Late that afternoon, when the bin raiders had returned from the beach, Greg and Anna packed up a hundred tracts and headed for the city.
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights were the best times for street witnessing. Greg and Anna were not as good at getting tracts out as were others in the group, but they both had a gift for striking up conversations.
Each person in the group had their own technique and approach. Juan was by far the best overall distributor in the Sydney team, apart from Dave, who had the advantage of being able to say that he had written the tracts himself. Juan's theory was to let the tract do the talking. He rarely wasted time in conversations. Diane's approach was similar to her husband's if people wanted to argue, but she was more inclined to soften if someone showed a superficial interest. "If they're really interested," Juan would say, "then tell them to come back and share with us during our meal break." It was true that nine out of ten people who stopped to talk would fail to return if they could not get Diane's ear on their own terms. Juan called such people "time bandits". "One time bandit can keep you from reaching ten other people," he always said. Greg and Anna were opposite to the younger couple in their approach to the masses of people walking down George Street. They almost saw the tracts as a hindrance to their real objective, which was to relate to people. "Relating" was everything to Anna, while Greg was able to switch back and forth.
When Greg was out with Juan, the two would get into competitions over who could get out the most tracts. Juan invariably won, but Greg could go close to beating him by ducking and weaving through the crowd, sticking tracts in one face after another. "Got one of these?" "Got one of these?" he would ask over and over until it took ef fort to sound out the words slowly enough for people to understand what he was actually saying.
"It doesn't matter what you say," Juan would argue. "Most of them are zombies anyway. They don't think. They just follow the person in front of them." Juan would go out of his way to be impersonal when freebying. He could get out a thousand freebies in an hour just by staring of f into space. "Avoid eye contact," he said. "They're scared of you because you represent intelligent life. They just want to grab the tract and run. So if you look the other way while of fering them, people will take them faster." And Juan had the statistics to prove that his skepticism about human intelligence was correct.
But freebies were the exception rather than the rule with most bin raiders. Half an hour of distributing free tracts would result in littered footpaths, and bins full of screwed up tracts. Everyone in the group preferred donying. "Donies" were bigger tracts, that they would ask the public to donate five or ten cents for. It sorted out the genuinely curious from those who only took tracts to be polite. The distribution rate would drop dramatically when people were asked for five or ten cents; but the litter would cease, and a quick check of the bins invariably revealed that very few of the tracts were thrown out, at least not instantly, like happened with freebies.
On this particular Thursday night, Greg and Anna started by doing a few donies in front of Hoyts; but it wasn't long before Anna had talked Greg into letting her busk while he distributed tracts. Busking didn't get as many tracts out, and it rarely resulted in a serious enquiry, but it was something that Anna liked doing just for the fun of it. She put a stack of tracts inside the opened guitar case with a small sign saying, "FREE. TAKE ONE." People were more inclined to throw coins than to take the tracts, however.
Anna had a beautiful voice, and years of practice had taught her to project it over the noise of the traf fic. She had gathered a small crowd of sympathetic listeners before the first song was finished. Her songs ranged from the Beatles to John Farnham to more current pop singers. Occasionally she would sneak in one or two of her own compositions, but the crowd preferred songs that they already knew. When the lyrics for a particularly catchy tune did not appeal to Anna, she would simply alter them. Hotel California had become Hotel Babylonia, and The House of the Rising Sun had become The House that Killed God's Son.
Eventually Greg and Anna moved from Hoyts up to the Cathedral near Town Hall, where most of the street people hung out. The pair were soft touches, and most of the donations they had just received disappeared into the pockets of the various people who came to them with sad stories throughout the night. The couple knew that most of the money was going toward gambling, drink and drugs, but it didn't bother them. "It's not our job to police how they spend it," said Greg whenever Juan would argue against handing out cash. "It's our job to give to those who ask." While Greg and Anna had been outreaching that night, Dave, Juan and Diane had been looking after business back at the base. Dave had been working on a new tract, while Juan and Diane had been preparing new empowerment charts for themselves and Sean.
Empowerment charts listed goals for spiritual growth, and they included a personal scoring system, including rewards, to be used to chart each member's progress. Charts were supposed to be revised quarterly, but the Venturas' chart had been long overdue for revision. The next day, Friday, all five adults went into the city together, with some of them working in front of Hoyts, and others working in front of the Town Hall. They had Sean with them this time. Sean's interest in "dif fributing" as he called it, was sporadic. Some days he was totally turned of f and there was nothing that Diane could do to coax him out of his shell. But today he was firing on all cylinders.
It was easy for the busy crowd to miss Sean, and he had to make extra ef fort to get himself seen and heard.
"Hey! Listen to me!" he shouted to one woman who had almost walked over top of him. He ran flat out to place himself squarely in front of her for his second attempt. "It's a comic book that my Daddy helped make," he explained when the woman stooped down to examine what he was of fering to her. "You don't have to give anything for it; but you can if you want to," he said. "And how much do you think I should give you?" she asked, as she admired the business-like manner of the little five-year-old.
"You can give anything what you want," Sean replied dutifully, then added, "One lady gave me five dollars!"
"How about fifty cents?" the woman asked, ignoring Sean's hint.
"Yes, thank you very much," said Sean as he reached out to take the coin. "God bless you!" The final line was something Diane had taught him. It usually left his customers with a good feeling.
Sean raced around for a solid hour, getting out 20 pamphlets in that time. That was about the limit of his enthusiasm. Diane rewarded him with a cheeseburger at McDonald's before taking him up to the courtyard between the Cathedral and Town Hall, where he could chase pigeons and climb on the benches while she shared with people who were resting there.
Cherry arrived back from Adelaide later that evening, and she and Dave were granted a "day away" from regular duties the following day. Living in such a close community often made it dif ficult for couples to find private time together, so husbands and wives were generally granted a "day away" every week.
Cherry was not much younger than Dave, but she looked like someone in her thirties. She religiously watched her weight, and usually wore her hair in a pony tail. By constantly watching the op shops she was able to keep up with the fashions at a fraction of what it cost other women. At the same time, she never showed embarrassment at Dave's lack of dress sense. Apart from signs of damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis on her hands, Cherry could have almost passed for Dave's daughter.
"It's traditional for cult leaders to be living with beautiful young girls," Dave would often joke. "Cherry's my beautiful young girl."
The Candy's and the Ventura's returned to the city for yet another day of witnessing on Saturday, while Dave and Cherry slept in and then indulged themselves in a leisurely walk around Redfern before going out to lunch at a local drop-in center.