A Miami Christian cult is proclaiming that the world will end on June 30, and is engaged in a campaign to spread the information by erecting billboards across the United States.
According to the Growing in Grace International ("Creciendo en Gracia"), a "transformation" will come on June 30, and all who do not belong to the group will be wiped out by a divine action. The group says only its members will survive execution of divine justice on June 30.
Growing in Grace International has stepped up its campaign in preparation for the "transformation." Billboards with messages such as "666, number of wisdom," and "Countdown to the transformation June 30, 2012" are being erected in United States, Brazil and eight other countries, Daily Mail reports.
While many have "repented" and believed in the teachings of the charismatic leader of the group Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda, many more are skeptical and critical. Daily Mail reports Regina Albarracin of Pembroke Pines, Florida, says: "They're stupid people who believe in stupidities."
De Jesus, called "Daddy" by his followers, is a Puerto Rican. He was as born in Ponce, Puerto Rico in 1946. According to de Jesus, he was converted in 1973 while he lived in Massachusetts. CNN reports that the former "petty-thief" and heroin addict once saw two angels coming down from heaven. The angels told him he is Jesus reincarnate. According to CNN, de Jesus said: "The prophets, they spoke about me. It took me time to learn that, but I am what they were expecting, what they have been expecting for 2,000 years."
Fox News reports de Jesus had just a few hundred followers when he launched his church about 20 years ago. Today, his organization boasts 335 education centers, 200 pastors, 287 radio programs and a 24-hour Spanish-language TV network that reaches up to 2 million homes.
Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda says he is the Antichrist and his followers tattoo his 666 symbol on their bodies. Axel Cooley, a member of the group, explains: "The body of Christ is manifested in Jose de Luis de Jesus."
The Daily Mail reports he argues that calling himself Antichrist is appropriate because he does not follow the "Jewish teachings" of Jesus but rather those of Apostle Paul. He explains that "Antichrist" means: "no longer following Jesus of Nazareth as he lived in the days of his flesh."
According to Fox News, de Jesus in 1988, announced he is the reincarnation of Apostle Paul. In 1999, he announced he is "the Other," a superbeing who had come to prepare the way for the second coming. But in a controversial move in 2004, he announced he is Jesus Christ and adopted the 666 symbol. He made his followers adopt the symbol too.
Ordinarily, one would expect that a man identifying himself as Antichrist and adopting 666 as his symbol will scare followers ways because 666 and Antichrist are associated with Satan and evil in Biblical eschatology. But CNN reports that de Jesus has convinced his followers that the Antichrist is not the devil, but a superbeing who replaces Jesus on Earth. De Jesus said: "Antichrist is the best person in the world. Antichrist means don't put your eyes on Jesus because Jesus of Nazareth wasn't a Christian. Antichrist means do not put your eyes on Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Put it on Jesus after the cross."
Fox News reported that Alvaro Albarracin is a member of the church who accepted to wear the 666 symbol. He said: "This is backing up what I truly believe. It's like a brand. It's like a sign."
But sociologists observing the group say de Jesus' ability to convince his followers to wear the 666 tattoo is "frightening" evidence of the power he wields over them. According to Daniel Alvarez, an instructor in the department of religious studies at Florida International University who has studied the movement: "This means that his control over people is so great that no matter what he says to them, they'll follow him."
The extraordinary power de Jesus wields over his followers is illustrated in Albarracin, who runs the film production company MiamiLa Entertainment. Fox News reports that Albarracin said he gave 20 percent of his profit to the movement when he sold his Web-hosting company, Dialtone, for more than $16 million in 2001.
Mainstream church leaders have denounced de Jesus and accused him of distorting the Bible. Fox News reports that Rev. Julio Perez of Nueva Esperanza, a religious community group in Hialeah, accused de Jeus of promoting himself rather helping members of his group.
The group's campaign billboards show de Jesus calling on the world to repent. Daily Mail reports that Alex Poessy, bishop of Growing in Grace International Canada, said: "That day (June 30), the body of Jose de Luis de Jesus, who is a human like you and me, his flesh is going to be immortal. He's going to be living forever. And that will happen to him, but also his followers. All those that are not believers are going to be destroyed."
The church teaches that after de Jesus and his followers have survived the apocalypse, they will acquire new superpowers. Axel Cooley, the daughter of Bishop Poessy, explains: "We can run and not get tired. Go through fire and not get burned. I could be talking to you right now and then I could go through that wall. So, you'll know there is a difference."
Cooley added: "The world's not going to end (literally). What is going to end is the system. All the governments and the currencies will fall. The new government of the 666 will take over."
Daily Mail reports the group retreated from public view on April 22 to begin preparing for the "transformation." According to de Jesus, on June 30, the group will take over the entire world. He said in an address before the group withdrew on April 22: "A government where we will govern everything with a perfect order. This is my last farewell for you. The time is finished. We will see each other soon in Armageddon."
Experts in religion and sociology are watching the group with concern. According to Dr. Lorne Dawson, sociologist at the University of Waterloo, de Jesus' latest tactics may reflect crisis in the group . The sociologist said: "It's a strong indicator that their authority is slipping, they're losing followers, not acquiring followers at a level that they used to. And nothing galvanizes a group and galvanizes attention like a new mention of an apocalypse."
While observers are hoping that the June 30 prophesy will sow seeds of doubt in the minds of some, the evidence is that many members of the Growing in Grace International have no doubts about the "transformation" to come on June 30. Daily Mail reports Poessy said: "We are sure that it's going to happen."