ALBANY, N.Y. -- Across the country state legislatures are meeting to create policy and change laws for millions of Americans. At the same time, work is underway to change lawmakers from the inside out.
Dale Walker has dedicated his life to the down and out: addicts, alcoholics and gang bangers. Now the pastor is taking on a different group with similar problems, the up and out: New York politicians.
Surveys show Albany, New York's state capital, is among the least biblical cities in the country, but Walker is chipping away at that.
"One of my greatest ministries is riding the elevator. It just seems that whenever I'm supposed to meet somebody the door opens and there they are," he said.
After praying for God to use him to improve the nation, he got a call from Ralph Drollinger, the founder of Capitol Ministries, about taking the Gospel to the New York legislature.
At the same time, the New Yorker's Family Research Foundation needed someone to reach lawmakers' souls without pestering them about votes.
Walker's appointment has been divine. The first four lawmakers he met with prayed to accept Christ and so far he's led 13 lawmakers to follow Jesus.
"When I offer to pray for people, I don't know if you're a Democrat, Republican, if you're a high muckety-muck, a freshman legislator, a liberal, a conservative, when I say 'I'm here to pray for you,' every single person says 'we need that,'" Walker said.
So much that 39 other pastors like Walker are in state capitols across the country.
"When the hearts are right, the laws are right," Drollinger said. He founded the ministry 20 years ago and took a different direction from the evangelical movements of the 1970s and 1980s.
Instead of trying to change policy his ministry focuses on changing the hearts of policymakers.
"Our marching orders aren't to 'go ye therefore and create an advocacy group,'" Drollinger said.
He and his wife, Danielle, travel from California to Washington when Congress is in session to lead Bible studies in the U.S. House and Senate.
They walk miles each week hand-delivering Bible studies written by Drollinger to 150 lawmakers.
"It's better to please God than man and certainly when you're in the political arena, that's very tough," Rhode Island State Sen. Harold Metts said. He co- leads a Bible study in his capitol with a local entrepreneur.
Starting in the Word
Just ask lawmakers and it's clear Capitol Ministries is making a difference.
"To be able to start with the Lord's Word with a group of believers and to start your day and I always say, set your agenda, it's very important to me," New York State Sen. Kathy Marchione said.
New York Assemblyman Michael Kearns agreed.
"Being away from your family is sometimes difficult and having that spiritual guidance and having legislators and a pastor be able to talk about the scripture really starts my day on a positive note," he said.
And the pastors want nothing in return. They don't harass lawmakers about votes or favors. They simply preach the Word of God to the people responsible for voting yes or no.
"I'll give you the theological bullets, you've got the gun," Perry Gauthier said. He's been leading Bible studies in the Nebraska legislature for nearly a decade.
Perry Gauthier, Capitol Ministries pastor in Nebraska, explains how God moved him from a college campus to the capitol.
"It's not partisan. I say Jesus died for donkeys and elephants and we love both sides of the aisle," Gauthier said.
He and other pastors say the fruits of their labor are apparent from increased courage among lawmakers, to the quoting of scripture in chambers.
Perry Gauthier talks about the fruits of Capitol Ministries' labor.
"What do most legislators hear from Christians? 'Horrible government, they hate you, everything's bad.' So I think the focus here with this ministry is the government is God's intention and a tool for people and it's a good thing and we're here to pray for you," Merrill Thomas, who co-leads the Rhode Island Bible study with Sen. Metts, said.
With Bible studies started in 40 state capitols, Capitol Ministries is now working to backfill into cities and counties with a goal to start 10,000 ministries in local governments.
They're also taking on the world, working to plant 200 ministries in as many countries.
Drollinger relies on U.S. senators like Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., to use their political influence to open international doors that churches alone would have a hard time accessing.
A Bold Mission
"We have so many U.S. senators who love Christ that are in tow with our ministry that are saying, 'I'll go overseas to use my platform to open doors in foreign federal capitols,'" Drollinger said.
It's a bold mission and for Drollinger, finding the right men to lead is often his biggest challenge.
People like Carl Wimmer, a dramatic former member of the Utah legislature who made statewide headlines when he left the Mormon Church to become an evangelical Christian. He now ministers to former colleagues.
"There's no doubt that there's people up there that need a safe place to say they are struggling and doubting the tenants of Mormonism. I want to be that person," Wimmer said.
Former Utah legislator Carl Wimmer explains why he left the Mormon Church.
For lawmakers, having a Bible study where they can learn and connect with their colleagues in a safe place is invaluable.
"It's kind of an oasis in a sea of problems down here," New York Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin said.
And for elected leaders who are constantly navigating through the many wants of their constituents, having a pastor who's there to give without taking a thing can mean everything.
"My mom is sick right now and when you have someone who doesn't really know you but still cares about you it makes it worthwhile and so he's been a blessing for us," New York Assemblyman Michael Blake said through tears.
"People need the Lord, they need to be encouraged, loved and ministered to and they need support just to handle the pressures they're under," Pastor Walker said.