Crying From the Streets: Church members relive their lives on the streets in an inspiring theatrical performance

Natalie Devlin

Back to Basics is a different kind of church.

Every third Friday for the past five years, church members put on a play called Crying From the Streets. But the actors aren’t really acting; they’re remembering. The actors play themselves and relive their pasts on the streets. They remember being addicted to drugs and alcohol, being prostitutes or pimps, stealing, being arrested and even being shot. There is singing, dancing and joking around alongside the intense moments of self-deprecation and self-realization. Seventeen to 20 actors participate in the play, but not all actors perform in each show, which means it is a little different each time.

Nine years ago, before joining the church, Tuesday Robertson was addicted to drugs and was prostituting herself. She portrays that part of her life in the play, which she said takes an emotional toll.

“Sometimes I have to talk to other members of the cast to bring me back down because I’m at such a high level when performing that I need to speak to some of the cast so we can talk about it,” she said. “That kind of brings me back down to where I need to be.”

Robertson, an active church member, said she and her fellow church members feel more comfortable at Back to Basics than they might at a traditional church.

“There’s no procedure,” she said. “They are very comfortable because we make them feel comfortable. I believe that’s the reason people come.”

For the past five years, Robertson has been sharing that Back to Basics spirit.

Every other Sunday morning, she makes the rounds of District shelters, driving a big old van, offering rides to the storefront church, located on Brightseat Road in Landover, Maryland.

To get people to come with her to the church, Robertson will step into a shelter and shout out: “Back to Basics is in the house y’all, Back to Basics’ in the house. Who’s trying to roll with me?”

She usually gathers between 35 and 40 along her route. Since the church was founded, homeless individuals and families have piled aboard the into the van and created the congregation.

The band Loyal to One sings praise to God at the beginning of the service as the audience claps along in rhythm.
The band Loyal to One sings praise to God at the beginning of the service as the audience claps along in rhythm. Photo by Natalie Devlin

Back to Basics pastor, Milt Matthews took his song ministry to the streets in 2000. He was a musician who went into the streets and performed for the poor and homeless. The congregation grew, and eventually found its current home.

“I found that music had a profound effect on people,” Matthews said.

The sermons are tailored geared to people who are or have been addicted to drugs or alcohol. During the service, Pastor Matthews and his wife, Rev. Linda Matthews, speak about the cycles of drugs and poverty and encourage their congregation to break that cycle.

Pastor Matthews started the church because of a calling to reach out to the less fortunate, specifically the homeless. He said to his congregation that his main goals for the church are to get people off the streets and away from dangerous drugs like crack cocaine.

“We can sum up the Bible in two ways: loving one another and helping the poor,” Matthews said to his church.

Ninety-five percent of the congregation is or was at one point struggling with homelessness. Matthews said about half of the church’s membership is still homeless, but it doesn’t affect their devotion to God or commitment to the church.

Robertson said her involvement in the church has played a major role in improving her life. As a result, she doesn’t think she’ll ever regress to her former life.

“I have a foundation now, and that foundation is very strong so I believe that I will be fine,” Robertson said. “I don’t believe that I’ll go back.”

A crowd at Back to Basics Church applaud the performance .
A crowd at Back to Basics Church applaud the performance. Photo by Natalie Devlin

Issues |Lifestyle|Spirituality

Region |Washington DC

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We believe ending homelessness begins with listening to the stories of those who have experienced it.