NRA: The underground church

NRA: The underground church December 16, 2014

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 287-292

Buck Williams gets his first look at the completed secret shelter beneath New Hope Village Church, and he is impressed:

Buck was astonished at what he found at the church. Bruce had done such a good job camouflaging the shelter that Buck had almost not been able to find it again.

I’m impressed too. Bruce’s work on this hidden shelter is unbelievably good.

“Bruce had done an amazing amount of work since Buck had seen it just a few months before,” we’re told. And it really is amazing. Bruce installed a fake cinderblock wall in the back of the church’s basement furnace room. That, in turn, opens into another hidden chamber with six steps leading down to another door — this one marked “Danger! High Voltage, Authorized Personnel Only.”

That door is guarded with a secret locking apparatus so complex that it’s sure to confuse any would-be trespasser just as much as Jerry Jenkins’ description of it confuses the reader:

Buck gripped the knob and turned it first right and then left. He pushed the handle in about a quarter of an inch, then back out half an inch. It seemed to free itself, but still it didn’t turn right or left. He pushed in as he turned it slightly right and then left, following a secret pattern devised by Bruce. …

And behind that door is yet another false panel — “a man-sized circuit-breaker box” that was actually another secret door finally leading to the secret shelter beyond. (As musical accompaniment, I recommend playing Irving Szathmary’s “Theme From Get Smart” as you read these pages.)

Finally, Buck opens that third secret panel to reveal the Ikea showroom beyond:

Buck wondered when Bruce had had the time to get in there after hours and do all that work. No one else knew about it, not even Loretta,* so it was a good thing Bruce was handy. It was vented, air-conditioned, well-lit, paneled, ceilinged, floored, and contained all the necessities. Bruce had sectioned the 24-by-24-foot area into three rooms. There was a full bath and shower, a bedroom with four double bunk beds, and a larger room with a kitchenette on one end and a combination living room/study on the other.  …

Bruce had spared no expense. Everything was new. There was a freezer, a refrigerator, a microwave, a range and oven, and it seemed every spare inch possible had been converted into storage space.

It was, indeed, “a good thing Bruce was handy.” The one-time visitation pastor is apparently one of those guys who likes to mess around in his garage on the weekends, becoming a master at excavation, wiring, plumbing, HVAC design and installation, finishing, furnishing, painting, cabinetry and custom locksmithing. You know, just your basic master of all trades.

“Food for five years, a thousand gallons of gas, air filtration, water filtration, Geiger counter, bomb shelter … All of it underground!” — Burt Gummer

Plus Bruce did all of this in secret, in less than 18 months, and only in his spare time — in between his marathon study-and-scribble sessions meditating on “Bible prophecy,” his regular Sunday duties as pastor, and his trips around the world spreading the prophecy-gospel in places like Indonesia. “Handy,” indeed.

That bit about Bruce sparing no expense is worrisome, if you think about it. Did he pay for all of this out of his own pocket, or was this built using church funds? If the latter, then what sort of creative bookkeeping was he doing to keep this rather large expenditure a secret from the church board?

Bruce’s sneakiness exceeds even his amazing handiness. Go back and re-read Jenkins’ two-page description of Buck Williams descending the stairs to the basement furnace room, passing through the secret door, down the next flight of stairs, and then through two more secret doors. Now imagine doing this while toting a freezer, a refrigerator, a microwave, a range and oven, a shower wall and bathtub, a toilet, a desk, a sofa, a roll of carpet, eight box springs and eight mattresses. All without being noticed.


Loretta and the others knew that Bruce was working on something down there in the furnace room, but his cover story about a water cistern probably didn’t satisfy all of their curiosity. I imagine they watched Bruce come and go while thinking something like this:

Buck Williams has been “astonished” and “amazed” by Bruce’s craftsmanship and thoroughness — but readers know that Buck won’t be satisfied until he sees that one special thing he’s always looking for:

Now, Buck wondered, what did Bruce do about connections?

Buck crawled along the carpet and looked behind a sleeper sofa**. There was a bank of telephone jacks. He traced the wiring up the wall and tried to spot where it would come out in the hallway.

Readers who don’t share Buck’s/Jenkins’ peculiar love for telephony may also be wondering about the other kinds of connections that Bruce’s secret shelter would require. Where does the electricity come from? Where does the clean water come from (and where does the waste-water go)?

We’re not told. For all we know, the shelter’s plumbing and electricity are just piggy-backed onto the church’s existing municipal hook-ups. Or maybe there’s a big thick orange extension cord sticking out of the church lawn. Or a gas-powered generator that will turn Bruce’s shelter into a carbon monoxide death trap (climate-change science is a myth, right?). How exactly an on-the-grid shelter is supposed to be a secret isn’t explained here, and Buck is far too excited by the sight of that “bank of telephone jacks” to dwell on that now. He spends the next several pages tracing those phone wires up through the church and its steeple, because secrecy, shelter, food, water and electricity don’t mean anything to Buck Williams unless he’s also got a telephone.

It’s a shame that Bruce didn’t live long enough to use his Tribulation shelter. The thing was designed to keep him and his closest friends safe during the first five “seals” of the Great Tribulation, but poor Bruce fell victim to Seal No. 2 before he ever got a chance to move down there to hide.

You don’t need to be a “Bible prophecy scholar” to know what’s coming next in the Great Tribulation. For all the talk in these books of the arcane biblical “studies” being conducted by Bruce and Tsion and their followers, Tim LaHaye’s End Times check list is actually pretty straightforward. The Tribulation begins after the Rapture with seven “seals” of judgment, followed by seven trumpets and then seven vials. The first four seals are well known as the “four horsemen” of the apocalypse — Rider No. 1, the conquering emperor/Antichrist, followed soon thereafter by Rider No. 2, war; then Rider No. 3, famine, and Rider No. 4, death/Hades (a reprise of war and famine, plus some pestilence, for good measure).

Bruce’s secret shelter seems like it was designed with the fifth seal in mind. That’s a period of mass martyrdom in which Christian believers would be “slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given.” Bruce’s plan for surviving that fifth seal involved this underground shelter, where he and the other members of his inner-inner circle could escape martyrdom by hiding underground.

I used the word “underground” twice in that last sentence. That’s to highlight the conceptual problem with Bruce’s shelter — the logical hole in his hole beneath the church. Because the problem with Bruce’s plan involves Seal No. 6. Here’s that scene, as described in Revelation 6:12-17:

When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and there came a great earthquake; the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree drops its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll rolling itself up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.

Then the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

The language there echoes the language of John the Baptist and of Mary’s Magnificat. ” Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,” John the Baptist said, echoing Mary’s triumphant claim that God was the one who “brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.” It sure seems like John of Patmos had something similar in mind when he wrote of “every mountain and island” being removed, striking fear in the hearts of “the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful.”

But that’s not how Tim LaHaye, Jerry Jenkins, or Bruce Barnes understands this sixth seal in Revelation. They insist on being “literal,” not literary, so to them, John wasn’t using hyperbole when he said a “great earthquake” would cause “every mountain and island” to be “removed from its place.” To them, this is a literal, worldwide earthquake. Don’t worry about whether or not such a thing is tectonically possible, or what it could possibly mean for literal stars to literally “fall to the earth.” All you need to know is that God’s gonna do it. And neither science nor any of the weird stuff that follows in Revelation 7 changes that.

So then, a big earthquake — a massive, worldwide earthquake like the world has never seen — is just a few months, perhaps only a few weeks, away. Bruce knows this. It is prophesied and certain.

And yet Bruce has just spent a year and a half diligently building a secret shelter underground.

Not so handy after all.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* Bruce may have kept this project a secret from Loretta and from the rest of the NHVC congregation. And maybe he was able to keep it secret from the Antichrist and his minions. But there’s no way his plans have escaped notice at the Big Box hardware store where he had to buy all of this stuff.

This is a major project involving building materials, plumbing, electric supplies, ventilation and HVAC systems, flooring, paint and remodeling. After his second trip to the store, some orange-aproned salesperson would surely have set him up with a Pro Xtra account and thus with all the perks and discounts that membership in this free loyalty program entails — direct-to-site delivery, bulk pricing, special saving offers on frequently purchased products, and all the tools he’d need “to get the job done faster, more efficiently, and for less.”

Marketing boilerplate from corporate HQ aside, that program really is a pretty good deal for anyone undertaking a project as ambitious as Bruce’s Tribulation Fort. And even if Bruce didn’t ask to sign up for it, sales associates at Le Grand Orange would probably start an account for him anyway just because it’d be easier for them to manage their side of this massive project. So even if Bruce was trying to be furtive and insisted on always paying with cash, there’d still be a paper trail — an account in his name, a detailed purchasing history, notations about his customer preferences, etc.

No matter how secretive Bruce managed to be when it came to his fellow Christians or Nicolae’s Global Community police, the staff of the Home Depot Randhurst — conveniently located on East Kensington Road right there in Mount Prospect, Illinois — would have a pretty good idea of just what this weird Pastor Bruce guy was working on.

** We are being asked to accept a great deal in these pages that strains plausibility past the breaking point. But set everything else aside and just consider those two words: “sleeper sofa.” No. Impossible. I draw the line here.

Have you ever had to move a convertible sofa? Have you ever had to carry one up or down a flight of stairs? This is a not a one-person job. It’s not even a two-person job unless those two people are NFL linemen. There’s no way Bruce could’ve gotten a convertible sofa off a truck and into the church on his own, let alone snuck it down the stairs to his secret sub-basement hideout.

After sliding past so many other implausibilities and impossibilities in these books, it may seem strange that this is what makes me balk. OK, sure, the entire Russian nuclear arsenal is fired at Israel without killing anyone and without even Bible-prophecy freaks like Irene Steele or the Rev. Vernon Billings imagining that this was somehow connected to their End-Times obsession. Fine. But carrying a convertible sofa down the stairs by yourself? No way.

Seriously, those things are heavy.

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