When he was back at the Hilton, Rayford opened the booklet. He noted on the back cover that Reinhard and his friends called themselves "Jesans". He then turned to the book's introduction:

 

We all find it easier to see faults in others than it is to see them in ourselves. The people of America are no exception. When you observe all the religious activity in the United States today, it is easy to see how people (both in and out of the churches) have been fooled into confusing religion with real faith. But religious activities, rituals, even emotional experiences have little to do with good old-fashioned obedience to the things that Jesus taught in the Bible. And America's disobedience will be punished before anyone else's, because those who know the most have the most to answer for.

 

The introduction went on...

 

If it is any consolation, the Bible promises that there will be an even bigger day of reckoning for the rest of the world than that which will fall on the United States of America. But the Bible also says that judgment must begin with those who claim to be God's people. (I Peter 4:17) And, as we will elaborate on in this booklet, the judgment of America is going to make the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah sound like a Sunday School picnic.

 

"Well, that much is true," thought Rayford Strait. He then read on:

 

It just happens that God often used a convenient heathen nation to judge his people--Israel. Because America is the New Testament equivalent of Israel, God will use atheistic communism to carry out his judgment on America. No big deal. It's not a spiritual competition between America and any other political power. It's just a matter of personal accountability on the part of those who should know better.

 

Billy Graham is reported to have once said, "If God doesn't destroy America, he owes Sodom and Gomorrah an apology." The assumption, of course, is that God should destroy America because of its homosexuality, or its atheism, or its prostitution, or gambling, or drugs, or abortions. But presumably not because of the sins of the churches: materialism, pride, hypocrisy, selfrighteousness, or any of the other things that Jesus actually got cranked up about.

 

Abraham assumed that there were at least 100 righteous people in Sodom in his day. He probably did so because many of them attended his synagogue or supported his evangelistic crusades. But God knew otherwise. Abraham had been deceived by religious double-talk. When Jesus compared the sins of Sodom to the sins of our day, he made no mention of homosexuality, witchcraft, or any of the sensational stuff. He just said the problem was materialism and family commitments, even amongst those who attended the synagogue (or whatever the "churches" were called in those days).

 

It was about at this stage that Rayford lost interest. He had maintained peace in his marriage through an unspoken truce with Irene: He would tolerate her church involvement if she would tolerate his non-involvement. At times he had consented to attend church in exchange for favours from her; but what the Jesans were suggesting was that he should get religion and alienate Irene at the same time. What a lose/lose situation!

 

He tossed the book into his travel bag and went to sleep.

 

At 5am Rayford returned to the airport to fly the 6am mercy flight to Toronto. A few hours out of London, he entered the satphone communication band. Unfortunately, most of that precious time was taken up with official information coming from airport control in Toronto.

 

As it happened, Rayford had made a short list of what needed to be said to Irene, so that he could make the best use of the few seconds that remained of satphone time, when the official business had been completed. Although it was after 3am in Illinois, Chloe answered on the second ring. "That was fortunate", thought Rayford. Chloe was a clearer thinker than Irene, and she would follow his instructions well.

 

"Chloe, this is Dad. I only have one minute, so listen closely. Do you have a pencil and paper handy?"

 

"Yes, Dad, but…"

 

"Good. Please turn the phone off for 48 hours after I hang up, so the battery will last longer. Got it?"

 

Chloe had already thought of that, and she had left the phone turned off for much of the previous day, since she knew her father could not have made another call for at least 18 hours. Although she badly wanted to share her news, she was still taking notes as she had been told to do. "Yes, I've got that. But, Dad…"

 

"I'll be in Toronto by 8:30 your time, and I'll make sure that the rescue people there know about you. I'll phone with more details on my way back to London in a couple of days."

 

"Dad!" Chloe shouted. "Mom's gone!"

 

"Gone? Gone where?" Rayford assumed that Irene had gone out to get some provisions, forgetting that it was three in the morning in Prospect Heights.

 

"I don't know! Somewhere in Montana. She went with Vernon and Elaine Billings yesterday. They think Jesus is out there. Raymie went with them. I tried to stop them, Dad. I tried!""

 

Although deeply shocked, it took only a moment for Rayford to conclude that his primary duty lay with rescuing Chloe now. Only a few seconds remained in the satphone link.

 

"Okay. We'll deal with that later," he said. "But for now, what's your situation, honey?"

 

Chloe, too, must have made a mental list of things to say. This was her chance to use it.

 

"I'm fine, Dad. Water is a bigger concern than food at the moment, but there's no urgent need. So far I'm feeling fine, just a bit tired."

 

He was getting more static than information now. Their window of communication was coming to an end.

 

"You're doing great, honey! I love you!" Rayford shouted, not knowing whether she heard any of it.

 

Then his thoughts returned to the shocker. Irene. Run off to Montana to find Jesus? Surely his wife was more sane than that! What could she have been thinking? Then he remembered Reinhard's expression of concern about Irene doing just that. How could this total stranger have known that she would behave so out of character? He had asked Reinhard for some practical advice, but then he had missed it when it was offered. How embarrassing!

 

The plane was on automatic, so Rayford turned to his first officer. "Can you watch things for an hour or so, Chris?" he asked.

 

The co-pilot squinted as he looked out the window to the path ahead of them. "Roger," he replied dutifully. "No problem."

 

Rayford fished the book which he had dismissed so casually a few hours earlier, out of his travel bag.

 

By the time they reached Canada, he had a much better understanding of what the Jesans were saying.

 

They had predicted a Russian missile attack over the North Pole. They had also prophesied that all survivors would be evacuated from America, and that the entire country would be abandoned because of fallout and because of the extent of the damage.

 

The recent rise in new diseases, an increase in the number and intensity of earthquakes, and spreading danger from destruction of the ozone layer were also referenced from Bible prophecy.

 

Other predictions had not yet taken place, and those interested Rayford even more. He made a mental note of each of them. In particular, he was struck by what the book had to say about changes in the United Nations.

 

From the news broadcasts it appeared that Russia's war with America had ended as quickly as it had started. Russia had even come forward with offers to assist in the American aid and evacuation operation. Secretary General Dangchao had held a press conference only hours after the news broke, in which he assumed responsibility for co-ordinating the relief effort. The whole attack was being treated more like a natural disaster than a war for which Russia was totally responsible.

 

That is not to say that whole nations were not outraged at what had taken place. But harsh reality was that they were totally occupied with the disaster itself, and even if they had not been, who had the military might to challenge Russia's new world order… now that America was gone? The psychological damage in much of the world was on a par with the physical damage in the U.S. Everywhere people were in shock, and yet there was no one to turn to.

 

It intrigued Rayford that the Jesans' little book could have so accurately predicted it all. It said that America's greed had actually created much of the world's poverty. The brain drain, monopolies on information technology, multinational investment strategies in the Third World, and the transformation of limited Third World farmland into luxury crops like tea, rubber, coffee, cotton, sugar, tobacco, spices, and fast-growing timber forests all depleted the Third World of badly needed labour, technology, and resources for their own development. Unbelievable waste in America came at the expense of the rest of the world. Even U.S. aid was calculated to enhance American power, through loans and military aid. At "best" American aid was like offering a band-aid to someone whom they had just tortured to death.

 

Rayford considered arguing with all that he read; but by the time that he had finished reading, he was starting to doubt a few of his own arguments.
* * *

 

It had been just over 24 hours since the first missiles had hit. Already hundreds of thousands of refugees were pouring into Canada. Few of the first arrivals were seriously injured, but most were showing early signs of radiation sickness: nausea, tiredness, loss of appetite. For some this would develop into dangerous infections, destruction of intestinal lining, brain damage, even death. This was the price they would pay for having exposed themselves so soon after the bombings.

 

The whole of Toronto (like other Canadian cities) was being pushed into action to accommodate their southern neighbours. It seemed already that things were out of control, and the real rush had barely begun. Over six million people would be processed through the city of Toronto alone over the next two months.

 

Rayford spent the next two days going from one agency to another looking for help for Chloe. He would telephone first, but whenever he found someone who might be hopeful, he would catch a cab and turn up in person, hoping to make himself known to some official who could give him favoured treatment when an opportunity arose to reach his daughter. Along the way, he donated a pint of blood, and put in a couple of hours constructing tents at a football field on the south side of the city. His interest was not totally selfish. He genuinely wanted to help.

 

In the end he had to settle for supplying particulars on Chloe, Irene, Raymie, and the Billingses to a growing international register, which would be used to determine the number of fatalities, and to link up loved ones as survivors turned up.

 

The Pan Con schedule called for Rayford to return to London on Friday evening. It was against normal regulations for him to be making a third flight in so few days; but personally, he would have been happy to leave earlier. In terms of reaching Chloe, he was almost as helpless in Toronto as he had been in London. But each flight meant one more call to Chloe… at least until the phone battery went dead.

 

Although Chloe, Raymie, and Irene were his main concern, Rayford had also been thinking about what Reinhard had said, and about his own relationship with God. He had always believed in God, even though he rarely mentioned it. In a crisis, he would instinctively ask for help from God. His arguments against the church were mostly excuses for his own indifference to spiritual matters. Nevertheless, he fully believed that real faith required something more than what he saw in the churches.

 

Now it looked like he might have found it. Churchy efforts to convert him had been an irritation; but the Jesans' very existence was deeply convicting. Here were people who apparently had the goods. They could see through the shallowness of religion--including American evangelicalism--and they were offering a real alternative. He was bothered by what he heard, but at the same time, he needed to know more.

 

So, on Friday morning, Rayford called the cell phone number that Reinhard had given him, to see if he could arrange a meeting with the Jesans, to take place when he had returned to London.

 

"Vee vill be distributing in Hounslow on Saturday, and spending tomorrow night at Heston services, on the M-4," Reinhard said.

 

"Don't you have an office?" Rayford asked.

 

"No, ve yust have a friend's garage, vere vee keep our tracts," Reinhard answered.

 

"But where do you sleep?"

 

"In zuh van. You vill see tomorrow," Reinhard promised.