Tick tock goes the doomsday clock
(CNN) – For months theyâ€™ve been spreading the word, answering the biblical call of Ezekiel 33 to sound the alarm and warn the people.
Their message, which they say the Bible guarantees, is simple: The end of the world is near.
And now, itâ€™s suddenly really near – so near that if these folks are right, you should probably pass on buying green bananas.
Perhaps youâ€™ve already noticed, what with the billboards and signs dotting the landscape, the pamphlets blowing in the wind and the RVs plastered with Judgment Day warnings weaving through cities. Or maybe, as the birds chirped outside and you sipped your morning coffee, a full-page newspaper ad for the upcoming mass destruction caught your eye.
May 21, 2011, according to loyal listeners of Family Radio, a Christian broadcasting network based in Oakland, California, will mark the Day of Rapture and the start of Judgment Day (which, they say, will last five months). Those who are saved will be taken up to heaven, and those who arenâ€™t will endure unspeakable suffering. Dead bodies will be strewn about as earthquakes ravage the Earth, they say. And come October 21, theyâ€™ll tell you, the entire world will be kaput.
Itâ€™s the kind of belief that riles up churchgoers who insist no one can know when Judgment Day will come, and the sort that many say does a disservice to Christianity. And itâ€™s the kind of message that delights the types who are planning tongue-in-cheek End of the World parties and are responding to a Facebook invitation to attend a post-rapture looting. Rapture events, including one at a tiki bar in Fort Lauderdale, are being hosted by American Atheists. News outlets, comedians and even Doonesbury canâ€™t seem to resist a good end-of-the-world prophecy.
Billboard battle over Judgment Day
Earlier this year, CNN traveled with a team of believers – all of whom had walked away from friends, families and jobs – as they set out to share this serious message aboard a caravan of Judgment Day RVs. These ambassadors or co-laborers in Godâ€™s work, as they see themselves, let us into their world. Along the way we met other supporters, as well as a sea of skeptics, many of them drunken pirates gathered for an annual festival in Florida.
With only days to go, we wanted to know how the ambassadors are feeling now. Are they making special plans and saying goodbyes? Have their convictions stayed strong, or have doubts crept in? Are they at peace, excited or maybe afraid?
â€œWeâ€™ve been a little busy, as you can imagine,â€ said Fred Store, the team leader on our journey.
Reached at a motor home park in Providence, Rhode Island, Store spoke of the surge of support heâ€™s seen in recent months â€“ the 60 like-minded people (including someone who works for Homeland Security, he boasted) who joined his small crew on the Mall in Washington, and the hundreds who gathered in Times Square in New York.
But at the same time he said resistance from those who donâ€™t believe has grown, too. The more people heard about the May 21 warning, the more they discussed it with their pastors and came prepared to argue.
Learn about doomsdays throughout time
And the media, while theyâ€™ve helped spread the message, will be turned away in the coming days. CNN hoped to be with Store and his team on doomsday, but the members said they needed that time to focus on their relationship with God. Perhaps thatâ€™s just as well, as an official at Family Radio headquarters pointed out: â€œWhat makes you think youâ€™ll be able to get to them? The roads will be a mess,” he said, referring to the expected earthquakes. Plus, Store said, even if we got there, there would be no time to edit and publish, so what’s the point?
Storeâ€™s faith remains unwavering. Come Saturday, he and his team will be in Boston, standing in a spot with heavy foot traffic, passing out their pamphlets â€“ which they call tracts â€“ and doing what they believe God called them to do until the very end.
No longer with the team is Darryl Keitt, who ditched his caravan on May 6. He said his time on the RV was a â€œgift from God,â€ but he decided he needed to spend the last couple of weeks focusing on his non-believing family and friends in New Jersey. It was a decision he prayed about for several weeks.
His Elizabeth, New Jersey, apartment is pretty sparse, seeing as he gave away most everything before hitting the road.
â€œI was able to get my old place back,â€ he said. â€œBut we only have four days to go, so I donâ€™t need much.â€
Heâ€™s reaching out to old friends and hoping his family will come around and believe what he says he knows to be true.
â€œI have not seen any signs that they are believing the message,â€ he said. â€œBut I canâ€™t read anybodyâ€™s heart; only God can. And Iâ€™m still praying for them. All I can do is continue to share my convictions.â€
Tisan Dawud may not share his older half-brother’s beliefs, but he supports the positive nature of what Keitt’s doing and is awestruck by his dedication.
“He’s trying to spread what he believes is the word of God, and I can’t knock him for that,” Dawud said Tuesday evening. “I became Muslim when I was very young, and he remained Christian. But I’ve always had respect for his beliefs, and he always had respect for my beliefs.”
And rather than criticize or ridicule his brother, who he said isn’t hurting anyone, Dawud wishes people would focus on those who deserve examination and condemnation – those selling drugs, molesting children, raping women or embezzling money, for example.
Keitt spends his days in prayer, reaching out to people on Facebook, listening to Family Radio and walking around his neighborhood in his Judgment Day cap and T-shirt. He ran out of tracts some time ago, and at this point itâ€™s too late to order any more, he said. As for where heâ€™ll be on Saturday: â€œItâ€™s a good question,” and one he’s still considering.
He doesnâ€™t like goodbyes, he said, and only told two people in his caravan team of 10 that he was leaving. He gave those two men, one of them Store, a quick hug and that was it.
â€œPreferably weâ€™ll meet each other again,â€ Keitt said, â€œin heaven.â€
Dennis Morrell was driving through Jacksonville, Florida, pulling his Judgment Day billboard trailer, when we reached him on his cell phone. He wasnâ€™t part of the caravan of RVs but was among the Floridians who joined in to help Storeâ€™s team when they were in the city.
Morell and his wife quit their jobs to focus on warning others, a move thatâ€™s left their four kids â€“ ages 17 to 24 â€“ thinking â€œMom and Dad are crazy,â€ he said.
He still hopes God will â€œopen their spiritual eyes,â€ he said. â€œBut theyâ€™re at an age where they love their lives. They donâ€™t want this world to come to an end.â€
His faith, though, is as firm as ever, and he wishes others would open their minds and hearts to this possibility.
â€œWhy would you wait to see if this is actually going to happen? You have that option to cry out for mercy,â€ he said. â€œI donâ€™t want to die and go to hell. Do you?â€
He plans to spend the last days praying, up until the early hours of Saturday – when heâ€™ll both pray and wait for 16 hours.
Why 16 hours? Morrell explained that the massive doomsday earthquake will start at the International Date Line before moving west. New Zealand, he said, will get hit first â€“ at 6 p.m. local time. And then that wave of destruction will roll around the world, wreaking havoc at 6 p.m. in each time zone.
While Morrell expects heâ€™ll reserve Saturday for private time, Benjamin Ramrajie of Ocala, Florida, doesnâ€™t have any special plans.
We met Ramrajie in Tampa after his 7-year-old daughter issued a doomsday warning about how the sun would â€œturn red like blood.â€ He stood by and nodded his approval as she spoke about dead bodies and her fears of dying.
â€œMost of my family doesnâ€™t agree 100 percent, and I donâ€™t blame them because it is far-fetched,â€ he said. â€œI strongly believe itâ€™s going to happen. But I just figure Iâ€™ll relax, maybe watch TV. If thatâ€™s the day we get raptured, great. If not, weâ€™ll move on.â€