The Light on the Bluff

Their compound is razed, but memories of the Jesus people linger

| November 22, 2012
The Lighthouse Ranch property today, viewed from the ecological preserve where a rare lily is protected.
The Lighthouse Ranch property today, viewed from the ecological preserve where a rare lily is protected.
- photo by Holly Harvey
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The young man stands at the edge of Table Bluff, gazing west into one of the greatest of romances: Rumpled ocean kissing moody sky, wind-embraced, fog-enswirled, sun-glinted. His head, too, is aswirl, with passionate thought.

Beside him is a giant cross. Behind, beyond the path he has just wandered, are decrepit white-washed buildings, a water tower, vegetable gardens abounding with Swiss chard, and a lot full of shabby cars. Closer, right at his back, a lighthouse looms, its flashing white light poised to pierce fog, dusk and night.

 

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Table Bluff is a blank. Cleared, empty. That compound of old white buildings and tall water tower, on the west end where Table Bluff Road turns sharply north along a row of shaggy cypress before dropping down to the South Spit? Some of it there since the 1890s? It's all gone now: The last buildings were picked apart and hauled away and the land scraped clean in mid-October by Bureau of Land Management contractors.

With the buildings went the last physical reminders on the land of one of the more curious -- and possibly most influential -- periods on Table Bluff. Not the time of the lighthouse, the Navy wireless station or even the wartime beach patrol outpost and lookout, important as those were.

We're talking about later, when hundreds of wandering young people swarmed in by junker or thumbed rides to occupy the abandoned government structures and, many quickly found, to be saved if that was their destiny. Those who stayed became a major force in the Jesus People Movement that swept the country in the 1970s, and they built a powerful denomination of born-again Christianity, Gospel Outreach, that would leap from the bluff, scatter and plant itself throughout the world.

 

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It's June 28, 1971, and the young man -- he is 24 -- looks of his time: skinny, bearded, on-the-road. A recent dropout of Rutgers graduate school in photochemistry -- he doesn't need to spend three years with his head stuck in mathematics books -- he's wandered 10,000 miles around the U.S and Canada. If he could just find a nice, quiet enough place, he might figure out where he belongs in the world, and what he believes. Four months have gone by. Home, Portland, Ore., is now a day away. The hitchhikers he picked up in Fortuna the day before brought him here. He's been fed. He's rested. His curtain-windowed Ford Falcon station wagon, which he'd parked the day before in the lot that once was a tennis court, is packed -- frying pan, granola, sprouts, roof rack, bicycle. Ready to move on.

 

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The mere geological happenstance of this grassy plateau called Table Bluff was the reason for most everything that happened upon it.

Jonathan Clark, among the first wave of settlers in 1850, found the bluff top lushly suitable for his dairy cows, according to early newspaper accounts. Others, including bizarre hunter/self-promoter Seth Kinman, saw more benefits. Kinman was the first settler to officially buy land in Humboldt, after Congress enacted the Humboldt Land District in 1858. He chose 80 acres on Table Bluff, about a mile and a half east of its ocean-plummeting edge. He built a home, moved there with his mother and children (his wife had died), put some cows out and later ran a hotel-saloon. Kinman was a traveling showman who claimed he'd killed 800 grizzlies. Sometimes he hired indigenous people to haul his animal kills, as he writes in his memoir, and other times, on vigilante raids with other settlers, he killed -- and sometimes scalped -- them. He sold meat to soldiers and their families at Fort Humboldt and made chairs from bears and elk horns and gave them to presidents. Recipients included Lincoln -- for whom, reported the New York Times and others at the time, he once played a tune on the mule-skull fiddle he made. In his memoirs, the savage mountain man describes retreating to Table Bluff to get away from the increasing danger from "troublesome" Indians down in the river and bay bottomlands.

When the first Humboldt harbor lighthouse, built in 1856 on the south spit, succumbed to earthquakes and surf, the federal government saw Table Bluff as the perfect site for a new lighthouse. The federal Lighthouse Service had to convince rancher Clark's son William (a Eureka politician and businessman) to sell a part of the bluff ranch for less than he wanted for it, and finally did so by threatening to take it by condemnation, reported Ralph and Janetta Shanks in their book Lighthouses and Lifeboats on the Redwood Coast. A deed on record at the county courthouse shows the sale went through on Oct. 22, 1891. The lighthouse, a fog signal building, equipment outbuildings and houses for the lighthouse keeper's family and two assistant keepers' families were built, and in 1892 the light went on. The Navy put up wireless radio towers to send compass bearings and messages to ships. In the 1920s the government bought more land from adjacent ranchers. In 1926, a tennis court went in.

During World War II, the government set up a coastal lookout on the bluff, and started a horse-mounted beach patrol. It built a new barracks and some couples quarters to house everyone. After the war, everyone left but the lightkeepers. The government moved them into the newer buildings and tore down the original Victorian Italianate structures, including the one attached to the lighthouse. When the lighthouse was automated and the fog signal station shut down in 1953, they left too.

What happened next is hazy in the history books. Cheryl Seidner, former chair of the Wiyot Tribe, grew up in the 1950s and '60s on the tribe's old reservation on the bluff, about a half mile from the lighthouse property (and a mile from where the new reservation sits today). She remembers playing with kids whose mother was Wiyot and who lived on the lighthouse property -- possibly as caretakers. They'd scramble along stairs cut into the cliff to get to the beach, minding the stinging nettles at the bottom where there was a spring. And they'd run around on top of the bluff.

"We were down there a lot," she said by phone recently. "We played in the trees, jumping from tree to tree. We always tried to jump on the lighthouse and slide down. The trees were close together -- you could walk from one to the other through the branches -- and we would walk on the branches to get to the lighhouse. But we would never quite make it."

When those friends moved away another family moved in who held a vacation bible school in the summer, Seidner remembers. "I really loved it," she said. In the winter, the family held a church service every other week that Seidner's family attended.

Seidner went away to business college in San Francisco in 1968, when she was 18. When she returned three years later, the Jesus people had arrived and the Lighthouse Ranch charismatic Christian commune was in full swing.

And what better place than a flat-topped, wind-blasted, isolated redoubt above ocean, bay and salty river-mouthed bottomland to stake out a command post for Jesus? To gather in the scattered light and focus it into a beam to pierce fog, hearts, minds?

 

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Standing on the bluff, he mulls familiar ground: There's got to be something bigger than himself, larger than the materialistic yearnings of his parents' generation. His science mind has been leaning toward the pagan, toward nature: God is in the trees and the grass and in all things. He'd been sharing this philosophy eagerly with his new friends ever since he'd arrived the day before on this land's end near Loleta, a dozen miles south of Eureka. And they'd kept responding, yes, but don't you want to meet the creator of those things? Talk to God directly?

Praise Jesus! They all kept saying it, like it was just another breath or heartbeat.

 

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None of this would have happened if Ken Smith hadn't bought the land.

One day in late 1969, Smith, pastor of a Christian youth ministry called Zion Lodge near Eugene, Ore., was talking to a friend about the hippies. How could they have a bigger impact on all these kids running around loose in the world, hitchhiking and doing drugs and sleeping around?

Zion Lodge was a halfway house, ranch-style, that had lassoed a few of these kids who wanted to change their lives. Smith taught a gospel that was basic, nondenominational -- the early writings of Jesus and his disciples spelled out, as Smith puts it, in "hippie language."

"My friend mentioned that he knew a guy down in northern California who had a lighthouse full of hippies and didn't know what to do with it," said Smith, who is 80 now, by phone recently from his home in Kona, Hawaii, where he runs Trinity Fellowship International.

When Smith went to check it out, the majesty of the bluff wasn't what impressed him. He saw available space. Room enough to build a new ministry. The run down buildings were even, promisingly, already stocked with at least 50 hippies who, though industriously making driftwood furniture to sell in town, were also doing drugs and were obviously, in Smith's mind, in need of saving.

He bought it and named it Lighthouse Ranch. Most of the squatters left. Soon about 70 new hippies moved in who were seeking what Smith was offering -- rehabilitation, hard work, Jesus.

Smith tells stories the way you want a minister to: Good whups evil and it's often a hoot. From the ranch's early days, his favorites include the day the Hell's Angels came to chase the Christians off and got stuck there in the miserable cold with a broken bike; the near-miss of a young man leaning into the wind at the bluff's edge; the astonishing shut-eyed dance of a man normally hobbled with arthritis.

His hippies lived mostly on donated food and potatoes gleaned from a field below the bluff, had chapel in the evenings and invited the townspeople to join in on Saturdays. On Sundays, whoever wanted to would pile into a big bus and go into Eureka to attend services at Jim Durkin's Deliverence Temple, where, Smith said, "the hippie kids got all fired up."

 

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The young man takes in the dramatic beauty all around him again. The ocean in front of him. The languid Eel River Valley to his left. South Spit, its tip shrouded in fog, stretching long to his right between the ocean and Humboldt Bay. And behind him that comforting, orderly cluster of white structures and, closer, a lighthouse -- a lighthouse! -- literally piercing the growing dark, guiding, pulling in.

"What a romantic God is," he thinks, chuckling to himself. He shrugs -- what the heck? And he lifts his head and says to the sky, "Jesus, if you're really who these people say you are, then I have to know you. I give up. If you're the truth, here I am. You can have me."

 

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Jim Durkin didn't care much for hippies, at first. A realtor and evangelical pastor, his life was fairly straitlaced, say people who knew him (he died in 1996). One day, the story goes -- as retold in newspapers and by family -- he was in his real estate office when some Jesus freaks walked in, looking for a place to rent for a coffee house ministry. They had long hair, long beards and big wooden crosses hanging around their necks. Durkin pretended he had nothing for them. But later he called them back, and soon they were set up in a place on Clark and B streets in Eureka.

A synergy developed between the coffee house hippies and the Lighthouse Ranch hippies -- who all converged at Deliverence Temple, where there was drumming, speaking in tongues and the charismatic Durkin's sermons. And Durkin started liking them. When Smith, tired of the sandblasting cold wind on the bluff, moved to Hawaii in 1971 to start a new ministry, Durkin took over his payments on Lighthouse Ranch, stepped in as spiritual leader and appointed ranch coordinators to run the day-to-day affairs.

Jim Durkin's son, also named Jim, was 19 at the time and serving in Vietnam. His mother, Dacie (who died last year), had been telling him in letters about the Lighthouse Ranch, but he'd found a lot of it hard to believe.

"Some of Mom's letters would say, 'These are hippies who are becoming Christians,'" said Durkin recently by phone. And my attitude was, 'I don't think so. I don't think any hippie would spend any more than five minutes with my father.'"

Nor he with them -- his father was clean-cut, strict and wore a three-piece suit every day.

Jim Durkin Jr., on the other hand, liked the idea of hippies. After a disciplined childhood and the Marines Corps, he was ready to see how a child of the Sixties lived. He doubted, though, that he'd find it at Lighthouse Ranch.

"My Mom said it was like a Bible school, and that did not appeal to me in the least bit," Durkin said.

In mid-March 1971, out on leave, he went home and his mom drove him out to Table Bluff. He was shocked: The people here really were hippies. The men had beards and long hair. Some of the women wore pants but many were in long, handmade corduroy and denim skirts. They spoke of love, acceptance, tolerance. Most surprisingly, to Durkin, they all talked about how much they loved his parents.

"About five minutes later I saw this man I knew to be my father walking across the field in a flannel shirt and bib overalls."

His dad was transformed inside, too, Durkin said. It was as if his emotional defenses had come down. Durkin wanted to stay but his dad told him to go finish his obligation to the Marines.

When Durkin left the ranch that March, there were about 60 people living there. Five months later, when he got out of the service and returned, there were more than 200.

"Somehow, the reputation of the Lighthouse Ranch had got out on the drug trail, in communities around the world where drugs were easy to obtain, and people said, 'If you ever get to America, to California, to Humboldt County, you can go to the Lighthouse Ranch and they'll give you a meal and a place to stay," said Durkin.

People came from France, Amsterdam and other far off places. And they weren't all drug-addled. Already swept up in the spreading Jesus People movement -- the hippie religious revival -- many newcomers to the ranch were primed for the gospel message.

Others were just wanderers, not knowing what they sought. If they stayed, they had to get off drugs, clean up and work. The guys cut their hair and found jobs in town or with the timber companies, adding their pay to the community pot. The younger Durkin, who'd been a chef in the Marines, took over the cooking -- much to the relief of the others, recalled a couple of other residents recently, one of whom -- Gary Todoroff -- said the women "liked to experiment" a bit too much in the kitchen.

It was hard sustaining a commune of 200-some people, and the odd jobbers' incomes weren't cutting it. Todoroff remembers a "famous" sermon given by Durkin one day, who pointed out the ranch was scraping by on $20 per person per month: "You can't live on $20 a month. And worse, you can't give on $20 a month. If you've committed yourself to living here, you've got to get off of any welfare. You can't be givers if you're takers."

The commune members started several businesses, including a bakery and donut shop in Eureka, a grape stakes mill in Carlotta, a little newspaper called The Gospel Paper, and another called the Tri-City Advertiser that had scriptures scattered into the pages. (Today it's an ordinary, free porch-slapper called the Tri-City Weekly, owned by Media News Group, parent of the Times-Standard.) A couple of members, including Todoroff, founded the Radiance Media Ministry, which recorded Durkin's sermons as well as musicians associated with Lighthouse Ranch.

But the real work Durkin envisioned, and propelled, was preparing teams of disciples to go out into the world and establish new outposts for preaching the gospel. They scattered through the United States, Europe and Latin America. Gospel Outreach was born.

In 1976, in Guatemala, after a devastating earthquake, a Gospel Outreach relief team was sent to help rebuild, and it established El Verbo, a Gospel Outreach church. Efraín Ríos Montt -- who would become president after a military coup a few years later, in 1982 -- converted and joined these evangelical born agains. Montt, in his 17-month dictatorship, has been accused of killing thousands of Mayans, of razing whole villages, in an anti-Communist crackdown to wipe out leftists in a decades-long civil war. Some say he relied on fundamentalist relief groups, including El Verbo, to infiltrate villages. This year, at age 85, Montt finally went on trial on genocide charges. El Verbo, meanwhile, according to its own website, has became a mothership of its own and claims to have converted 15,000 people throughout Latin America.

Todoroff and others we talked to who met Montt (but didn't know him well) shy away from the question -- did he kill thousands? He seemed like a gentle man, they say. "It goes counter to all of my experience down in Guatemala," said Todoroff. "And Verbo had taken on its own identity" by the time Montt was in control, he added.

Today, according to Randall Balmer's "The Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism," there are at least 100 Gospel Outreach churches throughout the United States and Germany, Hawaii, Nicaragua and Guatemala. The parent church, according to the Eureka's church's website, appears to now only identify with four congregations in the Northwest, all renamed Gospel Outreach Reformational Church -- "a name that reflects both our origins and our growing appreciation of a Reformational understanding of Scripture and the gospel," notes the site. (Eureka Gospel Outreach Pastor David Sczepanski, an early Lighthouse member, did not respond to requests from the Journal to interview him.)

During the growth years, the teams of disciples launched by Pastor Durkin often included newly married couples -- and getting married was a goal of many at that time.

Celeste Durkin, the younger Jim Durkin's wife, was 23 when she traveled there in June 1972 from Fresno with a boyfriend who'd been to the ranch before. He was going through a divorce. She was a college dropout. She smoked pot and messed around with the occult and had some bad experiences with a Ouija board. She felt lost, she said, and was searching for a truth. They drove all day and by nightfall were winding along in the dark beside Hookton Slough.

"It was terrifying," she said. "It was dark. I could smell I was getting close to the ocean. We were just driving and driving on this long road, and I didn't really know where I was going and who I was going to meet. And I'd never left home before."

At the ranch, her friend went to the men's dorm and said she could go to the "sisters" dorm -- everyone was "brother" and "sister" at the ranch. No thanks, she said, and she curled up in the car under her jacket.

"I was out there a few minutes and I felt a presence in the car, a spiritual presence," she said. It was good -- warm and loving feeling. The next morning, when she entered the dorm, everybody ran up to her, asked her name, and told her about Jesus, God's son, and how he died for her sins and that she could have a personal relationship with this son. That was news to a Catholic-raised girl -- and she liked it. The guy she came with didn't, and eventually left.

She met young Jim Durkin a month later, in July. He seemed pushy at first -- too eager to find a wife. But a lot of people were then.

"Sometimes we had double weddings," she said. "It was the end times. Everybody thought they were living in the last days, and we really felt we weren't going to be around very long so we better get on with it. It wasn't conscious, but we did think the Lord was coming back soon. It was pretty extraordinary times; there was the Vietnam War, rebellion, a lot of change. Bob Dylan and 'The times they are achangin.' Nuclear threat. Kennedy assassinated. A lot of unrest."

She and young Jim married later that year, on Nov. 5. (The couple, who live in Eureka, just celebrated their 40th anniversary.) That December, they were dispatched to Coquille, Ore., to start a ministry, and later they were sent to New York where young Jim was the pastor of a (non-hippie) Gospel Outreach church through the 1980s.

 

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He waits, taking in again the beauty all around him, sensing the presence he calls God in the wind, the grass, the trees. Then, wham! He falls to his knees, knocked there by the surprise of it: Now the presence was inside him, in a place he hadn't even known existed.

 

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Was everyone saved? Of course not -- not everyone who went to the Lighthouse Ranch on Table Bluff wanted to be.

Was it all radiance and light, out there in Lighthouse hippie gospel land?

No.

Some thought Lighthouse Ranch was a cult. Celeste Durkin said her mom and brother, as soon as she finally told them where she was, grabbed a rifle and drove from Fresno to rescue her. They relaxed once they met her friends and future husband.

D'Arcy Fallon, a former Lighthouse resident, writes in her memoir, So Late, So Soon, of trying hard to be filled with God, to happily do chores, while chafing under the strict, male-dominated structure that demanded she submit, serve the men, have children. She yearned to live in a real house with her new husband, to not share a bathroom with a hundred other butts and cook for the hordes; he wanted to stay. If you were sick, she writes, you were treated as if you were filled with something "demonic."

There are likely many stories like these, as many as there are tales of salvation. Gary Todoroff -- who is our young man standing on the bluff in June of 1972 -- told a story recently while wandering on the bluff, reminiscing: A Lighthouse member who'd gone to Los Angeles for the summer faked his death so nobody would try to coerce him to come back. His ruse was discovered when Todoroff and others from the ministry drove to L.A. to try to go to his funeral. There wasn't one. They called around to morgues, called the guy's friends -- and one had just seen him, alive and well.

"There was tremendous pressure to stay with the program," Todoroff admitted. What kept it from becoming a cult, he said, was that Jim Durkin "always pointed to Jesus Christ."

But the Lighthouse Ranch began to change, as the Jesus People moved on, some slipping into conventional church-going society. In the 1980s, Todoroff said, the ranch became more of a formal training center, a reform school, he said, where parents were known to drop off troubled kids to get straightened out. Durkin said the county court system even sentenced some troublemakers to rehab at the ranch.

Durkin said young people who came to the ranch on their own no longer seemed to be seeking a truth. "They were seeking a place to stay and a free meal," he said.

Ken Smith said he noticed it at his ministry in Hawaii, too. Kids were becoming less transparent, less innocent. "They're more sophisticated now," he said. "They're harder to figure out."

After Jim Durkin Sr. died, the ranch fell into disuse. In 2005, Gospel Outreach sold the 5.9 acres it still owned to the state for $1.5 million and used the money to build a new church off of Harris Street in Eureka. The state donated the land to the federal Bureau of Land Management to preserve as public open space. In 2010, the BLM purchased a remaining 2.6 acres on the site owned by Fortuna businessman Patrick O'Dell for a while. The lighthouse ranch land is surrounded by public preserves -- an ecological preserve across the road where a rare lily grows, the South Spit, the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The lighthouse property completes the picture, says Lynda Roush, manager of the BLM's Arcata field office.

The BLM initially intended to preserve all the old structures and create a visitor center there. But Roush said the buildings were too abused by neglect and vandalism -- and riddled with asbestos -- and in the end the agency decided to raze everything after consulting with the state historic preservation office. Most of the oldest structures already were gone. The lighthouse tower, which ceased operating in 1975 after new lights were put in at the harbor entrance, had been hauled away in 1987 to Woodley Island.

The state dismantled the 57-foot redwood water tower and sent it to the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse museum in San Simeon, where it will be rebuilt.

Eventually, the light poles that cross the property -- the original road went through there -- will be moved back to the edge of the current road, Roush said. And if there's ever money, maybe a visitor center will go in.

 

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On a windless, sunny afternoon, Gary Todoroff walked along the faint trace of a curving path he built on the bluff 30 years ago. All around on the bare, scraped ground, seedlings were sprouting -- the BLM had scattered the seeds of a native species grass mix.

The path once went from the main building where everyone gathered to the men's dorm. He looked around at the empty space where everything had been. Todoroff, who is a professional photographer now, was the ranch's photographer. He once helped a PBS film crew shoot a documentary about religion in America that featured Lighthouse Ranch. When the buildings were being torn down last month, he came up and shot some more pictures.

"It was like watching the slow death of a friend," he said.

He recalled his first morning here, waking up to sunlight. Someone was playing a flute. People were tending gardens, cooking breakfast. It was the most magical place he'd been.

Later that day he had walked to the edge of the bluff, where he had stood by the cross, looked out at the ocean, and spoken to the sky. Every year now, he goes to that same spot on June 28. He brings a Bible, reads a little, prays.

Todoroff walked to the place where the cross used to be, past a rectangle of planks laid in a square over a space that smelled of skunk lair. It was the lighthouse foundation; the state plans to leave it and maybe, someday, if there's money, put in some interpretive signs.

"I am thankful it's public land," Todoroff said.

And that presence he felt there, so long ago? Was it still here?

"He doesn't live in buildings," Todoroff said. "He doesn't even live in the land. He lives in your heart. And His presence here was in the people who knew Him."

He walked back toward the road, between hoary windbreaks of cypress where little birds were squeaking; a flicker, wafting on stiff orange-feathered wings from one tree to another, cried out sharply. He stepped onto his old path, followed it to the dirt expanse where the main building had been. He walked across the clearing where he'd first parked his old Falcon, the spot that once was a tennis court. And, after a prayer, he drove away.

 

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You can see more photos of the Lighthouse Ranch on Gary Todoroff's Facebook page, and more history on alumnus Joan Pritchard's website.

 

The Lighthouse, circa 1893.
The Lighthouse, circa 1893.
- Photo by A.W. Ericson, courtesy Humboldt State University’s Humboldt Room Photograph Collections
Aerial long shot of Table Bluff (sunlit, in the foreground, bottom left corner) and Humboldt Bay, shot on Oct. 16, 1947, by Merle Shuster.
Aerial long shot of Table Bluff (sunlit, in the foreground, bottom left corner) and Humboldt Bay, shot on Oct. 16, 1947, by Merle Shuster.
- Courtesy Humboldt State University’s Humboldt Room Photograph Collections
Sam Griffith recording at Gospel Outreach’s Radiance Media Ministry in the 1970s. Former Gospel Outreach member (and surf music pioneer) Paul Johnson released a two-disc set of some of these recordings in 2009, called "Northern California Jesus Movement."
Sam Griffith recording at Gospel Outreach’s Radiance Media Ministry in the 1970s. Former Gospel Outreach member (and surf music pioneer) Paul Johnson released a two-disc set of some of these recordings in 2009, called "Northern California Jesus Movement."
- Photo by Gary Todoroff
An aerial of the lighthouse property in the 1930s or early 1940s, before some of the original structures (includng the lightkeepers’ quarters) were torn down.
An aerial of the lighthouse property in the 1930s or early 1940s, before some of the original structures (includng the lightkeepers’ quarters) were torn down.
- Photo by Ken Kilburn
Ken Smith (in the dark leather jacket, center, with his hands on one knee) with some of his hippie converts in 1970, in front of the fog horn house, soon to become a chapel.
Ken Smith (in the dark leather jacket, center, with his hands on one knee) with some of his hippie converts in 1970, in front of the fog horn house, soon to become a chapel.
- Photo courtesy Ken Smith
Gospel Outreach founders Jim and Dacie Durkin at the Elk River campground. Some former Lighthouse Ranch residents say the Durkins were like another mom and dad to them.
Gospel Outreach founders Jim and Dacie Durkin at the Elk River campground. Some former Lighthouse Ranch residents say the Durkins were like another mom and dad to them.
- Photo by Gary Todoroff
“In Christian circles there are so many different ways of worship and so many beliefs based on the same bible,” says Jim Durkin. “My dad had an amazing ability to work with people regardless of their doctrinal beliefs or worship styles.”
“In Christian circles there are so many different ways of worship and so many beliefs based on the same bible,” says Jim Durkin. “My dad had an amazing ability to work with people regardless of their doctrinal beliefs or worship styles.”
- Photo by Gary Todoroff
“There were rules,” says Celeste Durkin. “You couldn’t do drugs. After you’d been there a day, you had to agree to do work or chores. It was very structured. It was not like la la land. They rang a bell for every meal and you had to be there or not eat."
“There were rules,” says Celeste Durkin. “You couldn’t do drugs. After you’d been there a day, you had to agree to do work or chores. It was very structured. It was not like la la land. They rang a bell for every meal and you had to be there or not eat."
- Photo by Gary Todoroff
Jim and Celeste Durkin back in the Lighthouse Ranch days.
Jim and Celeste Durkin back in the Lighthouse Ranch days.
- Photo courtesy Jim and Celeste Durkin
Weddings were frequent and encouraged in the Gospel Outreach community. Here, the elder Jim Durkin beams upon a couple married in July 1971 at the church’s camp on Elk River Road, several miles east of the Lighthouse Ranch.
Weddings were frequent and encouraged in the Gospel Outreach community. Here, the elder Jim Durkin beams upon a couple married in July 1971 at the church’s camp on Elk River Road, several miles east of the Lighthouse Ranch.
- Photo by Gary Todoroff
The cross on the bluff at sunset.
The cross on the bluff at sunset.
- Photos by Gary Todoroff
Gary Todoroff, on a visit to the Lighthouse Ranch property earlier this month, recalled standing on this very spot on the bluff in 1971, wondering if this was where he was meant to be.
Gary Todoroff, on a visit to the Lighthouse Ranch property earlier this month, recalled standing on this very spot on the bluff in 1971, wondering if this was where he was meant to be.
- Photo by Heidi Walters
The Lighthouse property was vandalized numerous times before the BLM tore the decrepit structures down this fall.
The Lighthouse property was vandalized numerous times before the BLM tore the decrepit structures down this fall.
- Photo by Brad Job, Bureau of Land Management
Contractors doing the asbestos removal and demolition had their tools stolen four times, including after they put everything in a high-security cargo box -- the thieves sawed through it.
Contractors doing the asbestos removal and demolition had their tools stolen four times, including after they put everything in a high-security cargo box -- the thieves sawed through it.
- Photo by Brad Job, Bureau of Land Management
The Lighthouse property just before the demolition.
The Lighthouse property just before the demolition.
- Photo by Brad Job, Bureau of Land Management
After the buildings were torn down, the BLM graded the raw land and reseeded it with native grasses.
After the buildings were torn down, the BLM graded the raw land and reseeded it with native grasses.
- Photo by Brad Job, Bureau of Land Management

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Comments (32)

Showing 1-25 of 32

Nicely written---even handed treatment of a complex story and colorful characters. Nice you did not "go there" with the typical-cultural Anti- Chiristian and Hater rhetoric. Thanks for the info. ---Hammonds in Mack Town

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Posted by scott hammond on 11/22/2012 at 7:46 PM

I wrote this poem after the Lighthouse Ranch closed I had been a pastor there from 1989-1992. To me the Lighthouse Ranch is as much a place of the heart as it is a phsical place. Lighthouse Ranch Mysical beckoning vista of wind bent trees, dunes and pounding waves. Saints were born here and sent like living letters into a sincloaked world. Hallowed ground where a thousand lamps were lit by the Gospel Flame and lives were hammered out on the forge of redemption. Love was resolute and it's passion faithful where lovers gathered to hear the Bridegroom's song, What God has done He will do again. Do not grieve over weathered wood and storm worn overgrown crosses. He who began shall finish, and he who triumphed is triumphant still. Gold wil last when rust has claimed the rest.

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Posted by David Fouche on 11/22/2012 at 8:17 PM

I expected to read something of New Life Service Company here, as Jim Durkin started the business and it's still primarily owned by members of Gospel Outreach Church. I grew up in Loleta in the 70's and 80's and still live here. My knowledge of The Lighthouse Ranch, Gospel Outreach, and the Durkin family is a result of my association with New Life over the past 17+ years. I knew the Ranch as somewhat of a "wayward hippie Christian training center" (my own descriptor) long before I began working at New Life, and I have come to know that the congregation at Gospel Outreach and those who closely followed the work of Jim Durkin are wonderful people with strong commitments to their faith, family, hard work and the sharing of life's best pursuits. I'm proud to be a non-Christian who has been positively influenced by the characters in and around this story, and I hope that those locals who have a more vague notion of what the Ranch was and who Jim Durkin was will look at this history with an appreciation for what was achieved and the quality of those who are still doing the work to make our community better, no matter their affiliation.

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Posted by Eric Stockwell on 11/22/2012 at 9:08 PM

I've helped Heidi prep her next not-a-cult story. She can just cut, paste, and change the names. Voila! 1) A Brighthouse member who’d gone to Los Angeles for the summer faked his death so nobody would try to coerce him to come back 2) “There was tremendous pressure to stay with the program,” Rodotoff admitted. What kept it from becoming a cult, he said, was that Jim Furkin “always pointed to James Jones.” 3) “He doesn’t live in buildings,” Rodotoff said. “He doesn’t even live in the land. He lives in your heart. And His presence here was in the people who knew Him.” Right.

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Posted by Mitch Trachtenberg on 11/23/2012 at 8:46 AM

Nice, Mitch... Back to the Herald for you, lad. Spread your hate and bigotry there.

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Posted by MitchisaBigot on 11/23/2012 at 9:56 AM

Sigh... you can always count on the little mitches to "go there."

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Posted by Joe Stark on 11/23/2012 at 10:20 AM

Well done, Heidi Walters! As one of those early Jesus freaks at the Lighthouse Ranch, I recognize the place where I lived and matured as a Christian--and the transcendent experiences that occurred there.

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Posted by Bill Ireland on 11/23/2012 at 11:27 AM

Lighthouse Ranch Re-visited, April 1996 (an excerpt) I started off at the north edge of the Bluff, and as I wandered along, stopping frequently to be grateful for the wind and the solitude, I found myself flooded with the impression of the hundreds and probably thousands of people like myself whose lives had been deeply touched by the hand of God on those few acres. Just that fact was overwhelming to me, and I could feel within me as if in a concentrated way the moving of the Spirit in so many lives and so many ways. How many miracles had taken place there over the years, how many men and women, children and families, churches and ministries had their foundations built in that place? And in this revery I was very conscious that the Ranch itself was a representation of the whole ministry in its earlier days - Carlotta Mansion, Living Waters Ranch, Mendocino, the communal houses and many outreaches. What fervor boiled in our veins! What a testimony of God's love and grace.

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Posted by Dick Funnell on 11/23/2012 at 3:20 PM

Well done, Heidi. I lived at the Ranch in its heyday and was moved by the photos and the careful description of the evolution of the place. Mitch, you're welcome to your opinion, but I'd caution you to tread carefully. Did you live there? Were you part of Gospel Outreach? I'm no longer a Christian, and I'll openly declare that there were elements of the organization that were cultish--considering Jim Durkin an "apostle," for instance, and allowing a few men in leadership to have the final say in one's own life ("shepherding," it was called). But I think you cross a line when you lightheartedly draw a comparison with the Lighthouse Ranch and the Jonestown massacre. Although you may disagree with elements of Gospel Outreach or Deliverance Temple, unless you lived it back in the day, you may be making a specious and hurtful argument. There was much that was wonderful at the Lighthouse Ranch--even in the heart and memory of this old reprobate.

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Posted by Carla Lowe Baku on 11/25/2012 at 12:41 PM

Carla, I don't doubt that there may have been much that was wonderful at the Lighthouse Ranch. My concern is the manner in which the news that a member faked his funeral to get away is presented, chuckled over, and, effectively, dismissed. Perhaps that's what people think is so even-handed -- it did not strike me as so. I'm glad the ranch was a good experience for many.

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Posted by Mitch Trachtenberg on 11/26/2012 at 7:20 AM

Mitch, twice here you have misread the story and misquoted it. I did not write "not-a-cult" -- those are your words. And, there was no "chuckling over" the faked-death story -- that also appears to be your interpretation..

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Posted by Heidi on 11/26/2012 at 1:01 PM

“Chuckled” is indeed my word, not yours. But if you look at the web version of your story, starting on page 9 and continuing on page 10, you’ll see what I’m interpreting. I suppose others can easily interpret it differently, but I see the cult question dealt with, on web page 9, this way: “Some thought Lighthouse Ranch was a cult. Celeste Durkin said her mom and brother, as soon as she finally told them where she was, grabbed a rifle and drove from Fresno to rescue her. They relaxed once they met her friends and future husband.” That does, indeed, acknowledge that some thought this was a cult. Before the paragraph is done, however, you have reassured your readers that such people “relaxed once they met her friends and future husband.” Then, at the top of page 10, the character around whom you center your piece says: “There was tremendous pressure to stay with the program,” Todoroff admitted. What kept it from becoming a cult, he said, was that Jim Durkin “always pointed to Jesus Christ.” That, btw, is what in my mind constituted a chuckle. To my ears, you have taken the positively presented center of the story and quoted him to clarify that this was not a cult. No, the word chuckle does not appear. When a person, not described as paranoid, fakes his funeral to escape from a group, I find it disturbing when an author so quickly moves on to quote a character assuring us the group escaped from was not a cult. As Carla has pointed out, I wasn’t there and I don’t know any of the people. It’s not rare, though, that when I read local journalism that people consider neutral, I don’t see it as neutral at all. Perhaps it’s just me.

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Posted by Mitch Trachtenberg on 11/26/2012 at 2:24 PM

Jesus, Mitch. Really? Now you're going to argue with a writer over what she meant to say (but didn't) and tell someone the meaning of an experience you didn't have? It's sad that you can find no better way to connect with humanity.

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Posted by Reader on 11/27/2012 at 4:02 PM

No, reader, not at all. I'm sure the piece was perfect and even-handed in every respect, so there's nothing at all to argue about.

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Posted by Mitch Trachtenberg on 11/27/2012 at 5:01 PM

Mitch, be the change. Hating is so last month.

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Posted by Reader on 11/29/2012 at 2:55 PM

David Fouche! This is Judy Rothbell Oskay once of Silverton, now Jay Sheckley in Berkeley. Do you know my childhood friend who cooked at the Ranch, Shelley Paust mow Van Winkle? Whatever happened to Dean? What I'd give to hear you sing live again.

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Posted by Jay Sheckley on 11/30/2012 at 7:36 AM

Great story ! Thank you Hiedi. I was a local hippie / dairy farmer living at the end of Hookton RD in a cabin , five miles from Light House Ranch in those early days. I became a Jesus Freak through my friendship with those early pilgrims at the ranch. They accepted and welcomed me into their lives. A team from the ranch went to Silverton Oregon and started a faith community here. My wife and first child and I moved here in 1976 and we are here today still helping lead this same faith community. We serve a free community meal in our small town in the same spirit of (whom soever will may come) that I recieved at Light House Ranch so many years ago.

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Posted by Breck Wilson on 11/30/2012 at 10:41 AM

GO was imperfect because people are imperfect. I was there and I've been in many protestant denominations. There is a difference in style but it was not a cult. GO was moveable feast. It was an inner-city-mission run by the inmates. Teachings centered on Godly improvement of the indivdual, responsibility, communal caring. Sherpherding was a necessary yoke for people - their lives were a mess: “keep with the program” of a multitude of counselors: the most rehabilitated inmates became such "elders". No one was forced to stay except by their own state of mind. This shepherding was a slippery slope for some members but it was not top down - it was with individuals. Every outreach had its own leaders, own baggage, were quite different. My wife's GO was led by a former Nazarene and quite Calvinistic. GO Eureka was not. They disallowed Xmass where Jim merely suggested not to. We had Xmas parties anyway -no problem. Jim jr. and John D attended - great fun.
When I was there they were moving away from communalism into cooperative living; too many abused sharing and newly married people were wanting to establish their families along traditional lines. Yet they also wanted to retain closeness. The church was being worked out as it went. Jim taught to step out in faith because so many do not.A branch church started because someone had a dream or vision. It was expected that God would work it out. A prayer and off they went. Too simple, naive. For many it became a trap that hurt people. They had no real training to prepare for all they would run into. Most mimicked Jim's teachings but were Bible poor. Some were not. The movement was dying as strife from these inadequacies mounted and failed to live after Durkin died. But not in all cases. It MUST be acknowledged: a large number of divorces occured; many walked away from God. I watched this occur and attribute it to the lack of maturity and poor training of the leaders and the individuals who saw themselves as future leaders. Some accuse that GO was a CIA front, a para-military Christian group, a right wing political group,JimJones cult. GO was so inadequate and far away from any of those things. It's like accusing Disney and believing it.

Donald O'conner joined his church to GO; he was not sent by GO. He affiliated for reasons of his own. I believe his church to be an example of shepherding that's slipped off the slope. A negative cult.  His church is not representative in any way of the GO I knew.
The ranch was visited by and mentioned by Peter Jenkins in his “Walk Across America.”

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Posted by Don Hill on 01/01/2013 at 3:20 PM

I was there in 78 and 79. I even went with a group to Denver Colorado to start a new church in the 80's. All I can tell you is that people see what they want to see. And what I saw was leadership that praised God on Sunday and stay drunk or stoned,, the rest of the week. 1 of the older brothers that I knew, was molesting his own children at home. But I will be the first to admit, those who allow themselves to submit to a "shepherd", have no 1 to blame but themselves.

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Posted by Robert Leslie on 01/27/2013 at 1:40 PM

I was there in 78 and 79. I even went with a group to Denver Colorado to start a new church in the 80's. All I can tell you is that people see what they want to see. And what I saw was leadership that praised God on Sunday and stay drunk or stoned,, the rest of the week. 1 of the older brothers that I knew, was molesting his own children at home. But I will be the first to admit, those who allow themselves to submit to a "shepherd", have no 1 to blame but themselves.

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Posted by Robert Leslie on 01/27/2013 at 1:40 PM

Hi.Just learned all the tests and added trials and tribulations I went through there at the ranch(77-79,84,86) was brainwashing by members of the C I A and not the intention of the church alone to put me through all that trickery.WOW!Why pass on missionary ready members for teams like those ready to go to earthquake guatamala when you can pick assassins.So thats why I along with so many others were passed up for that set of missionary work and instead that weird fake preacher Jose Efram Rios Montt codduled and brought up the ranks and sent out.I recall many people frustrated and left the church during all that.Me? Why I was sent on a mission team that when I got there,I found out,it hadn't been in existance for years.People at the door answered with a beer in hand "What church ministry?". The church members had all prayered and sent me out on that mission to nowhere and my former pastor Harry Hewitt at the same time was sent to his mission team to be a beloved pastor in england.Nice cushy job for him.They didnt even check on me.What a church! Brainwashes me to dig out septic systems,digout an old house sunk in the mud,repaint with a lead paste all the water tower joints,nuts,bolts,plates,and assorted hardware(exsposing myself to toxic lead),tree planting,window washing,cook,steam cleaning,tree trimming,gardening,janitorial,etc.,etc.etc. And Im still waiting for my reward in heaven as they say.But as I notice though it seems they(the leaders) all did so much better here on earth. They taught me to keep my treasures in heaven yet theres is here it seems.Seems so many in the mission feild sold out to the CIA and Satan. No wonder the ranch is gone;Lock, stock, and barrel.Cleaned of the planet like it had been done away with by God's wrath. I knew Montt.He wanted to practice his Jimmy Swaggart like charlaton moves on me and I would tell him,"Thats weird,why not reach in from what god gave you instead of putting on a mask?"While I sat next to him on his bunk. I avoided him after awhile because it seemed he was so off the path from the truth and he was being wrongfully promoted while other good souls were shunned from being a rightful selection.Even cast out. He had just been baptised and they put him in charge in such a little time,it went against all they taught.But after 79 a lot of so called X millitary was in leadership rolls.It wasnt all Jesus and love anymore.I was asked if I was a passafist and was under scrutany by unknown leadership like in a trial like setting at times. They then didnt like my view against killing.A lot of us left then.Some couldnt leave.I tried before and would be blocked from leaving.Other times I was tkicked out only to have a leader straiten them out. Jim was never around to tell him about what was going on.I wonder if hes rolling in his grave to know all the evil that came out of all this.250,000 dead and not one G.O. member yelling foul.Where is Jesus in all this? Im horrified to learn all this after 30 some odd years later. Some people say,"God have mercy on the evil doers",but no not me."Lord,get them! For if theres a hell,it must be for those that purpetrated this on the innocents.I will be dieing soon, thanks to the staff at the lighthouse ranch and lead,etc. Anyone know a good(I mean really good)Lawyer.

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Posted by zzzzz on 06/11/2013 at 8:30 PM

Id like to know who it was that faked his death.Wish Id had thought of that.Well,I indeed did think of it but didnt know how to make it look good enough.Then later,they just wanted me to work,work,work..I got a refund check once from back home and they made me give it to the ranch.Found out later from someone there that it all went for heroin to the ranch coordinator 160.00 thanks charlotans!Was Jim Dirkin anymore a man then P.T.Barnum who is quoted in saying theres a sucker born every minute? In all my years in and out of all the ministry and work spots,I never got a minute to talk to Jim. I knew there was a lot wrong and the management didnt want anyone to get to Jim about it.So when it came up,they'd send me off to a job for months and then even on a fake mission.They musta been laughing up a storm.Just like when the leadership played a trick on a bunch of guys by having a snipe hunt.Basicly the send people out in the woods and they wait for the game to be driven towards them.However,Tom DeChamps(x-seals/cia) and the rest of the ones in on the joke would just come back to the house and see how long they stay out there before realizing its a trick.It was hurtfull expecialy to this young jewish convert I liked but saw picked on at times like this by staff. I should write a book and add everyones name that acted scandalus and evil towards others.It went unchecked why? Because the people put in charge were not real converts but CIA operatives. My uncle and aunt came to visit me out of the bkue.With them was the fleet admiral of ww2.They were lobyists, consultants to the white house and former ambassadoral sectr, to the vatacan.White house's Ed Mese also meet with them and G.O..I didnt know about what Montt was up to or that the CIA was employed there.Nor did I know Montt was being payed to kill off the Mayan Indians for the interests in canada nickel mining. I am ashamed that the church was used and that no one in the ministry leadership is taking a stand against it.I wonder how many souls were won for Satan in all this? I am afraid its a lot more than the 250,000 dead murdered by the man I sat next to. Forget the horror Im going through for a minute and consider the 250,000 dead.Called at first communists,then when that didnt work,leftists garillas,then that didnt work.So then they called them libral cathalics.Anything to take the land we helped in repairing for them.We met them,they counted them,and then they had them killed.All for money from the church and the CIA. Mothers,children,fathers,and yes many were christians. Blood is on our hands now.You and me Gospel outreach! I dont hear any outcry,why? If your not outraged your part of it then.I do hope in a hell for them then.even for me.I find it hard to live with this evil they did. They are not my brothers. They have blasfamed the holy ghost in this trickery. As one might imagine,I am not doing well with this news and my health is poor but save that prayer for the lost families surviving the murdering that was financed by the church.M.L.Zullo /mannthing49@yahoo.com

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Posted by zzzzz on 06/12/2013 at 7:50 AM

Heidi,Please consider a way to start some dialog about "Victum's of the Lighthouse Ranch". I think I have a very inportant angle to be interveiwed about.I was (As many were),the work slave,made to be patent and watch groups of untested people be sent off to a gentle life in the ministry while many with me were taught to indure great hardships and trust God. Theres a millions of stories others and myself want told.Some will be aimed no dought at defaming the good works of Jesus and the movement but those that trust God must indure it.So that the pain come out and opinions can fade into what the truth leaves behind for us.I first arrived there in end of 1976.Most of those non vets were teaching me then against killing of any kind.True draft dodging flower in the gun barrel Jesus Freaks.But when I returned in 79,I was greeted quite differently by staff. I had worked there for many years and sent out on many teams.My goal was to be the ranch coordinator and make it more fare for all living there as it was obvious;the great disparacies. Food and supplies were never givin equally. The staff had meat cooking,you can smell it.Weekends bacon fumes came from the coordinators houses but the single men went years without ever tasting any meat.Even though some times food was donated to the ranch,it was horded by the rich church leadership. One time a biker guy that liked the church felt sorry for us single guys and brought up a freezer full of meat.It was horded by the staffers except for one common meal.The only time I ever eat meat at the ranch.4years and I was not to judge them.They always had a reason why they should ask a popper for his last dollar while sporting a new Rollex and telling how tuff it is flying around for Jesus from ministry to ministry. I felt those fakes were the downfall of the church and the wolves taking the flock apart. I fell a half mile off a cliff while treeplanting.Harry Hewitt is quoted in saying in a letter to me that he heard angels. Im on social security because of my injuries. Although Dave drilling said the reason then that I was never selected for coordinator job is I wasnt leadership material(except as work suppervisor at job site).However I was later an engineer,manager,and even a CEO.My greatgrandfather started Waste Management and "Our Little Thing" or La Costra Nostra in 1884 and most my relatives are big executives,lobyist,owners of commerce,and involved in politics too. I chose to do this work for Jesus instead.The devil was often against the innocent.And get the innocent in harms way is a fault of G.O. and Jim. Many cult followings came out of the ranch and the climate it created including Jimmy Jones,The Hebrew Christians,and Moses David and the Children of God cult.They all were seen at the ranch and got there idea of mind control from seeing its use first hand on innocent runaways. They had me tricked intyo being sulabit and work even in poison and God will save me. I wish I hadnt been so easy to minipulate.It was just that I had escaped being abused for years and loved the idea if only they keeped to there creed it would have been fare for more then just the leadership. But then there was the CIA.Yes they were there and you dont see that guy cooment now he sees me saying stuff. He knows me.Hi mitchy! Yeah! Get it all out! The good the bad and the mitchy,hahaha. Oh if Im nuts its there fault88% at least. Jesus help us all!

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Posted by zzzzz on 06/14/2013 at 12:50 PM

I want to see started"Victums of the Lighthouse Ranch",start out with the cry from the grave of over250,000 mayan indians killed by the churches callaberation and allowed infiltration of CIA and Brg.Gen.Montt. I am cripple thanks to the ranch myself.So I have many stories to tell.Not all out of dissapointment.Many good times,and found memories.But many wish to silence anyone who may shake things up or shine this true light on there blood soaked hands. Many in the church live on the church money they get from there church run companies.They did so well as there workers like me worked for nothing.Also the mission in onienta must have been a fake so the church books could be cooked so to speak. Oh theres more.And who doesnt ant there dirty laundry brought out for all to see? They no dought will have questions for them.Even cops and D A's should be asking and inquiring.

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Posted by zzzzz on 06/15/2013 at 7:21 AM

CULT???I was often asked by town people of Eureka,Arcata, and all points of labor throughout my work with the G.O. ministry; if the group I was in, was a "CULT". Many church people of other denominations including there sister church(New Life Fellowship)as well,also had many peoples that felt the lighthouse ranch and g.o.was and is a cult.I had many coversations with the employers and others on job sites about the church as it was our goal as well to preach the"Good Word".The town of Eureka's residents seemed burnt out over all the jamming religions down there throats and were often so resentful of previous incounters that many said they were confirmed Heathens,rejecting the bible and all forever.Often referring to our church in the same light as JIM JONES and the Giana cult killings.I personaly felt there frustrations and never felt we were,just misunderstood untill it all came together.I was wrong!The Ranch must have been run as a cult.How else does it happen that this guy Brg.Gen.Jose Efram Rios Montt gets promoted past all of us in the mission and priesthood,even after his murdering had started? I was critical of him so I guess Im lucky he or the CIA didnt kill me then,just send me off to non existant mission fields,poison me,etc.But dont worry,if your hating me,I will die soon.From the injuries and poisons.All caused at the ministries doings. Oh and the CIA. Thanks everyone involved.Thank you JESUS. Thanks for not letting me be the Montt!Just wish no one died.250,000 is a lot of death to attribute to the lighthouse ranch.It is a blemush against the church and even JESUS himself.

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Posted by zzzzz on 06/17/2013 at 8:10 AM
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