Chapter Twelve: Two followers added and the numbers continue to grow
Jeff asked to be let off several blocks from his house, so he could walk in the comfortably cool night and gaze at the twinkling stars, an activity that often helped him clear his thoughts and zero in on exactly what was bothering him. The moon was out in full, casting a comforting glow in the night sky, almost confirming to him the magnificence of creation and the possibility of a Creator behind it all. The air smelled clear and crisp, and silence enveloped him, as not a car or person was in his vicinity.
It disturbed him how Mara knew so much about him. He didn't understand her powers anymore than the Balazons but she was right. He had been an immature believer and let a bad experience deter him from growing spiritually, eventually losing what he had in the beginning. He'd turned his back on Jesus, the One who loved him enough to die for him. He wondered if God could still love him after that, wondered if He would accept Jeff back if he came begging on his knees. No! Jeff refused to let his mind become tortured again. God would have to reveal Himself to Jeff personally. He wasn't about to blindly follow humans anymore, even ones doing supernatural things.
Seeing his house nearer in sight now, Jeff picked up his pace. He still didn't trust the Balazons, but that didn't mean he had to embrace another weird cult. If they wanted any converts, they would have to get them somewhere else.
Jeff fumbled with his keys in the dark before opening the door. Stillness and darkness greeted him inside the house. He flipped on a hall light and went into the living room to find Stephanie mindlessly staring at the wall. She was swaying her head forward and back as if spaced out on drugs. After what they had done to his little girl, if he saw a Balazon right now, powers or no powers, he would likely rip its head off. Jeff turned up the lamp beside her, but Stephanie continued to stare at the wall, no signs of alertness.
"Snap out of it, girl," he said.
Stephanie slowly came back to reality. "Oh, dad. Hi."
"Where's the Balazons? Where's Valerie and Nick? What happened to you?"
Stephanie talked like a stoned hippie from the sixties. "Relax, man. The humans are asleep and the Balazons have made a retreat." She laughed slightly. "Hey, that almost rhymes. But they'll be back tomorrow for another treatment. Look what I can do." She waved at an object across the room. "The picture on the wall. Watch it."
"Nothing's happening," Jeff said.
"Can't you see it flying around the room? I've already got some of the Balazons' telekinetic powers."
"Stephanie! Snap out of it. The picture isn't doing anything."
"Yes it is!" she insisted as she put her head between her legs and started moaning and mumbling. Suddenly, Jeff thought about God with disgust. This was further proof that God didn't exist. If He was real, He should prevent innocent children from being brainwashed, or at least show Himself to Jeff by releasing his daughter.
If you knew Me, we could do it together, a voice suddenly seemed to say. Jeff didn't hear anything audible, but the words were as real to him as the conversation he'd had with his daughter.
"Who's that?" Jeff said out loud, but there was no reply. "I don't know what you mean. Tell me more."
Jeff wondered if he might be going insane.
However, Jeff was willing to do whatever it took to free his daughter. He remembered the words he'd heard once at a miracle healing crusade. The preacher used the name of Jesus to supposedly cast out demons and heal people. Maybe he could do the same to cure Stephanie. He didn't know if it would work, but he decided to try.
However, Jeff's mental denial was still operating. He didn't think he could invoke the name of Jesus if he didn't believe. He tried to force himself to say the words, but it was no use. It seemed ridiculous anyway.
Jeff thought of taking her to the hospital, but didn't think they could do much. Perhaps he should take her to a hypnotist, regress her back mentally to before any of this happened. Then, despite himself, he thought of a title he had heard once for Jesus Christ: the Great Physician. No! He wouldn't think about such things.
Jeff suddenly had a vision.
He saw a mirror in front of him. His reflection was that of an ugly, grotesque, monster, dripping slimy ooze. The next second, he was himself again, and clean--wearing robes of purest white, shining like the sun. Jeff understood. God had shown him what his real difficulty in praying for Stephanie was: sin. Jeff couldn't say it, not after having lived for years in rebellion. He didn't feel worthy. He had walked away from God and lived his life for himself, ignoring any convicting nudges from the Lord's Spirit.
But he also knew God was telling him that he could be clean again if he truly repented of his sins and renewed his relationship with Jesus. Jeff started to feel clammy, as he realized he must muster the courage. He had to get his heart right with God. His daughter's life and perhaps both of their eternal destinies were at stake.
Jeff struggled for several minutes before he managed to ask God to forgive his sins and accept him into His family of believers. Immediately, a warm tingling sensation pulsated throughout his body. He felt rapturous joy and the sensation of a huge weight lifting off his head. He felt content to revel in the feeling but decided not to waste any time.
"Wake up child, in the name of Jesus Christ." He felt kind of silly saying the words, and there was no sign of response from Stephanie, but he put his hand on her head and continued. "Demons of darkness, I come against you in the name of the Lord Jesus. I command you to release my daughter from your power! Leave her body now and don't come back."
Stephanie's head suddenly shot up. Her eyes shot daggers. When she talked, her voice was low and gruff. "You fool. We will not leave. We have permission to be here."
Jeff took a deep breath and moved back a bit. "Who gave you permission? Who are you?"
"The girl herself invited us in. We are a part of her now." Stephanie smiled and nodded, obviously satisfied. "Go away. She has made her choice."
"She's young. She couldn't make such a decision properly. You must leave her."
Stephanie laughed a shrill laugh and the deep voice spoke again. "Go away unbeliever. We've won! He will not accept one who has strayed so far for so long. You are nothing."
Guilt started to creep over Jeff, and a feeling of despair assaulted his mind, but in that moment, Jeff cried out for help and received an answer. "You're a liar!" he said with conviction. "Jesus Christ has won! In the name of Jesus, I command you to come out of her, and I ask now Lord Jesus that you fill Stephanie with your Holy Spirit and save her soul!"
Stephanie's eyes welled up and one small tear fell from her right eye. She nodded her head slowly, the best she seemed able to do to acknowledge her acceptance and agreement with Jeff's words. But that was the only step of faith the Lord needed.
The shrill scream returned as Stephanie ran around the room clutching her head. She fell to the floor in seeming pain and continued to scream. "We will not leave," she said in defiance, but within the next second, she was calm. "Dad? I'm free!"
Jeff hugged his little girl and thanked God. "It's OK. It's over now. Everything's going to be fine."
He grabbed his daughter's hand with new found strength and faith, and headed upstairs.
"What are you doing, dad?" Stephanie asked.
"I'm going to free your mom and brother, as I did you. If you've been affected, I'm sure they have too." He stormed into Nick's bedroom first and then Valerie's, flipping on the lights and commanding the demons to come out of them.
Valerie got very upset and started yelling, not shrill screaming such as he'd heard from Stephanie, but her own voice. She continued to yell and throw things until he had backed past the door's frame.
"That's it," she said. "I've had enough of your ranting and raving and small-mindedness. I want you out of this house. I'll be filing for divorce tomorrow." She slammed the door in his face.
He was stunned as to why it didn't work. With Stephanie, his faith hadn't even been very strong. He didn't understand but there was someone who might. He grabbed suitcases for himself and Stephanie, packed a few things, and headed out the front door without looking back.
"Where are we going, dad?" Stephanie asked.
"To the hideout."
"Maybe," Jeff said. "Valerie must have at least been influenced by them at that point, the way she just cruelly told me she wanted a divorce and all. Valerie is the most loving, kind, tender, forgiving person I've ever met. I've never met anybody I've felt as connected to as her. That wasn't her talking."
"Just keep trusting in Him," Lawrence said. "You do believe now, don't you?"
"Yes. The real clincher came when I renewed my relationship with the Lord. The moment I asked for forgiveness, I could feel my mind being released. It was as if a claw tightly fastened to my brain for over a decade suddenly left. I could think clearly. Instantly, God gave me the faith to believe in Him again. I can feel His presence now. I can't see Him with my physical eyes, but He's as real to me as you sitting across this desk from me. His Spirit is at one with mine. I know I'm a child of God. And when the demon spoke to me, it reaffirmed what I then knew to be true."
"I feel it too, dad," Stephanie said. "I realize now I never really had Jesus in my heart by the power of His Holy Spirit. I knew lots about Jesus, and much doctrine and Bible verses, but I never really knew the real person, who is alive and now in my heart. He is in me and I am in him. Jesus said the same thing about His Father. So many things Jesus said in the Bible make sense now. All the fights I had with Nick about religion were more about being right and one-upmanship than really seeking love and truth. I love God and desire to obey Him now. I never felt that before."
"That's because God has renewed your heart," Lawrence said. "It's not about religion, but rather a supernatural love relationship with a very real Jesus. It's natural to want to please those you are close to and love. We knew your transformation would happen. We've all been praying for you here. With these many spiritual warriors behind you, you were as good as free. Not only that, but God told me you'd be back tonight."
"Please pray for Valerie and Nick too," Jeff said. "I won't abandon them totally. I have to go back periodically and try to reach them."
"We will. We will."
"So what happens next? Where do I go from here?"
"We'd like you to join with us. Both you and your daughter can stay here in the complex. There's plenty of room."
Jeff turned to look at his daughter, who was smiling. "I think we'd like that." He looked back at Lawrence. "How can I help with your cause? What can I do?"
Lawrence scratched his head. "Have you discovered your gifts and calling yet?"
Jeff shook his head.
"Well, God will reveal it to you sooner or later. Until then, I'd like you to stay with us and attend the daytime Bible classes. There's nothing more important you can do now than grow in the Word of God. If you like, you can talk to any of the gift counselors. They're usually quite good at discerning others' abilities and offering sound advice on all sorts of things."
"Sounds like a good idea to me," Jeff said as Lawrence called for an escort on the intercom. A long blond-haired woman came to the door. She was wearing a pink jump suit which hugged her petite figure closely. Lawrence introduced her as Sandy and asked her to show Jeff to a two-person room on the far south side of the complex.
They exited the small office.
"So, how long have you been here?" Jeff asked as they headed down the stairs.
Sandy tossed her hair to one side and smiled. "The Lord led me here shortly after the rapture, during a time when I was searching for answers."
"What's your gift?" Stephanie asked.
Jeff scolded his daughter gently.
"Oh, that's OK," Sandy said. "I don't mind telling. I know ahead of time when the police are arriving. You know, when we're out spreading the gospel?"
A look of mild surprise flashed over Jeff's face. "I see. So you help the group get away before the authorities can arrest you on false charges or kill you."
"Exactly," Sandy said. "I can visualize them in my mind. While they're still many blocks away, I warn everyone to flee. But sometimes people don't believe me."
"And get killed," Jeff said.
"Yes. The police shoot everybody and blame it on us. Most of the new Christians we take with us, but the others don't always believe me or react fast enough. They scoff, calling us religious fanatics and everything, until it's too late. At least in the beginning they did. Nowadays, it can be difficult to keep a crowd listening because people are afraid. They've all been brainwashed by the media."
"Yeah, I can imagine," Jeff agreed. "I was scared when I first came here for that very reason."
They reached the bottom of another set of stairs. Sandy led them up and pointed at the third door down the hall. "Well, that's your room," she said. "There's no lock. You won't need one."
Jeff stood at his door and stared at Sandy, trying to think of something to say.
"Say thanks, dad," Stephanie said.
"Oh, right," Jeff said. "Thanks for everything. See you tomorrow?"
Sandy laughed slightly. "Sure," she said as she walked back down the stairs.
"She's pretty isn't she, dad."
"Yep," was all Jeff said and opened the door.
The next day, Jeff and Stephanie spent their time in Bible classes, which were held in various rooms near the front tunnel entrance; they started at nine in the morning and went until five in the evening, with a one hour lunch break. It was a rather grueling pace physically, rather reminded Jeff of university, but he didn't mind as he was soaking up Bible knowledge like a sponge. His spirit was very willing, even if his body occasionally got tired. Every hour they would switch rooms and be taught by a new instructor who would talk about his or her own gifts and experiences. It was more of an open seminar than a class.
One of the instructors, who could cast out demons, explained to Jeff in greater depth what had happened earlier. Jeff learned about the power and authority Christians yield in the name of Jesus, and the instructor explained how God has given believers authority over all the powers of darkness.
"Then why couldn't I cast out the demons from my wife and son," Jeff asked.
"I don't know," the instructor replied frankly. "It could be they weren't fully possessed yet. Sometimes you need greater faith. Sometimes I think God leaves them there to teach a person a lesson. At times, with non-believers, He may leave them permanently and demonstrate His power by defeating their purposes through us. But in your specific case, I don't know. You should talk to Conner in your two o'clock class. He has a gift for understanding the divine perspective on everyday events."
Jeff took his instructor's advice, but Conner was not much help either.
"Sorry, Jeff," Conner said. "All I'm getting is the Lord wants your family under their influence. As for how long or why, I can't tell."
Jeff didn't understand it all, but it was enough for him to realize that it was God's will for the time being, so he left it alone.
Later, sitting with his daughter in the complex's cafeteria, Jeff gulped down the last bite of his roast beef and potatoes and looked at his watch, about a quarter past six. Sandy had stopped by his prophecy class and told him that she would meet him for supper. She'd said to start without her if she were late.
Jeff spotted Sandy enter the room and go to the sandwich bin. She grabbed something which had lettuce sticking out of it, poured herself a cup of coffee, and sat beside them.
"If that's all you eat for supper, no wonder you're so slim," Jeff said.
"I'm not sure if that's a compliment or not," Sandy joked.
"It is." Jeff looked at his empty plate. He had unashamedly taken advantage of the free food. The dinner smorgasbord of carrots, corn, gravy, roast, fresh buns, and mashed potatoes had overflowed Jeff's plate, not to mention the cherry pie for desert. "So what's the big news you were going to tell me?"
Sandy swallowed a bite of what Jeff could see now as a turkey and lettuce sandwich before answering. "I've talked with Lawrence and he said the Lord wants you to come with us tonight when we hit the park."
"I don't understand what she means," Stephanie said.
Jeff looked at his daughter. "I think she means one of their preaching ventures."
"Exactly," Sandy said. "Stephanie can stay here; it'll be safer. But we need you to come along."
"Did Lawrence say why? I mean, I don't know if I'm ready for this yet."
"The Lord wouldn't call you if you weren't ready."
Jeff slowly nodded his head in agreement. "OK, I'll come."
Sandy daintily ate her sandwich for the next few minutes. She talked about her experiences on the battlefield and how dangerous it could be. They had lost one of their preachers only several days ago when they had spent too long pleading with the lost crowd. The police arrived before they could get away, and shot him in the chest, killing him instantly. She said it was hard losing a preacher. In the complexes spread throughout the world, those with the gift of effectively communicating the gospel message were highly cherished and guarded.
"How many more complexes are there?" Jeff asked. "How do you survive? How do you communicate with one another?" Jeff explained he didn't know very much about their operations. He'd never heard anything about God or believers on the VRT or radio. Nothing positive anyway. Now that he'd become a Christian, he wanted to know more.
"There are thousands of complexes hidden throughout the world," Sandy said. "Each one is mainly responsible for evangelizing its own general area, although in our own case, we've occasionally gone as far south as Mexico, and as far north as Canada. We simply go where God directs, and He provides for and protects us in mighty ways. Take this food for instance. We only have enough food in each complex to feed everybody for one day, but each morning new food miraculously replenishes the previous day's depleted supply. God's taking care of us as He did the early Israelites, when millions were fed each day with manna from heaven. We would be dead by now without Him.
"As far as communicating, we do have some radio equipment, but the authorities might track our hideouts if we used those, so they're mostly reserved for mobile work. Mainly, Lawrence communicates with other leaders the same way he communicates with God. He then updates us on our world progress. Don't ask me how that works. I don't know, and I don't think it's important."
Jeff shook his head in awe. By faith, he knew what she said was true, but he found it difficult to picture people in Africa doing the same things they were doing. Maybe he was too used to VRT news coverage, and needed to see images in order to feel as though it were true.
Jeff folded his hands together. "How can Satan keep knowledge of your existence such a tight secret, and hunt you down privately without resistance. Aren't there any good people left?"
"Sure, they get added to our numbers every day." Sandy smiled. "And the devil can't keep our existence a secret. We're starting to make a big impact. Soon the whole world will know the truth."
Jeff didn't say anything, but nodded his head in fascination.
"Wouldn't it be great if tonight we discovered your gift is preaching?" Sandy asked, changing the subject. Jeff realized Sandy had probably heard these types of questions many times before. She was probably more interested in what God was doing now.
Jeff shook his head. "I don't think so. I'm not very articulate."
"So far, the best ones have always been those who say they're no good. I guess we'll have to wait and see."
Jeff nodded in agreement as he thought about that night.
"It'll work," Sandy said. "The Lord always makes sure people are here at the proper time."
Len and Ellis set up more electronic equipment behind the portable platform. Everyone continued to fiddle and finetune, while Jeff sat in the back of the van. After several more minutes, all four of them gathered around the platform.
"Are we ready?" Jeff asked.
"We're ready," Sandy said. She stood on the platform and closed her eyes. "I see throngs approaching the front of the park's entrance. Most felt led to go for a walk, and have found themselves here. They're confused. They don't know why, but they keep coming. It won't be long now." Sure enough, Jeff saw scores of people starting to make their way to the platform.
"It's your turn now, Len," Sandy said as she got down.
Len took his place and started preaching before the people reached the van; some turned around, fearful of fanatics.
"Don't be afraid," Len shouted. "We won't harm you. Come gather around. The Holy Spirit has drawn you here for a reason. You have a longing in your heart to know God, and you can do so tonight."
That seemed to settle their fears, most mustering the faith to continue walking, only a few going the opposite direction. A crowd of all types quickly grew around the van and platform, from the young and healthy to the old and weary. Jeff saw one older lady wearing dark glasses. She must be blind, for an elderly man led her by the hand. Jeff saw Mrs. Cobb, a lady who used to frequent Armstrong's Pharmacy, and whom Jeff knew to be on welfare, as well as Mr. Gelinas, one of Star City's richest businessmen.
"The Balazons are liars!" Len shouted into his microphone. "Khur-ak is not the leader of a group of super-beings who have created a belief in God. No one has created God, for He is from everlasting to everlasting." Len went on to say Khur-ak was Satan, the devil, disguised as a beautiful angel of light, deceiving the world, trying to drag as many as will follow him down to hell, but the Spirit of Jesus had drawn them to the park to break the power of the enemy and release them from captivity.
Jeff could see Len was merely warming up. His voice started to rise and he waved his hands around for emphasis. After several minutes of very blunt warnings about the Balazons, Len pointed at an elderly man who was bent over in a wheelchair. The man's hands were deformed as if he had severe arthritis.
Len shouted, "In the name of Jesus, stand up and walk!" The man's limbs straightened out and he immediately stood up, shouting for joy.
While the man rejoiced, Len said, "Lester Cranleigh, come forward!" A young man came out of the crowd. He walked with crutches because he had no leg below the right knee. "Throw those away. Walk!" The man let out an astonished yelp, and dropped his crutches, as a new leg grew out of the stump which had existed previously. "Since the unveiling, the devil has done many miracles to deceive you, but when have you seen humans do mighty things in the name of the Son of God? Search your hearts and know the Spirit of God is with us!"
Len walked over to the blind lady Jeff had noticed earlier, who now stood near the front, and threw her dark glasses off. "You can see!" he declared. "Jesus has given you sight!" The woman screamed with delight, while Len went back to the podium.
"I can see!" she yelled. "I can see!"
"God can do greater things than this," Len said. "But He has done these miracles so you might believe in the living Jesus, who reigns in heaven above. The real Jesus was God manifest in the flesh. He died two thousand years ago on a cross to pay the penalty for your sins. If you repent and receive Him now as your personal Lord and Savior, you will become a child of God and receive a place of honor when He comes to take you home.
"We are living in the last days when the devil's deception is permeating the entire earth. You no longer need to be a part of it. You can come to Jesus and be set free. If you've already started merging your minds with the Balazons', it is even more imperative you come now. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to respond to Him, for the demons will slowly take over your minds. He is standing at the door of your hearts, drawing you, asking you if He can come in. He wants to forgive you. For your own sakes, give Him a chance. Open the door."
The intoxicatingly beautiful presence of God filled the air. Jeff tingled and he knew the listeners felt it too because many came forward when Len asked if they wanted to be saved from Satan's grasp and receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Then the newly born Christians began worshipping God, singing praises and lifting their hands upward.
Jeff sat back and smiled. He had never seen anything like this before. A new sense of intensity came over him, a feeling of power he'd never experienced before, an unparalleled closeness with the Lord. God seemed to tell him, "When the time comes stamp your foot on the ground."
"What?" Jeff said. "What do you mean?" But he couldn't sense any response.
Sandy was sitting at the opposite side of the van. Jeff went over and asked her what she thought.
She was smiling and rejoicing, but turned to look at Jeff. She had to talk loudly to be heard. "I don't know what it means, but I'd suggest you do it when the time comes."
"But when's that!" Jeff said.
"You'll know when the time is right!"
For all he knew, the authorities were near. He might not have time to think about it, let alone do anything. "When will the police be here?"
Sandy closed her eyes and prayed. "I don't sense anything. They might not even find out about this one."
Len continued to preach for the next fifteen minutes, trying to reach the minority that still hadn't committed their lives to the Lord despite all they had seen. Jeff estimated that out of the approximately three hundred there, about two hundred and fifty were saved. This wasn't good enough for Len. He wanted them all.
With a background of rejoicing and dancing, Len set his microphone on the podium and walked amongst the crowd, continuing to do miracles for the hurting, and telling them marvelous things about God's Kingdom. He appeared calm and relaxed as he leisurely moved about, allowing God to express His love through him. Len performed powerful miracles, and with the electrifying presence of God's Spirit, few doubted His existence. The atmosphere was so absorbing that, at first, nobody saw several armored trucks enter the park.
Jeff was the first to say anything. "Sandy. Look!" He pointed at the trucks.
Sandy was speechless. "Why didn't He warn me? God always tells me when they're coming. Why would He betray us this time?"
Jeff wasn't listening. He had already jumped on the platform, and grabbed the microphone. He was about to scream a warning when he heard the Lord say, "Now!"
"What?" Jeff said into the microphone and got some confused looks from both Len and the audience. Everyone became quiet as they sensed something was wrong, but didn't know what. Then it slowly dawned on people as they noticed the armored police trucks. Someone started to scream and Jeff knew full-scale panic was mere seconds away.
"Wait!" Jeff said. "Don't fear." For the first time, he understood what the Lord was telling him, and for some unknown reason, they listened. "In the days of old, when the pharaoh's mighty army was about to crush the Israelites, Moses stretched out his hand and divided the Red Sea. The Lord delivered them from their enemies that day. So too, I say do not be afraid, for the Lord will deliver us." Jeff set the microphone on the podium, as men in uniforms made their way out of the armored trucks and lined up behind the crowd. They nonchalantly pointed their machine guns in the crowd's direction and began walking forward.
Jeff lifted his right leg, and with a wide smile, stomped down hard. There were a few tense seconds in which nothing seemed to happen. Then the ground began to rumble. The rumbling became louder and the ground started shaking. Soon, the whole world--except the van, platform, and crowd of three hundred--began to convulse violently.
The officers covered their heads in fear, for soon large hailstones began to fall on their heads, but Jeff's group and the crowd were safe, as if by an invisible bubble. Jeff grabbed the microphone again. "Sandy, Len, start packing." He gestured at the crowd. "All who want to can come with us." At that point, everyone who had been unsure about Christianity overcame their doubts very quickly and obeyed Jeff's instructions.
The turmoil energized people to quickly pack the van. Jeff got into the passenger side, while Ellis got behind the wheel. Len and Sandy piled the back with as many people as possible, while the rest ran behind the van as it slowly crawled along. And wherever they drove, the quaking and hail stopped temporarily, starting again once they'd moved on.
Unimpeded by the authorities, they slowly drove to the complex. As soon as they arrived, Jeff and his friends introduced the newcomers to the gift counselors.
Jeff went to his room. He had been constantly active since this morning's early classes and thought he deserved the evening off. However, no sooner had he opened his door than Lawrence announced over the intercom Jeff's group was to report to the main office.
He arrived to hear Len mildly protesting to the lady behind the counter they should get some sleep, but Len took the itinerary from her and said, "The Lord's will be done."
"How bad is it?" Jeff asked. Working for God would undoubtedly have its good and bad times, but he wouldn't miss the personal joy and satisfaction he'd received from his experience today for anything. He was prepared to go right back into the field if needed.
Len glanced up from the paper he was staring at. "Not as bad as I thought. We're through for the night, but we've got big jobs ahead of us. Probably won't be back in Star City for awhile."