The old man shuffled along the sidewalk, his work boots dusty with a hint of red mud clinging to one heel. From the pocket of well-worn overalls, he pulled a red bandana and wiped his nose.
In the orange-colored dusk of the evening, he turned his weary blue eyes to gaze at the street lights and, for a moment, he studied on what he saw. Concern sat heavy on the gray brow from which, no doubt, many drops of sweat had dropped in the heat of many a hard day’s farming.
I stopped in my steps and watched him for a moment, my heart instantly touched by the sight of an 80-year-old farmer in a land familiar to all, foreign to him.
In all the days, weeks, months — and, once, an entire year — that I have spent in Washington, D.C., I had never seen a man in overalls and a plaid cotton shirt outside a fancy restaurant in the shadows cast by towering federal buildings and the U.S. Capitol.
His concentration was interrupted by another man in overalls, accompanied by several younger men in jeans, work shirts and baseball caps that varied in lettering from John Deere to Tennessee Volunteers. They were conferring on dinner and decided that they would eat in that fancy restaurant with the rich dark wood and red leather booths.
I approached them because I had to know if what I thought was true.
“Excuse me,” I said. They turned to me and two of them pulled off their hats. “Are y’all here for the prayer march?”
A man, somewhere in his early 40s, said, “Yes ma’am. We drove up from East Tennessee.”
The elderly man said quietly, “This here’s the first time I ever seen Washington. I mostly just farm but the good Lord sent me here to pray. This country needs prayer and I’m a’gonna do my part.”
My eyes glistened. “The prayers of the righteous availeth much.”
The scripture quoted from the King James Bible united us immediately and we began to talk. It was late September 2020. The Rev. Franklin Graham had beckoned all who would answer the call to join him and other preachers to pray over our nation in a march that would start at the Lincoln Memorial and stop at several places including the World War II monuments, eventually ending at the U.S. Capitol building.
It wasn’t my idea to go. Personally, I was “agin’ it,” as my people say, but the good Lord had awakened me one night. I had fallen asleep with the television on. Tink was out of town, filming. At 3 a.m., I fumbled to find the remote but heard the Rev. Graham say, “I want YOU to join me in Washington, D.C., as we ask God Almighty to preserve our great nation.”
In that moment, I knew I was called. There was no doubt that I had to go. I tried to bargain with God. I told him that I’d stay home and pray. I’d even fast for the day but repeatedly, the Spirit said, “Go.”
Glumly — and let’s be frank here, because it was not with a joyous spirit — I texted my friend, Stevie. “I’m going to the prayer march.”
Moments later: “I’ll go with you.”
What a blessing it was. Tractors rolled down the streets with signs that said, “Help us, Jesus.” Young couples pushed strollers and college students moved in large groups.
Over 100,000 people, from the cradle to the near calling of the grave, poured into the Capitol city. They bowed their heads and fell on bended knees. A woman with a heavy African accent wrapped her arms around friends and called out, “Sweet, precious Jesus, heal our land. We need you!” I stopped to listen to her powerful plea as tears coursed down her ebony cheeks.
I was grateful that I answered the calling to go. It is a blessing that will follow me for my years that remain.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “What Southern Women Know About Faith.” Sign up for her newsletter atwww.rondarich.com. Her column publishes weekly.