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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Executive Order 16661: 5:23 am

I woke up bleary eyed and kind of dazed; it was Sunday morning and the clock registered in at 5:23 am. I looked over at my wife Katherine, who was fast asleep and completely oblivious to the blaring sound that meant I had a text message in my inbox.

Who would be texting me at 5:30 in the morning?

I rolled out of bed, dragging myself to the dresser like one of those cavemen in the Smithsonian; grunting and making stiff robot-like movements. This had better be important. I reached over and picked up the phone letting it flash to life nearly blinding my still sleep-heavy eyes. I squinted a little and tried to read the identity of the person who destroyed my slumber.
It was a blocked number.

Great, some kid thought it was funny to randomly prank call me on Sunday morning...

I almost deleted the message; I thank God that I changed my mind. There was just a compulsion, something I had felt only a few other times in my life; a compulsion that came before big moments. So, recognizing that this may just be some really odd bit of divine providence, I opened the message:

"Executive Order 16661 has been issued. Do not go to church this morning; if you do they will have you."

I could not believe what I was reading; what was this person talking about? Executive Orders were "laws" issued by the President of the United States, and what was with the creepy number, 16661? It was not exactly the famed Revelation "number of the Beast," but it was too close for comfort. Who was this? Why was he/she warning me about this? How did he/she know about this?

I was visibly shaken, my mind went numb and I could not think straight. I was a pastor of a rather large church, but I was out of town on vacation and staying at a hotel not too far away from the church Katherine and I had planned to go to that morning. I was suddenly afraid, not so much for Katherine and I, but for our congregation...for many congregations. I had to know what was going on...the way only to find out was to text the number back:

Excuse me, sir or m'am, if this is a joke it is not hilarious or funny. I am pastor of a large church and I do not at all find this amusing, so I demand to know who you are and what you are talking about.
I sent the text and waited. I waited for what seemed like hours; there was no reply. I almost gave up in exasperation when my phone lit up; the same blocked number.

It is not safe for either of us for you to know who I am; this is not a joke. If you value your congregants you will begin calling them and telling them to stay home. Also, you will spread the word to as many pastors as you know and you will have whoever is...

The next text came: charge of your church's records to delete your membership roles and shred the paper copies. They need to do so now and be gone before 8 am, that is when they will be coming. I need you to trust me and do what I ask. Do not text this number again.

I was too numb to really think, but I shrugged out of it by the grace of God and ran over to the bed, shaking Katherine awake.

"Wha...Neil, what's wrong? Is everything all right?"

I tried not to break down in a panic; it was insane but something told me this was no hoax and that we were all in danger.

"Katherine, I need you to do what I ask and ask questions later, can you do that?" Katherine nodded, but fear and concern began to etch across her beautiful face. I continued, "I need you to call Liz and tell her to shred the church Sunday school records and take the hard drives, jump drives, and flash disks out of the office. I also need you to call the kids and tell them they are not to go to church today; that is not a request but an order."

Katherine eyes lit up in terror and she formed words on her mouth, but did not say them. Instead, she ran and grabbed her phone and began dialing numbers. I knew I could not call everyone in the church, but I could text all of my staff, elders, and deacons and then try to call as many as I could. They were never going to believe me; they were going to think I was insane. I opened up my contact lists and began going through the names when the phone rang.


"Neil, hey its Derrick Mason...I am sorry to wake you up so early but I am freaked out."

Derrick Mason was a pastor friend of mine with a nice size church as well; we had met at a pastors' conference in Atlanta and had connected almost instantly. We would call each other all the time to see how each of us was doing, to discuss theology/church trends, and to pray for one another. I had even had him speak at the church on several occasions.

"What about Derrick?" but somehow I knew what he was going to say.

"Neil, this is crazy, but I got this text this morning..."

"About Executive Order 16661? Yeah, I got the same text, man. I am as freaked out as your are."

"Neil, I am sorry, but what the hell is going on? I am not sure what to do about this..."

"Derrick," I was trying not to lose it, "I think this is serious. I was told to shred and get rid of all of my church records. Also, I was told to tell as many congregants as I can to stay home." It pained me that I had not been able to text my leaders because of Derrick's call.

"I don't know, Neil...what if this is some kind of weird joke? Who knows who is behind it; it could even be an attack of Satan..."

I wanted to comfort Derrick and I wanted him to be right...but at the moment I needed to entrust him to God and call my congregants.

"Look, Derrick. You have to do what you think God is telling you to do. I hate to just drop you but I have people to call; I will talk to you soon."

I would not normally hang up on a friend, but I felt an enormous responsibility to text my elders. I went down the list making sure to get every pastor, elder, and deacon on the message. Once I was sure

I had everyone I wrote:

There is no time to explain; please see this as something that is out of the ordinary and as an emergency. I need you to contact as many people in our church as you know; get your care group leaders in on it too, and tell them not to come to church this morning. I know you have many questions, but please I believe this is from the Lord and I will explain myself later. Just don't go to church this morning. I will keep in touch.

I sent the message and exhaled; the clock on my phones said 6:01 am.

"Neil, Liz said that she has no idea what kind of madness is going on, but she also has the same foreboding you do. She has ran down to the church to take care of the shredding and to get the hard disks. The kids promised me they will not got to church; now you need to tell me what is going on."

I was about to explain when the phone rang.


"Pastor, its Kurt what's going on? Seriously, I have my wife frantically calling people telling them not to come to church. There had better be a good explanation for this."

I knew I could not explain to every single person what was going on, but maybe telling Kurt would get the message to everyone and to Katherine who was still waiting for me.

"Kurt, Derrick Mason and I both received messages from a blocked number talking about some Executive Order and how we needed to stay away from church; I was also told that I needed to destroy the church's records or at least take them out of the building itself. I do not know who sent it or why, but I need you to trust my intuition and discernment on this."

There was silence on the other end. Then Kurt raised his voice,

"Pastor, no offense, but how the heck do you know this not just some really bad joke. How do you know that it is not somebody trying to frighten people from attending church? You expect me to just accept something you relayed from a text message with a blocked number? Am I hearing this right?"

Kurt was angry and confused, even a bit irritated. He could be right; it could all be a huge hoax. If so, I was willing to take the heat for it; I was responsible for the spiritual and now the physical well-being of my congregation, so if it meant me getting fired, so be it, but I was not going to purposely put my congregation in danger.

"Kurt, if this is a terrible mistake, I will take the blame...but I am begging you to trust me on this and to be my spokesperson to the rest of the men. I cannot talk to all of them and I have to text some of our fellow churches to warn them...please let all of the staff and leaders know that you will be the contact."

"Pastor, this is either the most foolish thing you have ever done or a message from God himself. Ok, I will take the calls and the heat, but if this is just some stupid prank, the buck falls on you sir."

And with that Kurt hung up. Katherine was lying on the bed, looking at me with an unreadable expression; I had hoped she had been listening.

"Neil, it is not like you to do something like this...that is what really has me worried. What is going to happen today?"

I loved her more than she could imagine at that moment, she was priceless to me and I went over to hug her just for a moment, so that I could let her know it was all going to be ok. I held her and she started crying and I kissed her head.

"I don't know babe, I don't know...but whatever it is God will take care of it. But right now, I have to warn the other pastors in our community, they need to know about this."

"What if you are wrong?" it was more of a hope than an accusation.

"Then we have nothing to worry about; I have a feeling though that there is more to this than a text message...God help us if it is true. There is no telling what Executive Order 16661 is."

Katherine leaned back against the bedpost and stared out into the sunrise; I began dialing numbers.



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