When vandals painted racial epithets on the Imani Temple in the Boston suburb of Malden over the Fourth of July holiday, the town, with a black population of only 1.9 percent, was taken aback. ''The Bible teaches there will come times like this,'' said Rev. Thaddeus Wheeler, pastor of the 25-member black Pentacostal church, ''and you have to pray for people.''
His prayers seem to have been answered. Hy Strasnick of the town's weekly newspaper, Malden This Week, noticed that although the regional press told the story, ''nobody had a solution to it.'' So his paper ran an editorial asking volunteers to come clean up the vandalism on Saturday, July 10.
The response, he says, was overwhelming - ''an all-out effort for Malden.'' At least 75 people came, including Boy Scouts, servicemen from a local Air Force base, and residents from nearby towns. The fire department sent its extension ladder. Local hardware stores donated paint, supermarkets gave soft drinks, and a caterer provided sandwiches. By the end of the day, the temple looked ''better than ever,'' according to Capt. Raymond Harris of the Malden police department. Neighbors blame the damage on teen-agers who used the building as a hang-out before the church rented it last August.