Cult's headquarters becomes a church

Religion Today/June 2, 1999

An 18-foot Christian cross rises above the former headquarters of cult leader Jim Jones in Ukiah, Calif. What residents call "the old Jim Jones building" houses Redwood Valley Assembly of God.

...Jones is known for leading his compliant disciples to their deaths. A total of 913 drank cyanide-laced punch or were shot in Jones' community, called Jonestown, in Guyana, South America, in November 1978. Jones and his leaders committed suicide.

...Before emigrating to South America, Jones had tried to establish a Jonestown in Ukiah. Beginning in 1965, he bought homes and other properties, took control of businesses, and started People's Temple of Redwood. He initiated Marxist socialism, installed surveillance towers and armed guards, and appointed a private army called Angels who were responsible for discipline and control. Rule breakers were beaten or bullied psychologically.

...Jones' early theological influence was Christianity, and he attended a Pentecostal Bible college in Springfield, Mo. He later denied the deity of Christ and the authority of the Bible, and set himself up as the final authority for the community, according to the Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions, and the Occult (Zondervan). He moved his followers to San Francisco in 1971, but accusations by defectors and journalists about fake healings, use of drugs, and diversion of funds for personal use prompted him to leave for South America.

...In Ukiah, a community of 60,000 people, the spiritual wounds Jones inflicted persist among families, classmates, and friends of his victims. Redwood Valley Assembly of God pastor Kim Harvey says the church's ministry has a lot to do with healing the community as well as building the congregation.

...Skepticism about Christianity is high. The area is known for its tolerance of many kinds of religious groups and is part of what is referred to as the Emerald Triangle, where much of the nation's marijuana is grown. Any effort to advance Christianity is a struggle, Harvey said.

..."When a church grows here, there is a spiritual battle. I am one who ignores the devil. He never deterred me. But the more ground we gain, the more pressure I experience," Harvey told Religion Today. His Pentecostal congregation, started in 1990 by another pastor with 20 members, has grown to 100.

..."The biggest challenge has been trust," Harvey said. "It is taking some time to develop. We still are not positive where we stand. I am so careful to be transparent. I want to be completely genuine. This community needs to know what real Christianity is."

...Redwood Valley Assembly of God focuses on loving the community, said Harvey, who has been pastor since 1995. "We want to demonstrate a loving, rich example of Christ dwelling in our hearts and lives."

...More than 400 people, including 16 pastors, attended "Raise the Cross Sunday" on Nov. 8, 1997, to reclaim the church property for God. An Assemblies of God official dedicated the facilities, including the cross, the first to be displayed on the property.

...Some former People's Temple members attended, including Bonnie Thielman, who spoke about God's saving grace in her life. Other ex-members came and "were awestruck and weeping." Harvey said. "They said that it feels like a lush garden now. Before it was like a desert." People in Ukiah "want to see this community heal and become a better place."

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