SAN FRANCISCO—Open-air preacher "Brother Sam" Hilson rescued more than 300 of God's children from appreciating a cloudless spring day at Golden Gate Park Tuesday by informing them of their sins and the swift approach of Judgment Day.
A former building superintendent, Hilson said he was directly called by God to bring Christianity to San Francisco's unholy cyclists, tai chi practitioners, and dog walkers.
"All of you will burn in hellfire, so sayeth the Lord," Hilson said to a stroller-bound toddler and her picnicking parents.
For nearly five years, his highly personalized, one-on-one style of lay sermonizing has been among the most effective in the city, as virtually all park-goers within Hilson's range of vision are delivered from their conversations or badminton games within minutes.
After telling a novel-reading Berkeley student that there was "no book but the Good Book," Hilson bore witness to a woman strolling by in a sundress.
"Harlot, dare ye bare your shoulders when the Rapture is nigh?" Hilson said.
Many of those who have been singled out by Hilson confirm the attention had a direct impact on their lives.
"It was my first weekday off in a while, so I thought I'd enjoy the nice weather, maybe head down to the waterfront too," said Russ Tiderington, 25, who, according to Hilson, "sashay[ed] [his] hips like a painted Jezebel." "But I decided to go home and catch up on some chores instead."
Hilson's bullhorn, which he often employs to bring recreation-seekers into the light of God's grace and drown out their iPod music, forced one-third to one-half of the souls to spurn the path they had chosen for that afternoon.
At one point, Hilson ministered to a family of Indian-Americans, whom he mistakenly identified as "Muslim demon-worshippers."
His photo-collage display of aborted fetuses, Hitler, Oui magazine centerfolds from the 1980s, and the rock band KISS spared at least 10 others the temptation of the fresh April breeze.
"Someday our jealous and vengeful God will make you regret watching your aerobics sex tapes!" Hilson told a group of kite flyers, who rapidly walked away from him as he strayed momentarily in their direction. "Your kites may reach the sky, but they cannot get you into Heaven! Only Jesus can! Jesus is the One True Kite!"
Though he is not formally recognized by any church, it is estimated that Hilson has reached nearly 75,000 wayward souls on college campuses, at state fairs, and in bus terminals around the Bay Area.