Christian Academy in Washington, D.C. lined up in front of the podium in their uniforms to read in perfect unison and with perfect pronunciation the first ten chapters of Isaiah.
It took them an hour to complete the passage and as the determined group of 7-year-olds read, “Put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil. Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow,” those standing by were speechless.
One year a Congressman stumbled over a difficult Hebrew name, but a youngster standing nearby quickly came to his aid, offering the correct pronunciation. Another year, a 7-year-old boy recited the entire book of Ephesians from memory.
“The body of Christ is so varied and that’s what’s represented,” said Rev. Hall, coordinator of the event for the past seven years and pastor of the nondenominational People’s Church on Capitol Hill.
They’ll return next spring, gathering to read God’s redemptive story from Genesis to Revelation. They’ll read the accounts of Moses, David, Esther and Joseph. They’ll read of the birth of Jesus and His return for the church. They’ll struggle over words at times and stand amazed at the message of God’s love.
And every year they gather to proclaim the Word of God, theirs will always be the most powerful words spoken from the Capitol.