On a sunny Saturday morning, Ron Silanskas knocks on doors in the housing projects of Brooklyn to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.
He doesn't carry a Bible or wear a suit and tie. He comes in tennis shoes and a cotton shirt, carrying a box of snack cakes and doughnuts. As part of the Church on the Rock's Saturday Soul Winning Society, he feeds residents as well as nourishes their spirit.
"All we're doing is making ourselves available, that's all. We want them to know that," he said. "We're here if they need something -- anything."
At the church, which meets in the old Taubman's Thrift Store building at Hanover Street and Patapsco Avenue, "anything" could mean prayer, clothing, food, furniture or even drug and alcohol counseling.
What Mr. Silanskas gives Saturday mornings is part of himself.
"I just think it's neat that we can have the opportunity to share little things. Anytime we can touch somebody with just a little thing, it can go a long way," he said.
The Church on the Rock is a nondenominational Christian church established in 1989 by pastor John Krach Jr.
Members met for two years at the Comfort Inn in Linthicum before moving to the old Taubman's building.
Since 1991, the church has established several outreach programs, helping many of the area's poorer residents and offering free drug and alcohol addiction counseling.
"The main goal of this church is to have our doors open to love people," Mr. Krach said. "We're living in a troubled world and the church is an oasis of love."
Used drugs, alcohol
Many members of the church's 80 families battled with drug or alcohol addiction before becoming Christians.
Even the pastor, who came from a broken home, started using drugs when he was 11. At age 19, he said, he was "a broken, burnt-out boy" who was about to be sworn into the Army.
"I was praying, 'God, everything in my life has been a failure and I'm asking for your help right now.' When I opened my eyes, someone handed me a Bible," Mr. Krach said. "That's when I joined two armies, the U.S. Army and the army of the Lord."
He served four years in the Army, most with the 82nd Airborne Division. He's become a career officer in the army of the Lord.
He became associate pastor at Calvary Temple in Millersville in 1983 and began correspondence courses with the International Seminary in Plymouth, Fla. He was ordained through the seminary in 1987.
Mr. Krach said the Church on the Rock is successful in reaching those struggling with addiction or hopelessness because he knows the difficulty addicts face.
"I can relate to that drug addict, to that broken home. I can tell those people with boldness, security and all faith that anyone who walks through that door, that God can turn their life around because he did it for me," Mr. Krach said.
"We believe God has given us an ear to hear the cry of the hurting in the city. We have a vision to make a positive impact in this city," he said.
Program in Brooklyn
The Saturday Soul Winning Society is one program aimed at turning lives around in Brooklyn.
Church members meet at 9 Saturday mornings to get a pep talk from the group leader. In one session, Mr. Silanskas told how "a big hulk of a guy" once approached him and stood over him while he witnessed to two prostitutes.
"When I looked up, in his sleeve there was an ice pick," he told the group, adding that he was not hurt. "You just gotta believe in a situation like that that God's word does not come back void."
After the pep talk, church members spend two hours going door to door in a nearby neighborhood, to witness, pray and invite people to church. They pass out fliers announcing coming events, pamphlets detailing services available for residents and sometimes a little food to help those who need it.
Mark Dell'Acqua, who usually leads the Saturday group, describes it as "the Indiana Jones of mission work."
"It's exciting," he said. "You never know who you're going to meet. You go and you sort of just let the people dictate what happens."
People generally are open to hearing church members, Mr. Dell'Acqua said, and rarely rude. Many already know of the church and its services.
Sometimes, emotional exchanges occur during the Saturday visits.
George Evans Jr. was in tears after prayer with Mr. Silanskas.
"I'm a hard worker. I'm not a bad person, I'm just a person on the wrong path," said Mr. Evans, who says he's an alcoholic.
"I spend a lot of money on drinking. It'd be nice to get some really good help, just to know that somebody cares," he said, adding that he might visit the church's counseling services.
Mr. Silanskas said he has not seen Mr. Evans since their meeting more than five weeks ago. Although every encounter is not filled HTC with emotion, some do result in dramatic changes.
Grateful for help
"I'm ashamed of what I used to be, I really am. But I am proud to tell what God has done for me," said Dreama Gruber, who said she had been hooked on drugs for more than a decade when someone from the Church on the Rock knocked on her door four years ago.
She had just finished a jail term in April 1990 for violating probation from an earlier drug arrest when a member of the church invited her to attend services.
"For the longest time I kept having these thoughts in my head telling me I was going to hell," said Mrs. Gruber, 32. "I started drugs when I was 12. I didn't think I was ever going to not want to get high."
But at one of the church services, Mrs. Gruber said she prayed and had a change of heart. "After I said that prayer, I didn't want to get high anymore. I wanted to be a different person," she said. "The Lord is really changing my life through the help of this church. I have new desires," the greatest of which is to "hear 'well done' from the Lord when I stand before him."
Mrs. Gruber concedes she has slipped from time to time, but said she has made tremendous strides in controlling her addiction.
She said she'd like to join her fellow parishioners Saturdays, but she works as a waitress in a local restaurant on weekends.
"I want to help people to sort of give back. I'm really thankful for the love and support I get from this church," she said.
"If it hadn't been for somebody knocking on my door, I might not be here now."