Leon has been standing at a major intersection in Richmond for months now, holding a sign warning of the second coming of Christ. He stands there all day with his sign secured firmly in a flag holder, working the traffic lights in hopes of saving some helpless souls.
At first I simply scoffed at him, labeling him crazy zealot but after seeing him day after day I began to admire his dedication. I also decided that he would make a great subject for some candid portraits so I set off yesterday evening to see if he would let me photograph him.
I bought him a Gatorade, thinking that he had to be hot and tired from standing in the summer heat all day long. At first he tried to pay me for the drink, telling me that he does not preach for money, food, or drink but I insisted that it was simply a gift from me to him and he agreed to fill his water bottle with it.
I asked him if I could photograph him and told him that my photos would likely be posted on the internet but assured him that I would not use them in a demeaning way and he kindly agreed to let me photograph him at work, telling me that God had given him a message earlier in the week that he needed to use the internet to get his word out.
What I find most intriguing about Leon is that he believes that every action he takes is God’s will and claims that he does nothing without first being told by God to do it, including taking a break to go eat at Lee’s Famous Recipe down the road. He talked with me for quite some time about his background. He grew up in Lebanon, KY and then moved to Liberty, KY and has preached across the country. At one point he even had a van plastered with signs about Jesus and the Apocalypse that he drove around which he showed me a picture of. He described the persecution he has undergone throughout his journey to preach what he believes is the word of God and I even witnessed some of it first hand when people drove by, yelling obscenities. At one point someone threw garbage at both of us.
Last year, Leon could be seen warning that the end of the world would come before the end of 2008 but on December 31, he claims that he received a message from God, telling him that He had delayed His plans and that the second coming would occur sometime during 2009. So Leon altered his sign and set out to spread the word.
I certainly don’t agree with most of the things Leon said but he seems to have a good heart and means no harm to anyone. I don’t share his beliefs but I am grateful that he let me photograph him and am thankful for the experience. At one point, I even got to hold the sign while he filled up his water bottle.