He listened that night, and the next, and the one after. And one day—high and still facing a manslaughter charge—he drove his motorcycle to Oakland, where he asked if he could speak with Camping. He was greeted warmly and invited to Bible-study classes. At first Mark felt ridiculous—“like, what the fuck is going on here? What’s up with these people?”—but they were generous. He confided he was trying to escape a life of sadness and sin. They invited him to potlucks and told him he might be among God’s elect.
And then it happened: The Lord and Savior Jesus Christ came into Mark’s heart. All at once, he threw himself at the mercy of God and repented. He gave up drugs. He began taking psychiatric medication. He joined Camping’s church and followed his teachings, and as 1994 approached, he grew feverish in his anticipation. He was, he said, utterly convinced of Camping’s calculations that the world would end.
When it didn’t, he struggled for many months to figure out what had happened. For the most part, he cut ties with Camping. But earlier this year, when he’d seen the billboards on the highway, he’d found himself careering back toward believing, so much so that he’d spent the evening of May 21 off his medication and nearly hysterical. Afterward, his confusion returned. Again, he distanced himself from Camping. He concluded Camping had become lost in his Bible and surrounded by enablers. But none of that could change what Camping had done for Mark and untold others around the world.
“Harold Camping saved us,” Mark said. “Harold Camping saved me.”
Surely, though, I said, he did not take October 21 seriously, after having lived through 1994 and May 21. He paused. He smiled. When six o’clock rolls around the world this Friday, Mark told me, he will almost certainly be “watching and praying”—watching and praying for any sign of the earth opening beneath him, of the sky darkening, the trumpets roaring, the graves bursting open, for his life to end and his body to be abruptly lifted and caught up in the clouds.
He said, “You never know.”