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A bad rapture 

The judgment will begin with an earthquake in New Zealand. It will roll westward across the world — a massive series of earthquakes and fires swallowing cities and highways.

Marie Exley-Sheahan plans to be safely in a cabin in the mountains of Washington state with a few other believers.

"At that point it will be too late," she says by phone from Seattle. "When the earthquake comes to your area, the believers and the dead in Christ will go up to be with the Lord in heaven. And the rest who are not saved will be left into judgment."

She imagines she'll be watching this happen Saturday, live on TV.

"It will be the movie of all movies that we will see unfold on the screen," she says. "Independence Day times 10."

Last summer, national media picked up on the story of Exley-Sheahan, "the unemployed Colorado Springs woman" who spent $1,200 on bus bench ads announcing May 21, 2011 as the date of the Rapture. She is an adherent of Harold Camping, a longtime Christian oddity based in California, who believes that he has deciphered hidden mathematical code in the Bible.

With one CNN story, she became another national example of the Springs' Christian extremism.

"It is a rather easy attack to make against the city," says Dr. Gerald Trigg, senior pastor emeritus of First United Methodist Church.

Problem is, she isn't really from the Springs.

Exley-Sheahan is originally from New Jersey. An Iraq war veteran, she returned home with post-traumatic stress disorder and wound up in Colorado Springs last year. She stayed for about eight months. She didn't go to church, because Camping says that the age of the sacred church is over. She couldn't find a single person here who believed. She found the Springs isolating.

She and her boyfriend even drifted apart: "We weren't on the same page spiritually. He was focused on the end being in 2012."

So she moved to California and got a job with Camping's organization, which sent her to the Middle East. Working alongside a new husband, Michael Sheahan, she's put up billboards in Dubai, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Turkey, Oman and Bahrain.

Larry Pile, former director of cult education at Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center in Ohio, says that once May 22 arrives, Exley-Sheahan and Camping's other followers will face a difficult decision. Either they can leave Camping's fold, disillusioned, or they can allow themselves to be reprogrammed.

"That is easier than accepting that they believed a hoax," Pile says. Many believers become so detached from families and careers "that, in a sense, they don't have anywhere to go if they leave, except back with their tail between their legs."

Pile, coincidentally, worked for Camping in the late 1970s.

"He was a pretty strong Calvinist," Pile says, "but he wasn't over the edge then like he is now."

Exley-Sheahan says she had doubts a couple years ago; now she just feels sorry for non-believers.

"Everybody knows deep down that there is going to be an end," she says. "But they just wanna keep going. Sure, it would be great. I would love to have kids. I'd love to have a family, but there has to be an end at some point, and it is a shame that there will be certain things that people won't get to experience.

"But the bottom line: Is it what you have in this life, or what you have in the next? There is nothing about this life that is worth anything."

chet@csindy.com

  • Marie Exley-Sheahan, one not-really-local believer, preps for a big weekend.

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