Sunday, September 11, 2016

Armageddon's Slaves Chapter Twenty-eight and Epilogue

His arrival at home shattered the sense of reaching a peaceful decision, as a theoretical decision met reality. Judith’s car blocked the driveway, forcing him to park on the street. Both the garage door and the car’s hatchback stood open. He saw Caleb’s and Luke’s cars on the street. As he got out of the car, Sophia came through the front door carrying a large box. She placed it in the car, and glared at him.

“I can’t believe you’re putting Judith through this.”

“I’m not putting her through anything.”

Sophia turned and stomped back into the house without answering him. Any residual hope he and Judith could work things out vanished. He saw at once that she was moving out of the house.

He walked in and confronted Caleb and Luke, “is this what the Lord wants of you? Is destroying my marriage part of the plan?”

“We aren’t breaking up your marriage,” Caleb answered, “we know you’re seeing another woman.”


“You drove her home from work the other day, then you spent the night in Missoula. You didn’t go to Gathering like you told us you would.”

“So you admit you’ve been spying on me.”

“You know we have to protect the Gathering,” Caleb snapped.

He went on to say he’d told the Senior Servant in Missoula to call him and let him know if Samuel made it there. He dutifully reported Samuel’s absence. He and Luke had come over this morning to talk to Judith. That discussion led them to believe that Samuel’s actions endangered Judith’s welfare. They had to move her out for her own welfare.

“How am I endangering her?”

“You did that when you opened your home to demons.”

Samuel almost laughed, but Caleb was dead serious. Luke held up a manila folder that had been laying on the coffee table. It was Samuel’s research file.

“We found this.”

“What did you do, ransack the whole house?”

“We talked to Matt, we knew you’d been looking at forbidden books and websites. You have obviously decided to Forsake The Word. We have to protect Judith. Your actions are a danger to her spirituality.”

Judith listened to this exchange from the bottom of the stairs, a box in her arms. After staring at him for several seconds, she spoke, her voice low and controlled.

“I can’t believe you don’t want to see our daughter. Paradise is coming, and soon. She’s gone and now you’re taking our son. I will see Charlene soon, but you and my son are gone forever. You’re going to let our son go to college, and on top of that, live with Outsiders while he’s there. You didn’t even have the courage to discuss it with me.”

“I wanted a chance to meet the other family first.”

“Why? They’re Outsiders, if you were a good Disciple, you wouldn’t need to know anything else about them. You’re throwing everything away.”

“Yes, your fabled new work is going to bring paradise, after they’ve purged everybody that isn’t a good little slave of The Chief Apostle.”

“I assume an idea that stupid could only come from one of your Forsaker websites. It’s ridiculous.” Luke snapped.

“Is it Luke? Are you denying you’re under orders to get rid of people like me, and Norm Halbert?”

“It’s not true. Of course I deny it.”

Samuel pulled out his cell phone, found that picture of the letter on Luke’s table. “What about this?”

Luke barely glanced at it before declaring it a fake.

“Is this a fake?” Samuel asked, holding up the picture of Luke’s notes, “it’s your handwriting.”

“You have no business going through my personal and official correspondence.”

“But it is perfectly all right for you to go through mine?”

“Yes it is. I’m responsible for the spiritual well-being of your family.”

Luke and Caleb looked at each other for a moment, then Caleb nodded agreement with an unspoken question.

“Samuel Wilson,” Luke said formally, “I declare that by your words and actions you have Forsaken the Word. You are Cast-out, no longer a Disciple. We will inform the Gathering of our decision.”

Judith announced that she had everything she needed for the moment. They all left without saying another word. Samuel sat heavily in a chair, overcome with emotional shock. He couldn’t believe they acted so quickly, or had they? Obviously they took some time to collect information, and Luke didn’t sound like he acted alone. After a moment’s thought, he called Matt.

He half expected to get only voice mail. To his surprise, Matt answered, but spoke only briefly.

“I told them everything. They were going to rip my family apart, and I can’t do that. It’s easier to just do what they want. Besides, the New Work may well start Armageddon. I can’t give up now.”

With that, he ended the call. Samuel stared at the phone. The one person he still thought of as a friend had turned his back on him. But it wasn’t Matt’s fault, like a good slave, he just returned to what he knew because he was comfortable there.

He sat alone, thinking, until David came home. His son tried to apologize for causing so much trouble.

“Mom cried, Sophia yelled, and Uncle Luke lectured me. I couldn’t take it. I’m sorry.”

“It isn’t your fault.”

Samuel shook his head, and repeated himself.

“No it isn’t your fault. It’s that damnable religion. The books I’ve read are all right, the Disciples are slaves. They are so tightly bound they can’t even see the chains anymore.”

“They’re pretty much wrong about everything aren’t they?”

“No they’re right about one thing, if you start studying what they teach, it won’t hold up to scrutiny. Once I started studying the door was open and a flood of knowledge poured in.”

He laughed, “maybe that was the demon they think I brought into the house.”


“Are you Okay?” Ski, the shop manager leaned into Samuel’s office. “No offense, but you look terrible today.”

Samuel had no idea what to say, just said he was fine. It sounded lame even to him.

“No, I’m not all right. Come in and shut the door, I need to talk to somebody. Judith left me.”

“Jesus.” Ski shut the door and sat in the chair in front of the desk.

It took Samuel a few minutes to run through the events that led to the breakup. He didn’t go into much detail on what he’d found out, only that he could no longer believe his religion, or its leaders.

“I guess I was unhappy with it all for a long time. I was on my way out anyway, I think, they just made it happen sooner. I don’t know what I’m going to do. My wife is gone, I don’t have any friends…” His voice trailed off.

“Sam,” Ski started and stopped abruptly. “Sorry, I know you prefer Samuel…”

“Actually I would prefer Sam. My parents named me after the prophet, and always insisted on using the full name.” He stopped to think for a second, “funny, a lot of Disciples don’t use nicknames. I don’t know why.”

“Okay then,” Ski grinned, “now you can be Sam. A new name for a new life. You have many friends here in the shop. We’ve all been watching you doing your research and cheering you on. That church is a nut house.”


“Yes, really. Look, we wanted to throw a little celebration for you when your kid got into college, but we knew your religion didn’t approve. Why don’t you invite him down tomorrow and I’ll have Irene get us a cake.”

The next afternoon David and Samuel joined the shop staff for a little party at the end of the workday. Everyone congratulated David on his acceptance at college. Upon hearing what he planned to study, several cracked jokes about knowing where the brains in the family went.

Samuel found himself agreeing to help George Cowley get his boat in the water, they could go fishing together. He recognized a need to make new friends, but it was hard to shake a lifetime of prohibitions against forming friendships with Outsiders. Suddenly it struck him, “I am an Outsider.”

David spent most of his time talking to Irene’s daughter about college life. Underneath a festive shell, however, he couldn’t shake an inner sadness. Judith’s absence left a hole his co-workers could not fill.


On June First, he sat down at his desk to pay bills as he always did. He ended with extra money, the effects of the raise that came with the promotion. He wondered if Judith needed money and decided that if she did, she could ask for it. He hesitated for a moment over the money he gave to Caleb every month to help with Uncle Harry. He decided to send it any way. Harry had given his life to a fairytale, that was punishment enough.

He wrote the check and put it into an envelope. He wanted to be a fly on the wall when Caleb had to decide to take money from a Forsaker. David called down the hall, asking what he was laughing about. He explained what he was doing.

“Don’t worry, he’ll take the money.”

David still maintained contact with a few friends at the Gathering House, although their parents discouraged talking to him. As he put it, they were waiting to turn eighteen so they could leave home and forget the religion. Sam always wondered what how they planned to live. At least David had the sense to go to school. Two days after he mailed the check to Caleb, David called him at work to pass on news from one of the friends.

“Dad, I’ve got bad news. Uncle Harry died in his sleep last night.”

The news did not surprise him, the man was in eighties. He felt sad, not so much at Harry’s death, but that he’d spent his life chasing a false hope. But he’d been happy with his choice. That afternoon he tried to call Caleb several times, but didn’t get an answer. He called Judith, and left a message. Late in the day she responded with a text.

“We’ve made arrangements for a service for Harry at the Gathering House. Caleb says it is not appropriate for you to be there.” That same day, he noticed the check he wrote Caleb had cleared his account.

Saturday morning, the weekend before the Grand Gathering in Seattle Sam looked out his window to see four Disciples getting out of a car at the end of the block. He could see the small slips of paper they carried, planning to deliver to his neighbors. Every year they handed out invitations to the Grand Gathering. Did they really expect Outsiders to drive across the state to go to a religious convention?

The four split into pairs, each pair taking one side of the street. Robert and Karen Brown had his side of the street. Sam watched from an upstairs window where they couldn’t see him. It didn’t take long for them to reach the neighbor on his left. He couldn’t see what happened, he guessed no one was at home. Then, instead of continuing on the sidewalk, they crossed the street, walked past his house on the far side, and recrossed the street to go to the house on his right.

He heard David laughing in his room. “Dad, did you see that?”


“What do they think is going to happen, the Forsaker cooties are going to get them?”

“In a sense, yes. I imagine they think we’re demonized.”


The boat bobbed on the water of Sprague Lake, forty-five minutes west of Spokane. George and Sam watched the tips of the rods for signs they had hooked a fish, and talked quietly. It was now Sam’s third fishing trip. He had yet to catch a fish, but he enjoyed the time with his new friend. They had a lot in common. George had lost his wife to cancer two years earlier. He understood the losses Sam experienced, both Charlene and Judith. He understood the emotional toll imposed on Sam by the shunning he now experienced. He didn’t try to offer platitudes, but was always willing to lend an ear.

Now Sam looked toward the western horizon, listening to the distant traffic on the interstate. Judith was there, attending the Grand Gathering. Ironically, considering the Word’s view of education, they had rented the University of Washington’s stadium for the event.

“Your wife is at that big convention isn’t she?”


“Do you hate them?”

“No I don’t hate them. I pity them. It all sounds so wonderful, dead loved ones will live again, we’ll all live forever right here on the Earth. Except it will be a Paradise, no death, sickness, hunger, war.”

“Sounds appealing.”

“Except it’s all an illusion.”

He pointed out The Word’s previous false predictions. Those were just the specific dates. For almost a hundred years, they kept saying the end of the world was due soon. It looked like they were about to announce a new prediction.

George shook his head, and asked why would anybody believe them? Sam talked in general terms about his research. People altered their memory of events, or how they thought about facts to keep the illusions alive. He explained sunk costs, how people couldn’t walk away from emotional investments. Uncle Harry was a perfect example. After giving his life to the Word of God Foundation, the thought of turning away was too much to bear, even though he died old, contrary to the expectations of his youth.

George grunted, and then said “I used to think you were nuts for believing some of what you believed. Now I’m amazed you managed to escape.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s hard to break free, the Apostles have four million people enslaved to this dream of Paradise. The Disciples can’t see they’re slaves, the mental tools to think for themselves have been subverted by their Masters in Seattle.

“I can’t hate them, I want to help them. I’d like to find a way. Maybe that’s my new purpose in life.”

He looked out at the calm waters of the lake.

“I’m free now. It will take some getting used, I’ve never been free to think and do what I want.”

“I’m glad,” said George, “but right now you need to start reeling, you’ve got a fish on.”


Two hundred miles west of Sam and George, Judith Wilson sat in the stand at Husky Stadium with Sophia and Caleb. Their seats, located at the front of the upper level offered them an excellent view of the stage. For two days, they hung on every word, and waited in excitement for today’s climactic speech by the Chief Apostle.

“Isn’t it funny,” Sophia said just before the opening music started, “how the Foundation rented this stadium from the University? The Lord will destroy this place at Armageddon, but now He’s using it to gather us together to learn more about His Word, not Outsider nonsense.”

Judith felt a cold knot in her stomach. In a few months, her son would start school a few miles away. A few months after that, God would end his existence, except in her memory. She pushed the thought away. Yesterday’s program had included a dramatic presentation depicting a rebellion against Moses. The earth opened up and swallowed Korah, the rebel leader, and all those following him. The speaker that followed it admonished the Disciples to avoid the sin and fate of Korah by obeying The Lord’s chosen Apostles.

She had vowed then to keep her loyalty to The Lord. She knew she would face tribulation and great cost but also great rewards. Charlene would join her in Paradise! Perhaps if she stayed faithful her son and husband would return. If not, she still would not give up her faith.

The music started, and the remainder of the thirty thousand Disciples found their seats. After a few minutes of music a speaker announced the start of the afternoon session. The program included another drama before the Chief Apostle’s speech. After the prayer, the speaker urged the audience to pay close attention to the stage presentation, it related directly to Apostle Rodgers’ message.

For an hour, she watched the play depict important events from the lives of Noah, Abraham, and Lot culminating in the destruction of Jericho and the Israelite’s arrival in Paradise. When it ended, the audience rose and roared in approval. Without any further introduction, Rodgers strode across the stage and took his place before the microphone.

“Are you ready to live in Paradise?”

The crowd roared again, applause broke out, followed by cheers. Rodgers held his hands up, indicating silence. The Disciples grew quiet, but still Rodgers stood in silence. After long seconds, he spoke again.

“We have thought The Lord Almighty would bring us to Paradise on Earth in His due time. We have, that is all of us Disciples, Apostles, myself included, have earnestly searched the scriptures to see when that appointed time would occur. Our enemies accuse us of being false prophets.

"Our expectation, our hope for salvation has not changed. We have an assurance from the Bible the Lord will destroy the wicked at the worldwide Battle of Armageddon; that we will receive our reward, eternal life in Paradise on Earth!”

The crowd started to cheer, but Rodgers waved them to silence.

“But we missed an important point. We expected The Lord to bring us Paradise on a silver platter. We ignored the fact the He has always required action from His Disciples. As we just saw, those loyal to The Lord don’t wait, they act.”

He surveyed the crowd for a moment.

“Like Noah will you build a place of safety, and take refuge in it, so you will not be destroyed in the day of The Lord’s wrath?”

Scattered cries of “yes” sounded around the stadium. Rodgers cupped a hand to his ear.

“I can’t hear you.”

The crowd shouted as one voice.

“Like Abraham, will you demonstrate your faith, to show yourself ready to make the ultimate sacrifice?

“Yes,” the crowd answered. Judith began to cry, as the thought struck her that she was already sacrificing her son.

“I am loyal to The Lord,” she shouted, even though no one could hear her over the crowd.

“Like Lot, will you flee from a wicked world, not turning back, heeding The Lord’s commands without question.”

Again, the crowd roared its agreement. Judith joined in, without reservation, yelling her agreement through her tears. She would not be Lot’s wife!

“Like the Israelites of old before the wall of Jericho, will you carry The Lord’s final message to a wicked world, will you do your part to show faith and destroy that world?”

The Disciples yelled and cheered, many clapped or thrust fists in the air.

“If you want Paradise, the time is NOW. Our actions will usher in Paradise. We will prove our Faith and Loyalty to The Lord Almighty, and he will provide our reward. Are you ready to act, and receive?”

The crowd went wild, as if screaming could demonstrate faith and bring in Paradise that moment. Rodgers continued to yell into the microphone, making himself heard over the racket.

“When The Lord called Isiah to action, how did the prophet answer?”

“Here I am, send me.” Thirty thousand Disciples spoke as one.

Judith lost control of her tears, she cried, unsure if she was sad at the loss of her family or overjoyed at the approach of Paradise. She raised her arms high, and joined the shouting.


The End

Armageddon’s Slaves © Jeffrey Thomas  All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction. All events and characters are products of the author’s
imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Armageddon's Slaves Chapter Twenty-seven

Samuel slept poorly that night, his mind constantly churning over the weekend’s events. The call from Norm and Luke’s letters painted a disturbing picture of the Word of God Foundation. He listened to Judith, breathing quietly in her sleep next to him. She found comfort in her faith, the sure and certain knowledge that the Apostles spoke for God, and that she would soon see her daughter again. What would happen to her when events shattered that faith?

Getting to work, and focusing on the tasks at hand provided the relief he needed. His employer thought a move eastward might provide the best opportunity for expansion. Samuel spent the morning researching routes and possible business sites in Montana, a pleasant task. He planned to drive to Missoula on Wednesday and look over the area. As he ate lunch, he pondered ways to confirm what Norm Halbert told him.

On impulse, he picked up his phone and called the Spokane Police Department. After bouncing around various departments, he found a record’s clerk that could provide some facts.

“I can only tell you what’s in the public record. The case was dismissed for lack of evidence.” The woman said, “but I’ll add a piece of advice.”


“You should tell your friends to shut up. We wasted time chasing rumors. Reporters kept calling with new ones, the girl was underage, she was naked, we found booze in the car, we found drugs in the car, it just went on and on. I can’t give a name, but it all started with some local bigwig in your church.”

Samuel thanked her and ended the call. The “bigwig” was almost certainly Luke. Well, there was proof that a good portion of Halbert’s story rang true.

Until now, he had arranged his life around The Word of God Foundation. It formed the basis of all his actions, family and friendships. He pulled out a piece of paper and started jotting bullet points about this new discovery.

The Apostles planned some special event for the fall.

Publicly they expected this event to bring about Armageddon.

Privately they assumed it would fail.

They intended to blame the Disciples for that failure.

As part of that plan, they intended to remove and discredit Servants and Disciples that might oppose them.

That purge included one or more Apostles.

Luke’s letters, Norm Halbert’s comments, and information from the police, proved the purge was underway. That provided good reason to believe the rest of the story was true.

What to do now? He had hoped to resign quietly, ending his duties as a Servant. He would continue to attend Gatherings and take part minimally in Disciple-making. But given what he now knew, he did not think he could share knowingly in a lie.

He thought briefly of talking to Judith about it, but quickly dismissed the idea. She leaned too heavily on her hope of seeing Charlene in Paradise. Her emotion overwhelmed facts and reasoning. Perhaps he could talk quietly to Luke, maybe there was some other explanation. He expected that to cause more trouble, but suspected he needed to confront his brother-in-law.

He decided to call Matt, the only person he felt he could talk to. Matt didn’t answer, so he left a message and went back to work. Five hours later as he left for home, he realized Matt never answered the call. He punched in the phone number, and again left a message, suggesting lunch sometime in the coming week. It seemed odd that Matt didn’t return his calls, but he didn’t give it much thought.

On the way home, he wondered how he could go about talking to Judith. He dreaded the thought of it, he expected she would lose control if he expressed his thoughts. He could think of no reasonable way to tell her about Luke’s letters and his conversation with Norm. He had no doubt that she simply would not believe him.

When he arrived at home, he saw instantly that he could not avoid confrontation. He had not noticed cars, but Caleb and Luke sat in his living room, with Judith. All three looked grim and determined. He managed a weak and unfriendly greeting. Luke simply told him to sit, they needed to talk.

“We’ve all been very concerned about you lately,” Luke said, “and we had a disturbing conversation with Matt Edwards yesterday.”

“I see.”

Luke, clearly speaking as Area Servant and not a family member, ticked off a litany of problems with Samuel’s spiritual condition. He missed Gatherings, his hours in Disciple-making didn’t meet the goals, his preaching lacked zeal, he spent too much time on secular work. Caleb noted that he neglected the spiritual needs of his family, and even intended to let David go to college.

Caleb spat out the last word, like something dirty that he had to remove from his mouth. He went on to list the many things that could happen to a young man in college, drugs, drinking, young women with no morals. How could he let his son go into that environment?

Luke took over again, running through a string of talking points about the discussions he’d had with Matt. He insinuated that Matt’s spiritual decline was Samuel’s fault. The man was a weak Disciple, as a Servant he had an obligation to build him up within The Word, not undermine his faith. Samuel realized that Matt, who’d he’d thought a friend and confidant, had turned him in to the Servants. Some friend, but perhaps it wasn’t his fault. New Jerusalem took priority over friendships and marriages.

“They’re making a case that I’m a danger to the Gathering,” he thought. “Are they going to accuse me of Forsaking the Word?”

They answered his question as he thought it.

“Samuel,” Luke intoned heavily, “we think you may yet regain your good standing with The Word. But you need to start turning around now, there isn’t much time. World events are reaching a climax, commanded by The Lord. We Disciples must be prepared to do our part.”

“I’m curious, because we keep talking about this. What is ‘our part?’”

“Well, at the moment,” Luke answered, “we are not sure exactly. I know the Apostles plan a bold new campaign to begin this fall, what form it will take, they haven’t told us. They may not know. The Lord will provide us with the proper knowledge in His time.”

Samuel wanted share his new knowledge, but this was not the time. He needed to talk it over with Judith first. He decided to stick his toe in the water and see what happened.

“I’ve heard it’s going to signal the start of Armageddon.”

“Where did you hear that?” Luke snapped.

Samuel shrugged and said he heard it at the House, but he couldn’t remember who said it, perhaps a visitor.

“Well we don’t know that, you shouldn’t let rumors undermine your faith.”

“Okay. I also heard that whatever this big event is, it requires cleaning up the Gatherings first, starting with the Servants.”

This made Luke jump, “The Lord always requires clean worshippers. As Servants, it is our duty to present a clean Gathering to The Lord. Do you think we shouldn’t?”

“I think maybe we need to find a better way to do it.”

All three men turned to Judith as she suppressed a sob. “You can’t talk against The Lord’s Word like that. Are you becoming a Forsaker?”

“No, of course not,” Samuel responded automatically.

“Well then, you need to be a good Disciple,” Luke said forcefully, his face turning red, “The Lord doesn’t want or need wishy-washy believers. You’re in or out. That’s it.”

“I need some time to think about it. Can I have a day or two?” Samuel asked sadly, “Maybe if I think about it we can talk about it calmly.”

The other two men looked at each other, Luke nodded. “We’ll get together later in the week.”

Good, he could use the time driving to Montana to think up a plan. He still hoped to hang on long enough to preserve his marriage, if possible. To emphasize the point Judith added a final comment to the conversation.

“I’m not going to live with a Forsaker. If you give up The Lord, you give up me, too.”

“Judith, let’s be rational…”

“I am being rational,” she screamed. With that she stomped upstairs to the bedroom and slammed the door.

Trying to set up a meeting time for later in the week started another argument. Luke and Caleb wanted to talk after midweek Gathering on Wednesday. Samuel said that he would be traveling on business and would attend Gathering in Missoula.

“You need to be here with your home Gathering.”

“Why? I’m not on the program, I can get everything I need attending in Missoula.”

“Because your position is serious, and you need people who know you to get you back on track. I’ll expect to see you there.”

That night, Samuel slept in the guestroom, Judith refused to leave the bedroom, even to eat. He intended to ignore Caleb’s perfunctory order to appear at midweek Gathering. He had a room reserved and appointments set up with real estate brokers to look at possible business sites. He had, in fact, planned on attending Gathering in Missoula. Now he didn’t feel like going.


Late Tuesday afternoon, Irene stuck her head in his office, “Can I ask a favor?” Before he could answer, she said she thought her house was on the way to his. If so, could he give her a ride home? She’d had to take her car to the shop and they weren’t done with it. He said he was happy to help. They had a pleasant conversation on the ride home. It turned out her daughter was about to start her second year at Bellevue College, perhaps David could call if he wanted advice about anything. Samuel said he’d pass a message to David, and drove home, without giving it another thought.


Wednesday morning he stopped by the office for a final chat with Ski and Mr. Rommer before he left. As he was leaving, he saw Caleb parked across the street. The Senior Servant had his head down, as if studying something or looking at his cell phone.

The area was all business, there were no houses to sell here. Samuel got in his car and fiddled with some papers for a minute, pretending he didn’t see Caleb. He could see him in the review mirror, watching the car.

“He’s spying on me?” He shook his head and looked at the mirror again. “Really Caleb?”

He drove off, watching to see if Caleb followed him. When he got on Interstate 90 eastbound, he started wondering how far he intended to follow. In fact, Caleb stayed with him for an hour and a half, all the way to Wallace, Idaho.

“Must not have much to do today.” Obviously Caleb intended to make sure he did go to Missoula, why? Did they distrust him so much they couldn’t just ask? Did they want him gone so badly they would go to these lengths to get rid of him? Did Caleb want to destroy his sister-in-law's marriage? Mulling over the problems occupied his mind for most of the drive.

He spent a pleasant afternoon looking at several commercial properties with the broker. One building in particular looked like a good prospect. But he’d look at two more in the morning before going home.

When he returned to his hotel room took a hot shower and changed into casual clothing. He walked a few blocks and found a steakhouse. He checked his watch as he ordered, If he hurried he could get back to his room, change and attend Gathering. As he enjoyed his dinner and forget about his problems, he made an unconscious decision to just enjoy a free evening. The restaurant was only half full, after dinner, he ordered a glass of wine and watched a baseball game on the large TV. Later he walked back to his hotel slowly, finding pleasure in the evening quiet. For the first time in weeks, he slept soundly.

The next morning he toured two more properties with the broker. Around noon, he gassed up the car and started for home. Half an hour out of Missoula, he passed a sign announcing a used bookstore offering “100,000 used books.” With his newfound interest in research, he decided to stop and shop. The store occupied a small house packed with from basement to attic with books. He wandered through the narrow aisles, examining titles. He picked out a Bible that had four translations side by side. The only Bible he’d ever read was “The Word of God Translation” produced by the Foundation. His researched revealed many critics said it contained many flaws. He decided to look at another translation to compare.

Nearby, he found a slim paperback called “When Prophecy Fails”* The back cover described it as an academic analysis of responses to failed religious prophecy. Written by three social scientists, it explored the reactions of a religious group to false prophecy. Interestingly, it looked like they found that such an event did not discourage the followers. It sounded a lot like Disciples.

After he made his purchase, he resumed the drive home, using the time to organize his thoughts. He had a bad feeling about whatever the Chief Apostle planned for the fall. He expected the fallout from another failed prophecy to crush his wife. He wanted no part of a society that required its members to spy on each other. Having Caleb following him was just plain wrong.

That was it then, he no longer wanted to be a Disciple, he wasn’t sure if he wanted any religion. David would go to college, that was good. Judith would leave, his marriage was over. He had to accept that, or live as a hypocrite. Perhaps when the Apostle’s scheme failed, he could support her somehwow. At least that gave him a goal.

*“When Prophecy Fails” by Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken, Stanley Schachter. Wilder Publications, Blacksburg, VA 2011. The author highly recommends this work.

Armageddon’s Slaves © Jeffrey Thomas  All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. All events and characters are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental

Friday, September 2, 2016

Armageddon's Slaves Chapter Twenty-Six

“I’m disappointed in your performance last night,” Caleb said reproachfully. “I support everything New Jerusalem does, I respect the Apostles leadership, and obey their instructions. I expect you to do the same, and support me as Senior Servant.”

The two men walked slowly along the street, calling on houses in Saturday morning Disciple-making. Wide lots, containing a few goats or sheep, and an occasional horse, separated the houses in this rural area on the outskirts of Spokane. The open space meant lots of time walking, giving them time to talk. Samuel had tried to get out of Disciple-making, to no avail. If he wanted to hide his dissatisfaction, he couldn’t do anything to stand out. Privately he decided to be as ineffective as possible, he had zero interest in making converts, unlikely as that was. The numbers, published each year by the Foundation clearly proved the inefficiency of trying to call on people at home with a religious message.

“A couple of items blindsided me,” he answered, “I can’t imagine why we need a meeting every other week. I also think we deserve a better explanation if they want to ask for our money.”

“They gave us a clear explanation, it’s needed to cover the expenses of this great new campaign we’ll be starting.”

“What expenses?”

Caleb stopped walking and turned to face him. “See this is what I’m talking about. Where is your faith? Where is your trust? You question everything. Frankly, I’m worried about you, and I want some answers. Luke worries about you, too. You’re family, we have extra responsibility in meeting your spiritual needs.”

“Slow down. I’m fine. I just think we deserve more information about all this.”

“Don’t ask questions, don’t think about it all too much. It undermines your faith. We all need to do as the Apostles direct us. They are The Lord’s representatives on Earth. We need to believe that. It’s the real meaning of faith.”

Samuel didn’t agree, but mumbled about trying to do more Disciple-making and taking part in Gatherings more fully. He couldn’t imagine putting up with it, but he’d find a way. Then Caleb dropped another bombshell on him.

“I think you should stay away from Matt Edwards. He’s slacking off, a couple of us think he’s involved in sin of some sort, but we don’t have the evidence yet. There was something between him and Gloria Lighthorse. Laura’s worried about his spiritual progress, or lack of it. Sophia and Judith took her out shopping a last week, she didn’t want to talk much about it, but Sophia could tell she’s worried.”

Meaning probably that Sophia made up something and reported it as fact. What precisely did Caleb mean when he said they had no evidence “yet?” As the two continued walking and knocking on doors, he found it harder to even pretend his heart was in the work.


That afternoon, Samuel retreated into his office, saying he had to prepare some reports for work. Judith didn’t object, probably because that left her free to do something with her sister. Shortly after she left, Samuel’s cell phone buzzed. The caller ID showed it was Norm Halbert.


Norm identified himself and said he wanted to talk about a personal matter, that perhaps Samuel could help him with.

“Maybe you can explain why you’re brother-in-law is after me.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean he’s been spreading lies about me and my son all over Spokane. He denies it, of course, but I’m guessing he’s said something to you.”

Norm said that Luke had encouraged him to have his daughter take up with Gloria Lighthorse “to provide a good example of Disciple teenage life.” He then pushed Gloria into complaining about Ricky’s behavior, trying to cause trouble for the Halbert family. Caleb involved himself, insisting on punishing Gloria, making it harder to discredit Apostle Halbert. Norm didn’t understand what they were doing until the same thing happened with the girl involved in the police complaint.

“Back up a second. Luke encouraged your daughter to be a friend to these young women? To make trouble for your brother?”

“That’s right, he called Naomi and asked her to invite them over. Said she would be a good example to them. I’m sure he put it into their heads that Ricky would be good husband material.”

Samuel didn’t like Luke, but he didn’t believe his ears, Norm sounded like a crazy conspiracy theorist. “That’s stupid…” His voice trailed off as he remembered something Gloria said when he and Matt met with her. He pictured her perfectly in his mind, wiping at tears and trying to smile at the same time. “He told my Mom that I should get to know Ricky better since his uncle was an Apostle.”

“What is it?” Norm asked at the sudden silence.

“Never mind. I think I know what you’re talking about.”

It sounded lame, he had no idea what to say. Could Luke, and possibly Caleb, plot against fellow Disciples?

“You know the police dropped the investigation don’t you?”

“No,” Samuel answered, stunned, “why?”

“Lack of evidence. Ricky was driving her home and got pulled over for a busted taillight. The girl started yelling about sexual assault when the cop approached the car. Again, Luke had been encouraging her to see my daughter, and Ricky was just giving her a ride home.”

Samuel didn’t respond as he thought. Was Luke capable of destroying a young man’s life on orders from John Rodgers? His brain said no, but something in his gut said “Yes.”

“But why would Luke want to wreck your reputation? It doesn’t make sense.”

“Because the Chief Apostle is using me to get at my brother for opposing this crazy scheme he and Howell cooked up.”

Norm went on to explain that it was all supposed to be hush-hush, but Apostle Rodgers was going to announce a special plan at the Grand Gathering in June. He went on to explain the Apostles planned to launch a series of big public demonstrations in the fall. According to his information, this would show the Disciple’s love for The Lord and induce Him to launch Armageddon and usher in Paradise. The real kicker, was that when it failed, the Apostles would blame the failure on the Disciples.

“They’re assuming we aren’t zealous enough?” Samuel asked incredulously.

“Seems like it, except maybe Apostle Howell. It’s all his idea. What Rodgers and Howell are doing convinced my brother they’re nuts. This plan will bring on Armageddon, or destroy the Foundation. He thinks they will be happy with either outcome.

“There’s a big shakeup going on at New Jerusalem. There’s a schism within the Apostles. The hardliners following Rodgers against some reformers who want do away with all the rules and shunning. The hardliners have a majority and my brother is on the wrong side of the fence. Rodgers wants him brought down.”

“Norm, I’m sorry…”

Samuel’s voice trailed off. He didn’t know what to say. It all sounded crazy. He didn’t think there was a way to find the truth. He said as much to Norm. He heard a long sigh.

“It’s hard to believe, but there’s a real fight developing among the Apostles. My brother isn’t alone. They’re after Laban Packard, too.

“I just needed to vent. The police dropped the charges, but my son still has a record. I’m not a Servant anymore, and my business is down. I’m just in a funk. Maybe you can tell Luke I want to be a good Disciple again.”

“I’m not sure he’ll listen to me, but I’ll put in a good word for you.”

After the call ended, Samuel sat at his desk staring at nothing, thinking. A few months ago, he would have dismissed the whole conversation, or reported it to Caleb. Now he wasn’t so sure, but he needed to verify the information, but how? He couldn’t just ask Luke if he was under orders to smear people that disagreed with the Chief Apostle.


Sunday morning he found it impossible to focus on Gathering. After the service ended, Judith told him that she and Sophia had plans to have lunch with Laura Edwards, but she had to take some clothing to Luke’s apartment. Could he do it? Since he wanted time to think, Samuel quickly agreed to the errand. She told him where to find several summer weight suits, recently returned from the cleaner. Since Luke lived in a small apartment, he took advantage of his sister’s offer to store them during the winter.

“Isn’t Luke still in the Tri-cities?”

“Yes, I’ll give you his key.”

Since an Area Servant’s home doubled as an office, New Jerusalem discouraged giving out keys. But Judith was family, no one said anything. A short time later, Samuel let himself into Luke’s small apartment. No one knew exactly how much living allowance an Area Servant received from New Jerusalem. In some places, the Area Servant had rather luxurious quarters and even an assistant.

Spokane was not one of those places. The apartment had exactly three rooms, a combined kitchen/living area at the front and a bedroom and bathroom at the back. Luke’s living room doubled as an office, containing a file cabinet and a writing desk. Samuel took the suits to the bedroom, and hung them in the closet. Several heavier suits lay on the neatly made bed, with a note asking his sister to put them in his closet at the Wilson home.

Samuel took them to the car, and returned to lock up the apartment. He did not intend to snoop, but looked around to make sure everything was all right. He noticed a large envelope and some papers on the writing desk. The envelope bore a blue stamp reading “administrative reports.”

Samuel paused, thinking. He should not look at the letters, but curiosity overwhelmed him. He knew that “administrative reports” was a ruse, New Jerusalem always marked confidential communications with that stamp, to prevent undo attention. He had always wondered what they hid behind the James Bond cloak-and-dagger routine.

His curiosity got the better of him. Besides, he reasoned, Sophia or Judith would read it in a heartbeat, if they were here. Besides, it might well be just administrative correspondence. Still, his heart raced a bit as he looked at the papers.

The first item was a letter from New Jerusalem to all Area Servants, it had no signature, only a stamp indicated the Apostles approved it. Nervously, he skimmed the letter, thinking that again that it was private. Then he noticed a sheet of paper with notes in Luke’s handwriting, a list of names, with his at the top. He reread the letter.

“The removal of all Servants not completely loyal to The Word, must be completed by the time the New Work starts in September. Disloyalty may manifest itself in many ways: spreading rumors, lack of zeal in Disciple-making, willingness to dismiss “minor” violations of Christian Conduct as determined by the Apostles, and the like. Area Servants must use care to insure that only those Servants that display complete loyalty to The Word remain in position by September. When in doubt, removing a problematic Servant will be the best course of action. A special help desk at New Jerusalem will field questions on this matter.

“Take care to insure these actions do not disburb the Gathering.

“As the New Work begins, The Lord will continue to remove those with weak faith from his Disciples. Some will no doubt remove themselves as the Work requires active displays of faith. Servants must weed out those lacking faith ruthlessly, consequently only those capable of such action should remain in authority at that time.”

The letter closed with instructions to begin notifying New Jerusalem of Servants requiring discipline or removal. Letters should include only minimal information, New Jerusalem would contact the Area Servants by phone to discuss details, if needed. The tone and wording emphasized a need for secrecy in handling matters related to the New Work.

“Wow,” Samuel muttered under his breath.

Another page lay next to the first, handwritten notes, evidently for a letter that Luke intended to send to New Jerusalem, or possibly a phone call. The list of names, headed by his own, contained the names of several Servants in Eastern Washington. Samuel knew most of them, they were all ones that were not afraid to question instructions. The note after his name stated that he lacked zeal and expressed doubts. Luke noted that he “had evidence that Disciple Wilson is engaging in independent research, which is undermining his faith.” How did Luke know about his research?

He read the next entry.

“Norm Halbert, already removed as Servant. Currently under review and may be Cast-out. Trouble maker, but given his connections to the Apostles, limiting his influence is difficult. GETTING INSIDE INFORMATION FROM NEW JERUSALEM AND SPREADING RUMORS. AM WORKING TO DISCREDIT.”

He realized that he held physical proof that what Norm told him was at least partially true. But how could he prove it? Stealing the papers would just cause more trouble. After a moment’s thought, he pulled out his smart phone and took a few pictures, feeling both guilty and foolish as he did. He made sure they were back where they belonged and quickly left for home.
Armageddon’s Slaves © Jeffrey Thomas  All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction. All events and characters are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Armageddon's Slaves Chapter Twenty-five

The next chapter of “The Crumbling Foundation” dealt in detail with the practice of Casting-out members who sinned or broke one of the rules. “Of all the harmful and unscriptural practices of The Word of God Foundation, the worst is the practice of shunning. As we shall see, removal of a person from all fellowship has no basis in scripture.” It pointed out, and cited several Bible verses in support, that yes, the Bible supported a form of shunning. But it was a last resort, and Jesus’ command to treat those removed from the congregation as pagans or tax collectors meant treating them as unsaved. Christians were to act with love and kindness toward them, with the goal of restoring them to faith.

Samuel thought of Gloria Lighthorse and Phil Peterson, and all the others he’d seen over the years. Their treatment was unloving. Kingsley reserved special condemnation for the practice of shunning family members. He finished by noting that fear of shunning kept many Disciples in the firm grip of New Jerusalem. Faced with the loss of contact with family and friends, they dare not speak out, or voice contrary opinions.

The book made an interesting note, which Samuel agreed was true, although he’d never thought about it. Disciples were most often Cast-out for violating the myriad rules governing sex. The Word’s publications, studies, and Servant’s rule books offered endless discussion of what was, and was not proper. Dating was wrong unless the couple sought marriage.

Even within marriage, the Foundation regulated sexual relations. Because of all this, Disciple teenagers married often married too young, and entered marriage with false expectations. Assuming they weren’t Cast-out for trying to be normal teenagers. Again, Samuel thought of Gloria Lighthorse, a perfect example of a young Disciple broken by the rules.

Other rules and traditions further altered the nature of interactions between married couples. A man’s status within The Word determined his wife’s status. Knowing this, young women sought out men most likely to advance within the religion. Ricky Halbert was a good example, as the nephew of an Apostle he attracted attention. At the same time, the man assumed dictatorial authority over the family. The Word required wives and children to submit to his headship.

The next chapter, dealing with finances and transparency, or lack thereof; was a real eye-opener. Sales of books and magazines produced a large income for many years. The sales force worked for free, the production labor nearly so. “The Crumbling Foundation” provided detailed analysis of the available information, documenting the large sums New Jerusalem received. No one knew where all this money went. Each Gathering heard an accounts report every month. The big annual Grand Gatherings, and smaller area conventions also reported their accounts to attendees (although hiding the details of transfers to New Jerusalem).

Then the money disappeared. New Jerusalem publicly stated that all the money supported Disciple-making and missionary work. No Disciples ever questioned that, and New Jerusalem adamantly refused to release any accounting. American law required no financial disclosure, The Foundation stood on that legal argument. In other parts of the world, it did meet requirements to file public reports. These showed considerable cash sent to the American headquarters.

The end of the book provided a stirring conclusion. “As we have seen the Disciples have built their lives on a foundation of sand. The Word of God Foundation has proven itself wrong on doctrine, wrong on its understanding of scripture, and most emphatically wrong on its predictions of future events. For a religion almost entirely built on expectation of future events, it is remarkably lacking in its ability to see the future.

“One wonders why the Disciples continue in the face of so many problems. The answer lies, at least in part, in the concept of ‘sunk costs.’ Having invested so much of their lives in this religion, they cannot imagine leaving it now. So they toil onward, slaves to a publishing house that uses their free labor, even as it controls every aspect of their lives. This work was written with the hope of freeing perhaps a few from their bondage.”

It was with all this in his head, that Samuel attended the next Servant Committee meeting.


In Samuel’s eyes, the meeting started badly and went downhill from there. Caleb started it off with a mandate from New Jerusalem. The Servants were to meet every two weeks, and submit various reports to the Apostles. Insuring progress on the coming years “New Work” required added attention. New Jerusalem did not provide any details about the “New Work.”

“They are asking us to redouble our efforts to reach a goal, without telling us what the goal IS.” Sergei Ivanov protested. Several other heads bobbed in agreement, although no one said anything.

Samuel had decided early on that he was going to let others do the talking wherever possible. He’d just go along with whatever the group decided to do. He recognized his cowardice, but had made up his mind that discretion was the better part of valor. He couldn’t change anything, so why rock the boat?

“We know what the goal is,” Caleb snapped back, “it’s to bring Paradise to Earth.”

“That’s The Lord’s job, how are we supposed to do that?”

Fleetingly, a thought crossed Samuel’s mind. Could Sergei harbor doubts about The Word? He often voiced disagreement with the rest of the committee. Could he find out what Sergei thought? He needed to think about that.

“We must have faith the Lord, through His Apostles, guides us in what He commands us to do.”

This from Benjamin Oldendorf, nearly a word for word quote from Sunday’s Bible study. The man had never had an original thought in his life. He thought what The Word told him to think. Now that Samuel’s mind understood how New Jerusalem worked the puppets, he saw it everywhere.

“This isn’t up for a vote,” Caleb snapped.

He went on to say the Servants would meet every two weeks as mandated, end of discussion. He moved on to the next item; financial changes. New Jerusalem directed all Gatherings worldwide to transfer all funds that exceeded immediate needs to the Seattle headquarters. This sparked another round of dissent, this time joined by several Servants.

“How can they just take our money?” Alan Jefferies demanded. Sergei asked if it included the balance of the savings account held for roof repairs. Samuel, seeing he would not stand out alone if he objected also said this didn’t sound right.

Caleb picked up some papers he had taken out of his briefcase, explaining the Apostles expected the questions and provided the answers in advance. The papers were a brief prepared by the legal department. Listening to the document, Samuel decided that New Jerusalem acted within the letter of the law. That didn’t make it right, in his view. The brief cited a court case from California a few years later. The Foundation wanted to sell a Gathering House, and replaced the local Servants when they objected. The new Servants completed the sale. The court noted that a Limited Liability Corporation owned the House, but that Foundation rules governed the LLC. Constitutionally, the court had no authority to mediate a dispute within a church.

Sergei leaned forward, his face red. “Are you saying that if we refuse to comply with this, they’ll just replace all of us?”

“All who object, yes.”

“But those funds are donations, dedicated to replace the roof. The Disciples expect us to use the funds for that purpose.”

“If we need to replace the roof, New Jerusalem will provide the money. This is the Apostle’s decision.”

Samuel could not remain silent, “It may be legal, but it feels like highway robbery. I rather imagine many will agree when they hear about it.”

He heard murmurs of agreement, and a few objections. He wasn’t alone, but he doubted the others would fight with The Apostles.

“I don’t think accusing the Apostles of theft is fair,” Mile Oldendorf said, “they are looking out for The Lord’s interest in this. Some Gatherings might not manage The Lord’s money properly.”

“Exactly so,” Caleb said, holding up the papers, “They cite several instances of mismanagement and even theft. With all the money at New Jerusalem they will be in position to do what’s best for all Disciples.”

Samuel lapsed back into silence. “The Crumbling Foundation” was correct, the slaves refused to see the manipulation and intimidation the Apostles used to hold them in sway. A short time ago, he could not have imagined the Apostles engaging in such manipulation and intimidation in pursuit of money. He knew he’d no doubt think of more examples tonight, when he looked back at previous interactions with New Jerusalem.

Caleb read a few more items from the stack of legal papers. The hand writing was on the wall. They could not fight New Jerusalem, the sided with the Apostles. The Servants agreed, unnecessarily, to send the requested money. Although they grumbled, no one wanted to surrender the little power and prestige they had.

When he returned home, Judith asked him how the meeting went. He told her about the new schedule for Servant committee meetings and New Jerusalem’s confiscation of the Gathering’s money.

“I don’t think you should call it confiscation, if New Jerusalem needs our money, we can trust them to use it wisely.”

“That’s not the point. They shouldn’t just come in and take it. The Gathering donated funds to run the Gathering, and cover extra costs like the roof. They deserve a say in sending it elsewhere.”

She said it was The Lord’s money, the Apostles could spent it as they saw fit. When he said that New Jerusalem had to have made millions over the years, what did they do with that?

“Why are you so negative all the time lately? They used it to advance Disciple-making all over the world. No other religion preaches Paradise the way we do. It is The Lord’s command for this time.

“You need to work on your attitude. You’re trying to get facts and logic instead of faith.”

Samuel, having no response to that, started getting ready for bed. He knew he was running headlong into a wall. 

Armageddon’s Slaves © Jeffrey Thomas  All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. All events and characters are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental

Friday, August 26, 2016

Armageddon's Slaves Chapter Twenty-four

It took Amazon a few extra days to find a copy of “The Crumbling Foundation” for him. After he finally received it, he read it, a few pages at a time on his lunch breaks. It was a real eye-opener, but he forced himself to read slowly, verifying quotes as he read. So far, every time he located another source for a quote, what was in the book proved accurate. Sometimes he had to search many different sources before finding the quotes he needed.

But he felt all the extra effort was worth it. If he was to convince Judith The Word contained deep flaws, he had to make sure that every single point he made was correct, and provable. Even with that, he feared he could not convince her. The Word had the resurrection and Charlene, he had…he wasn’t sure what he had. He knew he could no longer follow a lie, but what would replace it? He’d grown up knowing that all “Christian” religions apart from The Word were imitations of the true religion, run by crooks and liars, agents of Satan. He didn’t think he could join another church. Besides, he might just find problems there, too.

The first few chapters of the book confirmed his understanding of where The Foundation went wrong with its prophetic interpretations. Mainly, it should never have tried them. History was full of false prophecies based on methods similar to, or even identical to the years-for-days ideas advanced by Apostle Adderly. As the author noted “the plethora of dates for the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world, strewn across the historic landscape, serve as warning not to attempt such things. So far the failure rate is 100%, there is no reason to believe someone else will do better.”

He started to skim a chapter discussing the doctrinal flaws in The Word’s understanding of various Biblical doctrines. It didn’t interest him, as he still believed many of The Word’s basic articles of faith. But then he noticed an emerging pattern. The Word always taught the various Christian churches all called the others heretics for not holding the correct beliefs. He’d already noticed on his travels for work, that this did not hold true for some. Now he learned that far from arguing continuously over beliefs, most Christians accepted a common understanding of core beliefs. Those beliefs lay distinctly outside what New Jerusalem taught, it was The Word that advanced strange doctrines, not found elsewhere.

Disciples took pride in this, seeing it as proof they were right. He began to hold a new opinion, when everyone else tells you have it wrong, you have it wrong.

The next chapter, entitle “It’s Not About Doctrine” looked more appealing to him. It covered the religion’s most worrisome aspects; the lack of caring for others, the rules, and enforced shunning. He quickly found that it contained information he’d never thought about. It also explained the difficulty of breaking free.

“This chapter details the most egregious problems with The Word of God Foundation: lack of transparency in its financial dealings and decision making; the many harmful and unscriptural rules it imposes on its members, and the means it uses to insure compliance with those rules. In order to understand how the religion imposes this structure on its members, we need to examine the methods it uses to control their ability to think for themselves, using Steven Hassan’s BITE model.”

Hassan, a mental health professional formerly associated with the Unification Church wrote and taught extensively on the subject of abusive religions. “BITE” stood for Behavior, Information, Thought and Emotion.* A quick look at his website convinced Samuel the Word of God fit the model in many ways. The Word controlled its member’s behavior, even such personal matters as dress and grooming. It limited contact with Outsiders, instilled fear in the Disciples, and pulled on their emotions.

He thought of Judith crying in front of a cheap movie, New Jerusalem had her emotions locked-in to focus on The Word’s teachings. The Foundation controlled the information flow by severely limiting what the Disciples could read or see. It did this by instilling fear and encouraging peer pressure. It kept the Disciples so busy they didn’t have time to look at anything even if they felt so inclined. The copy of “1984” David gave him was the first book written by a non-Disciple he’d read since graduating from high school. No wonder he had such a hard time opening his mind and deciding what to do!

He put the book down and went back to work, looking forward to a continuation of his studies.



“What is it David?”

“You know I got several offers. I’ve decided to go to Bellevue College. It has the best medical technology program in the state.”

His son smiled proudly, “I’m getting a large scholarship that I applied for a couple of months ago.”

Samuel grinned and congratulated his son, shaking his hand. He said he was proud, then he realized that he about a million questions, but David had one of his own. Would his father have trouble at the Gathering House? After a moment’s thought, he said no, he no longer cared what they thought. He was ready to let the chips fall where they may.

“Where are you going to live? You’ve never been away from home.”

That was silly, every year millions of eighteen year olds left home and went to school.

“Keith DeRoche, a friend from school is going there for the same program. He and I can rent a basement apartment from his aunt. It’s only about a mile from campus. The rent will be cheap and I can get a work-study on campus to pay my expenses.”

“Sounds like you thought of everything. I need to think about how I’m going to talk to your mother.”

“Dad, I don’t want to cause more trouble between you and Mom, but I have to do this.”

“I know.”

The two talked pleasantly for a minute or two, then David went back down the hall to his room, and Samuel turned to the work reports on his computer. But he couldn’t concentrate on work. He kept thinking of what he’d read about all the rules The Word imposed on the Disciples. This provided a perfect example, why was education wrong?

Now that he’d been doing some research, he knew the real answer to that question. The Apostles said that education was a useless pursuit aimed only at success in this world. Disciples aimed for success in the world to come, The Lord’s Paradise. But education interfered with New Jerusalem’s control of its members. Educated people were harder for the Apostles to control.

When he went to bed himself a short time later Judith was sitting up and reading the latest “Word of God” magazine. “The Word” contained material intended for use in Disciple-making, it contained articles aimed at the public, not Disciples. Judith, Luke and the Larsons were the only people Samuel knew that read it from cover to cover.

She put the magazine down on the covers as he entered the room.

“What are you reading?” he asked.

“David told you he’s going to college.” Her voice was flat, conveying a curious mixture of emotionless despair and anger.

“He did.”

She took a deep breath, pursing her lips. “Well, we can’t let him go. It’s contrary to our instructions from New Jerusalem.”

Samuel answered that he didn’t think it was a matter of “letting” him go. He was going with or without their agreement.

“Caleb and Luke will remove you from the Servant Committee. They will restrict David, maybe even Cast him out. How can you let this happen, we’re so close to the end?”

She started to sob, her words coming out in broken confusion.

“David should be going to New Jerusalem… or Disciple- making fulltime Disciple-making… or going to missionary school… he has an opportunity to travel… he has endless opportunities within The Word. Instead he’s going to run off to college like an Outsider!”

He pointed out that other Disciple children were going to college. She didn’t care. The kids going to school were mostly going to trade schools, a year at most and they’d be doing what they were supposed to be doing working, Disciple-making, and getting married.

“I thought we’re going to be in Paradise in a year.” Samuel said without thinking.

“So that’s it. You don’t really believe we’re that close to Paradise do you?” she said with cold fury. Suddenly her voice changed to a wail, “How can you?” she burst into tears. “I’m going to lose you and David like I lost Charlene. I’ll spend forever without you.”

Tears poured down her cheeks. He walked around to her side of the bed and sat on the cover next to her. He put a hand on her shoulder, “Honey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”

She pushed his hand away, then suddenly grasped it tightly, pulling him toward her. She flung an arm around him, “Don’t leave me. I don’t want to live forever without you. Or David.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“Good,” she sniffed and pulled a tissue from the box on the nightstand. “I feel like this job promotion is pulling you away. You should be working harder on these new responsibilities as a Servant. It’s exciting times, but it’s going to be a lot of work. But the reward will be worth it.”

She patted the bed next to her, “Come to bed. Hold me and tell me it will be all right.”

He smiled, “it will be all right.”

Later he lay staring at the shadows on the ceiling. The book was right. He knew she loved him, but New Jerusalem, the Apostles, the Gathering, had first claim on her emotions. He needed to figure out what he’d do if she couldn’t break free.

*Information on the BITE model can be found at 
  - JAT

Armageddon’s Slaves © Jeffrey Thomas  All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. All events and characters are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Armageddon's Slaves Chapter Twenty-three

Caleb and Samuel sat down in the upstairs library after the Sunday Gathering, their wives having driven home together. Samuel noted that Caleb came alone, a good sign. If he’d brought another Servant, it would mean he was forming a review committee. That fact that he was alone at least meant he wasn’t that far into the process. Yet. It still did not bode well that he wanted to meet in the Gathering House rather than at a coffee shop or something.

“I just wanted to chat about a couple of things,” as always the words themselves implied a casual conversation. His tone didn’t. But Samuel knew Caleb’s moods. He decided years earlier that Caleb was constitutionally incapable of relaxing. He tried to control his tone and emotions, to keep the “chat” as informal as possible.

“Okay, what’s on your mind?”

“You’re spending a lot of time with Matt Edwards.”

How did Caleb know that?

“Well, we take lunch together once a week. Our employers aren’t too far apart. So we meet and just chat about stuff. Nothing serious.”

“You are not counseling him about anything specific?”

“No. I think he’s feeling a little…I don’t know like he can’t figure out how to do more.”

He needed to play his cards carefully here. Caleb seemed focused on Matt. He had to make sure that he didn’t give away what he and Matt talked about. They’d both be in front of review committees.

“I see. Has he said anything about Gloria Lighthorse or asked about Ricky Halbert?”

“No. Why?”

Caleb explained that they were still having trouble over “that mess.” Ricky’s family, including an Apostle, was trying to limit the investigation. It created a division among the Apostles. Apostle Halbert might have to resign, an unthinkable problem at this stage of world events.

“Matt Edwards has a connection with Gloria Lighthorse…” Caleb went on.

“Before she got in trouble, she was Matt and Laura’s babysitter.”

“We know that,” Caleb snapped, “we think there is an improper relationship between her and Matt. I wanted to see if you have any hint of that. She seems to have some problems, it may have influenced her behavior with Ricky.”

Samuel seethed on the inside. They were going after Matt on trumped-up charges. Why on Earth would they do that? An accusation like this could ruin the man’s life!

“I can’t imagine Matt doing anything like that. He’s devoted to Laura, I’m sure of that. He’s just not sure if he measures up as a Disciple.”

“He needs to show up for Gatherings and Disciple-making more. That will fix his problem.”

“I’ll do that,” was what Samuel said to Caleb. What he thought was “I’ll show him how to inflate his next monthly Disciple-making report. If he reports more time, they may find somebody else to bother. Maybe they’ll leave me alone, too.”

“How are you doing,” Caleb probed.

“I’m doing fine.”

“I’ve been a little worried about you lately. You aren’t zealous anymore. Some exciting events are coming up. We aren’t supposed to know, but Luke can’t keep quiet. Even he doesn’t know the details, but some big stuff is coming.”

“I understand. I’ve just been in a slump lately, I’ll pull out of it somehow.”

Caleb ended by encouraging him to stay on top of the developments, they were coming fast.

As he drove home, Samuel pondered the situation. He still had no idea what the Apostles planned for the next few months. Whatever they planned, it was clear they would tolerate no dissent. They would allow nothing less than complete loyalty, and absolute obedience to their commands.


Matt shifted around in his seat uneasily. He took a long look through the restaurant window before turning back to face Samuel.

“How does he know we’re having lunches together?”

Samuel shrugged. He pointed out that as a real estate agent, Caleb spent a lot of time driving around. Probably he’d spotted them. Jumping to conclusions about wrongdoing fit his style.

“He’s obsessed with everybody else’s business and problems. Sophia is even worse.”

“Ah-ha.” Matt lit up suddenly. “Sophia, Judith, and Laura went shopping after Disciple-making Saturday. Laura told me they’re real concerned with what I’m doing. She said they think that I’m dragging her down and hurting her spiritually.”

“What did you say to her?”

“I said work was keeping me busy and I was finding it hard to get to Gatherings and out in Disciple-making. I told her she could go to Gathering without me. She said it was too much work to take the kids alone. I think the Servants, well Caleb mainly, are trying to use her to get to me.”

Samuel agreed. New Jerusalem was prying into every report from the Gatherings. Any drop in the number of Disciple-makers or the time they put in would reflect badly on Caleb. They had issued new instructions about accounting reports, they were going to watch those like hawks too.

“Maybe we should stop meeting, it would give them one less thing to gripe about.”

Samuel shook his head. Caleb, knowing he’d brought the matter up, would immediately decide they were doing something wrong and trying to cover it up. If they kept right on having lunch together, he could tell Caleb he was trying to encourage Matt.

“Give it a couple weeks, he’ll find some other stupid thing to worry over. He likes the drama of new problems, fixing them isn’t as much fun.”


He came home that evening to find Judith in front of the TV. He recognized the DVD at once. For years, one of the features of the summer Grand Gatherings had been full dress plays reenacting well-known Bible incidents. A few years earlier, the Foundation started producing film versions on DVD. Judith was watching the first one, “The Joy of the Resurrection.”

Samuel had never liked the films, now with his newfound thinking, he liked them less. The acting and production values looked like something put together by creative but poorly equipped and trained high school students. The scripts lacked any degree of sophistication. They were obvious public relations pieces. Ostensibly, the Apostles planned them as part of a campaign to make The Word appear technologically savvy. In fact, they made it look behind the times.

On top of everything else, they tried to use Eastern Washington as a stand-in for the Holy Land, and Paradise looked suspiciously like Mt. Rainier National Park.

Judith sat in her favorite chair, leaning forward. If she heard him enter the room, she didn’t look up, but watched the TV, transfixed, her hands covering her mouth and nose. He knew the movie well, she watched it so many times she must have had every second memorized.

It depicted Lazarus’ resurrection with remarkable emotion, women wailing at his death, and weeping with joy when he returned to life. It also depicted the death of Eutychus, a young Greek who went to sleep in a window while listening to Paul preach. When he fell out the window and died, Paul brought him back to life. It presented the death and resurrection of Jesus dramatically. All these events showed the power of The Lord to bring the dead to life.

The film ended with several scenes of celebrations in Paradise as families reunited with loved ones in the Resurrection. At that point, Judith always cried, no doubt picturing herself and Charlene together again. The film was sentimental, obviously intended to pull on the emotional heartstrings of vulnerable people. Samuel had never heard of any Outsider impressed by the film, it did inspire many Disciples to look forward to Paradise and redouble their efforts to please The Lord.

Samuel went to the kitchen to find a snack. Shortly Judith joined him. Red showed in her eyes, and she’d smeared her makeup. She walked up and put her arms around his neck, pulling him close. He held her for a moment, smelling her hair. For a moment, old feelings stirred, emotions from their early days together.

Then the moment vanished, she pulled away from him and said, “I can hardly wait to get through this year. So much is happening. Clearly The Lord is guiding The Word through these last days.”

“Yes, events are happening quickly.”

Caught up in her own world, she didn’t notice the lack of enthusiasm in his voice. It angered him. The leaders of his religion were deliberately misleading his wife and God knew how many others, with false promises. No doubt, The Word’s numbers of conversions and donations would go up. What would happen to the people a year from now?

Armageddon’s Slaves © Jeffrey Thomas  All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. All events and characters are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Armageddon's Slaves Chapter Twenty-two

They had planned to go out in Disciple-making together on Saturday morning. But when he woke up, Samuel couldn’t summon the energy to get going. He told Judith he didn’t feel well. David also begged off, a common event these days. This clearly annoyed his mother, who told him he needed to apply himself to The Word more diligently. He wisely let this comment slide.

“You need to get moving to,” she snapped at Samuel, “this new job is interfering with your relationship with The Lord. It isn’t right, time is short, we’re about to collect our reward and you want to spend your weekends sleeping in, instead of serving The Word.”

Samuel didn’t want another lecture, and snapped back at her, “You know that’s what’s wrong. I dedicated myself to The Lord Almighty, not a bunch of men sitting behind big desks telling me what to do.”

She stared at him. Her mouth worked for a few seconds, but no words came out. He knew he needed to walk that back quickly.

“I’m sorry, Honey. I don’t feel well, I’m tired, and this new program means extra work on the Servant Committee. I shouldn’t have said that, and it’s not how I really feel.”

“Well I hope not. This is an important time. Don’t forget we’re going to see Charlene soon.”

“I know,” he answered wearily, “like I said I’m tired. I’ll work on my attitude.”

Judith pulled out her phone and arranged to work with Sophia. Caleb, it turned out had to go show a house. Samuel started to speak then held his words. He wasn’t the only one skipping Disciple-making. His wife already had plenty to say to Sophia between houses.

After Judith left he went to his den, and turned on the computer. Not sure what wanted he wanted to do, he shuffled through some books and papers. Nothing interested him. Maybe he’d clean up some, the place needed it. He opened the closet door, it contained nothing but old junk. The shelf held a few boxes, he couldn’t remember what was in them, they’d been there for years.

The first one contained cassette tapes. Good grief, he wasn’t even sure Goodwill would take them. He poked through them for a minute, he didn’t expect to find anything interesting. Then one caught his eye, the label read “Grand Gathering, Seattle, 2007.” This was it! The recording he wanted. Long used to newer technology, he’d been looking for a CD, not a tape. Even The Foundation’s website didn’t have a recording, he suspected because they didn’t want anybody to hear it.

He rummaged around the closet and found the old tape player. He dusted it off and plugged it in. Another miracle, it worked. He put in the tape and hit play. The quality was terrible, but he could still understand it.

"Do you believe?"

"Yes," the crowd shouted back.

"Do you affirm that The Lord God Almighty established His Foundation, the Word of God in 1933?"


"Do you affirm that seven years later he cast Satan to the earth as demonstration of that power?"


“Do you believe the year 1941 is marked in Scripture, a signpost of the approaching time of the end?


Do you believe the year 1948 and the creation of the State of Israel marked another signpost pointing to His Paradise?


"Do you affirm the Lord God Almighty is your Lord and Master?"


"Do you affirm that this world is ending, and that only the Godly will see the Paradise on Earth?"


"Do you affirm the Apostles of The Word of God Foundation are His visible representatives?"

Again the crowd roared its response.

With each affirmation, the assembled Disciples responded with growing enthusiasm. Rodgers paused for effect. The crowd grew quiet again, expecting the climax of the speech.

The Chief Apostle, who had been shouting louder with each question suddenly spoke quietly.

"Do you, personally, affirm that you accept direction from The Lord's Apostles, as His representatives...”?

The crowd began to clap and shout even before Rodgers finished his sentence, making it hard to hear on the tape.

"...And do you affirm that it is your obligation to carry the message of His Apostles to an ungodly world..."

The applause and shouting grew louder

"...and will you carry that message, in defiance of all obstacles, in defiance of Satan..."

As scattered shouts resounded around the stadium, he grew quiet again, although he had been growing louder.

"...In defiance of your own doubts, which Satan may plant in your mind."

Rodgers suddenly boomed forth in full voice.

"Disciples of The Word the question is simple: will you serve Satan or will you serve The Lord God Almighty, as directed by his apostles...GIVE YOUR ANSWER NOW!"

The crowd went into a frenzy, a roar, on the tape recorder it sounded like a huge storm of static.

“My fellow disciples, careful examination of scriptural chronology, world history, and fulfilled prophecy all give clear indications.”

He paused again for effect. More cheers and applause punctuated the pause, it sounded like static.

“The Day of the Lord is at Hand.”


“The time for God’s Disciples to be downtrodden at the hands of his enemies is over.”

More cheers.

“Our victory is NOW.

“Next year, 2008, marks the fulfillment of the 1335 days of the book of Daniel, the final signpost pointing to the Great Day of The Lord.”

“Do you expect great events in this marked year of our Lord?”

The cheers of the crowd overwhelmed the tiny recorder’s ability to repeat the sound.

“I take it you are ready to live in Paradise.”

“Yes, my fellow Disciples we know that this year’s series of Grand Gatherings, ‘Paradise is at Hand, will be the last held on this wicked Earth before the Lord Almighty removes sin forever…”

A pause for cheers. Samuel smiled at the memory. He thought maybe he’d climbed onto his seat, everybody had been crazy.

“Yes, my friends, next year will see Paradise brought to the Earth, A Paradise the Bible foretold many years ago…”

The cheering crowd overwhelmed the tinny voice on the cassette.

“… a message preached by The Word of God Foundation for seventy four years is now arriving.”

The tape stopped a minute or two later, leaving him sitting in his chair staring at the machine. His memory did not deceive him. John Rodgers himself had promised the arrival of Paradise in 2008. How could a man claiming direct guidance from The Lord Almighty be so wrong? Why would anybody believe him now? But clearly four million Disciples all over the world, hung on every word he uttered. It was ridiculous. A wave of sadness swept over him. That was Charlene’s last Grand Gathering.


Judith came home around midafternoon. Samuel assumed that she and Sophia went to lunch or shopping or something after morning Disciple-making. She responded to his casual questions with cold indifference.

“I cleaned my den this morning.”

“Good for you. I’m glad you found something you thought worth doing.”

He apologized for not going out in Disciple-making with her, again saying he didn’t feel well. She showed no interest in his excuse.

“Caleb says the Disciple-making is more important now than ever before. This is the Outsiders last chance to accept The Word. Their salvation depends on our preaching efforts. If there’s someone out there that would respond if you talked to them, it’s your obligation to go talk to them.”

“Don’t you think that if The Lord wants somebody to hear The Word, he’ll make sure it happens? That’s what Jesus said.”

“The Lord also says we’ll be bloodguilty if we don’t do enough preaching. We could die at Armageddon if our faith is lacking, and we show our faith by preaching The Word.”

Samuel decided to let it drop. There was no reasoning with her. He wanted to play the tape from the 2007 Grand Gathering, but this wouldn’t be the time. He had hoped it might wake her up. Probably it would make no difference, she would stand by The Word no matter what.

That evening he got the call that set in motion the storm that would alter his life.

“Hi Caleb, what’s up.”

“I would like to talk to you privately tomorrow after Gathering.”

He felt a cold hand on his shoulder, Caleb’s tone was ominous.

“What about?”

“Oh, nothing big. We’re just worried about you.”

“I’m doing fine, but if you want to chat that’s alright by me.”

“Good. See you tomorrow.”

Armageddon’s Slaves © Jeffrey Thomas  All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction. All events and characters are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental