End-of-the-world believers try to convince skeptics

There are hundreds of billboards around the country. Thousands of people wearing neon-green T-shirts. There are caravans of RVs looping through cities, all proclaiming the same message: May 21st is judgment day.

“We don’t want people to sign up. Stay home. Keep your money,” said Chris McCann of Delaware County. “Don’t go to church, but do pick up your Bible. And go to God in prayer and beseech him as an individual.”

McCann, a Christian, is not associated with any church, or any particular denomination. He is a listener of Family Radio, a national Christian network originating in Oakland, California, where Harold Camping holds forth nightly.

“Judgment day will begin in one part of the world,” said Camping on the air during his Bible study call-in show. “In 24 hours it will be going around the whole planet Earth, until after 24 hours the whole world is going to be destroyed.”

Camping is very precise. He says the end of the world will starts Saturday at 6 p.m., New Zealand time, when an earthquake of tremendous power will shake that part of the world and ripple around the planet. Previously, he predicted the end of the world would come in 1994.

Every major world religion predicts the end of the world. The Christian Bible outlines it in the Old Testament’s Book of Daniel, and in the New Testament’s Book of Revelation. But the Book of Matthew records Jesus saying that no one knows when it will come, not even the angels.

Countless predictions, all of them wrong

In the 2,000 years of Christianity, there have been countless predictions of the end of the world, derived by just as many methods. Biblical scholars have not come to consensus over how literally, or symbolically, to interpret biblical descriptions. Or even where we are on the millennial timeline.

“If you talk to Christian theologians, you might find they do not agree as to what moment we live in now,” said Mikhail Sergeev, a professor of religion at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. “Whether the Apocalypse is in the future, or partly in the future, partly in the past, or completely in the past, or in the present.”

However, followers of Harold Camping believe they know. Many trust Camping’s teaching that the answer has always been in the Bible, but God has not allowed people to understand it until now.

“It’s almost like a software upgrade,” said Kevin Brown from South Jersey. “We couldn’t run the program before he gives us an upgrade, it was there all along, but we couldn’t run it before. That’s a pretty close analogy.”

The ad-hoc group of believers touting this weekend’s rapture say they know when it will happen, but they don’t know who will be saved.

Getting out the word

“It’s a scary thought. I’m not sure if I’m saved,” said Jimmy Pisano of South Philadelphia. “I can only pray and hope God will rapture me and I’ll be in the sky. Right now my job is to hand out the word and let them know what’s going to come.”

Pisano sees himself as a foot soldier in the mission of getting out the word. He, his sister and his parents have wrapped the family car in decals proclaiming the coming of Judgment Day, and he has gone on several long-distance caravan trips with other believers.

Brown, who runs a personal fitness business, says just because the world will end on Saturday does not mean he is allowed to throw off his earthly responsibilities.

“The Bible says to occupy until I come,” said Brown. “We’re doing whatever we need to do. I’m working, I was at work this morning and I’ll be back in a couple hours.”

Many on the Family Radio caravan are spending what they believe will be their last days on Earth with purpose, spreading news and anticipating the hereafter.

Listen for this story on Morning Edition and NewsWorks Tonight.

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