- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2001

It is 11 p.m., and a female minister is standing on the West Capitol steps hunched under an umbrella. Lightning flashes and rain drenches the pages of a Bible she is holding.
She reads from Psalm 69: "Save me, O God, for the waters are come in unto my soul … I am come into deep water, where the floods overwhelm me."
For 80 continuous hours, starting at 8 a.m. Monday and ending in the late afternoon of May 3, every word in the Bible will be read by volunteer readers in the front on the west steps of the Capitol.
Participants in the Capitol Bible Reading Marathon, a 12-year tradition, will read all 66 books, no matter how bad the weather.
"We never stop even if theres a monsoon coming," said the Rev. Michael Hall, pastor of the nondenominational Peoples Church on Capitol Hill and coordinator for the marathon. "We dont do anything but read."
The National Bible Reading Marathon was started in 1990 by John Hash, founder of Bible Pathways, and Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. In January of that year, they read the entire Bible on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, then brought the idea back to the United States as an event to usher in the National Day of Prayer.
The marathons are set up by the International Bible Reading Association (IBRA), based in Murfreesboro, Tenn. International coordinator Barbara Bivens says the IBRA obtains event permits, sets up the marathon and forms a reading schedule.
"Weve had marathons in the past from Red Square to Las Vegas," Mrs. Bivens said.
Readers come from all denominations and sign up to read by time slots. Individuals can read for five to 30 minutes. Readers do not sign up for specific passages because people read at different speeds, so the next person merely starts reading where the last one left off.
Readers can use their own Bibles in whatever translations they prefer. The coordinators also provide Bibles in many versions.
Most of the daytime slots have been filled for this years reading, Mr. Hall said, but many times are open between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. If no one signs up or shows up, the staff from Peoples Church fills in, fueled by lots of coffee and Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
"Its amazing what God does and who He brings by," Mr. Hall said.
Mr. Hall notes it often rains on whoever reads the Old Testament book of Chronicles, but even congressmen such as Texas Republican Tom DeLay, Oklahoma Republican J.C. Watts Jr. and Virginia Republican Frank R. Wolf have tackled its genealogies nevertheless.
Legislators, legal aides and people from many walks of life volunteer. Two years ago, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, read the first three chapters of Lamentations, in which the prophet Jeremiah weeps over a city doomed by idolatry, sin and greed.
"These things dont happen coincidentally," Mr. Hall said. "They happen providentially."
This year, Rep. Zach Wamp, Tennessee Republican, is scheduled to read on Thursday morning, just before the National Day of Prayer begins.
Mr. Wamp has read for each of the seven years he has served in Congress, including one year when he was the only member to read. He points out that prominent statesmen such as John Quincy Adams and Daniel Webster were well-versed in Scripture.
"When we read the Word, its like nutrition for the soul," said Mr. Wamp, a Baptist. "The Word is an inspirational document."
Rep. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, is also scheduled to read this year, as he has done for the last several years.
"Its worthwhile to remind people that the foundations of this country come from that book," he said.
Yet Mr. DeMint, like many others, has found that certain biblical passages have names that can be daunting.
"You just hope theyre not in the genealogies with all those names you cant pronounce," he said.
Over the 12-year history, 70 foreign-language Bibles have been collected, permitting tourists who happen to come past the chance to read in their native tongues.
"Foreign tourists are just dumbfounded that we can do this on the west Capitol steps so near the seat of power," Mr. Hall said. Even many Americans, he added, are perplexed that the readers have permission to read the Bible so near government offices.
Ann Hammond of Shepherds Heart Church in Fairfax has read in the marathon since it started in 1990. Once, while she was in the middle of reading Joel, a prophetic book in the Old Testament, a thunderstorm erupted.
"It is so special to proclaim the Word of God over this nation," she said. Mrs. Hammond and her husband and between 15 and 30 members of their church will read on the Wednesday evening of the event. She said it has been "a joy" to watch people read, including children who sometimes struggle to tackle paragraphs of prophecy. One year she invited her Egyptian neighbor to participate, so the woman read the text in Arabic.
Patsy Haskins of Clinton, Md., has participated in the marathon with her husband and two daughters for the past five years. She continues to involve her children because she wants them to understand that Christians in other parts of the world dont have the privilege to read the Bible in public.
"Its so awesome to hear others reading in all different languages," she said. "You feel a kindred spirit."
This year, she and her daughters plan to attend every afternoon of the marathon to help out and read if they are needed.
Though many people in the area make plans to come, Mr. Hall said, many of the amazing stories come from people who just happen on the event.
"There was a boy from Florida in 1990," he said, "who quoted the entire book of Ephesians by heart."

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