I am responding to the letter to the editor that asks if someone can explain what happened at Jonestown in 1978 or the 1997 event of Heaven's Gate. As a young man at Dover AFB, Delaware, I became involved with the events of Jonestown as I helped to receive, identify, process and generally care for those victims. For this, other volunteers and I were presented with the Air Force Commendation Medal and the Joint Service Humanitarian Medal. Now, as a pastor, I have preached and given warning about the grave dangers concerning cults such as these.
The writer of the letter to which I am responding supposes that if they had made the right choice, they might still be alive. At Jonestown, they falsely put their trust in the isolation the remote jungle of Guyana provided. They found themselves in a bad situation with no way out. The writer of the letter says, "They could have tried to live by getting on a plane." Actually, five people did try and they were shot and killed at the jungle air strip. Over 900 people died, some of the "poisoned punch," other of gunshots. It was not until later that they found the children, underneath their parent's dead bodies.
Of the Heaven's Gate cult, they also placed their trust in what "was false and ultimately dangerous. Instead of science, they trusted their escape and committed suicide." They thought that by doing so they would "get to the next level" by catching a ride on a UFO.
There are a lot of misguided beliefs and misplaced trust. The truth needs to be told. The Bible instructs us: "Do not put your trust in mortal men who cannot save." (Psalm 144:3).
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding." (Proverbs 3:5).
Jesus says, "The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy; I have come that you may have life." (John 10:10).
The writer asks: "How does one not choose life when the opportunity is there?" Good question. See you in church.
Editor's note: Peters is pastor at Cambridge Springs/Venango United Methodist Church.
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