The Jerusalem SYNDROME

Having heard a call, unorthodox Christian believers flock to the holy lands to await the ultimate answer

a millennial return of their savior.

April 08, 1999|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- In another life, Karen Allen shimmied naked on the runways of South Florida go-go bars. She strutted her stuff as a Vegas show girl and sold herself in the off-hours until the booze and drugs and sex nearly did her in.

This evening, though, she is dancing for Jesus. Fully clothed and shaking a tambourine, Allen is performing at a weekly prayer service in a three-room flat on the edge of this ancient city's Mount of Olives. The Jerusalem hilltop is the biblical place of Jesus' ascension to heaven, the spot to which the Bible says he will return and, this year especially, the epicenter of millennium machinations.

"I was on the road to destruction" before accepting Jesus into her heart a decade ago, says the 49-year-old former showgirl. "I was practically dead from all the abuse. Before I knew it, I was getting born again by Billy Graham on TV."

Her story is not unusual among the dozen or so self-proclaimed "born again" Christians who have assembled at the so-called House of Prayer on this chilly night to praise the Lord while anxiously awaiting the Second Coming of Christ. And while their millennial fever is not unusual here, either, their service has drawn significant attention: a television crew from ABC News, a radio crew from Canada and a photographer from the Jerusalem Post.

It's certainly unorthodox as religious services go. While the faithful, many of whom say they came to Jerusalem at the urging of the Lord, recite biblical verses and pray, they also perform dances, songs and poetry.

Preparing the way

The House of Prayer service -- part revival, part Ripley's Believe It or Not -- is led by Brother David, a nondenominational preacher and former owner of a mobile home park from upstate New York dressed in a dark brown suit set off by a yellow Paisley tie. He arrived here in 1980, he says, flashing a toothless smile -- at God's command.

Asked his full name, the 58-year-old preacher replies: "My last name is David, my first name is Brother. There's nobody in the Bible with a last name."

Brother David used to have a last name: Shad. Israel tried to deport David Shad seven years ago because his visa had expired years before. Because he could produce no passport, he spent nine months in jail while the Israelis tried to determine his citizenship. But American officials could find no record of a U.S. passport under that name. Apparently stateless, he was freed by an Israeli judge.

Through the years, Brother David says, he has helped the homeless, provided clothes to the needy and served as a Christian tour guide. He lived in West Jerusalem until five years ago, when "the Lord spoke to me and told me to move the ministry to the Mount of Olives area to prepare for the coming of Jesus."

Today, he helps support his ministry by renting Christian tourists $5-a-night rooms in 10 furnished apartments he leases in the Palestinian village of Bethany at the foot of the Mount of Olives. In one of these apartments the weekly House of Prayer service is held.

`We're here to love'

Brother David talks about the thousands of believers expected in the Holy Land for the millennium, a phenomenon that has tourism officials overjoyed and Israeli police on alert. In January, they deported members of a Denver-based Christian cult who were suspected of planning violent events to try to hasten the coming of Christ. It is a few misguided people like these, Brother David claims, who have given true believers a bad name.

"God said when the enemy comes in like a flood, he will lift up a standard against them. I believe God is going to show the world the true Christians ... are not prone to acts of suicide," says Brother David. "They are not prone to blowing up buildings.

"We're here to love," he adds, "to love God and to love our fellow man."

Next to witness is Brother Raymond, a tattooed, 27-year-old ex-offender from California who arrived in Jerusalem last fall to join his mother, Sister Sharon, at the House of Prayer. A poet, he recites a verse about his religious conversion:

"The spirit of God truly hit me like a ton of bricks,

With no psychological games and no emotional tricks ..."

The television cameraman runs out of tape. When the tape is replaced, the thin, dark-eyed poet happily repeats the verse for the camera, then continues:

"My whole existence has been changed, supernaturally rearranged, and the darkness of my past doesn't exist anymore. So you can call me a fool, a fanatic or some say I'm bound in some Christian shell. But the word of God says I'm security-bound by the blood of Jesus and it will lift me up as the world plunges tragically to hell."

Amen! Amen! others call out.

"Do you want me to sing?" asks Rod Higdon, a 32-year-old Arizona RV salesman turned country-western crooner who says he found the Lord when his marriage went to hell.

Yeah, the group answers.

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