They say they're not doomsdayers or survivalists, but a handful of people who met in a small room at a Mahomet church last week say they believe it's time to prepare for emergencies and disasters. And they want others to the same.
The group, known informally as the Christian Emergency Preparedness Network, wants church and civic groups to band together and prepare food, water, equipment, expertise, security and more for what they believe is an impending crisis.
It has nothing to do with the upcoming election, says David Pike, a crop scientist who lives in Champaign and is retired from the University of Illinois.
"We're not here to generate fear, but we're here to generate an awareness and then a preparedness," he told about two dozen people last Wednesday night in the upstairs meeting room at the Mahomet Community Free Church.
Since he retired, Pike said, he's had more time to read, and what he's seen on the Internet worries him.
"When you're doing an 8 to 5 job and you're earning money to feed your family, sometimes you don't read so widely and you just put your nose to the grindstone and do what you've got to do. Since I've retired, I've changed my mind-set. I see some of the writing on the walls.
"I look at the financial stresses on our state and our country and I do wonder when and not if. Eventually I think we will face some difficult times."
Mark Thompson of rural Fisher, who organized the meeting with Pike, was more blunt.
"I have to stress that a network like this is a 'we the people' network with no reliance on government. We cannot rely on the government to save us in an emergency situation," Thompson told the small audience.
"If the Internet is hacked and it goes down, or the government pulls the plug on the Internet, you know what that does to business? It will wipe business out if they leave it off for any amount of time. It will stop trucking. The domino effect that can happen on a number of different things is huge.
"And I don't really want to trust my government. I know better. It's up to we the people to take care of ourselves. That's why this network we're proposing has such great potential, because 240 million of us fall into this same club called Christians. We already have the churches and the network in place."
Pike and Thompson say they're not survivalists or "preppers," a subculture that is the subject of a National Geographic television show called "Doomsday Preppers."
"The thing that is so disturbing about so many of the preppers is that they have all of the food for themselves and they figure on taking care of their immediate family and oftentimes they'll have lots of firearms. Don't mistake me, I'm a firearms proponent, but it's like they're going to be shooting at the neighbors to protect their own food supply. That doesn't last very long," said Pike, a former president of the Champaign County Rifle Association. "You have to be part of a community. You have to have business continue to operate. You have to interact with your neighbors because that's what civilization is all about. You give and in exchange they give back. You maintain some kind of sense of community.
"This is very much Christ-centered. You want to extend yourself in charity to others. You can't do that without limits, but you want to maintain as much sense of community as possible."
Said Thompson: "It's all about alleviating people's pain and suffering. As a Christian, that's kind of the perspective. Everybody's welcome. Why would we alienate anyone?"
For the most part, the two found an enthusiastic audience, eager to recruit more members and try to get their churches involved.
"It's a very natural progression to say that if we can go to each congregation and find the pastors who are not susceptible to the pulpitly correct mentality and who are willing to speak out and acknowledge that we have issues in the world today that cannot be ignored, whether they are political or strictly software- or hardware-oriented or biblically oriented," Thompson said. "We look at the church and see that it is the most logical way to network this country."
Pike said he hopes to organize a "preparedness fair" this fall, similar to the kind of events Mormon churches hold. Pike said he is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Preparedness fairs, he said, address issues ranging from food and water storage to retirement and financial security.
"What we're trying to do with the network we're developing is to get other people involved because it's not an idea that just the Latter-day Saints want to keep for themselves. We want everyone to be prepared. That's my motivation," Pike said.
He said the government knows it cannot handle a national emergency.
"We have (Hurricane) Katrina as an example of the inability of the federal government to always respond appropriately. They do well in many circumstances, but in others they just don't have the resources and they're not likely to get the resources to respond to a prolonged disaster or emergency," Pike said. "They know that. They are trying to communicate that to us and we're not listening, well, most people aren't listening."
He said a "Zombie Pandemic" poster published by the Centers for Disease Control is an admission by the government that it doesn't have enough resources to manage a major emergency.
"That's a government office that put this out. Why do they do that?" he asked the group. "They know they can't take care of all of us. The budgets are being reduced further and further. They know they're finding it more difficult to come up with the resources they'd need if a major disaster happened."
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.