"Another one!" Rayford exclaimed to himself as he sat at his desk late one night in January.

 

It had been eighteen months since the Straits had joined the Jesans. Rayford's keen interest in Bible prophecy, and his natural aptitude for teaching, had catapulted him to a leadership role in the tiny community. He wondered how he could have ever been happy as an airline pilot. Life had been so exciting since he had made the dramatic decision to let go and give everything to God.

 

Rayford's role in the community had triggered a commitment from Neville too, who was thrilled to be able to work full-time with Rayford on something he was good at... computers. Neville was like a young man again, and Mary, who hardly ever said a word, was happy to see the change in her husband.

 

The two men had been working together for more than a year, with Rayford producing articles on a wide range of topics (but especially on how each topic related to what was happening in world events at that time), and with Neville setting up a web page where people could go to access all of the material that Rayford was producing. Some days Rayford would produce four or five articles in a single day. Much of the inspiration for them came from his involvement with the rest of the Jesans, and from thoughts which they shared from their stints out on the streets.

 

Neville installed a guest book, a hit counter, an internal search engine, and a tracker on their home page. He also developed an automatic study course, which would test people on a list of questions from one article before directing them to the next one. Neville made sure that the page was well represented on search engines all over the world, and he collected thousands of email addresses for a worldwide newsletter which Chloe and Reinhard produced once a month. The newsletter aimed at stimulating enough curiosity to get people to visit their web site.

 

"Look at this," Rayford said when he had finished reading the papers he had in his hands. He spun the chair around and shoved them toward Irene. "Six letters in today's snail mail, and they all sound like genuine seekers. Wouldn't it be great to get a new member out of this?"

 

Rayford had come to see the truth in the group's theory that God was deliberately blocking people from joining them. They had not had a new member since he had joined, and he had tried everything he could think of to locate the problem. About once a week they would get a promising letter from someone who had read one of their tracts or visited their website. But they rarely heard from these people again. Getting six serious enquiries in one day was unprecedented.

 

Irene skim-read the letters and then spoke. "Sounds great, doesn't it? What do you plan to do with them?"

 

"Neville and Mary will be away next week. I may try to get all six of them here on Monday. Then I won't have to answer the same questions over and over."

 

"Do you think it's wise to bring them here?" asked Irene. Group policy was not to give out Neville's address without counselling on it first.

 

"I have a feeling about this," Rayford said. "I think there's a connection with the Jerusalem talks."

 

Rayford was talking about a U.N. plan to construct a Temple in Jerusalem for the Jews. The world was gradually recovering from the destruction of America, and now there was time for people to consider other matters. Talks had been going on in Israel for the past two or three weeks. Secretary General Dangchao himself had been there for the past three days, and even the Pope was participating.

 

The Arabs had been adamant that there would be all-out war if anyone dared to touch the Dome of the Rock, their most sacred mosque. It had been built centuries earlier, almost on the original site of Solomon's Temple, where Jews had, for centuries, offered sacrifices to God. However, Dangchao had come up with a compromise package. It involved construction of a Jewish Temple on one side of the Dome of the Rock and a matching Christian temple on the other side. The sacred Muslim mosque itself would not be touched. The newly elected Pope Pius XIII had hinted that he was prepared to move from the Vatican to take up residence in Jerusalem, not far from the new Temple, as a symbol of Vatican commitment to this historic step toward religious unity.

 

Muslims were not thrilled about the offer, but there was something in Dangchao's manner that suggested he would not take "No" for an answer.

 

If people had thought that the Americans were biased in favour of the Jews, the Americans looked positively wishy-washy by comparison to Dangchao. U.N. troops had been increased in the holy city, and Muslims took it as a warning of what Dangchao might do if they turned down his Temple "offer".

 

"Talks in Jerusalem? I can't remember a time when there hasn't been some sort of talk making news in the Middle East," Irene commented.

 

"I know," Rayford answered. "Before I became a Jesan, I used to wonder why there was so much interest in the talks. Must've been because people in the know were looking for hints of the agreement even back then. Now, after all these years, we could be about to witness the real thing. If Dangchao pulls it off, it could confirm what I've been thinking about him."

 

What Rayford had been thinking was that Xu Dangchao was the prophesied Antichrist. Such a revelation was unthinkable to the general public, because all that Dangchao did seemed to be for the good of mankind. It was only because of Rayford's understanding of Bible prophecy that he felt there were sinister forces behind Dangchao's charisma. The one problem had been his name. According to Bible prophecy (Revelation 13:17-18), the numeric value of the letters in the name of the world's final ruler should add up to 666. Whatever system Rayford used (Greek, Hebrew, Latin, or even Dangchao's native Chinese), the value of the letters in his name fell short.

 

The only Roman numerals, for example, were X, D, and C, which equalled 610. The letters I, V, and L were needed, to make up the missing 56.* In Greek and Hebrew tallies, the figures were even farther out. Rayford did not know what to make of it. Yet there were other things that pointed to Xu Dangchao being the prophesied Antichrist.

 

Dangchao's success in taking control of the world through the U.N. was a hint of his special role, although, here too, Rayford had to admit that the nations of the world were not officially controlled by the United Nations yet. They still continued to operate independently of one another.

 

But Dangchao had built up U.N. military might to the point where U.N. troops were deployed in great numbers throughout the world. Because of their presence, the world had experienced total peace, if not total unity, during the year and a half since the collapse of America.

________
(*The letters I, V, X, L, C, and D (Roman numerals for 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, and 500) must all appear once (and only once), and the letter M (1,000) must not appear at all for a name to add up to 666 in Roman numerals.

 

Note: The names used in this book are totally fictitious. It is possible that the real Antichrist will have a name that adds up to 666 based on the numerical value of Latin, Greek and Hebrew letters.)

If Secretary General Dangchao were to succeed in getting a Temple for the Jews, then not only would Rayford be convinced that he was the Antichrist, but he would also be able to compute the exact number of days until Jesus would return.

 

Rayford was up late that night studying the six letters that he had received, and thinking about the proposed meeting on Monday. He refused meals on Saturday and Sunday, spending most of his time alone in his room or outside walking. He said only enough to Irene to let her know that nothing was wrong, either between the two of them or between Rayford and God. Instead, his intense meditation sprang from a sober anticipation about what God might be about to do.

 

When he phoned the enquirers on Saturday, Rayford found them all to be co-operative and hopeful. John Doorman and Sister Mary Teresa had jobs that allowed them to set their own hours. Matthew Baker and Sheila Armitage had no job. And the other two said they would take the day off on Monday, to be in on the meeting.

 

John Doorman was a 42-year-old Jehovah's Witness who found the Jesan interpretation of prophecy appealing. The Jesans taught that all governments were inherently evil, and that God was looking for a loyalty to himself that would transcend political issues. Doorman was also a pacifist. He had worked for a while as a missionary in his native Africa, where he had been jailed for a number of years for his beliefs. He had never been married, and he worked part-time as a handyman in order to make more time available for his church work.

 

Sister Mary Teresa was a 56-year-old Catholic nun with the Little Sisters of Jesus. She lived and worked with migrants in one of the poorest suburbs of London. She was attracted to the simple community lifestyle of the Jesans, and their idea of building a community composed of married couples and families, as well as celibate singles.

 

Matthew Baker was a 40-year-old Baptist who kept himself busy visiting hospitals and prisons, and passing out tracts on the streets. He was zealous about many moral issues and showed special appreciation for the Jesan stand on marriage and divorce. His wife had left him in the second year of their marriage, because she objected to his religious beliefs.

 

Sheila Armitage was a 70-year-old Quaker lesbian who was drawn to the group's tolerance of other religions, and their teaching that sincerity means more to God than theology.

 

Mike Anastopoulos was a 36-year-old student from Turkey, who was doing a doctorate in archaeology. He had no religious affiliation, but referred to himself as a "humanist". Mike expressed interest in what the Jesan community was saying about economics in general, and about survival outside of the economic and political system in particular.

 

Finally, there was Luis Rafael, a 29-year-old Pentecostal migrant from Brazil. He had, two years earlier, joined The Family, a radical Pentecostal community with controversial teachings about sex. Luis liked The Family's teachings on Bible prophecy and living by faith, but he had become disillusioned with some of their other teachings. He liked the Jesans' literal approach to the teachings of Jesus, and their tendency to use them as the standard by which to measure all other teachings.

 

Rayford had read through all of their letters several times on Friday night, and he had discussed some of the issues that interested each of them in his phone calls on Saturday. All six sounded like they were genuinely hungering after more truth, although there were the usual disturbing signs of prejudice in each of them as well. He prayed that God would give him the wisdom to deal with these prejudices as they came up on Monday.
* * *

 

Luis Rafael was the first to arrive on Monday morning. But Rayford had barely introduced him to Irene before the doorbell rang again... and again. By ten o'clock, all six seekers were nervously seated in Neville's living room.

 

"Let's see... Where shall we begin?" Rayford mumbled, half to himself. "How about if you start, by asking any questions you might have, and we'll do our best to answer them." He glanced over at Irene, as though looking for support.

 

Mike Anastopoulos, the agnostic archaeologist, had learned enough during introductions to know that all the others had religious affiliations. He spoke first. "Must we believe in God to be part of this group?"

 

"It depends on what you mean by believing in God," Rayford replied. He saw an immediate reaction from both Matthew and Luis, the two evangelical Christians in the room. They both shifted forward in their seats to better hear what Rayford was about to say.

 

"Theology doesn't save us," he said. "What saves us is faith in the highest revelation of God that we know. Call it "love" or "truth" if you like, but we call it God."

 

Mike seemed happy with that answer, but Matthew and Luis exchanged glances before Luis raised his hand to speak.

 

"I disagree," he said. "If someone's really sincere, then they would have to believe in God." John Doorman had reached into a briefcase that stood beside his chair, pulling out a small magazine, which he offered to Mike. "Jehovah God wants everyone to know him by name," he said. "There's an article in here that will help you."

 

"Is that a Watchtower magazine?" asked Matthew. "Are you a Jehovah's Witness?"

 

"Uh-oh," thought Rayford. This had been what he most wanted to avoid. Jehovah's Witnesses were despised by most mainline Christian denominations. All this enthusiasm in one room could accomplish powerful things for God, but only if it could be made to work in harmony. Already it was taking a turn that Rayford had seen religious zeal take many times before. He had believed that God was going to work a miracle today, but things were not looking that way at the moment.

 

"Yes, I am a witness for Jehovah," replied John Doorman, sticking his chin out with pride.

 

"And what about you?" Matthew Baker said, addressing Sister Mary Teresa. "I take it, from the way you're dressed, that you're a Catholic. Do you pray to Mary?"

 

"Well, I..." Sister Mary was lost for words.

 

"You see what's happening here?" Mike interjected, standing and pointing at Matthew. "This is why I never had any time for religion. Nothing but arguments and nit-picking. Here, take your magazine. I'm not interested." He handed the Watchtower back to John Doorman.

 

"Maybe we should all just..." Sheila began, hoping to calm people down; but she was interrupted, as Mike continued:

 

"I didn't come to hear what the rest of you have to say. I came to hear what the Jesans have to say!"

 

"It doesn't matter what the Jesans believe," shouted Luis, who had also jumped to his feet. "What matters is what the Bible says."

 

"And what if I don't happen to believe the Bible?" asked Mike, his chin out this time.

 

"Then maybe you don't belong here!" Matthew replied, also jumping to his feet, and taking a step in Mike's direction as he spoke.

 

Sheila quickly jumped between the two men, extending her arms in both directions, as though separating boxing opponents. "Why don't we just sit down and..."

 

But Luis spoke over the top of her. "The Bible says, in Acts 4:12, "Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven..."

 

"ENOUGH!"

 

There was disagreement about exactly what happened at that instant. Some of those present could not even agree as to whether Rayford said anything at all.

 

"It was more like an explosion," Luis said later, "except that it came out of his mouth."

 

Whatever it was, it sent people literally flying across the room and into one another. Sister Mary, the only one still seated at the time, had tipped over backwards in her chair. Only Irene, who was standing behind Rayford when it happened, escaped the blast. Some of the others had bruises from it. A flash of light had accompanied the explosion. It had filled the room and momentarily blinded everyone present.

 

Rayford himself was as shocked as anyone. But then he began to speak -- with an authority that he had never experienced before. It scared him, but it would have scared him even more not to have spoken, for he knew that what was coming out of his mouth at that moment was not his own words. They were the very words of God.

 

And when he spoke, the entire room was silent. People listened as they had never listened to anyone before.

 

"You are not here today because your doctrines are right. God has brought you here; and he has only done it because you are sincere. For two thousand years he has tolerated, and even engineered, some of the divisions that have existed between you and other believers. Many of you have preached your half-baked doctrines, believing that you had the whole picture, when you only had a part of it. You have promoted personalities and organisations in your ignorance. And you imagined that people following other doctrines and leaders and organisations were somehow inferior to yourselves.

 

"God left you ignorant, in most cases, to test your loyalty to him. He wanted to know if you would stay true to what you believed, even if it alienated you from your friends and family. And you are here today because you have each passed that test."

 

Then Rayford raised his voice again. "But NOW... now, it's time to grow up!" Some of those present scooted back from where they were sitting on the floor. They were cringing in expectation of another explosion.

 

But it never came. Rayford's voice softened instead.

 

"Please believe me. Your single claim to righteousness is the grace of God. He has chosen you entirely because of your sincerity -- not because of your theology... or your lack of it." He looked at Mike as he said the last few words.

 

Rayford picked up a stack of three-ring binders and proceeded to pass them out to the six people cowering in front of him. Over the past year, he had worked long hours to produce the material in those notebooks.

 

"There are articles in here on a wide range of topics," he said. "You are going to find some of them shocking. They will challenge some of your most sacred dogmas.

 

"Brothers and sisters," he said with a pause and a hint of a smile, "it's time to move into a deeper understanding of truth than any of you have ever known before. It's time to prove your sincerity by listening to one another, and by setting aside your prejudices when you do."

 

Rayford then tried to give the assembly a bigger picture of the significance of the moment.

 

"A treaty is being signed in Jerusalem today," he said. "Before sundown tonight, construction will begin on a new Temple in Jerusalem. But a far greater agreement has been made in heaven. God is going to build his Temple, and, believe it or not, he's going to use you people here to do it. We have entered the final seven years of church history. The Great Tribulation is just three and a half years away, and it is our job to prepare the world for that time."

 

Rayford paused again, to let the gravity of the situation sink in. Then he continued.

 

"The death of Jesus marked the end of organised religion. God has, for two thousand years, been dealing with people personally and individually, trying to build character and faith that goes beyond organisational affiliation.

 

"But now he's going to put all of the best qualities and bits of truth together to build his church, and not your own."

 

Mike, the humanist, was pleased to hear Rayford talking about things like individualism and character; but he was battling with the idea that this was all coming from a real God -- and a Christian one at that. Words like "church" and "Jesus" were hard for him to swallow. Mike was a bit of an anarchist too, and so talk of a new organisation also unnerved him.

 

In one way or another, each person in the room was facing a similar battle. They had been thrown together with people whom they had, for one reason or another, regarded as the enemy. But the presence of God there told them that Rayford was not just another guru trying to start another denomination.

 

Rayford went on: "Right now, in another part of the world, there is another meeting going on like this one. There are six other people like yourselves. One is a Hindu, one a Muslim, and one a Jew." What Rayford was saying came not from his own human understanding, but rather, he was speaking, as he had been from the initial shout, as the mouth of God.

 

"If you think you have differences to overcome, imagine how it must be for them. But God wants you people here, and the six people he has brought together elsewhere, to actually lead his endtime church through what lies ahead. You will become the 'judges' of this great movement. But you'll need to overcome your differences in order to do that.

 

"God's original plan for his people was for them to have twelve tribes, with tribal judges, to sort out problems as they arose. Not kings. Not dictators. But just tribal judges... people like Samuel, and Gideon, and Deborah." He glanced at Sheila and Sister Mary Teresa as he mentioned Deborah.

 

"Your job will be to help believers in your area of the world to know what is right and what is wrong. You won't be able to do that until you can overcome your differences, and until you can recognise the limitations of your own understanding."

 

Rayford could feel the anointing fading, and he spoke more as an equal with those present now.

 

"Brothers and sisters, I don't have all the answers. What I have prepared in these notebooks can act as a guide. But the bottom line is that you are going to have to learn how to hear God telling you things that you don't want to hear. You are going to have to learn to look past your own prejudices. We have a lot to learn in a very short period of time.

 

"We're going to try talking once again, but I want each of you to work harder at listening this time, and to pray long and hard before you speak. You each have something to contribute, but it may not be as much as you think you have."

 

The entire atmosphere in the room had been transformed. Everyone was subdued... humbled by the truth in what Rayford had said, and by the overwhelming presence of God in that room. Little by little, they broached some of the issues that separated them; but they did so timidly this time. When tensions arose, they would retreat into more prayer for more grace in their dealings with each other.

 

And so the Western half of the Twelve Tribes, as the movement came to be called, was born.