READING, Pa. — When Sandy Durant learned her church was going to host a Left Behind vacation Bible school, she was overjoyed. Her children loved the Left Behind Kids series, and she and her husband had read the entire adult series.
But when she arrived to find her children gone on the last day of VBS she "absolutely flipped out."
It didn’t help to learn that it was all a ruse designed to show people what it would feel like to have a loved one snatched away in the Rapture.
"I’m a big Left Behind supporter, but this went too far," she says.
Dozens of other parents agreed with her. They are demanding restitution and an apology from the publisher.
The edgy and unusual Left Behind VBS was intended to breathe new life into the slowing brand. The program was tested in 14 churches, mostly in Pennsylvania, and involved realistic fear tactics.
At one point the kids huddled in a darkened room while sound effects made it sound like giant hail was ripping through the church roof. Noises also simulated fire, earthquakes and panicked people stampeding and screaming.
"It was very believable," says one teacher. "I knew it was fake and I was still scared."
They had to stop the CD and turn the lights on because kids began screaming.
On another day the teachers had the children close their eyes, and when they opened them, half the group had been quietly led out of the room.
"That’s what it will feel like if you’re left behind when the Lord comes back," said a teacher as children sobbed.
On the last day, parents were told that their children had been raptured.
"We wanted to illustrate how terrible it would be if their kids went to heaven, but the parents just hadn’t made that commitment to Christ," says the VBS director.
Though the sham went on for just two minutes, some parents became frantic. One woman began hyperventilating. A man literally lifted the welcome desk and tossed it into the wall, causing thousands of dollars in damage. Chaos ensued.
The VBS creators say the safeguards and assurances weren’t properly enforced and that parents were supposed to "play along, knowing it was an illustration."
Plans to roll out the program nationally have been scrapped. The publisher has distanced itself from what it now calls "a failed experiment."
"Some young people in our organization came up with the idea," says a spokesman. "We were never committed to it."
yes, I know.