The San Francisco Chronicle
reporting from Sacramento, California 2/20/99
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By Don Lattin (Chronicle Religion Writer)

Evangelist Jimmy Hood was rallying the troops, the "S.W.A.T. Team for Christ," warning them about what happened the last time he brought his in-your-face gospel to the streets of San Francisco.

Hood was speaking inside Bible Baptist Church at the opening session of the 1999 National Street Preacher’s Convention.

Two hundred true believers, street corner evangelists and their families, were inside the Baptist church sitting on padded blue chairs between eight large American flags, shouting "Amen!" and "Preach, brother!" to a man behind the Plexiglass pulpit.

"Last year, I was standing on a street corner in San Francisco, and no one was paying much attention," said Hood, who runs a rescue mission and street ministry in Columbus, Ohio.

"I said, ‘If you are the biggest drunk in San Francisco, God can save you!’ I said, ‘If you are the biggest doper in San Francisco, God can save you!’ I said, ‘If you are the biggest sodomite in San Francisco, God can save you!’ And when I said ‘sodomite’ all of San Francisco stood still. They said, ‘You can’t say that here. You don’t know where you are.’ "

Hood, an ex-biker who traded in his Harley for a righteous dose of Jesus, stroked the suspenders over his white shirt and stepped down from the pulpit, strolling up the center aisle.

"Well, all I do is say what I think," he said. "There ain’t no politickin’ involved here. This is preachin’."

Get ready, San Francisco. Throngs of street preachers are scheduled to climb aboard buses this morning and head on down to a street corner near you.

They should be around Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square and other busy intersections between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

They’re easy to find. They hold Bibles over their heads, wave placards and yell real loud.

That’s what they were doing Thursday afternoon in Yuba City during their first crusade of "public ministry" for this year’s convention.

Gerald Sutek, the Supreme Commander of the S.W.A.T. Team for Christ, stood under the landmark Yuba City water tower, across the street from Gina’s Body Piercing and Tattoos emporium, yelling at the cars passing by.

"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners!" he screamed. "Don’t be a fool! Don’t go to hell!"

Sutek, whose blue windbreaker identifies him as "The General", stood on the cold, rainy sidewalk. He looked disappointed. Only one woman had stopped her car to talk to him, and she was a Pentecostal who had already been saved.

For the past 11 years, Sutek has been living on the road, cruising the country for Christ in a 34-foot mobile home with his wife and adopted daughter.

This week’s Marysville convention, which continued yesterday with a street-preaching blitz in Sacramento, is the sixth national gathering he has organized for sidewalk evangelists.

Sutek sees himself in the tradition of George Whitefield, the colonial American preacher whose voice reportedly could be heard a mile away, or General William Booth, the 19th century founder of the Salvation Army, and laments the fact that street preachers get so little respect today - even among Baptists.

"Many Baptists don’t want anything to do with us," said Sutek. "They say they don’t want to project that image. It’s pathetic. They want an image of professional clergy. We don’t need professionals. We need people on the street preaching."

Up the block, one of Sutek’s troops, Ron Creed of Midland, Texas, was holding a damp black-and-white placard proclaiming, "The Lord Hath Make Known His Salvation."

A guy passing by in his car rolled down his window and yelled out, "Get a life!"

"I’ve got one, man," Creed replied. "It’s called eternal salvation."

Creed is used to such abuse. "People look like we’re fixin’ to throw a rattlesnake on ‘em," he said, but smiled anyway.

When they were not on the street preaching, the evangelists gathered at the Marysville Baptist church, comparing notes and getting tips from Sutek.

Music, especially accordians, is a good way to attract a crowd. "Everyone has a good remembrance associated with an accordion," Sutek write in his "Street Preacher’s Manual."

"Guitars," he warns, "do not project well and have some bad associations. Trumpets are difficult to sing to, but are attention getters."

Sutek also has tips for projecting the voice. He suggests street preachers hold their Bibles to their mouths as megaphones, reach down to their diaphragm and "push inspired air over your vocal cords."

"Words should be preached extremely slowly with as low a pitch as possible," he advises. "Simulate artillery shells being lobbed at a target three hundred yards away as you aim your words down the street."

At a rally yesterday afternoon in front of the state Capitol, the street preachers had a microphone to help spread the word, but a hard time getting anyone to listen.

About 200 men, women and children from around the country held dozens of placards, sang hymns and gave their testimony. They were mostly preaching to the converted, as only about a half-dozen people stopped to listen.

Hood, the ex-biker, talked about how he went from being "a rebel without a cause, to a rebel with a cause."

"I didn’t need a 12-step program," he said. "I only needed one step to the Lord Jesus Christ."

Looking out on the empty plaza, the Rev. Brad Weniger was not surprised that most people simply ignored them.

"People have become desensitized to the gospel," said Weniger, pastor of Bible Baptist Church in Marysville.

"More and more people take a so-what attitude. We try not to be personally offensive, but the gospel message will offend those who are not ready to hear it."