RALEIGH, N.C. — If there had been time, Marie Exley would have liked to start a family. Instead, the 32-year-old Army veteran has less than six months left, which she'll spend spreading a stark warning: Judgment Day is almost here.
Exley is part of a movement of Christians loosely organized by radio broadcasts and websites, independent of churches and convinced by their reading of the Bible that the end of the world will begin on May 21, 2011.
To get the word out, they're using billboards and bus stop benches, traveling caravans of RVs and volunteers passing out pamphlets on street corners. Cities from Bridgeport, Conn., to Little Rock, Ark., now have billboards with the ominous message, and mission groups are traveling in countries from Latin America to Africa to spread the news outside the U.S.
"A lot of people might think, 'The end's coming, let's go party,'" said Exley, a veteran of two deployments in Iraq. "But we're commanded by God to warn people. I wish I could just be like everybody else, but it's so much better to know that when the end comes, you'll be safe."
In August, Exley left her home in Colorado Springs, Colo., to work with Oakland, Calif.-based Family Radio Worldwide, the independent Christian ministry whose leader, Harold Camping, has calculated the May 21 date based on his reading of the Bible.
She is organizing traveling columns of RVs carrying the message from city to city, a logistics challenge that her military experience has helped solve. The vehicles are scheduled to be in five North Carolina cities between now and the second week of January, but Exley will shortly be gone: overseas, where she hopes to eventually make it back to Iraq.
"I don't really have plans to come back," she said. "Time is short."
'Definitely against the grain'
Not everyone who's heard Camping's message is taking such a dramatic step. They're remaining in their day-to-day lives, but helping publicize the prophecy in other ways. Allison Warden, of Raleigh, has been helping organize a campaign using billboards, postcards and other media in cities across the U.S. through a website, We Can Know.
The 29-year-old payroll clerk laughs when asked about reactions to the message, which is plastered all over her car.
"It's definitely against the grain, I know that," she said. "We're hoping people won't take our word for it, or Harold Camping's word for it. We're hoping that people will search the scriptures for themselves."
Camping, 89, believes the Bible essentially functions as a cosmic calendar explaining exactly when various prophecies will be fulfilled.
The retired civil engineer said all his calculations come from close readings of the Bible, but that external events like the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948 are signs confirming the date.
"Beyond the shadow of a doubt, May 21 will be the date of the Rapture and the day of judgment," he said.
The doctrine known as the Rapture teaches that believers will be taken up to heaven, while everyone else will remain on earth for a period of torment, concluding with the end of time. Camping believes that will happen in October.