Throwback Thursday: In Which History Repeats Itself (sort of)
The preacher’s wife drew a long, deep breath, pulling everyone into her orbit before delivering her prophesy of doom.
An army from the North is planning to invade us, she warned. They will slaughter all the Christians and destroy America. God revealed all of this to me in a dream…Can I get a witness?
Her husband stood beside her, nodding as he thumbed through his gold-leafed Bible. By the time she’d finished speaking, he’d settled on the Book of Revelation.
Armageddon is upon us, he said to the frightened crowd. We must build a ‘city of refuge,’ as a fortress against those who would persecute us. It will take some doing…We need money, and we need to move quickly.
In the immediate aftermath of WWII, it didn’t take much for that audience to hear “army from the North” and think: Russia! Pentecostals especially, who believed the End Times were near. This is a sign, the preacher said, and my sweet Nana believed him.
She wasn’t alone.
She handed over every last penny of her earthly possessions, as did most members of that congregation. Sensing immediate peril, they fled their peaceful, tree-lined neighborhoods for a religious enclave in the high desert– a pockmarked wasteland called Eden City. Jewelry, property deeds, pin money and savings bonds…the pastor pocketed all of it.
In this photograph, Nana and her sisters harvesting corn–backbreaking labor that she performed with a cheerful heart, because she believed it was “God’s will.” A 50-year-old widow at the time, she also bore sole responsibility for my mother, the preteen who’s peering through the windshield of that truck. They slept together in a canvas tent, scratched seedlings into the hardscrabble earth, and stored provisions in the bomb shelter they’d built as protection against an imminent invasion.
Snowy winters. Blistering summers. Strangers, in a strange land. But Nana’s faith sustained her, even when the prophesy never came to pass…even when their religious leader was eventually exposed as a huckster.
And it occurred to me this morning–70 years after Nana’s preacher was hauled into court–that we’ve found ourselves on the other side of the looking glass. In a stunning course reversal, the President speaks in cozy terms about Russia. He’s dividing us from within, using fear as a weapon. We must build a wall, he warns, as a fortress against the imminent threat of Other. He’s leveling our shining City on the Hill, one blatant overreach at a time, and erecting in its place a personal empire. Our nation will be made new–protected by God, Trump says–so long as we believe him over our lying eyes and trust his vision.
“End Times” prophesies had a significant impact on my life, as did Eden City. I’ve included both in my memoir, CAN I GET A WITNESS?