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Bin Raiders



The bin raiders are real people. The incidents in this story are based on real experiences.Some of the details have been changed, and most of the names of the people are not their real names. But this book represents the most intimate glimpse ever given into the daily routine of an underground movement which has been described as both idealistic and dangerous, saintly and sinister, radical and revolting.

Read it and decide for yourself...

Chapter 1.     Sin in a Bin    

"Hold it right there!"

The man giving the order was wearing a grey security uniform. On his left hip was a walkie talkie, encased in black leather. One hand rested on the instrument, as though it was a six-gun, while the other hand extended slightly away from his body, toward the object of his command.

Ganley Toogood was a thin man, in his early thirties. His cheek bones were so pronounced that his face reminded one of the hollows and ridges on a cow's rump. Everything about him was, in a word… straight.. Ganley lived by the book, and he expected others to do the same. A thin, closely cropped moustache underlined his perfectly combed black hair. Between the two were the dark nervous eyes of an equally nervous man. He addressed his order to a taller, heavier man in green running shorts and a yellow singlet.

The tall man had his back to Ganley. He was pressed against an industrial bin that came up to his chest. On hearing the order, his arms slowly emerged from within the bin. He turned even more slowly to greet the security guard. On his face was a huge grin, like he was having a good laugh at the situation in which he now found himself. His grin was heightened by a missing front tooth. In his outstretched hands was a flat of out-of-date eggs. Several were broken; and raw egg-white dripped from one corner of the flat.

It was Greg Candy, a two-metre tall Scotsman. The big redhead looked like he should have been tossing cabers rather than rummaging around in industrial bins behind the Buy-Rite Supermarket on an unusually warm August afternoon in Sydney. Greg and the bin were inside a huge cage-like enclosure. Between him and the security guard was a wide, cyclone mesh gate. Greg gave the gate a flick inward with one foot, to bring it fully open, and he strolled casually through it toward Ganley.

"Now what can I do for you?" asked Greg, as smoothly as if he were a doctor's receptionist. He was still holding the flat of eggs. They were still dripping, and Greg was still grinning.

"You can put those eggs right back where you got them," said the guard, trying to retain his role as the one in charge of the situation.

"You wouldn't wanna keep some hungry people from having a decent feed, now would you?" asked Greg in a deep, but kindly patronising voice.

"I told you to put the eggs back," growled Ganley, who did a quick draw of his two-way radio to emphasise his point. "They're the property of Buy-Rite Supermarket. If you don't put them back, I'll be forced to call the police." Store policy was to start with a warning in a situation like this. But Ganley knew that he could call for police assistance if his orders were not followed.

"C'mon! You can't be serious," said Greg. "Buy-Rite threw them out! My friends need 'em." He dropped his chin down on his chest, and continued speaking through sad, upturned eyes. "The cops aren't gonna 'rest me for feeding some poor street people cracked eggs, are they?" There was not a hint of fear in Greg's voice, and this upset Ganley more than anything the intruder had to say.

"They can, and they will!" said the guard, raising his voice. He pressed a button on the side of his radio.

"Mike, can you give me a hand? I've got a bin raider round the back."

"Look, it's only some silly old eggs," pleaded Greg. "You could just look the other way this one time. Think how you'd feel if you was hungry and this was all you could get."

"If you really want to help your friends, then put the eggs back," said Ganley, replacing the walkie-talkie. "They've been treated with poison. Buy-Rite does it to all their discarded food, to keep people from stealing it. If you give it to anyone, you could be responsible for them getting sick. You don't want that to happen, now, do you?"

"Get serious! This food isn't poisoned, and you know it," Greg shot back.

He had been working his way toward the opening of the little cul-de-sac that they were standing in, and Ganley had been dragged along by Greg's bravado. Greg was just about to drop the eggs and run for it when a second security guard poked his head around the corner of the building, directly in front of him. It was Ganley's partner, Mike.

"What do we have here?" he asked. "Another rubbish rat, eh?" This guard was a bit taller than his mate and a lot heavier. But most of his weight was around his middle. While Ganley came across as a bit too delicate to be a security guard, his mate was more on the other extreme. Now the two men effectively blocked Greg's escape.

"I've asked him twice to put the eggs back and he won't do it," said the smaller guard.

Greg's plan to draw Ganley away from the bin was too risky now; and since the guard was prepared to let him leave without pressing charges, he decided to cut his losses and co-operate.

"Okay, I'll put 'em back," he said, as he turned toward the bin. "But I want ya' to know that what you're doin' is really wrong." He spoke over his shoulder as he walked back toward the enclosure, "It's a sin, you know, to let stuff like this go to waste when there's hungry people who could use it."

"You don't need to talk to Ganley about sin," said his newly arrived companion. "He's a flamin' preacher. Aren't ya, Ganley? Always goin' on with all that God crap. Tell him, Ganley. Go on, tell him." "I just work here part-time," Ganley said to Greg. He was visibly embarrassed by his mate's crude description. "But, like it or not, the law is the law, and you've got to abide by it."

"Law? What law?" exclaimed Greg. "Are you telling me that the law says I can't give some out-of-date eggs to hungry street people?"

"Like I said, it's Buy-Rite's property. You shouldn't even be back here. I could arrest you just for trespassing. Now dump the eggs and be on your way." Ganley was more relaxed now that he was in control of the situation.

Greg approached the opening into the bin cage, but Mike jumped through the gate in front of him, reaching the bin just before Greg got there.

"Hey, check this out, Ganley!" Mike was standing at the side of the bin. "Come have a look! You really have uncovered a rat's nest this time!"

Ganley joined the others inside the enclosure. The two guards peered over the edge of the bin at a young woman in her twenties crouched down amongst the empty cartons, rotting fruit and other rubbish. Her hands were covered with spilt yoghurt, and as she brushed long brown hair out of her eyes, some of the yoghurt rubbed of f onto her hair and face. She looked up at them sheepishly and managed a weak smile. "Da-dahhhh! Sprrrrrrung!" said Greg, with a smile of encouragement to Diane, his friend in the bin. The whole thing appeared to be nothing more than a game to him.

Diane was the most limber member of the team, and so it was usually her job to climb into the bins and hunt through the rubbish for edible treats. Greg's job was to carry anything Di dished up to him, from the bin to the van. The van was stationed nearby, in the parking lot. Greg had been listening for any clue from the guards that they had seen him taking food to the van earlier. So far there had been none. "So you're a preacher, are you?" Di said with a sneer, as she stood to her feet and stretched her cramped leg muscles. She had been listening to the conversation while hiding in the bin. "And what does Jesus say about helping the poor?" Greg squinted his eyes in anticipation. He knew from his own observations that Ganley was not about to accept the truth in what she was saying.

"He doesn't say to take stuf f that isn't yours," Ganley responded. "If you want to help the poor, do it with your own money, not with someone else's." Who were these people, to lecture him on theology, when they had been caught red-handed stealing from Buy-Rite?

Diane let out a nervous little laugh. "Stealing? You call this stealing? God owns the lot of it; but the system would rather see it all go to waste than let someone eat it without paying. I call that stealing from God. And you're a part of it!" With her hands on her hips, her whole body pointed at Ganley in condemnation.

"I'm not going to argue with you," said Ganley. "I've got a job to do, and I'm going to do it. Now get out of there… right now!"

"That's right. Do your job and collect your paycheque and let the poor go to buggery for all you care. How callous can you get? And you call yourself a preacher!"

"Enough of that kind of talk, young lady, or I will call the police." It wasn't clear whether Ganley was more of fended by Diane's profanity or by her dig at his morality. He went on, "There are ways to help the poor, but this isn't one of them." The guard was losing control once again.

Diane was climbing out of the bin by this time. She was a short slip of a woman, not weighing more than 50kg; but Ganley was experiencing why she had been nicknamed Dynamite. Like Greg, she wore only shorts and a T-shirt. The toe of one running shoe smeared yoghurt down the side of the bin as she slid to the ground.

"Oh, aren't you the gracious saviour of mankind," she said with her back turned to Ganley. As her feet touched the ground, she turned and said, "Go ahead! Call the police. Let everyone hear about how Buy-Rite treats the poor; and let a hypocritical preacher be the one to blow the whistle. Go on! I dare you!" She folded her arms on her chest.

"That does it. Send for the police, Mike," Ganley said to his mate. Addressing the pair through eyes that blazed with hate, he said, "I'm not going to be intimidated by a couple of thieving bin raiders. Now we'll find out who's breaking the law and who isn't."

Mike stepped outside of the cage and turned away from them as he punched numbers into his mobile phone. He was enjoying the prospect of doing something besides just warning people. A genuine arrest would brighten up an otherwise boring day.

Greg, in the meantime, shot a quick frown in Diane's direction. She had started something now, and it wasn't going to be easy to get her or himself out of it. With his head turned away from Ganley, he indicated the street at the back of the supermarket with his eyes. Diane smiled to show that she understood.

"Can you hold these for a tick, mate?" Greg said as he stepped forward to hand the eggs to Ganley. Before Ganley had a chance to realise what was happening, he had grabbed the eggs, to stop them from falling to the ground. At the same instant, Greg pushed through the gate and broke into a run.

"Stop him!" shouted Ganley as he threw the eggs to one side. Mike replaced his mobile to lend a hand, but Greg was already running toward the corner of the building, and Ganley was already of f after him. Greg moved quickly, but only quickly enough to get into the parking lot before he let Ganley grab him by the arm. The heavier guard was lumbering up the drive to give assistance.

Diane had the opening she needed. She slipped out of the cul-de-sac and sprinted out of sight down the back street. When he could see that Diane was on her way, Greg broke out of Ganley's grip with one heave from his giant frame. He was of f again just as Mike arrived on the scene. And that's when the two security guards were treated to an exhibition of just how fast the big man could move when he wanted to. He was over the fence, through the adjacent park and out of sight in a matter of seconds. His pursuers gave up before they had even cleared the fence.

When Greg and Diane were each sure that they were clear of the guards, they found public phones and called the base to arrange a rendezvous. An hour later, they sneaked back to the van and drove it away. What the guards had not realised earlier was that Greg had already loaded up most of the discarded food before his oppressors had arrived. Greg's real concern had been that Ganley may have locked the gate shut while Diane was still inside the bin. He had been trying to draw Ganley away from the scene so that Diane could escape undetected.

As they were driving out of the parking lot, Greg and Diane were still discussing the incident. "You did push him, Dynamite," said Greg.

"He needed to be pushed," said Diane stubbornly. "He's a preacher, and he should know better. Once they spotted me, I knew we couldn't go back there anyway, so I figured, 'Why not give him something to think about?' 'Sides, even if he had arrested me, it's nothing to be ashamed of. We were just helping the poor."

"But others mightn't see it that way, Di. We was helping ourselves too, y'know."

"We're poorer than most of the people we help."

"Anyway, what's done is done," said Greg with a shrug. He seemed incapable of staying angry with anyone for long.

But what had been done was not done yet… at least not as far as one zealous security guard was concerned. He had spotted Diane just as she climbed into the van, and even as they were driving out of the parking lot, Ganley Toogood, Baptist Pentecostal preacher cum Buy-Rite security guard, was writing down the van's registration number.

Chapter 2.    Building Character

Back at the base that evening, a bald man in his fifties was nearing the end of a talk he had been giving to a small assembly. Greg and Dynamite were part of the audience.

The base was a dilapidated ground floor flat in Redfern, furnished with mismatched throwouts that the group had picked up from around the streets of Sydney. Half a dozen people sat on the two lounges (one in black leather, with a big tear on the side, and the other a soiled and saggy blue-green af fair). An equal number of people were lying or sitting cross-legged on the worn carpet. On the yellowed walls, someone had Blu-tacked pieces of coloured paper with slogans on them. "You are guilty of all the good that you did not do," said one. "Have you considered that you could be wrong?," asked another. Tiny hand-made drawings of flowers, love hearts and other simple patterns framed the words.

The room's one light, a hundred watt bulb that was uncompromised by a shade, looked mercilessly down on the throng. Dave Hartley spoke from his position on a reversed kitchen chair. His neatly pressed slacks, white shirt, and tie clashed with the well-worn joggers he was wearing. No one in his audience wore a white shirt, much less a tie. But his inappropriate dress did not seem to bother his listeners. Dave's legs straddled the seat, and he would rest his chin on the back of the chair when waiting for contributions from those present. As he talked, his hands never left the top of the chair back. He relied entirely on his voice and the truth of what he had to say to keep his audience's attention.

Greg's wife, Anna, was there, along with Diane's husband, Juan, and their five-year-old son, Sean. A few visitors were present as well, all happily munching on out-of-date frozen pizzas that Greg and Di had obtained that afternoon, in their raid on Buy-Rite. "Character! That's what the world lacks today… good old-fashioned character." Dave's head shot forward a fraction, and his voice went up slightly to emphasise the final word, but his hands stayed firmly on the chair.

"Real character is when you do the right thing in the face of any opposition. Do you stick by your mate when everyone else turns against him? Do you tell the truth even when it hurts? Do you do your job faithfully when others are not looking, and you know you can get away with slacking of f? Or do you pike out when the going gets tough?" His young audience listened intently.

"Most of you have been raised on selfishness. You've been told that winning is everything. You've come to believe that truth is whatever answer will help you pass the test. But there was a day when people had a conscience and nothing mattered more than following it." "How does that fit in with pinching stuf f from bins?" asked a long-haired youth reclining on one elbow on the floor. He was teasing more than arguing. "That's not very honest, is it?" The others laughed heartily at the irony of it.

"A perfect example of what I'm talking about," said Dave with a smile. "You've been taught that the way to tell right from wrong is to listen to what a man in a police uniform says. But I'm not talking about what the law says. I'm talking about what your conscience says. And I'm saying that most of the world snuf fed their conscience out a long time ago. They can't even hear that still small voice anymore. They're too busy listening to what the authorities tell them to do."

Dave crossed his arms on the chair back and rested his chin on his arms as he looked down at the boy on the floor. "You tell me, Rick: Which is fairer? Taking food from a supermarket rubbish bin and giving it to people like yourselves? or letting people go hungry so the food can be trashed?"

"I know what you're saying," said the visitor. "I think it's great what you do; but what if everyone went 'round robbing stuf f? That wouldn't be right now, would it?"

"Right and wrong aren't based entirely on what people do," replied Dave. "They're based more on why they do it. Real character comes from being able to see the bigger picture."

Greg spoke up. "We didn't hurt no one by pinching those pizzas, did we? We was just stopping them from going to waste."

"More important than that," said Dave, "getting those pizzas is part of our message. Greg could get a nice cushy job and make enough money to buy us all the pizzas we like. But he already has a job. His job is to get people questioning the way they live. Raiding bins just happens to be part of it."

"Yeah," said Greg. "Soon's I say I don't work for money, people start sayin' it's impossible. But it isn't, is it? And we're provin' it. The food's there for all of us to use, and we can use it without hurtin' no one. God provides it, as long as we do our bit to get people to believe in him."

Dave continued. "You see, Greg does his bit when he does free work for people or when he passes out tracts. That's the kind of goodness I was talking about before. He doesn't work for money and he doesn't take the dole. But most people think unless he's making money, he's useless. They think he doesn't deserve to eat if he doesn't charge for his labour. So God helps us get around that by letting us take stuf f from the bins. It doesn't hurt anyone, and it keeps us going."

There was a brief pause, in which no one responded to what Dave had said. Apparently they were satisfied with his explanation.

"Anyway, enough for now," said Dave. "We'd better pack up what's left of the pizza because we're going to have to finish early tonight. The full-timers have some business they need to attend to."

As the visitors were leaving, Dave took time to question one of the quietest ones on his way out. He was a young man in his late twenties, named Joshua King.

"You're very quiet," said Dave. "Did you understand what I was talking about tonight?"

"Yes sir, I did, thank you very much. It was good."

"What did you think about it?"

"I agreed with it. I've always thought the same things myself."

"What parts did you agree with?"

"All of it. It was all good."

When Joshua was gone, Dave turned to Juan, Diane, Greg, and Anna: "How did this bloke, Joshua, first come in contact with us anyway?"

"He wrote to us a couple months ago," said Anna. "Said he wanted to work with us. So I sent him an invitation to the meetings. He's been coming for a few weeks now."

Dave asked to see the original letter, which Anna quickly retrieved from her files.

Anna was the group's unof ficial treasurer and secretary. She was quieter than the other members, but as firm as any of them in her beliefs. She loved answering the mail, and she did a fastidious job of keeping records. Although in her early thirties, she tended to dress like a woman much older than herself. She wore her long hair in a bun most of the time, and always had a pencil tucked behind her ear.

After studying the letter from Joshua for a moment, Dave shared his assessment of it.

"See here?" he said. "No home address... just a post of fice box. Not bad for a dolee. Notice that he's put the return address on the outside of the envelope, but he left his name of f, like he doesn't want anyone to accidentally discover that he's writing to us. For all we know, Joshua King may not even be his real name. And here's what he says in his letter, 'I would like to work with you to build a new world of faith and love.' Those are the exact words we used in the pamphlet he received. Doesn't he know how to speak for himself?" The younger members of the group were always amazed at Dave's ability to detect deception.

Dave continued: "I've been watching him for the past few weeks, and he hasn't told us anything about himself or his background... religious or otherwise. If he does ask anything, it's always the wrong questions: questions about our organisation and about our theology, but not about what we're really saying. He wants us to believe he's ready to throw his lot in with us, but he can't even say in his own words what it is that we have in common. My guess is that he's hiding something. Watch him."

"Should we say anything to him?" asked Anna.

"Nah. No need for that," said Dave. "Treat him like you would anyone else. Just be careful about what you say around him."

The meeting then turned to the Bondi Beach project - something they definitely would not have wanted Joshua King to learn about in advance. Juan Ventura, Diane's husband, was in charge of it. Juan could be as serious as Greg could be foolish… not that he had anything against others having fun; he just rarely smiled himself. He had slightly Asian features and a big head of woolly black hair, which somehow resulted from having a Filipino mother and an Italian father. His parents had divorced, and his mother had retained her Filipino surname. Projecting upward from Juan's waist at the moment was a clipboard. His left hand grasped the top of it, and his elbow lay along the length of it. The clipboard held all of his notes on the project. "The safest time is between the 2am and 4am security rounds," said Juan, when he had everyone's attention. Juan was a natural organiser. "Before 2am there are likely to be late night stragglers still hanging around, and after 4am, the early morning joggers start arriving. "Monday and Tuesday are the quietest nights. If we go in the run on Sunday, we can rest up on Monday. But we'll need to be ready to roll with the Bondi project on Tuesday night." In an ef fort to check his natural tendency to push his own ideas, Juan added, "If that's OK with the rest of you."

No one objected, so he continued. "We should be able to cover just over 200 metres with each ten litre drum. I've marked on this sketch where we need to put them. Sometime during the day on Tuesday, pairs of us need to take trips to the beach, carrying one drum each time. We can wear swimmers and take beach towels, just like we're going for a swim. We should be able to dig a hole in the sand up near the wall without anyone taking any notice. Then we just wait for a chance, slip the drum in, and cover it over. That way, the paint will be there waiting for us when we need it on Tuesday night."

Everyone gathered around the clipboard to study Juan's notes and his sketches, so that they would know where to bury their various consignments of paint on Tuesday.

"Anyone who hasn't already memorised the slogans needs to get serious about learning them this weekend," Juan continued. "If any of you forgets the words, it could ruin the whole project." Juan was worrying unnecessarily; each painter was to carry a copy of the text as a back-up.

"Dynamite, it'll be your job to buy binoculars and a two-way radio on Tuesday. You'll mind the base with Sean during the actual painting." Diane obediently accepted her husband's decision; but she was disappointed, because she had been keenly looking forward to being part of this exciting project.

In a test run at a nearby stormwater drain, the bin raiders had worked out that they could average one six-foot letter every 15 seconds, if four of them worked together. Each member would be armed with a paint roller and a tray, and they would leap frog over one another.

The wall at the beach was a good half mile from one end to the other, giving them room for more than 400 letters. If everything went smoothly, they could paint the whole wall in the two hours between security checks.

The idea for the Bondi project had sprung from a discussion about philosophical truisms that each member had encountered at some time in their youth. With a little prompting from Dave, they had been able to see how these thoughts had formed the foundation for much that had come later in their beliefs.

"Morality doesn't just happen," Dave had explained. "We get our ideals because someone made the ef fort to teach us. But modern society has accepted the lie that truth will just naturally evolve if parents don't take an active part in teaching their kids the dif ference between right and wrong. Even book publishers object to publishing books which teach kids moral values these days; they say the kids won't buy them if they are too preachy. Many kids grow up without ever thinking about important spiritual and moral issues."

That comment led to a conviction that they could do something about changing the situation. "Why don't we paint slogans all over Sydney?" Juan had suggested. "Not churchy stuf f or political slogans, but just simple truths that could change their lives. Who knows? Maybe a single sentence could be all it takes to make the dif ference."

Everyone had contributed a list of the thoughts they had gleaned from parents, teachers, friends, church leaders, and from general reading. From this, a single list had been made that everyone agreed would be appropriate for permanent display on the most famous beach in Australia. Some were short, like "Practise what you preach." Others were longer, like "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good people do nothing."

Now the time had come to put their plan into action.

The meeting went on for an hour or more before they finally broke up and went to bed.

Chapter 3.     Pastor Ganley Toogood

That same night, in another part of town, Ganley Toogood had been leading a small mid-week prayer meeting in his home. Three middle-aged women and a couple in their early thirties had attended, along with Ganley's wife, Valerie.

Their home was comfortable, clean, and well-furnished. A fully equipped entertainment centre dominated one wall of the lounge room, while a large painting of the head and shoulders of Jesus looked at it from the opposing wall. The thick, shaggy carpet was of f-white, and the furniture featured polished timber, carved ornately and supported by shapely timber legs. The whole scene was cushioned by soft lighting from a number of lamps around the room.

The group had just finished a rather routine Pentecostal prayer session, punctuated by a few messages in tongues and the traditional interpretations about God wanting ever so badly to bless everyone present with health, wealth and all the desires of their hearts. Ganley had led a short Bible study on the gifts of the Spirit, and then finished by laying his hands on two or three women who wanted special prayer for one thing or another.

Now the group was settling into more natural conversation about husbands, children, and the af fairs of the week. Valerie was bringing out cakes and cof fee while Ganley kept watch over his little congregation.

At some point in the conversation, Ganley saw Roger Seeker, the only other male present, pull out a piece of literature and show it to one of the women.

Ganley, like most ministers, had an instinctive distrust for unauthorised literature appearing at any of ficial church function. He pulled himself away from a description of Marge Philps's newest grandchild to join in on whatever it was that Roger was talking about.

"I got it from a woman in the city today. She was giving them out in front of Hoyts," he was saying to June Bradshaw, a good-natured mother of five children, three of whom were teenagers. "What are you showing her?" asked Ganley, realising too late that he had let a little panic creep into his voice. "Slow down. Stay cool," he reminded himself.

"It's a list of the commands of Jesus," Roger replied. "Here, let me read this bit out. It says: We challenge you to ask your minister or priest to list ten things that Jesus instructed his followers to do. Not stories or promises or miracles, but actual commands. We can almost guarantee that he won't be able to do it.

"How about it, Ganley? Can you list ten things that Jesus told us to do? Can you?"

"Of course I can," said Ganley. "But what's it all about? Who wrote it?"

"I don't know. I got it from some woman in the city today. Go ahead. Tell me ten things that Jesus said for us to do. See how many you can get."

Ganley was speechless for a few seconds. Then he spoke up "Can't you see what they're trying to do, Roger? They're trying to undermine your faith in the ministry that God has established. I think you should give that paper to me."

"Oh, no you don't," Roger said playfully, as he pulled the paper away from the pastor's grasp.

"It's just a game, Ganley. See if you can do it?" Roger was surprised by his pastor's reaction to a rather innocent tease, so he tried to reassure him of his neutrality in the matter. "It's harder than you think," he said conspiratorily. "I tried, and I could only get three or four without peeking. How many do you think you can get?"

The others in the room were listening now. Ganley was trapped.

"Well, let's see. He told us to love one another, of course. He said we must be born again. He said we would speak with new tongues..."

"Technically, that's not a command. It's a promise," said Roger. The paper says that commands are sentences where there is no subject… things like 'Shut the door,' or 'Love one another'. But that's okay. I'll count the first two. Carry on."

Ganley could see that he was never going to get ten commands without a lot of embarrassing ef fort, so he tried a different tack.

"What's the point of it, Roger? Jesus said that if we love one another, that covers everything. You don't need to know anything more than that."

"True. But what they're saying, Pastor, is that everything else tells us how to love one another. Remember how you were saying that we shouldn't forsake assembling together for meetings each week? Well, that's an example of how to love one another… except it comes from the book of Hebrews and not from the teachings of Jesus."

"What's the difference?" said Ganley, sensing a new escape. "It's all the Word of God, Roger. Even the Ten Commandments are the teachings of Jesus when you think of it. The same Holy Spirit that talked through Jesus was talking through Moses, and he was talking through Paul too." Ganley's wife, Valerie had stopped playing hostess, and was listening with everyone else in the room.

"But even if that's true," said Roger, "why is it that we don't know the actual commands of Jesus, but we do know the other stuff? I know a lot of things Paul said, and I know the Ten Commandments, but I couldn't hardly remember a thing that Jesus told us to do, until I peeked at this little pamphlet. And yet Jesus is the only one who is perfect. The others were just normal humans like you and me."

"I'll tell you what I'll do," said Ganley, addressing this to everyone present, "I'll plan a study on the subject next week. It's a bit late to start a discussion on something as deep as this tonight. You give me the paper and I'll prepare something we can all sink our teeth into next week."

Roger handed over the paper and let the matter drop. But he had seen something in Ganley that night which he had never seen before. His pastor had always shown confidence when faced with a debate on theological issues. He was always fully persuaded of the superiority of his own position. But something in that paper had unnerved the keen young pastor.

Roger looked forward to seeing what would develop at the next mid-week Bible study.

Chapter 4.    Cut Off Your Hand!

At 7am, on Thursday, the Bin Raiders came together in the lounge room of their Redfern flat for their regular morning meeting, as they did at the start of each weekday. Of ficially, they had two and a half hours of routine before breakfast at 9:30. But those who found the wait for breakfast too unbearable would get up at 6:30 and fix themselves cof fee and toast before the meeting.

"Did anyone get something from God overnight?" asked Dave, who was back in his usual position, straddling the kitchen chair. He wore the same clothes that he had worn the night before. Dave Hartley and his wife Cherry, were the founders of this little group of bin raiders. Over the years they had become aware of other groups forming along similar lines. Although each group was committed to things like faith, love, and honesty, the people in them were disenchanted generally with religious orthodoxy. They believed that something deeper was needed, and it would not be found by putting a new coat of paint on the old institutions.

"I had a dream," Juan said quietly. His brow was wrinkled in what appeared to be exaggerated seriousness. However, for Juan, such seriousness was rarely an exaggeration. Serious was his middle name.

"I was riding on a tram. I was the only one on it, apart from two small children. One was at the front and the other was at the rear. They both seemed to be in trouble at the same time. They had been climbing up on the seats and were leaning out of what looked like open windows." As Juan told the story, he became more intense, like he was re-living the dream. "One was in danger of falling out at the back, and one was in danger of falling out at the front. My mind told me that the one in front was in the most danger, because he would not only fall out, but the tram would run over him. But I had a feeling that the child at the rear needed my help even more, so I ran to save him. As I did, the child at the front fell out. I jumped of f the tram, but it was too late. It had already run over the other child.

"Then I looked down to see…" and Juan paused for just a moment to steady his voice. "I looked down to see that it was Sean. I woke up in a sweat. I just lay there crying to myself for a while, as though Sean really had been killed. It was a long time before I could get back to sleep." Juan's eyes were open, but for a few moments his mind was somewhere else. "Maybe the tram had something to do with Bondi Beach," suggested Anna. Anna had more faith in dreams than any other member of the community. "There used to be a tram to Bondi years ago." "Could it be a warning against us hitting Bondi with graf fiti?" asked Diane, who looked nervously down the hall to where Sean was still sleeping.

"I didn't think it was a warning," said Juan. "I just had a feeling that I had to make a hard decision. I knew that I did the right thing by trying to save the other child, even though Sean died."

"I had something last night, before I went to sleep," said Dave. "It didn't mean much at the time, but maybe it relates to this. It was a picture of a road sign, pointing in two dif ferent directions. I couldn't make out what cities it was pointing to, but it goes along with the idea of having to choose between two dif ferent options. Juan's dream was essentially the same. There must be some sort of an important decision coming up. I hope it won't mean losing Sean." What Dave had been doing before falling to sleep was "listening". Members of the group regularly practised making their minds blank and waiting for words or a picture to pop in without conscious ef fort on their part. They regarded what they received at times like this as messages from God. "Life is full of choices," said Juan philosophically. "If God wants Sean, he can have him. What use is there in trying to hang onto him?" Diane showed no surprise. Juan was a fatalist and would often say such apparently cold-hearted things. He wasn't really cold-hearted, but he was resigned to the hard choices that had tio be made in life. It wasn't as easy for Diane to be so pragmatic.

"For now, let's just do what we can to make the right choices today," said Dave, as he rounded things of f before turning the group's attention to the morning study. The "studies" were a stack of writings, mostly by Dave, which were contained in a loose leaf notebook. Some days Dave would speak of f the top of his head, or read out a new study that he had just written. On other days, the group would re-read one of the old ones. Dave would occasionally do something dif ferent to keep their attention. Today he walked to the kitchen and picked up a butcher knife and a sharpening stone. He returned to his chair and started sharpening it while the others sat quietly and waited. When the suspense had built up suf ficiently, Dave asked them to turn to study number 54. It was one called "Cut Of f Your hand!" The group took it in turns, reading one paragraph each. Dave stopped sharpening and held the knife in one hand as he read the first paragraph:

"One of the most bizarre commands of Jesus is where he tells us to pluck out our eye or cut of f our hand if they should cause us to sin. He says it is better to enter heaven blind and lame than to have a healthy body and be cast into hell."

Greg read next. He wasn't as good a reader as the others, but they had their copies of the studies in front of them to check against if he missed a word. "This passage is often quoted as proof that Jesus never meaned… I mean never meant for us to take him literally." He paused in confusion, until Anna whispered the next word. "Certainly," he said confidently when he had the cue, "Certainly we've never plucked out an eye or cut of f a hand ourselves. And we know of no saint who ever did. We do know of a few mental patients who have, however."

Greg smiled, and then nodded for Anna to take over. Anna held her pencil in her hand, as she often did during studies. She would underline passages or write other notes in her book, so that they would become permanent reminders of what she had learned that day. Anna read her short paragraph slowly and soberly, pronouncing each word very clearly. "So maybe Jesus didn't mean for his instructions to be taken literally. And if he didn't mean for us to take that literally, maybe he didn't mean for us to take anything else he said literally either."

Juan continued, adding his own conviction to what he read: "No way!" he almost shouted. "We cannot accept such reasoning. If Jesus really is the Son of God, then trying to make his infinite wisdom conform to our finite wisdom is blasphemy."

It was Diane's turn. She was having trouble concentrating this morning.

"Let's start with the mental patients. If you or I were to cut a hand of f, wouldn't we be committed to a mental hospital too? So what if the hand choppers aren't all crazy? And is it true that we've never heard of a sane person plucking out an eye or cutting of f a hand? Check the medical records of any hospital and you'll find that amputations and organ removals are almost commonplace. Life threatening conditions like gangrene or cancer often lead people to take such extreme steps."

Diane could not stop thinking about Sean. She prayed silently: "God, take my hand or my eye if you like, but please don't take Sean."

The reading was back to Dave, whose lot it was to tell a story. He knew it well enough to tell it without reference to the book. He was still holding the knife in his hand as he spoke. "A railway worker in outback Australia was bitten on the hand by a deadly king brown snake. He had no hope of getting to a hospital before the poison would kill him. So he grabbed an axe, and with one mighty blow, he chopped of f his own hand." Dave swung the knife to emphasise his point before reading on. "He was not locked up as a lunatic. Instead, he was commended for his courage. He showed good sense, because he realised that losing a hand was better than losing his life."

Greg carried on from there. "If p… f… fisical life is worth such drastic action, then spiritual life is worth far more. Most of us would lack the cor… cur… courage to do what that railway worker did to save his ph-physical life. But we should be more… What's that word?" Anna assisted him again: "Motivated," she said quietly.

"We should be more motivated than him if we felt that something was threatening us with eternal death. In either case, we should be able to see the good sense of such an action, even if we lacked the courage to do it ourselves."

Anna took her second turn: "Jews teach 'An eye for an eye' and Muslims cut of f the hand of a thief. America actually executes people every year in the name of morality. All Jesus asks is that we show this same kind of discipline on ourselves. Is that so bizarre?" Juan raised his eyebrows and breathed an inaudible sigh as he came to the paragraph they all knew was there from previous readings of the study: "Now for the loophole you've been waiting for. Obviously it's not your hands or your eyes that actually cause you to sin. Cutting a thief's hand of f does not stop the greed that caused the theft in the first place." Dave placed the knife on the carpet at this stage. It had served its purpose.

The reading passed to Diane once again: "What we really need is a heart transplant. Not a physical heart transplant, but one that goes much deeper. Jesus said, 'Your heart is where your treasure is,' and 'If you don't give up everything that you own, you cannot be one of my followers.' Most people would rather lose an arm or a leg than to give up their material wealth. Nevertheless, we believe that God wants each of us to literally let go of whatever it is that we most treasure… in order to prove our faith in him. If we do, he will reward us eternally." At this point, Dave left the printed study and addressed the group personally. He would often add comments to old studies, in an attempt to update them or to make them more relevant. "When I wrote this," he said, "I was thinking about what keeps most people from getting serious about spiritual things. The world is so busy working for money that God gets the leftovers of their lives - weekends and an occasional evening during the week… if he's lucky. But the lesson goes deeper than God just wanting our money, or even our time. The bigger lesson is that nothing, not even our own lives or the lives of our loved ones, must come between us and what we know is right.

"Juan's dream is just another reminder that God has the right to ask us to give up our loved ones for him. It can happen in many dif ferent ways, but sooner or later he will test each of us, to determine where our loyalties are.

"I know it sounds unfair and mean of God. But everything we have came from him anyway. Is it really so unfair for him to ask us to give it back? I'm saying that we should do what is right, whether or not it results in pain or death… to ourselves or to our loved ones.

Anna chimed in: "Makes me think of that saying: 'If you love something, let it go. If it comes back, it's yours. If it doesn't, then it never was.'" As soon as she finished, she set about writing the saying in the margin of her study book.

"Yeah, something like that," said Dave, who screwed his face up a bit as he tried to get the connection before restating it for the benefit of the others. "I guess you're saying that if we give our loved ones to God, then he'll decide whether or not they really were ours to begin with, That's quite true."

Chapter 5.     Sean Ventura

There were a few more comments on the reading, and then attention turned to the mail. Despite their apparent poverty, the group possessed a laptop computer, mobile phone, and an email account. With it, they were able to pick up instantaneous communications from other groups like themselves all over Australia… or anywhere in the world for that matter.

Sometime during the mail call, Sean wandered down the hallway and into the lounge room. He climbed up on Diane's lap and rubbed his eyes as he waited patiently for the meeting to finish. There was an email letter from Cherry, who had been visiting a sister community in Adelaide for the past fortnight. With her had gone Martha, a 19 year old who had recently joined the Sydney group. Cherry and Martha had planned to return to Sydney on a bus that was to leave Adelaide that same night, and arrive back in Sydney on Friday night. However, acording to the latest mail, Martha had decided that she wanted to stay on with the Adelaide group, and so Cherry was coming back alone. It was the first face to face contact that anyone from the Sydney group had made with the Adelaide group. In her letter Cherry reassured the others that Martha would be in good hands. She said that the dif ferences between the two groups were insignificant.

In Adelaide there were three single men, a married couple, and one single woman. The couple was not as old as Dave and Cherry, and the singles were all in their twenties. It was understandable, Cherry said, that because of her age, Martha felt more comfortable with the younger group.

Cherry also reported that the Adelaide group had a teaching about staying single that was interesting.

"They teach that all sexual relationships, including legitimate marriages, need to be sacrificed for the greater good of building the kingdom of heaven," she wrote in her email. "They don't outlaw marriage, but they do advise strongly against it, and they advise even more heavily against married couples having children. The argument against having children, as I understand it, is much the same as the argument against marriage, that is, that it leaves us freer to help others besides our own little nuclear family."

The letter went on: "But they also worry that children may one day be used as a lever by the system, to pry the rest of us away from our duty to God."

When mail call was over, the last of ficial duty before they could settle down to breakfast was a group run. Residents of Redfern had grown accustomed to these strange people charging around the block each morning at 8:45am.

Another peculiarity about Dave's dress was that he always, day and night, wore running shorts and a T-shirt under his dress clothes. At any time, he could shed his more formal clothes and be ready to run. That was his reason for wearing joggers all the time as welll. Dave had been a serious runner in his younger days, and he still could give Juan and Greg a run for their money. A handicap system had been worked out for the morning run, which had them each starting at dif ferent times, and all finishing together. Sean only went around the block three times while the others went around five times. Cherry normally sent them of f and called out their times at the end of each lap. Anna was filling in for Cherry today.

"Mummy, can you run with me today?" asked Sean as they were preparing to start. Although Diane started only a few seconds behind Sean on the handicap system, she would usually overtake him before the first corner, and then pull quickly away from him in order to complete the extra circuits in the allotted twenty minutes. Diane gave Juan a pleading look, but he frowned and shook his head.

"No, you be a big boy and run by yourself," said Diane. "You're almost six, you know. I'll go with you on the big fun run on Sunday, but for now, you run by yourself. Run hard today, and we'll take tomorrow of f, so we'll be rested up for Sunday. How's that sound?" "OK."

Sean accepted Diane's refusal without complaint; and he was soon enjoying his run. The others shouted encouragement to him each time they ran past - though they didn't pass him so often today, because in the end, Sean finished his three laps more than ten seconds before any of the others had finished their five.

Breakfast was at 9:30, on completion of the run and showers.

"Mummy, if I eat all my Weet-Bix, can I read an extra story today?" asked Sean as they settled down to breakfast.

"I suppose so," said Diane.

"But first you have to put sultanas on it," Sean insisted.

"You drive a hard bargain, little man," replied his mother, pretending to think about his terms for a moment. "OK, we'll put sultanas on it," she concluded. "And look what else we have for you: Kiwi fruit!"

"Oh boy! Kiwi fruit. My favorite!" replied Sean. The fruit was part of Diane and Greg's haul from Buy-Rite. The Weet-Bix had been donated in bulk by Sanitarium Health Foods.

Sean ate his breakfast quietly, listening intently to the conversation going on around him. He had never lived with other children, and the others treated him so much like an adult that he often believed he was on a par with the rest of them.

"Is Martha going to marry one of the people from the other group?" he asked during a lull in the conversation?

"I don't think so," said Diane.

"If she doesn't marry them, can I marry her?"

"You're a little too young to get married now," said Diane. "Why do you want to marry Martha?" "Because if I marry her, then she won't want to leave us, and she'll stay with us all the time." Over the years a number of people had come and gone from the little fellowship. A few had moved on, like Martha, to join other communities. But most had simply returned to their former life after a few weeks or a few months with the Bin Raiders. Sean had seen several members leave during his short life.

"God wants us to think about his big big big family," said Diane. "Martha is still in God's family, even when we can't see her. You can write to her, and maybe sometime we'll go and see her. Won't that be fun?"

"Can I go see her today?"

"Not today. But you can write to her today. How would that be?"

"Can I do it for my school work?"

"Sure, you can do that," said Diane with a playful touch of Sean's chin.

Then, after a pause, Sean added, "But I still want to read an extra story."

Diane had been teaching Sean to read and write from the time he was two years old. He knew hundreds of words already and he had started to teach himself new ones by devouring more and more books. He would type his own letters too, using the computer. Diane had worked hard to make learning a treat rather than a chore, and it was already paying off.

Juan and Diane could not be certain that Sean wasn't some kind of a genius as well. But whether it came from their genes or from their teaching ability, Sean was a powerful testimony for the benefits of their lifestyle.

His complexion was dark, like his father's; he was short for his age, like his mother; and he was full of boundless energy like both of his parents.

It was almost noon before Sean had finished his reading and writing exercises and was ready to leave for the beach with the other members of the community. He clambered into the back of the van, still clutching a book that he had decided to take with him to read at the beach.

When they arrived, Diane laid out their lunch on a blanket; Sean settled down with his book; and Greg, Juan, Dave, and Anna had a preliminary stroll around the surrounding streets.

After lunch a further search led to plans for four dif ferent escape routes, to be used in the event of an emergency the following week. Two of the routes went through apartment buildings and over backyard fences, and two of them went in opposite directions on the beach itself. Hiding places included the toilet block roof, a nearby tree, some thick bushes, and the surf lifesaving club's boat shed. The shed was built into the beach retaining wall. They had discovered during their all-night surveillances that it was regularly left unlocked overnight.

At one stage, Greg and Juan had strolled up a private driveway beside a house that was situated half a block away from the beach. A nature reserve was on the far side of the block, and they believed that this was the shortest route to it.

They hopped over a low fence, and just as they entered the backyard, they spotted four people seated around a picnic table. Juan's heart stopped. They had hardly expected to interrupt a barbecue at three in the afternoon on a weekday in August. Everyone at the table turned to look at the two men in surprise as they entered the yard. It was too late to back out now, but Greg displayed the same charm that had worked so well in the Buy-Rite confrontation the day before. He smiled broadly and nodded in the direction of the table, while Juan did the best he could to hide his shaking hands.

"G'day. Did ya' see a little black and white kitten come this way?" Greg asked.

"No, I didn't see one. Did you?" the residents each asked of the others. Greg had succeeded in overcoming any suspicion.

"Look, there it is. In the park!" said Greg as he raced for the back fence and vaulted it.

Several people jumped up from the table to see the kitten for themselves. It was apparently out of sight before they reached the fence, although Greg was (apparently) racing keenly after it, shouting, "Domino! Here, Domino!"

"I'll go 'round this way and see if we can corner it," said Juan bashfully as he backed quickly out of the driveway.

Chapter 6.    Getting out the Message

Late that afternoon, when the bin raiders had returned from the beach, Greg and Anna packed up a hundred tracts and headed for the city.

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights were the best times for street witnessing. Greg and Anna were not as good at getting tracts out as were others in the group, but they both had a gift for striking up conversations.

Each person in the group had their own technique and approach. Juan was by far the best overall distributor in the Sydney team, apart from Dave, who had the advantage of being able to say that he had written the tracts himself. Juan's theory was to let the tract do the talking. He rarely wasted time in conversations. Diane's approach was similar to her husband's if people wanted to argue, but she was more inclined to soften if someone showed a superficial interest. "If they're really interested," Juan would say, "then tell them to come back and share with us during our meal break." It was true that nine out of ten people who stopped to talk would fail to return if they could not get Diane's ear on their own terms. Juan called such people "time bandits". "One time bandit can keep you from reaching ten other people," he always said. Greg and Anna were opposite to the younger couple in their approach to the masses of people walking down George Street. They almost saw the tracts as a hindrance to their real objective, which was to relate to people. "Relating" was everything to Anna, while Greg was able to switch back and forth.

When Greg was out with Juan, the two would get into competitions over who could get out the most tracts. Juan invariably won, but Greg could go close to beating him by ducking and weaving through the crowd, sticking tracts in one face after another. "Got one of these?" "Got one of these?" he would ask over and over until it took ef fort to sound out the words slowly enough for people to understand what he was actually saying.

"It doesn't matter what you say," Juan would argue. "Most of them are zombies anyway. They don't think. They just follow the person in front of them." Juan would go out of his way to be impersonal when freebying. He could get out a thousand freebies in an hour just by staring of f into space. "Avoid eye contact," he said. "They're scared of you because you represent intelligent life. They just want to grab the tract and run. So if you look the other way while of fering them, people will take them faster." And Juan had the statistics to prove that his skepticism about human intelligence was correct.

But freebies were the exception rather than the rule with most bin raiders. Half an hour of distributing free tracts would result in littered footpaths, and bins full of screwed up tracts. Everyone in the group preferred donying. "Donies" were bigger tracts, that they would ask the public to donate five or ten cents for. It sorted out the genuinely curious from those who only took tracts to be polite. The distribution rate would drop dramatically when people were asked for five or ten cents; but the litter would cease, and a quick check of the bins invariably revealed that very few of the tracts were thrown out, at least not instantly, like happened with freebies.

On this particular Thursday night, Greg and Anna started by doing a few donies in front of Hoyts; but it wasn't long before Anna had talked Greg into letting her busk while he distributed tracts. Busking didn't get as many tracts out, and it rarely resulted in a serious enquiry, but it was something that Anna liked doing just for the fun of it. She put a stack of tracts inside the opened guitar case with a small sign saying, "FREE. TAKE ONE." People were more inclined to throw coins than to take the tracts, however.

Anna had a beautiful voice, and years of practice had taught her to project it over the noise of the traf fic. She had gathered a small crowd of sympathetic listeners before the first song was finished. Her songs ranged from the Beatles to John Farnham to more current pop singers. Occasionally she would sneak in one or two of her own compositions, but the crowd preferred songs that they already knew. When the lyrics for a particularly catchy tune did not appeal to Anna, she would simply alter them. Hotel California had become Hotel Babylonia, and The House of the Rising Sun had become The House that Killed God's Son.

Eventually Greg and Anna moved from Hoyts up to the Cathedral near Town Hall, where most of the street people hung out. The pair were soft touches, and most of the donations they had just received disappeared into the pockets of the various people who came to them with sad stories throughout the night. The couple knew that most of the money was going toward gambling, drink and drugs, but it didn't bother them. "It's not our job to police how they spend it," said Greg whenever Juan would argue against handing out cash. "It's our job to give to those who ask." While Greg and Anna had been outreaching that night, Dave, Juan and Diane had been looking after business back at the base. Dave had been working on a new tract, while Juan and Diane had been preparing new empowerment charts for themselves and Sean.

Empowerment charts listed goals for spiritual growth, and they included a personal scoring system, including rewards, to be used to chart each member's progress. Charts were supposed to be revised quarterly, but the Venturas' chart had been long overdue for revision. The next day, Friday, all five adults went into the city together, with some of them working in front of Hoyts, and others working in front of the Town Hall. They had Sean with them this time. Sean's interest in "dif fributing" as he called it, was sporadic. Some days he was totally turned of f and there was nothing that Diane could do to coax him out of his shell. But today he was firing on all cylinders.

It was easy for the busy crowd to miss Sean, and he had to make extra ef fort to get himself seen and heard.

"Hey! Listen to me!" he shouted to one woman who had almost walked over top of him. He ran flat out to place himself squarely in front of her for his second attempt. "It's a comic book that my Daddy helped make," he explained when the woman stooped down to examine what he was of fering to her. "You don't have to give anything for it; but you can if you want to," he said. "And how much do you think I should give you?" she asked, as she admired the business-like manner of the little five-year-old.

"You can give anything what you want," Sean replied dutifully, then added, "One lady gave me five dollars!"

"How about fifty cents?" the woman asked, ignoring Sean's hint.

"Yes, thank you very much," said Sean as he reached out to take the coin. "God bless you!" The final line was something Diane had taught him. It usually left his customers with a good feeling.

Sean raced around for a solid hour, getting out 20 pamphlets in that time. That was about the limit of his enthusiasm. Diane rewarded him with a cheeseburger at McDonald's before taking him up to the courtyard between the Cathedral and Town Hall, where he could chase pigeons and climb on the benches while she shared with people who were resting there.

Cherry arrived back from Adelaide later that evening, and she and Dave were granted a "day away" from regular duties the following day. Living in such a close community often made it dif ficult for couples to find private time together, so husbands and wives were generally granted a "day away" every week.

Cherry was not much younger than Dave, but she looked like someone in her thirties. She religiously watched her weight, and usually wore her hair in a pony tail. By constantly watching the op shops she was able to keep up with the fashions at a fraction of what it cost other women. At the same time, she never showed embarrassment at Dave's lack of dress sense. Apart from signs of damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis on her hands, Cherry could have almost passed for Dave's daughter.

"It's traditional for cult leaders to be living with beautiful young girls," Dave would often joke. "Cherry's my beautiful young girl."

The Candy's and the Ventura's returned to the city for yet another day of witnessing on Saturday, while Dave and Cherry slept in and then indulged themselves in a leisurely walk around Redfern before going out to lunch at a local drop-in center.

Chapter 7.    On the Run

Sunday was the City to Surf. Every one of the Sydney Bin Raiders, apart from Cherry, participated regularly in fun runs. (Even Cherry had run in her younger days, before her arthritis became too debilitating.) Young Sean went in his first fun run when he was only three years old, and this was his second attempt to finish the big one. Running regularly kept the group fit, and it provided them with a skill which had often proven to be helpful in their peculiar lifestyle. Greg and Diane had demonstrated that - at Buy-Rite - earlier in the week. None of their running times were sensational in sporting terms, but they were good enough to occasionally pick up minor trophies at country competitions. This was due more to faithful training than to natural ability.

In bigger competitions like the City to Surf, they rarely bothered to pay the huge entry fees. Organisers, who looked on fun runs primarily as fund-raising events, regarded the practice of dodging fees as unthinkably low. But for a group who had no visible means of support, who regularly scrounged food from supermarket rubbish bins, who picked up furniture from throw-outs left on the kerb, and who thought nothing of breaking the law to paint graf fiti on a sacred Australian beach, jumping into the City to Surf without an of ficial number on your chest was as inconsequential as brushing your teeth.

"We're poor, and we're proud of it," Dave would often say. He taught that the only way to overcome greed was to overcome one's fear of poverty. "Some people fear poverty because they fear starving to death," he said, "but in an af fluent society like ours, what people fear more than starving is to be looked down on by the horrible 'Joneses'.

"People will literally sacrifice their lives and the lives of their loved ones before they would risk of fending public opinion," Dave maintained. "That's what keeps soldiers going of f to war, and it's what keeps their parents encouraging them to do it."

The bin raiders in Sydney, and their sister cells in other cities around Australia had chosen to confront the stigma associated with being poor. And they did so with great flair. They believed that survival was not only possible without working for money, but also that such a lifestyle would ultimately result in a wealthier society and happier individuals. Dave and Greg both carried a few extra pounds on their bodies as proof that at least they were not going hungry as a result of their chosen way of life.

Thousands of runners crowded dangerously close to one another at the crush near the start of the City to Surf. Dave, Greg, Juan, and Anna were part of the crowd that swarmed into William Street from a side street shortly after the starting gun went of f. The four bin raiders would be timing themselves, and turning of f before they reached the finish line anyway, so an of ficial start was not important to them. But Diane and Sean started far back in the main crowd that lined up on William Street. Sean had a slim chance of being the youngest to finish, so he and his mother had put in of ficial entry forms.

Sean covered the first few kilometres ef fortlessly, as he was drawn along by the excitement of the crowd. At the start of the long hill winding up toward Vaucluse, he settled down to a walk. Diane strolled along beside him, of fering encouragement and drinks of cordial. Sean chatted as he walked, as though he was just out for a stroll.

"Mummy, why are those men dressed like that?" he asked, as "Nuns on the Run", a promotional team for a sports store, jogged past them.

"They're just trying to be funny," explained Diane.

"Can I dress funny next time?" asked Sean.

"You can if you like," said Diane. "But I think it would be hard to run in those long dresses they're wearing, don't you?"

"Yeah, prob'ly," said Sean. "Can I have another drink?"

Just as they were reaching the top of the hill, Sean announced that he was through. He didn't want to go any further.

"But we're almost there, Sean. Look, you can see the beach from here! It's almost all down hill now." Diane's voice bubbled with exaggerated enthusiasm, but it also betrayed her own disappointment that Sean should be wanting to stop so close to the finish.

"I don't wanna run no more," Sean whined "I'm tired. Can Daddy come and pick us up?"

Diane made a few more attempts to urge him on, but to no avail. They sat and waited for a recovery vehicle to take them to the finish line. "Maybe next year," she thought to herself.

It would have been nice if he could have been the youngest to finish, she thought, but it wasn't worth the risk of turning him of f fun runs altogether through too much pressure.

The run finished at Bondi. Sean, who was fully revived by the time the recovery vehicle dropped him of f at the beach, went for a splash in the icy cold water with Juan and Greg, before they all returned to the base. He did, however, fall asleep on the way home.

Cherry met them at the front door.

"We've had visitors," she said. "The police just left half an hour ago. They were looking for Dynamite."

"What for?" asked Dave.

"Buy Rite is pressing charges. They had a search warrant and found some of the food that Diane and Greg picked up on Wednesday. They took it as evidence. Di is supposed to report to the station as soon as possible."

"She will. She will," said Dave. "But first we need to sit down and discuss this."

When they were seated in the lounge room, Dave asked the obvious question: "How did they know to come here?"

"They must have traced her through the van," said Cherry. "They asked if she owned a white Hi-Ace, and they had the registration number."

Diane, who had been ready to take on the world when she first met Ganley Toogood a few days earlier, was more subdued now. "Can they take Sean away from us?" she asked.

"I don't think they'd take Sean over a little thing like this," said Dave. "They'll probably fine us, and that'll be the end of it."

Dave turned to Cherry, "What did they say she was being charged with?"

"Theft," said Cherry.

"Was anyone looking for me?" asked Greg with keen interest.

"They didn't mention it. I don't think they know who you are," said Cherry.

"It's probably best if you just stay out of sight until this is cleared up," Dave added.

"She can plead not guilty," suggested Greg. "It's not like she really stole anything… it was just rubbish."

"A lawyer could give us a better idea," said Dave. "But fighting the charge would take a lot of time. Wouldn't it be easier to plead guilty and get it over with?"

Cherry, who was always more nervous than the others about police actions, piped in: "That bloke from the Brisbane group pleaded guilty and he still got of f on the grounds that it was too trivial to worry about."

"I think God wants us to use this to get the message out," said Juan, who was thinking deeply about the implications of the charge. "Persecution is the best time to preach the truth."

Juan's expression was, as usual, deadly serious Under normal circumstances, Diane would have leapt at the opportunity to face the courts. As it happened, her enthusiasm had been dampened somewhat by concern over her husband's dream about Sean; but she could still see the truth in what Juan was saying.

"Juan's right," she said. "Sooner or later we're going to have to take a stand. Maybe this is the time to do it."

A short while later, she and Juan were seated in front of a police sergeant at the Redfern police station.

"I don't suppose you would like to tell us something about the chap who was with you," queried the of ficer after he had taken down Diane's particulars.

"Not until I've had some legal advice," said Diane.

They waited around for more than an hour until a date could be set for her appearance, and for bail papers to be drawn up. Diane was to appear on Thursday morning. She could either plead guilty then, or ask for a hearing date. She had until Thursday to make up her mind.

Chapter 8.    Bondi Beach

On Monday, the group slept in. It was to be their of ficial "rest day" for the week. Activities throughout the day included chess, reading, and just generally relaxing. The number one topic of discussion was the court case, and particularly how it would af fect their plans for Tuesday night. Some of them felt that the court case could result in further complications which would stop them from being able to go ahead with the Bondi project. They argued that there really was no risk in acting quickly; but that there could be more risk later, now that the police knew their address, and if they decided to keep closer tabs on them. Because Dynamite was not to be involved directly in the painting, the general consensus was that they should take a chance, and go ahead as planned.

Everyone except Diane and Sean stayed up late on Monday night, and slept in even longer on Tuesday than they had on Monday. This was to prepare them for the long night ahead of them on Tuesday.

Diane purchased walkie-talkies and binoculars from two separate K-Marts on Tuesday afternoon, while the others buried the paint drums near the beach retaining wall without incident. The ten-litre plastic drums could have passed for makeshift picnic baskets, so no one took notice. Sometime after midnight on Tuesday, the bin raiders' van pulled up on the road parallel to Bondi Beach. Inside, Dave, Greg, Juan, and Anna were putting on dark tracksuits, gloves, and balaclavas. In the driver's seat, Cherry was adjusting the binoculars, and trying out one of the two-way radios. Greg carried the matching handset.

They planned to be on the beach by the time the 2am security check took place. Huge lights shone out toward the ocean from the elevated walkway atop the wall; but the brightness of the lights made it impossible to see anything in the thin shadow cast by the wall itself. If the painters stayed close to the wall, they would be almost impossible to spot, either from above, or from the beach, because of the blinding lights overhead.

From the van, Cherry would be able to notify Greg via the two-way if anyone approached the wall from the road. The open area between the road and the beach was level with the top of the wall. It would be out of sight to the painters, who would be standing down on the sand facing the wall. If Greg received a warning from Cherry, he could then signal the others to remain still until the all clear came through the tiny speaker tucked in his ear.

By 1:30am, there were only a few people strolling along the beach, and none of them noticed the four painters moving quietly through the trees in the foreshore park at the south end of the beach. One by one they dropped gently over the edge of the wall. Greg paced out the required number of steps to the first drum of paint, and the others dug it up without speaking a word. Buried with this first drum were four trays and four paint rollers in plastic bags.

When 2am rolled around, there was only one pair of lovers remaining on the beach, and they were facing away from the wall, looking out on the water. The security guard did his rounds along the footpath at the top of the wall, and then he left. When Cherry gave the word, the team began their work, while Cherry kept a sharp eye out for movement from the couple on the beach. At around 2:30, the lovers stood to leave, and Cherry notified the painters to lie low. The couple turned and walked directly toward them.

The young man and woman ascended the steps immediately next to the painters, who were all lying face down in the shadow of the wall. The shadow and their dark clothing had worked. They were practically invisible.

But the young couple were not about to go home yet. They seated themselves comfortably at the top of the wall and continued their lively chatter.

The four painters were trapped. Cherry could see the pair sitting atop the wall, and she informed Greg that they were there. Lying in the sand just below the two, Greg did not need word from Cherry to know of their presence. The lovebirds were close enough that he and the others could hear them laughing and talking above them. What were they to do? All of their plans would come to nothing if the lad and lass did not leave soon.

Time passed, and finally Dave got an idea. He quietly removed his balaclava and gloves, and then, without a word to the others, he stood and walked boldly up the steps and past the couple. He had been hoping to embarrass them enough to make them move on, but it had no ef fect at all. "What's Dave doing?" asked Cherry through the walkie-talkie. Cherry did not know that Greg was too close to the scene to respond; but even if he had been able to respond, he could not see from his place in the sand what was happening above him.

Dave was dancing with himself. Around and around he spun, acting out the part of a psychotic, in an ef fort to unnerve the couple. Instead, they were amused and they almost encouraged him. Dave increased the tempo, working himself up to a frenzy, but it still did not work. Then the dance changed into something with a little more spice. "Hyahh!" Dave would shout at a sea gull, and then make movements with his hands as though he was directing the bird's flight through the air. "Hyahh!" and the deranged puppeteer would cast his spell on another seagull. The couple was getting nervous now, but they still were not leaving. Then Dave tried his trump card. "Hyahh!" he said louder than ever, as he raced toward the young girl, stopping just before he reached her and sticking his chest out like he had just achieved some kind of spiritual control over her. His face was contorted in a look of maniacal anger, as though the couple had intruded on his domain.

"I was afraid the bloke would think it was his duty to shut me up," Dave recalled later. "But they were pretty certain that I was a mental case by this time, and they both got up and left." Greg had hardly been able to contain his laughter while listening to Cherry's report over the radio, and while hearing first-hand the shouts coming from just above him. The group had lost almost half an hour as a result of the interruption, but they set out to do as much as they could before the next inspection.

Work was nearing completion when a car drove down the hill at the unfinished end of the wall, just in time for the 4am inspection. Cherry spotted the car and informed the painters, but the car's headlights must have shone on the slogans at the far end of the beach, where the arc of the wall came in line with them. The car stopped and a powerful spotlight, mounted on the driver's side, was turned onto the freshly painted wall.

The vehicle was still on the roadway, a good 300 metres away from the painters. From where the graf fitists were huddled, they could not be certain whether they had personally been spotted. They moved closer together in the shadow to discuss tactics.

"Get your gear of f and bury it in the sand," whispered Dave. They did this without moving out of the shadow. They buried the final drum of paint, the trays, and the rollers as well. The door to the boat shed, which was built into the side of the wall, was only 20 meters away, and it was still unlocked. Dave and Juan had a look inside, but it took only a moment to realise that they would be trapped like fish in a barrel if the security guard should think to check for them there.

Using the binoculars, Cherry could see the car better than the others, although she was situated farther away from it than were the painters. She reported that the guard was still in the car, probably phoning for police support before approaching the group.

Anna's escape route was to have been the path around the clif f at the end of the beach farthest away from the security patrol. Greg made a last minute decision to go with her. They were wearing only joggers, running shorts, and T-shirts by this stage, so they climbed the steps to the top of the wall, and loped casually along the footpath, away from the spotlight. The spotlight did not move, suggesting that the guard had not, as yet, seen the painters, and that he took Greg and Anna to be what they appeared to be - early morning joggers.

As the first pair were disappearing up the hill, Dave and Juan decided to take the same escape route. But they were no sooner on the footpath than a police car arrived just behind the security car.

Cherry informed the others of the arrival of police support, and then said that she was going to go off the air, just to be safe. She hid herself in the back of the van, while the two joggers picked up their pace. They struggled not to panic while the police and security guard conferred. It was still dark, and if they could just reach the path atop the cliff, they stood a good chance of being able to hide in the bushes growing along the side of it.

The police car started up, skirted the foreshore and then headed up the hill toward the clif f. It reached there at the same instant that Dave and Juan started down the darkened path. The police shone a light after them and shouted out for them to stop, but the two men kept going. When they had turned a few bends, and could not hear the police behind them, the pair left the path and climbed a steep embankment leading up to the road and away from the beach. They did their best to stay out of sight until the sun came up and people began to stir on the streets. At 6am, all of the painters met up with Cherry at a prearranged picnic table in Centennial Park, a couple of miles from the beach. They had not quite finished their project, and there had been some dangerously close calls, but they were all enjoying the adrenaline rush that accompanied their successful escape.

News coverage later that day, of the longest single piece of graf fiti in the world was ample reward for their ef forts.

K-Mart obligingly refunded the cost of the binoculars and walkie talkies, when Diane said that they were "unsuitable".

Dave and Greg made a trip to the beach later that day to find that none of the buried clothes had been discovered by the police. They dug everything up, loaded it all into the empty paint containers, and then buried it at a predetermined site in Kuringai Chase National Park, a few miles north of Sydney.

Juan had earlier disposed of all his project notes, so that the base was now free of any clues, and there was no sign of paint on any of them or on any of their clothing. Their riskiest caper had been a resounding success.

Chapter 9.    Roger Seeker

Juan was on a high from the night's activities. All of his careful planning had paid off, and he did not feel like napping when they returned to the base in the middle of the morning on Wednesday. Diane was fully rested, of course, and she wanted to get out of the house. So, after an unsuccessful attempt to sleep, Juan suggested that he and Di take some tracts and head into the city while the others recovered from the previous night's activities.

At around 5:30pm that same day, Roger Seeker walked up to where Diane stood on the footpath in front of Hoyts Cinema. He worked in an office on the far side of Town Hall Station, and he rarely came down as far as Hoyts. But he had been checking for Anna each afternoon that week. "What are you giving out?" he asked.

"It's an article about sincerity," she replied. "Would you like one?"

"Yes, I would. And I suppose you would like a few cents to help with the printing costs?"

"Yes, thank you."

"I got something from a different woman here last week, a slightly older woman. It was about the commands of Jesus. Are you the same people?"

"Yes, that's right. What did you think of it?"

"Very thought-provoking. But tell me more about what it is that you're trying to say."

"There are a lot of different ways to say it," said Diane. "Are you a Christian?"

"Yes, I am. Born again and spirit filled. Are you born again Christians?"

"Is there such a thing as a Christian who's not born again?" asked Diane.

"Well, now that you mention it, I guess not. But I just asked because there are a lot of people who say they are Christians, when they really aren't."

"And how do you know that someone who says they are born-again isn't lying as well?"

Roger looked at Diane in surprise for a moment. "You got me there," he said with a grin. "I never thought of it like that."

"What we teach is sincerity. Not what religion you belong to, or how perfect your theology is, but whether you are living up to the truth as you know it."

"That's what you teach. But is it what the Bible teaches?" Roger was going to beat them at their own game.

"Not in so many words," said Diane, as she motioned for Roger to sit down with her on the steps at the side of the cinema entrance.

"I've been standing for two hours. It'll be good to rest my legs," she said.

"Now where was I? Oh yeah, sincerity. Well, the Bible calls it faith. But people seem to confuse that with theology, which doesn't really change anyone. We think Jesus was talking about the kind of faith in God that causes people to try to obey him. We reckon that real faith in God and real sincerity are much the same."

"And how do you figure that?" asked Roger.

"Well, they're both about what we do with what we know. If there really is a God, and if he really can give us eternal life, then a real believer would literally jump off a cliff if God told him to. Jumping off a cliff would be proof of his faith, and it would be proof of his sincerity too. How many people do you know who have that kind of faith?"

"It's not like they don't have faith." said Roger. "It's just that they want to be sure it's really God telling them before they start doing something foolish. Is that so wrong?"

"And do they go to as much trouble to be sure that God is telling them not to jump off a cliff, or not to give up their job, or not to leave their families and go into all the world preaching the gospel?" Diane was getting worked up as she continued.

"How sure are they that God really wants them to put all their money into a church building, or into a new car? People spend their whole lives doing things that they have never seriously questioned; and then as soon as they hear God telling them to do something that's a little difficult, they pretend to be worried about the danger of doing the wrong thing. Is that faith, or is it fear?"

"I don't want to argue about it," Roger said, turning both palms toward Sue. "I really liked the tract you gave me last time, but now it sounds like you're not following the commands of Jesus yourselves. If Jesus didn't say anything about sincerity, then why are you preaching it?"

"Hi. I'm Diane's husband," said Juan, who had wandered over to see if Diane heeded help. He had been listening for a few moments by this time, and he was starting to think that Roger was another time bandit.

"It doesn't matter to us if you call it faith or if you call it sincerity. As long as you start doing what Jesus said. Our position is written right there in the tract if you'll read it."

Juan was about to lead Diane away, when he had a second thought. "I'll just ask you one thing, and then we'll get back to what we were doing before you came along: If Jesus said to give up everything you own to follow him, would you do it?" Juan never was one for beating around the bush.

"We both know that he did say it," replied Roger. "It was on the tract you people gave me last week. And I am thinking about it. Believe me, I really am."

"Great," said Juan, who was encouraged by Roger's honesty. Maybe Roger was worth another shot. "So, ask yourself this," he added. "Does your faith in Jesus seem to be pushing you in the direction of obeying him or in the direction of disobeying him?"

"Obeying him, of course."

"And what about your church friends? Do you think they would push you in the direction of obeying Jesus, or would they push you in the direction of disobeying him?"

"I haven't really discussed it with them yet," said Roger. But he had a rough idea as to which way they would lean on this particular issue. "Believe it or not, I'm supposed to be discussing some of these things with people from my church tonight. I'm going to have to leave if I don't want to miss the meeting."

This took Juan by surprise, and he wondered secretly whether Roger may have been making up such a story. Nevertheless, he gave Roger the base phone number, and encouraged him to stay in touch. "Just remember what I said," he added as he shook Roger's hand. "Keep asking yourself whether they are arguing for the teachings of Jesus or if they are arguing against them. That's the way to find out who has real faith in Jesus, and not just faith in their religious arguments."

*    *    *

Roger rushed through dinner in order to leave early for the prayer meeting. His wife, Barbara, stayed home. She often skipped the mid-week meeting, but the truth was that she had sensed trouble in the exchange with Pastor Toogood the week before; and Roger had shared enough with her during the week to make her especially uneasy about what might transpire at tonight's meeting. Their marriage had been shaky for some time, and this latest interest of Roger's in a group of questionable street people frightened Barbara. They each had good jobs, and a nice home; but Roger didn't seem satisfied with that. Barbara was afraid of where it was all going to lead. When Roger arrived at Pastor Toogood's house, three other men were already there, talking with Ganley. Roger knew two of them, although they were not regular attenders at the prayer meetings. The third man was a stranger.

"Roger, I want you to meet John Groenig," Ganley said. "John will be sharing some important information with us tonight."

"Will it be about the teachings of Jesus?" Roger asked suspiciously. He had the feeling that Ganley was trying to pull out of his agreed topic.

"It'll be about that pamphlet you gave me last week," said the pastor.

Just then the doorbell rang and Ganley was called away. Roger asked a few questions and learned that the visitor was not from his denomination. In fact, he wasn't even a pentecostal. He was from a Presbyterian Church. So why was he the special speaker at a mid-week meeting that had earlier promised to deal with the commands of Jesus?

After a short opening prayer, Pastor Toogood announced that he was altering the usual format for the evening. He had invited a special speaker to share with the prayer group about a matter of extreme urgency, which had arisen out of a pamphlet that Roger Seeker had given to him the week before.

"The Bible warns us to be on guard against false christs and false prophets," he said. "There are so many different cults and isms spreading their teachings around in these last days, that we need to know how to deal with them. The Bible says that the devil himself will come to us as an angel of light. Because of this I've asked John Groenig to share some information that he has with us tonight.

"John is the founder of Cult Alert, a non-profit Christian organisation that does research into new sects and religions. I checked with John this week to find out about the group that has been distributing the pamphlet that Roger picked up in the city last week. What I learned is something that I think we all need to hear."

After a few comments about the overall work of Cult Alert, John Groenig's talk turned to the bin raiders.

"The people who have produced this tract, which our Brother Roger received, are highly secretive and very well organised," said John. "They have bases in every capital city of Australia and are believed to exist in a number of country centres as well. They are known to target impressionable young people through their work on the streets and at universities. They have links to several larger cults. The leader of the Adelaide group is a former member of the Children of God; one of their Queensland members is a former Hare Krishna devotee; and they have expressed official sympathy for Jehovah's Witnesses.

"It's difficult to get accurate information on all of their teachings, because each group makes up its own rules. What we do know," and here he counted the items off on his fingers as he listed them, "is that they don't believe the Bible is the Word of God. They don't believe in the Trinity. They believe in salvation by works. And they teach that all of their leaders are Messiahs. And this is just the start."

Roger listened intently, as Groenig continued.

Groenig returned to finger counting: "They pass harsh judgment on orthodox Christianity, and they ridicule the faith of other Christians. They do not pay taxes. They teach followers to break the law.

"We have spoken with ex-members, and learned that most of the leaders in this group are experts in mind control. They are able to make new recruits believe that what they are saying makes perfect sense. They set out to destroy marriages and to turn young people against their parents. The Sydney leader has recently kicked his own wife out of the cult, and he is now living with two younger women who are also married to other cult members." Groenig had stopped counting by this time.

Roger was shocked. Could these be the same people that he had spoken to less than two hours ago?

He had no idea what he had been getting himself involved in.

Groenig continued: "They do not have a name, and if you ask them for one, they'll tell you they are just 'believers' or 'Christians' or some other equally innocuous response. Ask who their leader is and they'll say Jesus. Ask where they worship and they'll say anywhere. They are nearly impossible to nail down.

"They go to extreme lengths to cut themselves off from mainstream society. They don't work. They refuse to collect the dole. University students drop out of their studies after joining up with them. Their marriages are not legalised. It's believed that they do not register births or deaths. Younger members could actually be killed, and their bodies disposed of, without the government even knowing that they ever existed.

"Some cult experts believe that this could be the most dangerous manipulative cult ever to have hit Australia."

"So what should we do if we see one of them?" asked Bob Yardley, one of the church pillars, who normally did not attend the Wednesday night meetings.

"The best thing you can do is to pray for them," Groenig advised. "If they offer you their literature, take it and tear it up. If they ask for a donation, tell them that the Gospel is free. Do not get into an argument with them. They're far too clever. If you know anyone who has been influenced by them, contact Cult Alert and we can give you literature which exposes the lies in what they are saying. We are always prepared to address church gatherings, and to assist families who have relatives trapped in the cults."

When the talk was over, and before general discussion, Pastor Toogood announced that there would be a special offering on Sunday, to help Cult Aware with their expenses. Roger was grateful to have a fuller picture of what the group really believed, but he thought it was a bit hypocritical to condemn people like Diane and Anna for requesting five or ten cents for their tracts, and then to push for a thousand times as much money in contributions to fight them.

During question time, Roger shared a little about his encounter with the group that afternoon, and some of the more extreme things that they had said.

Then Juan's words came back to him: "Ask yourself if they are arguing for the teachings of Jesus, or against them." Pastor Toogood had turned the whole meeting into an attack on the cult. He wasn't exactly arguing against the teachings of Jesus, but he wasn't arguing for them either. Roger raised his hand to be heard.

"Thank you for setting the record straight on these people, Brother Groenig," he began. "I had no idea that they believed all these things. But suppose there was a group who was just teaching the commands of Jesus, without all the other stuff. Would you consider that to be a good thing?" "What are you getting at?" asked Groenig, with a suspicious tilt of his head. "The church is already teaching what Jesus said."

"I mean, what if a church started teaching people to give up everything and live by faith? What if they taught us to love our enemies and turn the other cheek? What if they taught people to fast and pray secretly and not to swear oaths, and not to use titles? What if they started blessing the poor and warning the rich? Would you think that was a good thing or a bad thing?" "You have to ask yourself what those things mean," said the cult expert, "and why the people teaching them are so keen to teach them. It's fine for people to give up everything for Jesus, but they need to do it because God has told them to do it, and not because some greedy cult leader is trying to get their money from them."

Roger decided to give it one more try. "I'm not talking about any cult that already exists. I'm just being hypothetical. Let's say that we started teaching these things. Would that be a good thing or a bad thing?"

"We are teaching those things, Roger," interrupted Pastor Toogood. His voice was a bit too shrill. "You don't need to literally sell your house and quit your job to follow Christ," he said, laughing contemptuously. "Be reasonable, Roger! Forsaking all that you have is an attitude of the heart."

"What these people are talking about is salvation by works," added the visitor, who turned his attention back to the bin raiders. "A lot of Christians get drawn in by cults because they don't have a proper understanding of the gospel themselves. We're not saved by obeying Jesus, Roger. We're saved by his blood. That's why Christ died." Groenig was using his most condescending pastoral voice now. It was almost musical.

"Jesus paid it all, so that you and I don't need to turn to these cults for the answers. The work is done, Roger… finished on Calvary. All God wants us to do now is to thank him for his glorious redemptive work." There was something hypnotic about the soothing way these words rolled off Groenig's tongue. But it wasn't working on Roger Seeker this time.

"They're really scared of the teachings of Jesus!" he thought to himself. "Cults don't have anything to do with it. It's like Juan said; they're arguing against obeying Jesus. They're arguing against faith! But they pretend that it's all about cults."

Chapter 10.    Dynamite in Court

On Thursday morning Juan, Diane, Anna, Dave and Cherry went to the court house for Diane's appearance. Greg stayed back at the flat with Sean. Juan and Diane had spoken to someone fromLegal Aid during the week, and Diane had decided to plead guilty, but to speak up in her own defence.

The case did not come up until well after the lunch break, a penalty that defendants invariably pay for choosing to represent themselves.

Diane was surprised to see one of the security guards present in the court, along with the police prosecutor and another man. There wasn't much need for the police to provide evidence if she was going to plead guilty anyway; and if she pleaded innocent, the case would not be heard until a new date had been set. So why was he there?

The charge was read out.

Diane pleaded guilty.

Then she was given an opportunity to speak. She took a deep breath, whispered a brief prayer, and began:

"I want the court to know that, if I have hurt anyone, I am very sorry. I have always considered myself to be a law-abiding person. I know that we need laws in order to maintain order in society. If people break the law, then they need to be punished."
"But I think there are times when obedience to a higher law may require us to break a lower law."
"I have pleaded guilty to stealing some food from Buy-Rite Supermarket. It was their food, and I took it without their permission. I admit to that. In their eyes and in the eyes of this court, I am probably guilty of stealing. But I was operating under a higher law, and I want to tell you about that."

"You see, I am a Christian. I have come to understand, from reading the teachings of Jesus, that the love of money is the cause of all the problems in our society. It is the motive behind most of the cases that come before this court."

Diane paused for a moment, to let the truth of that statement sink in. Those present in the court would have to recognise the truth in what she had just said.

"A few years ago, I decided to stop working for money, and to give my whole life to sharing God's love with others. My friends and relatives told me I would starve if I didn't work for money. But I believed that God would feed me if I put him first. I started sharing with the homeless, and with others whom I met on the streets. Through them I learned that supermarkets regularly throw out groceries that have gone past the expiry date. Most of the items are perfectly sound. They are no more dangerous one day after the expiry date than they were one day before. But they are thrown out because the general public will not pay as much for them as they will pay for something that is a bit fresher.

"Some supermarkets discount the items. But others prefer to throw them out, so that all their customers will be forced to pay the top prices. Most of the shops who throw old food out deliberately smash bottles, soil goods, lock up bins, and take other steps to ensure that people will not be able to get access to what they throw out. When they do that, they are destroying valuable resources, and they are doing it because of their greed. The general public tolerates it because they feel that the food belongs to the supermarket, that it is theirs to do with as they see fit. But I don't see it that way.

"The air we breathe, the land we walk on, the sunshine, the rain, the vegetation that grows on this planet all belong to God. It is given to us in trust. It is our responsibility to use it wisely and to use it fairly, so that we can achieve the greatest possible good for the greatest number of people."

Diane could see that the magistrate was listening sympathetically. There was a hint of admiration in the look on his face. Her voice became more dramatic.

"Whenever someone behaves selfishly, thinking only of their own benefit, the human race becomes poorer as a result. It breaks the heart of a loving God to see us wasting precious resources while millions of people go hungry. The problem is not limited to Australia. It's a global problem."

Diane glanced quickly around her, and could see that people in the gallery were listening attentively too.

"I see it as my Christian responsibility to share the wasted resources with those who are most in need in our society. That was my reason for taking food from the bin behind Buy-Rite Supermarket. As I have already said, if I have done something wrong, then I should be punished. But I believe that the real sin here is one of wastefulness, motivated by greed. Someone is out to get revenge on me and my friends, because we dared to challenge that wastefulness."

The last line was a clanger. Diane sensed it immediately. The magistrate's expression changed. She had made the matter a personal one, and she was being too negative. There wae subtle limits to how much criticism the average person will accept about the society in which they live. But Di went on.

"I understand that the court cannot officially sanction what I have done. But I ask that consideration be given to the circumstances surrounding my so-called crime. Seriously consider whether Buy-Rite Supermarket has really been hurt, or even inconvenienced by my action. I am asking the court for mercy, on the grounds that I have hurt no one, and on the grounds that I was seriously trying to help others.

"Thank you."

There was a moment of silence as the magistrate pondered the implications of what Diane had just said. Then he turned to the police prosecutor.

"Is there anything you want to add?" he asked.

"Yes, there is, Your Worship. We believe that the defendant has misrepresented the facts in her presentation. She started by saying that she was a Christian. But it happens that the security guard who reported the incident to the police is present in the court today, and he is also a Christian minister. He did not know anything about the defendant's beliefs at the time of the incident, but he has since learned that she is a member of a religious cult which teaches young people to turn on their parents, to drop out of school, and to give everything that they own to cult members like the defendant."

Ganley had obviously found a link between Roger's leaflet and the bin raid at Buy-Rite.

Groenig's files were the most likely source. The police prosecutor continued:

"The group preys on lonely young people, filling their heads with hate for the rest of society, and teaching them a dangerous mixture of religion and paranoia. We have here reports from cult experts which state that they believe the group Ms. Ventura represents could be one of the most dangerous cults ever to have sprung up in Australia. Some ex-members have reported that the group is planning terrorist activities aimed at creating total chaos in Australia. Others say that mass suicides have been discussed as one way of escaping imprisonment if they should be apprehended."

The judge turned to Diane.

"Ms Ventura, what do you have to say about these claims?"

"I… I don't know where they got their information," Diane said, with a look of shock and disbelief still on her face. "It's not true. It's simply not true. I've never heard these things before."

"Are you saying that you do not target young people, and you do not teach them to hate their parents?" he asked.

"We do work with young people, if that's what you mean. We try to help them. That's all."

Diane paused and then continued. "Sometimes we run into opposition from their parents. Some parents would rather have them on drugs or sleeping around, than to have them talking about faith in God."

"What about the other charges? Terrorism. Mass suicides. Getting people to give you everything that they own."

Diane faltered again. "Well, we teach people to give up everything that they own when they first join us; but we do it because it's something Jesus told his followers to do. We share it all equally, and no one is getting rich through it. Most of it goes to helping others anyway."

While she was saying this, her mind had been racing ahead, to the other charges… about terrorism and suicide. She was trying to make sense of it all.

"Maybe the stuff about terrorism and suicides came from some of the ways that we express ourselves in our tracts. Like in the Bible, it talks about a spiritual warfare. It talks about us laying down our lives for Jesus. All of these are just illustrations of spiritual truths. We're not telling people to really kill themselves or to kill anyone else. How can they say those things?"

Diane's voice was starting to break. She realised that she had been thrown dangerously on the defensive, and it was hard not to look guilty under such circumstances.

"What's happening, God?" she prayed. "Why are you letting them do this?"

"Do you deny that you told someone just yesterday to jump off a cliff for Jesus?" shouted Ganley Toogood as the police prosecutor reached up to draw him back to his seat.

"Oh, for goodness sake! Are you talking about that man on the street?" She was angry now, and the dynamite in her was starting to come out. "It was just an illustration. I didn't mean for him to actually do it. You're the people who are the real threat to society! With all your lies and hate and…"

"Settle down. SETTLE DOWN!" said the magistrate, banging his gavel on the desk. "Obviously there are points of disagreement here. I find these new allegations disturbing, and I think I will need some time to look into this. The defendant has said that she will accept whatever punishment the court hands down. What I propose to do is to hold her in protective custody for a few days, during which time I want psychiatric assessments to be made. This court will reconvene next Wednesday at 10am to examine those reports and to decide on sentencing."

"Does that suit you?" he asked the police prosecutor. Diane apparently had no choice in the matter. After quick agreement from the police prosecutor, with respect to the date and time for the next appearance, two police officers moved to Diane's side. They escorted her from the courtroom through a special exit reserved for prisoners.

Chapter 11.    Assessment

The real punishment of incarceration is not just confinement in a building or a cell. It is the total lack of control over anything that you do. And those who inflict the punishment seem to glory in keeping their captives uninformed about what to expect. Prisoners are rarely tortured in Western prisons; and most of their basic needs are met. So if the general public is to be kept in awe of the penal code, they must be kept there through fear of the unknown.

Diane was not consulted about her wishes or plans with regard to the totally unexpected announcement by the magistrate. The fact that she was already free on bail meant nothing when it crossed the magistrate's mind that she could be under the influence of a dangerous cult. She was given no opportunity to bid farewell to her husband, child, or friends. She was not allowed to pack anything to take with her. She was not even told where she would be taken. It took several phone calls for Juan to work out where he could visit her, and to learn how he could go about doing that. Visiting hours were limited to one person for one hour per day. Because she was on remand, she actually had fewer privileges than long term prisoners.

Diane may have been allowed legal advice with regard to what she should or should not say in court, but no such rights existed (or at least she was never informed of them) with regard to what she should or should not say to the court-appointed psychologist. Her fate hung on his assessment of her, and yet there was little in the law to say how he should or should not carry out his duties in making that assessment.

Diane prayed almost constantly during her first day in custody. She felt totally bewildered as she was moved from place to place, and then left for hours in various empty rooms while paperwork and other mysterious formalities were being carried out just beyond her line of vision. She missed Juan's support, and worried about Sean missing hers. There were so many questions that needed to be answered, but no one was available to even hear them. A couple of times she tried to approach one of her captors, but each time she was met with a rebuff: "You'll be told when we know ourselves." "Just sit tight and wait."

Because her case had not been dealt with until late in the afternoon, it was nearly 7pm before she was actually in a cell at Mulawa Women's Prison in Sydney's western suburbs. By then it was too late for the evening meal. She was forced to wait until the next morning to eat. She had done nothing wrong, but prison tradition ruled that even when the system itself caused delays, the prisoners were the ones who would be punished for it. The official rules may have stated otherwise, but who was present to argue her defence where she was now?

It was Friday afternoon before Diane was taken for her first meeting with the prison psychiatrist. She still had not heard from Juan, and she still did not know when she would be able to see him. Unknown to her, Juan had been scheduled to visit her at the same time that she had been led away to see the psychiatrist. Consequently, their first opportunity for contact had been cancelled by the prison bureaucracy, and it would be Saturday before she would be able to see her husband.

The psychiatrist was a welcome relief, because he was the first person Diane had found who was willing to listen to her. More than that, it did not take him long to establish that she was perfectly sane. He expressed amazement that the court had seriously believed that she needed to be assessed. But Diane wondered whether it could be a trick, for he continued to question her about her connection with the bin raiders.

"We're just normal people," she explained; but she could see by the look on his face that he was not convinced.

"Okay, so we do a few strange things. But we don't hurt anyone, and we do try to be helpful." "Tell me about your relationship with the leader. This David what's-his-name," said the psychiatrist, who had asked Diane to call him Sinclair.

"David Hartley," said Diane.

"How loyal are you to him?"

"That's a strange question," she replied. "Is there a scale for loyalty? And how would you rate your own loyalty, say, to your wife?"

"Why do you say that? Are you married to Hartley?" Sinclair asked.

"To Dave?"


"Of course not. My husband's name is Juan. I just mean that I don't know whether you see loyalty as a good thing or a bad thing. It's not fair if you think it's okay for some people to be loyal to their leaders, but you think it's evil if I express loyalty to Dave."

"I don't like to think of it as either good or evil," he replied. "I'm just interested."

"Yeah, sure. And I don't like to think of myself as being in jail or out of it. But the fact is that I am in here now, and I may be in here a lot longer if you don't like my answers."

The room they were in did little to help prisoners forget where they were. It consisted of a desk and two chairs. The absence of photos, books, or wall hangings made it clear that Sinclair himself was only there long enough to do an interview and then get out to where more respectable people live and work.

"Do you have something to hide?" he asked.

"Not really. But I'm not stupid either. I know that anyone can make almost anything sound evil if they want to badly enough. Are you supposed to decide whether I'm crazy, or are you supposed to decide whether you agree with my religious beliefs?"

"I'm supposed to decide whether you are a danger to yourself or to anyone else."

"And what does my loyalty to Dave Hartley have to do with that?"

"If he told you to steal something, would you do it?"

"Look, I'm here because I stole something. I admitted that. I did it because I wanted to do it. You don't need to bring Dave into it."

"Did he tell you to take the stuff from the bins?"

"We all discussed it, and everyone felt that I was the best person for climbing into the bins. I'm small and I'm fit, and most of all, I like doing it."

"Did anyone else steal from the bins, or were you the only one who did it?"

"No, I wasn't the only … Hold on! If you want to charge someone else, you'll have to get your own evidence. I'm not dobbing anyone in."

"So your loyalty to Hartley includes covering for him if he breaks the law. Is that it?"

"Read the report, Sinclair! It must be in there somewhere that I don't think I did anything wrong. And I'd do the same thing again. Not because I'm bananas, and not because I'm someone's puppet, but just because I think it makes good sense to share perfectly good food with hungry people, rather than plough it into the ground at the tip. If you think that makes me or anyone else dangerous, then that's your problem."

Diane was shouting by this time.

Sinclair referred to his notes and then quietly changed the subject. "The report says something about your group being a suicide cult. Where do you suppose that came from?"

"I don't know. Probably from a sick mind. You ought to understand that sort of thing better than me. Do you think I look or sound like someone who is likely to commit suicide?"

"No, Ms Ventura, you don't look like someone who is likely to commit suicide," Sinclair admitted, as he decided to move away from that line of argument.

"Please call me Diane. Do I look or sound like someone who would let herself become anyone else's unthinking robot?"

Sinclair smiled broadly. "No, Diane. You don't look anything like that either." He seemed to be softening. "But you must understand that you've created a dilemma for the court. How can they show mercy toward you if you're almost bragging about plans to re-offend? Can't you just say you're sorry, and hang your head in shame until you get out of the court? I know it's humbling, but that's all it would take for you to get off. It's not like they're asking you to deny your faith."

"Aren't they?" asked Diane as she raised one eyebrow. "If I can say that I'm sorry for helping the poor, in order to save my own skin, how long will it be before I say I'm sorry for believing in God just to save my skin. It's not me that needs to apologise. It's Buy-Rite, and that screwed up security guard… and the magistrate… and you, if you give in to expediency instead of doing what you know is right. You can lock me up for as long as you like, but it'll be you that goes to bed with a guilty conscience afterwards, not me."

Sinclair was feeling uncomfortable. He looked at his watch and found the excuse he needed. "Our time is nearly up," he said. "It's been an interesting hour. I'll probably be back in touch with you in a few days. In the meantime, I'll think about what you've said."

"Thank you," said Diane, with a feeling of relief.

He said he was going to think about what she had said. He was going to be back in touch with her. Was she getting through to him? The whole ordeal would be worth it, if she could just get Sinclair to think deeply about God and truth and love, and where society is heading. Dynamite was an incurable optimist.

Chapter 12.    A Lost Sheep

While Diane had been undergoing her psychological assessment, and while Juan had been waiting unsuccessfully to visit her, Greg and Dave had been in at Hoyts, distributing tracts once again. Roger Seeker turned up after work, at 5:30pm on Friday. And he came prepared for a fight. Roger introduced himself to the two men, and quickly established that they were, in fact, part of the same group that Diane and Anna were from.

"Every time I come here there's someone new," he said. "How many of you are there?" Roger's voice was far from friendly.

"Six adults and one child," Dave answered.

"Yeah, yeah!" said Roger, making no effort to hide his skepticism. "That's not the way I hear it. You guys are in every capital city, as well as some country towns. Do you deny that?"

"I don't know about Hobart and Darwin, but there're four other groups that I know of," Dave confessed. "I thought you were just talking about us… I mean those of us here in Sydney. The others all have their own rules and leaders. We don't have any say over them, and they don't have any say over us."

"And what about country groups?"

"None that I know of," the older man replied. "But we travel a lot. We've hit just about every town in Australia with a population of 5,000 or more. The public gets the feeling we're bigger than we are because we're so active."

"It's great what six people can do when they stop working for money!" Greg put in. Roger saw no point in arguing about how big they were. He moved on to another topic. "Is it true that you kicked your wife out, and now you're living with two other women?" Roger asked Dave.

"Are you kidding?" said Dave with genuine surprise. "Where did you hear that?"

"Cult Alert. They have a report from an infiltrator that says your wife was kicked out about two weeks ago."

Dave and Greg looked at each other in dismay. Slowly shock changed to amusement as Dave worked out what had happened. "Joshua King!" he said to Greg. "He must be the infiltrator. It was two weeks ago when we sent Cherry down to Adelaide with Martha. It must be something in how we explained her absence that made him think we had kicked her out. And God only knows how he came up with the bit about me living with two other women."

Roger Seeker listened with interest.

"But we do live together," said Greg. "So technically you have been living with two other women… and their husbands as well!"

"Yeah, and now that Cherry's back, I'm living with three women!" The two laughed heartily. Dave turned back to Roger. "But I only share the same bedroom with one, and she's my wife. My first wife. My last wife. My only wife. Now that's the truth,, and I challenge Cult Alert to say otherwise."

He went on: "They get away with saying these sort of things, because their number one rule is never to listen to our side. Talk about us controlling members! They are the ones who are afraid to have people hear the other point of view."

"Could be they just made a mistake," said Roger, who could see the truth in what Dave had said. "Their real concern is to warn people away from dangerous teachings." Roger was defending the group, but he was not entirely happy with their approach to the truth either.

"They do a lot of work with people who have been trapped in Jehovah's Witnesses," he said. He watched to see if it would bring a reaction from the two men.

"Trapped?" asked Dave. "Are the JW's holding people prisoner these days?" He adjusted his tie while he waited for a reply.

"You know what I mean," said Roger. "They're trapped by the teachings."

"No, I don't know what you mean," insisted Dave. "Fill me in."

"Are you saying that you agree with Jehovah's Witnesses?" asked Roger.

"No. I didn't say that. I just asked you to explain your reference to people being trapped by them. Why is it that people assume any attempt to be fair to the JW's means we agree with them?"

"I didn't accuse you of anything," Roger replied. "I just asked a simple question. Do you agree with their teachings or not?"

"They've got a lot of different teachings, so I can't answer yes or no. But first, can you tell me someone whose theology is perfect?" asked Dave.

Roger thought for a moment. These people were doing it again. Screwing up his brain with their clever arguments. Maybe Cult Alert was right after all. "I'm not saying anyone is perfect," he said. "But Jehovah's Witness teachings are really off. Ask anyone."

Greg grinned as he waited for Dave's answer. He had been through this routine before. "So where do you draw the line between imperfect and really off?"

"They say Jesus isn't the Son of God. Wouldn't you say that was off?," Roger asked defiantly.

"Well first of all, they do teach that Jesus is the Son of God," Dave explained patiently. "But they also teach something about God the Father being greater than his Son. Is that really so bad?"

"I'm sure it's worse than that. I heard they don't believe Jesus is God at all."

"You heard that, did you?" asked Dave. "And did you ever take the time to listen to the Jehovah's Witnesses' side?"

"Well, no. We were told not to…"

"…not to listen to them," the three men finished together in unison.

"Since you're not allowed to hear them out, I'll help you a little," Dave said. "They teach that Jesus is a God. I don't see it the same way they do; but you can't honestly believe that the difference between believing Jesus is 'God' or believing that he is "a God" is God's ultimate dividing line between good and evil.

"See, traditional church teaching allows for slight differences between various Christians, and we say that the grace of God will cover for imperfections in our theology. So the case against groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses really has to be based on something more substantial than theological hair-splitting."

"On the other hand, if you want to know the real danger behind the JWs, I'll tell you it," Dave whispered conspiratorially, as he indicated with his finger for Roger to move his ear closer.

"What's that?" asked Roger coolly, trying to hide his curiosity.


"What do you mean faith?" he spat out.

Dave continued to explain. "When someone starts believing that God is real, no matter how they may happen to perceive him, they start doing things… strange things, in an effort to obey him. The JWs are out on the streets, knocking on doors, preaching wherever they go; and that frightens people who don't have real faith. So the lukewarm believers have to warn people to stay away from the JWs. They have to teach that they are dangerous. They have to call them a cult."

"That's what they're doing with us too," said Greg. "Tryin' to make you scared of us, so's you won't hear what we're sayin'."

Roger's problem was that he really listened to what people were saying. And now he could see the plausibility in what Dave had been saying. His aversion to Jehovah's Witnesses had always been something vague that he could not put his finger on. Now he was really rattled.

He had come to challenge the bin raiders on their theology, but Dave had more or less dismissed the entire topic on the basis of something as fundamental as faith. And the worst thing was that it was starting to make sense.

But if he took that approach, all of his most cherished impressions of Christianity could end up in total confusion.

There were certain churches that represented orthodoxy, and he wanted to stay a part of that circle of spiritual stability. As a Pentecostal, and especially as a member of a very minor Pentecostal denomination, he was regarded as being on the fringe of orthodoxy. But at least he was a part of it. No one had ever called his church a cult.

In common with the Anglicans and the Catholics and a lot of other very respectable churches, Roger believed that Jesus was the Son of God, that the Bible was the Word of God, that Christ died for his sins, that he was going to heaven when he died. In their various ways, they all practised some form of baptism, partook of communion, believed in the Trinity, recited the Apostles Creed and the Lord's Prayer. It was a nice safe club even if they did have trouble getting along with one another; and they unanimously called the club Christianity.

Now these wild, unkempt street people were suggesting that faith should be the only criteria… faith that evidenced itself in actions… strange actions, as Dave had put it. That couldn't be true. And yet if it wasn't, why wasn't it?

Roger confessed that Dave had given him a lot to think about, and then excused himself. The truth was that he was hoping some fresh air and some time away from this far out group of tract distributors would clear his head and bring him back to the way he used to think. He had been happy enough with his beliefs before they had come along. Certainly he could go back to being happy with his former beliefs once he got away from them.

"I think he's a sheep," Greg said to Dave as Roger was walking away. "I know he was arguing, but I could see it. He was hearing what you were saying. He's going to be one uncomfortable man 'til he sorts this whole thing out. I don't think he'll be happy 'til he does."

Chapter 13.    Free Work

Juan was not able to take Sean with him when visiting Diane. But that was just as well, because Sean was the main topic of conversation during their visits. Diane wanted to be sure that everything possible was being done to ensure that he would not be taken away from her.

"Are you sure they can't use my imprisonment as an excuse to take him?" she asked during their first visit at Mulawa, on Saturday.

"Technically, you're not in prison yet," said Juan.

"Oh, isn't that nice!" Diane replied good naturedly. "And what do you call this place?"

"What I mean is that you're in the remand facility. That means you're just being held here while they make up their mind about how guilty you are, or even about whether you are guilty at all. You could be completely innocent, in which case they would have no reason at all for taking Sean, would they?" "I am completely innocent, if they would just use a bit of common sense," argued Diane.

"You don't have to convince me. It's the court you need to convince. How did it go with the psychiatrist yesterday?"

"Sinclair? Not bad. He could see that I wasn't crazy, and that I hadn't done anything wrong; but he wants me to go along with the system and say that I'm sorry."

"Were you nice to him?"

"I didn't let him think that I would go along with his suggestion, if that's what you mean. I gave him a serve about following his conscience, and not giving in to Buy-Rite, but other than that I was co-operative."

"Do you think you got through to him?"

"I got through to him enough that he knows I'm right. And he did say he would think about it. We'll see how it goes next week."

Juan explained to Di that he would be distributing in Parramatta on Monday and Tuesday, in order to be closer to the prison when it came time for a visit each afternoon. He also said that he and Diane had been granted a day away on Wednesday, when she was due to return from the court… providing everything went smoothly during her next appearance.

*    *    *

While Juan was visiting Diane, on Saturday, there was a free work job to be completed back in Redfern. Dave had mail to catch up on. So it was left to Cherry, Anna, Greg and Sean to do the job.

Sean had hardly noticed Diane's absence. Being part of an extended family had accustomed him to rotating parent figures. At times he even responded to other members of the community better than he did to Diane or Juan. He especially liked free work jobs, because the employers so often spoiled him with special treats in return for his efforts.

Today, however, was definitely not going to be one of those days. They were helping old Becky McClatchy, who lived just two blocks away from them in Redfern. Becky McClatchy wasn't likely to spoil Sean, or anyone else for that matter. She was not one of their favorite employers, but she was one of the more genuinely needy people for whom they worked.

Becky was in her eighties, and lived in a house that her parents had lived in before her. The house was too big for her to look after herself; but then a bed sitter would have been too much for her to look after in her present state. Her clothes were always covered with food stains, and her hair was always in need of combing.

Cherry, who was an immaculate housekeeper herself, took a special interest in getting as much housework done as possible on her visits to Becky's. She had often tried to clean up the woman herself, but Becky would have no part of it. It had been two months since they were last there, and the floors were covered with old newspapers and garbage. The sink was full of dirty dishes, and the old fridge was long overdue for a defrost.

It was Sean's job to gather up the papers on the floor and put them all in the rubbish bin at the back of the house. He set eagerly to work while Anna got stuck into the dishes. Cherry decided to tackle the windows, which they had not been able to do on previous visits. The glass was so dirty that you could hardly see through it.

Cherry's arthritic hands had swellings on almost all of the joints. It was painful for her to do most chores, but her ideal of a Christian was summed up in one word: service. The more humble the task, the greater was her glory in being able to do it. Housework done cheerfully and conscientiously would, she believed, bring her greater eternal rewards than any amount of preaching.

But Becky McClatchy was not handing out any rewards today. "Don't tear the curtains!" she shouted, as Cherry mounted a chair to tackle the first window. It wouldn't take much to tear the curtains either, as they appeared to be ready to fall apart. The workers had discussed washing them on the last visit, but concluded that they would just disintegrate under the trauma of washing.

"Don't take that one. It's today's," she screeched at Sean in her high, piercing voice, when he was gathering up some newspapers in the crowded kitchen. Sean looked up at Anna for direction. "Here, I'll take this one," said Anna. "You go ahead and collect up the rest." She folded the paper and placed it on the filthy kitchen table before returning to the sink.

"That man took my marmalade," Becky continued. "Was in the fridge last time you come, and when you left, it was gone. I want another one. You've no right to take a poor woman's marmalade." "He probably threw it out because it had gone off," said Anna patiently.

"Nonsense! Just had a bit of mould on it. He should've scraped it off and saved the rest. I want a new jar of marmalade, or I'll complain! I will, you know?"

"Okay, we'll get another jar for you when we finish," said Anna, wondering who Becky thought she was going to complain to.

About then Greg started hammering at the back of the house.

"Strike me pink! What's that racket?" shouted the old woman. "Someone's ripping up the house." "It's only Greg," said Anna.

"We'll just see about that," said the woman, as she picked herself up and marched out the kitchen door.

"And what do you think you're doing, young man?" she asked, as she came around the back corner of the house.

"You have some loose boards. I'm nailing them back in place," Greg replied.

"I never said to do that. I said to clean up the yard, and that's all. I can take care of me own loose boards, thank you."

"Okay, whatever you say," said Greg with his customary smile and a slight bow of his head in Becky's direction. "We aim to please," he finished, with a flourish.

"Such impertinence!" Becky mumbled under her breath as Greg put down the hammer and started picking up some of the rubbish from the yard. "Don't throw none of those bricks out neither," she warned. "I may need them."

About then, Sean came out with another load of newspapers for the rubbish bin. "All finished!" he said as he placed them in the bin and dusted off his hands.

"Excellent," said Greg. "Do you want to help me now?"


"How about you go 'round the yard and find all the loose bricks you can, and put them in a nice neat pile back there by the fence. Then I can cut the grass without hitting them."

"Okay," Sean said again, and he immediately set to work. Instead of making a pile of bricks, he made a "train" from them. Sean was obsessed with trains, and he would line up almost any objects to make one. Then he would move up and down the length of his creation, imagining that he was a conductor or a passenger or any number of other people associated with the train.

By the time the group left Becky McClatchy's at 4pm that day, the kitchen was spotless, as were all of the windows in both the kitchen and the lounge room. Anna had scrubbed the dishes and pans, including those that had been in the cupboards when they arrived. This was necessary because Becky would put dishes away with layers of dried food still on them. Anna had scrubbed the walls, stove, fridge, table, and floor too. Cherry had done the windows, and Greg had done the yard.

There was little grass to speak of in the yard, but at least Greg had cut back the weeds sufficiently to make the ground visible once again. Discarded rubbish was piled up neatly at the kerb, for the council to come and collect.

Becky was an obsessive collector. Because of that, much of the rubbish would be returned to the backyard soon after they had left. And by the time they returned in a couple of months, she would have collected other bits and pieces from her walks around the neighbourhood as well. Her instructions were always for Greg to mow the lawn; but he always had to remove her treasures before he could do it. It was a never-ending battle.

"Don't forget the marmalade," Becky said as they were packing up. This was the time when most employers would be complimenting and thanking the volunteers.

"I'll be back with some in half an hour," said Anna. They had some unopened, out-of-date strawberry jam at home, but Becky would not settle for anything except marmalade; so they would have to spend some of their meager supply of cash on her.

"It's good we have a rest day coming up," Cherry said, as they walked toward their flat. "I think I've overdone it a bit today."

"You could always take an extra day off on Monday," said Greg.

"Oh no you don't," Cherry laughed. "We've got Nanna Cuthbert on Monday. After a day with Becky McClatchy, I need a day with Nanna to get over it."

Chapter 14.    Confrontation

On Sunday morning, Roger Seeker was back in church, trying to forget about his encounters with the bin raiders. But he wasn't having much success. So much that he had found appealing about the church services in the past now bothered him. The melodramatic prayers, the plea for more money in the offering, the prophecies that seemed to be going nowhere and saying nothing, even the music, with its monotonous repetition all irritated him. Why did they need to go over and over such a trivial chorus? And did anyone really know what "mount Zion on the sides of the north" meant anyway?

Could it be possible that all of this was just an act… that the people going through the motions didn't really have faith in God, as Dave and Greg and Diane and Anna had all been saying?

He looked around at the congregation and thought about what was lying beneath the surface of all this apparent piety. There was hardly a couple in the church who had been able to make their first marriage last. Two were now on their third. A feud over property rights had stopped one family from even talking to another. A member who was a chemist was under investigation for having ripped money off the government through falsifying his records. Several of the young people were known to be sleeping together even though they weren't married. And there were bad feelings between the church board and the pastor over Ganley's superannuation fund. Some were secretly campaigning to drop him and get another pastor if he kept asking for more money.

"But, praise the Lord, they're all born again and spirit-filled," Roger thought sarcastically to himself. "What does it mean, if it doesn't make any difference in how they live their lives?" It hadn't been like that for Roger in his early days. Shortly after he had started attending the church, he had undergone a powerful religious experience. God was so real to him then, and he had wanted nothing more than to spend his life serving God.

He had even talked to Ganley about going into the ministry. But Ganley had talked him out of it. Ganley had said that God needed someone to make the money and pay the bills for people like himself. Barbara had been against it too, and that was the real reason why Roger had dropped his dreams of entering the ministry.

Later he had come to see more of what the "ministry" involved, and he had become more convinced that he had made the right choice by staying out of it. He had originally wanted to do and say things that would change people's lives for all of eternity. But church government seemed to rotate around keeping peace between factions and finding ways to disguise faith in order to make it palatable to people who weren't really interested in God or heaven or much of anything else that was spiritual.

But here they were now, singing "He is Lord" together, with their hands in the air and their eyes closed, like they really cared about obeying Jesus!

Then they all listened to Ganley give a sermon against "church tramps", which was an attempt to stop members of the congregation from wandering off to visit some of the larger Pentecostal churches, where the speakers were more entertaining and the music was more professional.

Finally, they were all filing out the door, shaking Ganley and Valerie's hands and telling Ganley how much they enjoyed the sermon... that it was just what the congregation needed. That evening it was Roger who feigned a headache while Barbara went off to the meeting on her own. She was hardly out the door before Roger admitted to himself what he had been sub-consciously planning to do. He was going to contact Dave and Greg. He phoned the number that Juan had given him. Greg answered. Greg seemed thrilled to hear from him, and he immediately invited Roger over for a visit.

Roger accepted, and was at their house in less than half an hour.

He was impressed with the simplicity of the place. If the group was ripping money off people, it certainly wasn't going into real estate.

Roger recognised everyone who was present, except for Cherry and Sean.

"There's another woman… a short one…"

"You mean Diane?"

"Yeah, that's her name. Is she still with you?"

"She is. But she's away visiting someone else at the moment," Juan fibbed.

Cherry excused herself to fix tea and coffee for everyone, and Anna took Sean off to put him in bed. That left Roger with the three men.

"I want to apologise for the way I acted in the city yesterday," he said. "I'm going through a lot at the moment."

No one said a thing, so Roger went on: "I'm just trying to sort out what I believe and what I don't believe."

"We've all been through it too," said Juan. "What are you coming up with?"

"Well, nothing definite yet. I still have a lot of questions. See, I really don't want to follow you if you're teaching something that is wrong. I hope you understand. But I'll try to do a better job of listening to your side this time. Do you mind if I use notes? I've listed some things that I want to clear up."

"Sure. Go right ahead." Dave was in his usual listening pose, which varied little from his teaching pose, except that his chin now rested on the back of the chair.

"Let's see. First, there's the Bible. They said you don't believe it's the Word of God. What's your side?"

"Suppose the Bible itself said, 'This is not the word of God.' Would you believe it?"

"I suppose so," Roger said hesitantly. "Except that it doesn't say that." Then he paused, remembering other embarrassing mistakes he had made in the past. "Does it?" he finished up. "Someone give him a Bible," Dave said. There were several lying around the room. Apparently they weren't afraid to use them, even if they didn't believe they were the Word of God. Dave asked Roger to open to the seventh chapter of I Corinthians.

"If you look at verses six and seven, you'll see that Paul says, 'I speak this by permission and not of commandment.' He then goes on to give his advice about something. In other words, he says that he's not speaking as the voice of God, but just as brother Paul, giving his personal opinion. Then in verse ten, he says, 'I command, yet not I, but the Lord...' and he gives some serious rules about marriage. Here he has switched back to speaking with what he believes is the authority of God. Then, in verse 12, he goes back to giving his own opinion: 'But to the rest, I speak, not the Lord.'

"Do you hear that? He's saying that what follows is not the Word of God. He does it twice in the space of just a few verses.

"What you need to ask yourself, Roger, is whether you believe the Bible, or whether you believe some made up doctrine that actually contradicts the Bible. The Bible makes no claim to being infallible. It never claims to be the complete Word of God. And it clearly states that some parts of it are not the Word of God. So the doctrine you are worried about us not supporting is not based on the Bible at all. It's the invention of some over-zealous fundamentalist."

"But if the Bible is not the Word of God, then how do you know what to believe and what not to believe?"

"Ever heard of the Holy Spirit?" Dave asked with a smile. "Why do you suppose Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit?"

"It says he sent the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth," Roger answered. Roger knew his Bible well enough to see what Dave was driving at. "So you're saying that all I have to do is follow the Holy Spirit. Is that right?"

"Pretty much," said Dave. "Jesus said the Holy Spirit would remind us of everything that he had said. If you think someone has the Holy Spirit, but they're arguing against the teachings of Jesus, then maybe it's not the Holy Spirit that they have; maybe they have some other spirit."

"And because you follow the teachings of Jesus, you still use that part of the Bible, don't you." Roger said, as his eyes bounced off all the Bibles in the room.

"Actually, we use just about all of it. But we keep it all in perspective. You see, what the Bible actually says is that Jesus is the Word of God. God still talks through people today as he has in the past, but we believe Jesus was God's only perfect mouthpiece. Just being inspired doesn't make anyone infallible, whether it's Moses, the Apostle Paul or Billy Graham.

"We don't throw away the rest of the Bible, and we don't ignore what others are saying today; but we see the teachings of Jesus as the perfect 'cornerstone' or standard that we use to judge everything else. Jesus said the builders have thrown away the cornerstone, and that's why their building will be destroyed when he returns. He meant that the church leaders have thrown out his teachings and replaced them with teachings that they don't even believe themselves."

When Dave paused, Juan spoke up. "In answer to your question about the Word of God, we believe that Jesus is the Word of God. And his teachings are found in the four gospels. Does that sound so heretical?"

"No, not really." Roger looked down at the piece of paper that was laying on the arm of the couch. "But what about this sincerity thing? I was talking to Diane about it a week or so ago, and she seemed to be saying that a Hindu or a Muslim can be saved even if they haven't accepted Jesus as their Saviour? Are you really teaching that?"

"What saves us?" Dave asked, startling Roger.

"Well… I guess... faith in Jesus," Roger replied.

"Are you sure? Are you sure it says Jesus? Or could it just be faith in God?"

"Well, Jesus said, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me'."

"Okay. So did Abraham go to hell? Remember, he lived before Jesus and he never even heard of Jesus. He wasn't even a Jew, much less a Christian."

"That's different," Roger replied. "He didn't know about Jesus. And the sacrifices that Abraham made were symbols of Jesus. So his faith in the sacrifices were the same as faith in Jesus." Despite his attempts to argue the traditional church position, Roger was already beginning to sense what Dave was getting at.

"If Abraham didn't need to know the name to be saved, why can't a sincere Hindu or sincere Muslim be saved by Jesus too?" Dave asked. "Isn't that what the whole message of grace is about? It doesn't matter what your religion is. The cross has broken down the walls between the various religions. All that matters now is that you have faith. It's still Jesus that saves these people, even if, like Abraham, they have never heard of him."

Dave shifted in his chair, before going on.

"But how would a sincere Muslim be able to accept Jesus, if our terms are that they must first throw away their faith in God as they understand him? Such a message destroys faith instead of rewarding it."

Juan had been wanting to get a word or two in, so he added, "We just tell sincere Muslims to keep on believing in God; and we tell sincere Hindus to do the same. We tell them that sincere faith is what God wants, and he'll reward it. When they believe that, and when they believe we're not out to destroy their faith, then we can let them know more of the good news; and the good news is that the death of Jesus is what made this new non-religious approach to God possible."

Dave finished off. "It's silly to teach people attending orthodox Christian churches that they don't have to be perfect to be forgiven, but then to teach that everyone else is lost because they don't attend orthodox Christian churches."

This teaching was a bit more than Roger could absorb all at once; but he was seriously thinking about it. He went through three or four more questions before realising that Barbara would be home from church and wondering where he was. He phoned her to let her know he was coming; and then he excused himself with a promise to return.

His heart was racing as he drove home. He had heard and learned so much in just a few short sessions with these people. It was all so simple too. How had everyone else missed it? But how was he going to share it with Barbara without her thinking that he had gone off the rails?

"Hello, Roger," said Pastor Toogood, who stood up from his seat in the loungeroom. There was nothing friendly in the look on his face. "I think we need to talk." It was a demand, and not a request.

One look at Barbara revealed that Ganley was acting under her instructions. She had probably sent for him when she arrived home and found the house empty.

"Barbara is deeply concerned," Ganley began. "And frankly, so am I. You've changed. You're not the same person that you were a few weeks ago. It's that cult!" he said, almost with a snarl. "We told you they were bad news, but no, you had to go and see for yourself. Things are going to have to change, and they need to change right away." Pastor Toogood appeared to be more deeply disturbed by the group than what Barbara was.

Roger wanted to share so much of what he had been learning, but he decided to tread gently. In his concern about what he personally had been going through he had been more or less indifferent to how he had been coming across to other people.

"What do you suggest?" he asked.

"You can start by promising God and Barbara never to have anything to do with them again. They're of the devil, Roger. They'll wreck your marriage and your whole life if you let them. Believe me."

"But our marriage was in trouble before I ever met them," Roger argued. He and Barbara had sought Ganley's counsel more than once, with little success.

"It's in a lot more trouble now," Barbara interjected.

"Why? What did I do?"

"It's not what you've done. It's what you're going to do," she replied. "I know you better than you know yourself, Roger. I knew you were going to go over there tonight. And the next thing you know, you'll be quitting your job and giving away everything that we have, and running around the streets with drug addicts and mental patients. I won't have it, Roger. I won't put up with it."

"Are you saying that you want to re-write our marriage vows? Is that it? You'll love, honour and obey me as long as I have a good job and don't associate with the wrong people?"

"It's not like that." Pastor Toogood tried to soften what Barbara had just said. "She's interested in your spiritual welfare. We all are. Not in how much money you make. Don't you believe that we love you, Roger?"

Roger moved his lips from side to side as he thought about how to answer that one. "I'm not saying you don't love me," he said. "But I'm saying that I should be entitled to have a conscience of my own. Suppose I did decide to quit my job. Would you kick me out of the church for doing that?"

"That's a matter for the church board to decide," Ganley replied. "But you need to listen to the counsel God is giving you right now. And my counsel is to stay away from those… those… bin raiders. Concentrate on saving your marriage before it's too late."

The reference to the group being "bin raiders" went over Roger's head. But he did not bother to ask for clarification. "And what if I say that my conscience says otherwise? What if I say that I feel God wants me to get to know them better?"

"Then I'll support Barbara in anything she does to stop you."

This startled Roger. He had expected Ganley to talk of further counselling sessions, or even discussions with others in the church. But instead, he was threatening to support Barbara in ending their marriage. And all over him talking to some people about God. How unfair!

"Are you saying that you would help to destroy our marriage just to keep me away from these people... these 'bin raiders' as you call them?"

"I wouldn't be the one destroying your marriage, Roger. They would be. They've broken up other marriages, and they'll do it to yours as well if you let them."

"You can't be serious. They haven't said a word against Barbara or against our marriage. It's you and Barbara who are talking about ending the marriage. How can you do this, and then try to put the blame on them? I think you should leave this house, and let me talk it over with Barbara on my own!"

Roger surprised himself at how calmly he was standing up to his pastor in this way.

But then Ganley looked at Barbara. "Do you want me to stay, Barbara?" he asked her softly. What was happening? Was Ganley prepared to defy him in his own home?

"It's okay, Ganley," Barbara said, as she stood up from her chair. They both were acting like Roger was not even there. "I'll be in touch with you," she said as she walked the preacher to the door.

Roger collapsed into a chair, totally drained. It was all so unreal, like it was happening to someone else, or like it was happening in a dream.

He tried to talk to Barbara after Ganley had left, but she refused. "I don't want to argue about it," she said. "I've told you what I want, and now it's up to you."

Chapter 15.    Control

On Monday morning, Barbara had already left for work by the time Roger got up. She often left early to beat the traffic. When Roger saw that Barbara was gone, he called his office and then climbed back in bed. He had more serious things to worry about than what was happening at work. His whole world was suddenly falling down around him, and he needed time to think. One day off work would not jeopardise his job.

Even after a long sleep-in, waking up in the middle of the morning, he laid around for a long time. He did not want to get up and face the day. He prayed, but more in the sense of asking God to make it all go away. That was clearly not going to happen. Sooner or later he was going to have to make a choice, and he needed to make the right one.

What if he chose to stand by this little group of religious weirdos and then learned a week or two down the track that they really were a cult? By then it would be too late to save his marriage, his job, and all of his friends.

On the other hand, he could choose to accept Barbara's ultimatum, and forget he ever knew these people. The scene with Barbara the previous night had set the stage for a marriage held together by a threat. Because the threat was supported by Ganley, it meant that his continued acceptance at the church would be under a similar threat. How could he live with himself, much less Barbara or Ganley, under those kind of conditions? He would be their slave.

No, if he was to choose to do it Barbara's way, he wanted to do it because he agreed with her, and not because he feared what she could do to him.

Roger puttered around the house for a few hours, but he wasn't getting anywhere in resolving the problem. The day was quickly wearing on and he was no closer than he had been when he first woke up. Perhaps he would be able to think more clearly if he got out of the house. So, in the middle of the afternoon, he got in the car and backed out of the drive.

He tried to tell himself that he was looking for a park. But the car was no sooner out on the road than it was taking the shortest route to Redfern. It was like it had a mind of its own.

"Could they really be controlling my mind?" Roger asked himself in all seriousness. He was amazed at the powerful force that was now pulling him toward the group. It was easy to understand ex-members saying that they had been hypnotised. But whether it was a power outside of himself or whether it was just his own secret desire, Roger had a deep sense of relief when Dave opened the door for him. It was a feeling like he was… home.

"Come in, come in!" Dave said, as he pointed Roger to a chair. Anna poked her head momentarily through the kitchen door and then set about fixing coffee for the two men.

Dave sat quietly and waited. He could see that Roger was going through a great inner struggle; but he didn't want to get in the way by rushing him.

"Did you…? I don't know how to put this. Do you have some kind of power that I don't know about? Something that you used to get me to come here?" He was being quite serious.

"No. Why do you ask?"

"I feel like I'm cracking up. I feel like I don't have control over my life. It's like everything is being swept away."

After a moment's thought, Dave said, "Can I offer a couple of suggestions?" Roger moved his head almost imperceptibly, to show agreement, and Dave went on: "Start by making up your mind that you are going to be the one to decide what to do with your life, and that you are the one who is going to take responsbility for whatever results from your decision. Then, determine that you are going to make that decision in faith and not in fear. Do you think you can do that?"

It sounded so simple, that Roger wondered why he hadn't thought of it himself. Maybe he really was losing his mind? Then again, maybe he was becoming emotionally dependent on Dave or others in the group to think for him. He needed to get away, to be sure that he was his own master.

He stood to leave. "I…I've got to go," he said. "I have to sort this out myself, without your help."

Dave spoke slowly and deliberately, giving the full import of his words time to sink in: "Roger. Are you acting in faith by doing this?" He paused before finishing his question. "Or are you acting in fear?"

"He's doing it again," Roger thought to himself. "It's like he can read my mind." At the same time, he knew Dave was right. He had been acting in fear by jumping up like that. He sat back down and buried his face in his hands. "What's happening to me?" he asked. "I can't even think for myself anymore." And he started to weep… quiet, long sobs, while Dave talked to him soothingly.

"No one has all the answers, Roger. Don't be afraid to accept help. In the end, it's still you that makes the final decision. Do you want to share something about what you've been going through?"

Slowly, between sobs, Roger began to tell his story. Dave listened, and did not interrupt. Soon the crying stopped and Roger was breathing more evenly. Away from the threats, he had been able to see the issues more clearly. Merely stating the facts had helped him to put things back into perspective. Dave wasn't saying anything, but his presence had been the catalyst that Roger needed to solve his own problems.

"I see it now," he said. "The reason I couldn't get an answer from God was because I already had one. I knew what I needed to do, but I was too frightened to do it."

He had been talking to himself; but now he looked Dave in the face. "You may be hiding something from me," he said. "You may be everything they say you are. But I'm not going to be afraid of you, and I'm not going to be afraid of them. All I want is what's right, and I'm going to trust God to protect me as I seek it."

He returned to his evaluation of himself. "I've been asking God to tell me that two plus two does not equal four. I've been asking him to make all my problems go away, and to give me a clear conscience about doing nothing. No wonder I wasn't getting anywhere. He couldn't let me do that."

While Roger had been telling his story, Anna had placed two cups of coffee on the coffee table. About the same time, Cherry, Sean and Greg had returned from their free work assignment. Sensing the seriousness of the situation, they had quietly moved through to the kitchen.

"And where do you want to go from here?" Dave asked when Roger appeared to be finished. He had been looking down at the floor through most of the visit, and he seemed to be intently studying the carpet as he replied.

"I think the main thing is… I mustn't give in to anyone out of fear. I should have the right to come here and visit you whenever I like. If they don't like it… Well, we'll just wait and see what they say."

"Fine," said Dave. "Do you like music?"

"Yeah, I do!" said Roger as he lifted his eyes to meet Dave's steady gaze.

"Can I call the others in so we can sing a few songs together?"

"Sure. I'd love it," Roger said, wiping his eyes.

The others came in and Greg picked up a guitar while Dave fished out some home-made songbooks for them to use. Greg suggested that they turn to page four, and he began playing the chords to Bridge Over Troubled Waters. Once again, Roger was met with the unexpected. He had expected a religious song, and he ended up with a secular one. But as the group sang softly through the first verse, he found himself crying once again. This time his tears were tears of relief. He didn't want the song to end.

When you're weary, feeling small, when tears are in your eyes,
I will dry them all. I'm by your side.
When times get rough and friends just can't be found,
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down.

Roger could feel all the tension draining from his body. Yes, indeed, he was home. The music continued.

When you're down and out, when you're on the street.
When evening falls, I will comfort you.
I'll take your part, when darkness comes and pain is all around,
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down.

He was ready to join in by the time they reached the last verse.

Sail on silver gull. Sail on by.
Your time has come to shine. All your dreams are on their way.
See how they shine. If you need a friend, I'm sailing right behind.
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will ease your mind.

"It could be that some of these secular poets are more inspired than the religious ones," Dave said, sensing that Roger had been surprised by their use of a pop song in this way. "I get a lot of encouragement from some of these pop songs."

There was a moment or two of silence as Greg leafed through the songbook, and as Roger reflected on all that had happened in such a short period of time.

"Here's one we wrote ourselves," said Greg, as his face lit up. "It's not so serious; but it does have a serious message."

Greg made everyone laugh by standing up and acting out the words, at the same time that he continued to strum the guitar. The big man raced around chasing his tail, before sticking his head under the couch cushion as he sang.

A dog goes silly trying to chase its tail.
An ostrich will not see that things have got to fail.
People in the system ain't got no goals.
They put their wages in a bag with holes.

Well, it's time for a revelation on the light that I have found.
It's sheer indoctrination that money makes the world go round.
You can't buy love or friends and that's what matters most to me.
The best things in life are free.

Roger found himself strangely drawn to the catchy tune and the total lack of religious stuffiness or clichés. They sang and laughed and shared together for more than an hour before he realised that Barbara would be expecting him. He excused himself, but promised to be back. And this time he really meant it.

Chapter 16.    Nanna Cuthbert

After Roger left, Cherry and Greg wanted to tell the others about their day at Nanna Cuthbert's. "Wait'll you hear what we learned about Nanna today," said Cherry, when she had an opportunity to switch the conversation away from Roger Seeker.

"Yes, tell us about how it went," said Dave.

"Well, as usual, she wouldn't even let us get started until she had fed us full of jam pikelets," said Cherry. "She had some special ones with faces on them for Sean. He liked that, and he made a big show of biting off the parts of the face bit by bit."

Sean pulled a silly face when the others looked at him.

"Then she showed us her latest project. She's making plywood toys to sell at the school fete next week. She needed help cutting out the shapes, so that's what Greg spent most of his day doing."

"And I've got blisters to prove it," said Greg. "Nanna already had ten or twelve cut out and glued together when we got there. I don't know how she manages to do so much at her age."

"I helped too," said Sean. "I painted stacks!"

Greg explained. "Sean was a really big help today, wasn't he, Cherry? He did a very good job of painting some of the finished toys." He emphasised very good job for Sean's benefit.

"Of course, he made a mess of himself with the paint; but you had a lot of fun, didn't you, Sean?" Sean nodded enthusiastically. "Then, when he got tired of painting, we cleaned him up and sent him in to help Cherry in the kitchen."

"We did eight dozen lamingtons," said Cherry. "We could have done more if we had had a second oven."

"So what did you learn about Nanna?" asked Dave.

"I was talking to her about her interest in children. It seems her whole life has been spent helping out other people's children, even though she never had any herself. Yesterday would have been her sixtieth wedding anniverary, and thinking about it got her talking about her husband, Bernie. We had always assumed that they weren't able to have children. But lo and behold, she and Bernie chose not to have kids. The best bit is why they did it."

"Go on," said Dave, who had his chin back on the reversed chair, as he listened intently.

"It seems her husband was a pretty keen Christian," said Cherry. "Nanna never says much about her faith, and we haven't pushed her. But Bernie had this idea that God wanted them not to have children, so that they could do more to help other people's children. They didn't have birth control back in those days, so the two of them almost went off sex altogether in order not to have children. They knew others wouldn't see things the way they did, so they let people think they weren't able to have children. I don't imagine she's told very many people about it even now. So it was pretty good of her to open up to me like she did. Don't ever let on that I've told you about it."

"That is interesting," said Dave.

"For someone who loves children as much as she does, it must have been a terrific sacrifice," Cherry said. "You never know who the most committed Christians are, because they're usually the quietest ones."

"Think she'd ever consider working with us?"

"Nah," said Cherry. "She's too old to make such a big change. Besides, she's happy with what she's doing. I reckon, in her own way, she already is working with us."

"Did she read any poetry?" asked Juan.

"Wouldn't be a day at Nanna's if she didn't," said Greg. "She read the one 'bout her day at the beach again. It's the first time I ever heard it. Didn't say much 'bout the beach, just 'bout all the people she saw, and what she was 'maginin' about each of them.

"The other one was about Mr. Eternity... you know, that chap who used to go 'round chalking Eternity all over Sydney for thirty or forty years. I liked that one best."

Greg turned to Dave. "Do you think it would work if we did the same thing today?" he asked. "What? Chalk Eternity all over Sydney?"


"It could," said Dave. "But do we have thirty or forty years to find out?" He smiled kindly. "Not thirty or forty years. I mean, maybe if we had more people, we could do the same thing faster."

There was a quick show of interest from the others, and soon they were in a full-scale huddle to discuss what was to become their next project. They wanted to resurrect the memory of Arthur Stace, known as "Mr. Eternity", who got hundreds of thousands of Sydney people thinking about where their lives were going; and he did it by chalking faultlessly the word Eternity half a million times on the footpaths of Sydney.

Day after day he would walk the streets, chalking the word in beautiful script every hundred metres or so. The first sign of rain would wash it all away. But even that was a testimony to the brevity of life. Then Arthur would go right back and start writing it all again. His faithfulnes was a classic illustration of the relentless love of God.

He lived a quiet life for most of that time. It was only in his final years that the media learned who he was, as he was careful to do his chalking without being spotted.

His friends were the street people, just like the bin raiders. But one significant difference between Mr. Eternity and the Sydney branch of the bin raiders was Dave's willingness to use the media. It was more than willingness; it was unabashed exploitation, something that the media themselves often found offensive. They didn't like being "used" to preach the gospel, and yet Dave would set out deliberately to do just that; and more often than not, he succeeded.

"One report in the Herald or in the Tele could reach more people than Arthur Stace reached in his entire life," Dave remarked, as they continued to discuss their latest brainstorm.

"Maybe we should start the chalking near the newspaper offices," suggested Juan, who was already starting a mental list of points to include in the campaign.

"That would be cheating," said Dave. "The papers want real news, not some cheap gimmick; so we have to really saturate Sydney before we can expect them to take notice."

"What do we want the papers to say when they do get around to writing about it?" asked Cherry. "Good question." Dave thought for a moment. "The beauty of the word Eternity is that people fill in the rest for themselves. There really isn't a lot more that is needed. But what the media can do is to reach a lot of people who might not see the chalking."

Juan agreed to research Mr. Eternity's writing style, and Anna said she would check into someplace where they could get chalk in bulk for such a project.

"Good ole Nanna," said Cherry. "She's got us going again." Nanna's poem about people at the beach had played a part in their original decision to use Bondi for their graffiti campaign.

Chapter 17.    Cast Out

Roger was still several doors away from home when he spotted the suitcases sitting on the normally bare front porch. As he pulled into the drive, the door opened and Ganley Toogood stepped out on the porch with a cardboard box in his arms.

"Show me what to do, Lord," Roger prayed as he stepped out of the car.

"Good afternoon, Ganley. What's up?" he said with a smile, as he tried to pretend that nothing was wrong.

Ganley did not answer. Instead, he put the box down, turned abruptly and re-entered the house. "You went over there again, didn't you?" said Barbara as Roger walked through the door. Ganley had his back turned, and was on his knees, packing books, papers, and other items that were stacked in the middle of the lounge room into another box. He moved slowly, and he fussed over each item to keep from joining in too soon. Barbara was the appropriate person to handle this.

"I phoned your office after lunch, and they said you hadn't been in. I told you that I know you better than you know yourself, Roger. You couldn't even wait one day to quit your job, could you!"

"What are you talking about? I haven't quit my job. Be reasonable, Barbara. I just took a sickie. Is that so terrible?"

Ganley's attempt to stay out of it failed almost before he started. He jumped to his feet and turned around to face Roger. His face was flushed, and he was almost screaming. "It's not the job, Roger. It's them! You just had to go back and see them again, didn't you? You've let them brainwash you. It's what they do, wherever they go."

"To begin with, Ganley, this is really none of your business. And if you can't control your anger any better than that, then I think you are the one who has the problem. You don't seriously think I'm going to let you or Barbara tell me who I can have for friends, do you?"

Barbara replied, "No, Roger, I may not be able to force you away from them; but you can't force me to live with you either. It's over, Roger. It's over." She repeated the last two words like they were some kind of a vow to herself.

"And where do you expect me to go while you cool down and come to your senses?" he asked.

"Where you choose to live from now on is your problem." And then Barbara added sarcastically, "Maybe you can sleep out on the streets with your new friends."

"Yes, maybe I could," Roger said pensively. "Can you at least give me a day or two to pick up my gear?"

"Take as long as you like; but it's all going out on the front porch tonight. I don't want you coming back into this house."

Roger returned to the car and sat at the wheel for a while, thinking and praying. He hadn't really planned anything as drastic as what Barbara had been suggesting, but the more he thought about it, the better it sounded. He put a few suitcases into the car, started the engine, and backed out the drive to take yet another trip to Redfern.

It was almost nine when Roger knocked on the door again and was greeted once more by Dave's infectious smile.

"Come in. Come in," said Dave. "Hey, Cherry, guess who's back? It's Roger."

A few heads poked out from the kitchen and the hallway, and people slowly trickled into the loungeroom while Roger told his story. This time there were hugs all around.

"Whadya think? Would I be able to fit in with you people?" he asked on completion.

"Sure. Certainly," said Dave. "We'd be thrilled to have you. Anna, can you get some blankets and a pillow? You can sleep there on the couch. Tomorrow we can talk about where you go from here."

"What do I have to do to be a member?" Roger asked.

"We're happy to help out with a place for you to stay, for as long as you need it," said Dave. "But becoming a member is a different matter. It's a big decision, and it takes a lot of thought. A decision like that needs to be based on more than circumstances… or emotions."

"I realise that," said Roger. "But I think it is more than circumstances and it's more than emotions too. It's the truth in what you've been saying. Maybe Barbara knows me better than I realised. She knew that if I decided that what you were saying was true, then I would have to act on it. I don't want to be a phoney Christian. I want to be a genuine follower of Jesus. And that means doing all those things that he told his followers to do."

Dave made a half-hearted attempt to get Roger to sleep on it; but the new convert was too excited, and the others were equally thrilled to hear someone finally talking seriously about joining them. Martha had been the only person in more than a year to move in with the Sydney bin raiders and then she had taken off for Adelaide. The group was acutely aware of the need for others to help them in their mission to the world; but nothing they could do or say ever seemed to persuade people to follow Jesus in the way that they were doing. In the end, it always took a supernatural move from God to make anyone choose such a lifestyle. Roger seemed to be experiencing just such a move at the moment.

They gave him the option of giving notice on his job, but he wanted to end it immediately. Dave could see from other evidence that Roger was not the sort of person who was normally inclined to make rash decisions, and so his certitude about quitting the job was further evidence that his decision was based on deep personal conviction. The same enthusiasm in someone else would have had the opposite effect on Dave.

Roger was keen about organising a garage sale too, so that he could dispose of all his belongings. He still owed $7,000 on the car, but he had more than enough in a fixed-term deposit at the bank to cover that. Dave explained that the group did not believe in having debts; so Roger said he would pay off the car in full the next day.

Group policy was for new members to either give their wealth away to charities, or to sign it over to those who had been in the community longer than themselves. Potential members were required to live in the community for at least a week before making such a decision. The reason for that was because the decision was regarded as irreversible. They didn't want people making a decision one day and regretting it the next.

"Now you know why so few people join us, and why those who do usually have very little money to begin with," explained Dave, as he indicated with his hands the others in the room. The others had a good laugh at themselves.

"Technically, the entrance requirements are the same for everyone, but giving up everything is much more frightening to a rich person than it is to a poor person. You won't get any special treatment just because you've contributed more money; and you won't get it back, even if you change your mind two days after you join. So pray about it very seriously over the next week." Roger was flattered at being called a "rich person". But he ssaid that he thought distributing tracts would be harder for him than forsaking his possessions. "It's going to be embarrassing if people from work see me doing it," he said.

"It's great for your pride," said Juan. "Keeps you humble and broken before God. But we all have special problems when it comes to our old friends, and our families. Even Jesus said he had more difficulty getting through to his family than he had getting through to other people. One way around it is just to move somewhere else. There are three other groups that you could choose to work with."

"No, I want to work here," said Roger. "I'll manage somehow, if you people will help me." It was after eleven when Dave called an end to the discussion. "You're going to wake up in the morning and think, 'What on earth have I done?'" he said. "Right now we're all on a high. But reality means carrying on faithfully even when you don't get a buzz out of it. You'll have the privilege of learning about that tomorrow," he finished with a smile.

Everyone took a turn at hugging Roger and welcoming him, before he climbed into bed, feeling happier than he had felt for a very long time.

Chapter 18.    The Morning After

The morning started with people tip-toeing and whispering, to avoid waking Roger. But with the first clink of coffee cups in the kitchen he was awake and out of bed, eager to learn about the routine that lay ahead of him.

"Maybe I was wrong about you having second thoughts this morning," said Dave jokingly. "No, you're probably right. It'll catch up with me later; but for now I'm still running off last night's adrenaline," Roger observed wisely.

The others were impressed to see him listening intently to the mail, even though much of it would have made little sense to him. He also showed good sense in not trying to run too quickly on his first attempt at the morning run. Most visitors tended to space out during mail call and try too hard to impress the others in the run, only to give up without completing the course. Roger's ability to pace himself and to pay attention were probably the same traits that had made him a successful worker. Such traits were rare amongst new recruits to the bin raiders.

After some coaching from Dave, Roger called the office and asked for a week off to deal with some "personal problems".

"It's best to keep your options open until after you've finished the trial week," Dave said. The study that morning was on the differences between the kingdom of heaven and religion. It was longer than most of the other studies, and it led to a lot of discussion, which continued after breakfast, and right up to lunch.

Roger not only was able to grasp the concepts quickly, but he immediately applied them to other situations, and he came up with further observations which supported the points being expressed. "It won't be long before he's leading his own group," Cherry whispered to Dave when the discussion was over and the group was preparing for lunch.

"Don't be too hopeful," said Dave. "Nobody's perfect, and he'll have his problems as well." Before leaving for the city, there was more discussion about what Roger was getting himself into. He was, as he had been from the start, full of questions. Only now the answers to the questions meant even more to him, because his whole future depended on them.

Roger still had one unanswered question from the list of accusations he had heard from John Groenig.

"What about you all being messiahs?" he asked. "Groenig said that you believe you're Jesus. Is there any truth in that?"

"Hmm… Haven't heard that one before," said Dave, "so I'll have to guess at what was behind it. Something I've noticed is that cult busters try, in one way or another, to accuse the leaders of every group they attack of claiming to be Jesus. I guess it's something that convinces people more than anything else that the group really is off the rails. There are people who claim to be Jesus, of course, but don't rely on a cult-buster to tell you who they are, because they'll accuse just about any charismatic leader of claiming to be the Messiah, just like they accuse them all of being manipulative and control freaks."

Dave had been thinking as he had been talking, and he came up with an explanation for the messiah thing.

"We teach that the anointing of God's Spirit is available to anyone today. It's a pretty ordinary Christian teaching. But maybe it was something in the way we said it at some time that made them say we're all claiming to be messiahs. The word 'messiah' means 'anointed one'; so if we say we're all anointed by God's Spirit, then they could technically say we are all claiming to be messiahs. Of course it hasn't stopped us from looking forward to the day when Jesus himself returns to judge the world. Like I said, it's just a guess. There'll be plenty of charges that you either have to do that with, or else accept that they're just full-blown lies."

"Sounds reasonable," said Roger.

After lunch, Roger headed off to the bank with Greg to clear up the debt on his car. The two men were ushered into an office, where an attractive woman in her forties took down the particulars, punched the information into the keyboard in front of her and then studied the screen for a few seconds before excusing herself to check with the manager. When she was out of the office, Greg, who had been sitting at the far end of the desk said, "Check this out," and he swung the computer monitor around so that Roger could see the screen.

There at the top were the words, "DANGEROUS CULT INFLUENCE. DO NOT RELEASE FUNDS."

Greg quickly swung the monitor back, just before the bank officer re-entered the room. Roger was too shocked to say anything at first. Then the woman sat down and said with perfect confidence, "I'm sorry, Mr. Seeker, but there has been a problem with your account at our head office, and there will be some delay in clearing this transaction. Would you be able to check back with us in a week to ten days?"

"A week to ten days?!" exclaimed Roger. "What are you going to be doing that takes a week to ten days?"

"The computers are down, and we have had to order in some new hardware," she lied.

"Look, I only want the money so I can pay off a loan that I took out with this same bank last year. What's so wrong about that?"

"There's nothing wrong with that, Mr. Seeker. It's just an internal problem, and there's nothing we can do about it."

"Are you sure you're telling me the whole truth," Roger asked.

"As God is my witness, it's only a problem with the computer. There's nothing to worry about."

"And are you quite sure that this has nothing to do with my religious beliefs?"

"Your religious beliefs?!" said the woman, with a convincing show of surprise. "Goodness, no, Mr. Seeker. Banks have better things to do than to worry about people's religious beliefs. Believe me, it's just a slight technical problem at head office."

"Would you take any punishment that God wanted to give you if you was lying?" Greg asked abruptly.

"What a strange thing to say," said the bank officer, as she wrinkled her nose and backed away from Greg like he was giving off a bad smell. "What reason would I have to lie to you?"

"That's what I keep asking myself," said Greg, "because it's right there on your computer. Says you're not 'posed tuh release funds to my friend here, 'cause of something called 'dangerous cult influence'. Funny thing for a bank to get itself mixed up in, don't you think?"

"You have no business touching this computer," said the woman, who was now blushing with embarrassment.

"If you have any further questions, I think you should direct them to the manager. Now if you'll excuse me, I have other work to attend to."

Greg looked at Roger and jerked his head toward the door, to let him know that there was no point in pushing further to get the money.

"What was that all about?" asked Roger when they were out of the office.

"Banks keep more records than most people think," Greg explained. "They got lists of anyone who bad mouths them. We handed out tracts against the smartcard a couple years ago, and we got on their lists. My guess is that Groenig or Toogood knows someone in head office, and called them up to let 'em know you're working with us now. I reckon you'll get your money, but not without a lot of hassle. 'Course they'll still want ya t'keep up your car payments while you're waitin'. Crazy, isn't it?."

"It's more than crazy; it's downright unfair," said Roger. "The payment's a few days overdue already, and there'll be late charges if I don't pay it straight away. Can I get something from our joint account to make one payment today? Then we can deal with the rest later."

"Try if you like, but my bet is that Barbara and Ganley cleaned your account out even before they froze your fixed deposit."

Roger tried, and once again, Greg proved to be wiser in the ways of the world than his more formally educated charge.

"I can't believe she did that," Roger said after seeing the teller. "There's nothing left in it at all. But that money belonged to both of us." He was talking to himself now. "It's not fair."

"Fair? You won't get much of that if you join us," said Greg. "The word 'cult' is like the word 'Jew' was in Germany during the war. Nobody needs to be fair with us, 'cause we're not the same as other people. Even nice people will look the other way if they think they're gettin' too close to a 'cult'. You may's well get used to it, 'cause there's gonna be a lot more unfairness in your life from now on."

"But we're not a cult!" replied Roger. "And it's not their money!"

"That's what we say," explained Greg. "But who's listenin'? After they stick the 'cult' tag on us, what we say don't make no difference."

Roger was not satisfied. It took some heavy coaxing from Greg to keep him from going back into the bank and challenging the system.

"Trust me," Greg argued. "The more ya fight, the harder they'll make it. It won't do your spirit no good neither."

Chapter 19.    At War with God

Roger was still fretting about what had happened at the bank that day when the community met together for tea on Tuesday night.

"We should report them," he said. "That woman lied to us today. Greg can testify to it. They shouldn't be allowed to get away with such things."

"Before you start any action against the bank," Dave began, "maybe you should know that we already have one court case on our hands at the moment. Remember Diane? The little woman you met in front of Hoyts?"

"Yeah, I've been meaning to ask about her. Is she still visiting someone?"

"She's in jail," boasted young Sean from across the dinner table.

"Jail?" Roger replied. "What did she do to..." and then he stopped, as he had second thoughts about Sean being present. "Oh, sorry. We can talk about it later, if you like."

"No need to do that," said Juan. "Sean knows all about it. Diane was arrested for taking food out of the industrial bins at Buy-Rite a couple weeks ago. She's been in jail since last Thursday, and she appears for sentencing tomorrow."

"In jail?" Roger, almost shouted. "For stealing rubbish? That's unheard of!" And then the truth dawned on him. "Ganley!" he shouted quite loudly this time. "It was Ganley's doing, wasn't it?"

The others nodded.

"He's sick! And to think I once trusted that man. Oooh, he makes me so mad! But certainly the courts wouldn't let Ganley tell them what do do. Why jail someone for stealing rubbish?"

"I don't know why, but they have," said Greg. "Ganley told 'em we're a cult, so they locked her up for a week, for a shrink to look at her."

"Actually, the shrink hasn't been back since his first visit," said Juan, who had been visiting Diane each afternoon. "She's hoping it means he's going to give her a good report, but I'm not so sure."

Roger continued to complain about the injustice of it all. He wanted to do a hudred things at once - contact the media, write to the local Member of Parliament, and expose Ganley in front of his congregation for starters. After tea, Dave and Juan tried to fill him in on how the rest of the community saw the issues.

"We're fortunate to live in a country like Australia," Dave began. "On the whole the courts do a reasonable job of protecting the innocent and punishing criminals. But it's all based on society's perception of who the criminals are. If the police become convinced that someone's a drug dealer, they don't mind cheating a bit to improve their chances of getting a conviction. "This is especially true if the criminal in question is poor. Expensive criminal lawyers aren't very nice, but at least they help to keep the police honest. But a petty criminal who can't afford a criminal lawyer is beaten before he even enters the court."

"But we're not criminals," Roger shouted in frustration at their willingness to take it all lying down. "They can't do it to ordinary citizens. And we're not defenceless either. We can fight them."

"What we are," said Dave with a hint of authority that surprised Roger, "is Christians. We need to ask ourselves what Jesus would do." Dave felt it was time to confront Roger more strongly on his bitterness.

"There are any number of causes in the world to get yourself worked up about. But we need to see the bigger picture - the picture as God sees it."

"I used to feel the same as you," said Juan, with a sad look in his eyes. "But the world really is at war with God. Not just the atheists, and satanists, and drug dealers and pornographers. No, the entire world - everyone from the grocer to the president of the P and C. Courts, churches, governments, banks... they're all part of a giant conspiracy."

"C'mon! I can't believe that," said Roger. "You're saying that they all attend secret meetings to take over the world?"

Dave motioned discretely for Juan to back off, as he tried to explain.

"They don't need to take over the world, Roger, because they are the world. What we're talking about is more theological than political. Everything people say about doing the right thing means nothing if, in the end, they are going to back down whenever it starts to cost them something personally. The devil knows this, and he's able to use their insincerity to manipulate them all. Ultimately, he controls every one of them, if they're not sincere about finding and following the truth. Most of them aren't even aware of it."

"With all respect," said Roger, "I think you're being too negative."

"I know it's hard to believe," said Dave. "But even you must agree that the world is part of a huge contest between God and the devil - between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Do you agree?"

Roger agreed with Dave, who then continued.

"People must consciously choose to do what is right, and they must be prepared to do so in the face of fierce opposition if they want to be on God's side. Very few people are ready to go to that extreme. They would like everything to be right and fair; but they aren't prepared to die for such ideals. In the end, their good intentions alone won't count for anything. Can you see that?"

"Well, I suppose so." Roger wasn't so sure that he did, and besides, where was it leading? "If someone comes along who is genuinely committed to God and Truth and Love - in other words, a genuinely sincere person - such a person is going to rile up everyone who is not wholely dedicated to Truth."

"That's what we've done to Ganley," interjected Juan.

"And to a lesser extent, we do it to every person on earth who is not sincere," added Dave. "So you can't solve the problem by appealing to a system which is fundamentally insincere to begin with. Even if it does give lip service to truth and justice, that won't stop it from turning on you. Your ultimate defence has to be God himself. Can you see what I'm saying?"

Roger said that he could not, and that was the truth; because his head was too full of plans for revenge.

Dave and Juan continued for a while longer, but they were not getting through. Roger's hurts at being betrayed by his wife and by his pastor had made him want to hit back. His desire for revenge increased with the revelation that Diane had been jailed because of Ganley's influence. Here he had a cause which was not so obviously selfish as his other grievances against Ganley. He was hell-bent on finding a way to hit back in Diane's defence.

That night Dave discussed the situation with Cherry as they were lying in bed.

"If he doesn't let go of his bitterness, it'll destroy all that has been accomplished so far," Dave said. "And he was coming along so well too."

"Do you think it's wise to take him with you to court tomorrow?" asked Cherry.

"Probably not. But now that he knows it's on, I don't think we can stop him. He's pretty strong-willed. We'll just have to pray for wisdom in helping him to deal with it."

*    *    *

The next morning (Wednesday) everyone except Greg and Sean attended the court proceedings. Ganley was present once again, along with Groenig, Sinclair, and the police prosecutor. Of greater significance was the presence of three members of the Press in the gallery.

Things progressed swiftly... a bit too swiftly, almost as though they had been rehearsed. Sinclair gave his report. He said that he had established that Diane was sane, and that she was not unduly influenced by Dave Hartley. But he reported that she had developed such a strong in-group bias that she was incapable of responding to normal social mores and taboos. This was evidenced, he said, by her total lack of remorse for what she had done at Buy-Right.

"The matter before the court is a relatively trivial one," Sinclair said. "But in my opinion, the defendant lacks any social conscience. She is capable of committing much worse offences, if she felt that her actions would further the causes for which her religious sect stands."

Sinclair had obviously decided to silence his conscience by convincing himself that Diane had the potential for evil, even if he couldn't show that she actually was evil. He had chosen his side in the great cosmic conspiracy that Dave and Juan had been talking about.

"What treatment do you recommend?" the magistrate asked.

"I recommend further counselling and further interaction with people outside of her religious sect."

The police prosecutor then asked leave to offer new information, and leave was granted.

"We have information that a Toyota Hi-Ace van registered in the defendant's name, was seen parked near Bondi Beach at 4am eight days ago, at the same time that thousands of dollars worth of damage was done to the beach retaining wall by graffiti vandals."

"Have charges been laid?" asked the magistrate.

"No, your Worship. Investigations are proceeding, but it may be difficult to prove that the defendant was directly responsible for the vandalism."

"What do you have to say for yourself?" asked the magistrate, as he turned to Diane.

"I wasn't there. I was home in bed."

Actually, this was the time when Diane could have said anything that she had wished to say in her own defence, but the magistrate took advantage of her ignorance by pursuing the Bondi Beach connection instead.

He said, "And do you know how your van came to be parked at Bondi Beach at four in the morning?" "I... uh... Do I have to answer that question?"

"You don't have to do much of anything, young lady, but I must tell you that things are not looking very good for you at the moment."

"I'm sorry." There was an awkward silence, before Diane added, "I don't have anything more to say." She looked steadfastly down at her hands in her lap.

"Very well," said the magistrate. He then paused to shuffle some papers on his desk before proceeding to do what he had come there to do.

"Ms. Ventura, would you stand and face the court?" Diane stood and looked up at the magistrate.

"The offence, to which you have pleaded guilty, is not, in itself a particularly serious one. However, the circumstances are that you have shown no remorse and no willingness to alter your behaviour or lifestyle in such a way as to guard against returning to this court charged with similar offences. You have more or less admitted to the court that this is not the first time that you have taken food from supermarket bins; and there is little doubt in my mind that you have participated in other illegal acts, such as the vandalism at Bondi Beach which was mentioned by the police prosecutor today. Your involvement with an unnamed religious sect, based in Redfern, appears to be a contributing factor to your anti-social behaviour. In order to give you time to develop more desirable behaviour patterns, I hereby sentence you to thirty days' detention, with manadatory participation in counselling sessions aimed at rehabilitating you.

"Next case."

Diane was quickly led down a special flight of steps to the holding cells under the court room.

Two of the journalists met Sinclair, Toogood, and Groenig as they were leaving the court room. They appeared to know the men from a previous encounter. While they were getting information from the three men, the third reporter came over to the huddle of bin raiders, who were still recovering from their shock at the harshness of the sentence.

"Are you people friends of Ms. Ventura?" she asked.

"I'm her husband," said Juan.

"And how do you feel about the sentence?"

"How do you think I feel? I'm upset, of course." Juan's voice was quavering a bit.

"Will you be appealing against the sentence?"

"I don't know. I don't even know how long it would take. She'll probably be out of there before an appeal could go through."

"Do you have any children?"

"We have a son. He's four years old."

"And how do you think he'll cope while his mother is in jail?"

"Oh, he'll be fine. My friends here will help out."

The reporter turned to Dave. "And are you Ms. Ventura's father?"

"No, I'm a friend," said Dave.

A few more questions were asked, and then the reporter asked Roger what he thought about the sentence.

"It's a conspiracy," he said. "Anyone can see that. These people haven't hurt anyone; and yet people like Ganley Toogood have set out to destroy them. It's cruel and un-Christian."

Once Roger got started, there was no stopping him. He complained about the judge, about the prison psychiatrist, and when he got to Ganley, he spilled his guts about what Ganley had done to his marriage. His bitterness was showing, but the reporter did not seem to notice. She was having too good a time taking down notes on Roger's various gripes.

Chapter 20.    Mother and Son

"Have you seen the papers?" Diane asked when Juan came to visit her on Thursday afternoon. The morning papers included reference, not to Ganley Toogood destroying a marriage, but to the bin raiders doing that. Toogood's name was never mentioned, although Groenig and Sinclair were both quoted. It was clear from the reports that the interview with the bin raiders outside the court room had only been a secondary concern. Their critics were the real source of media interest and media misinformation.

Roger's marriage was, however, only a small part of the perverted interest that the media had taken in the case. Diane's case represented something much bigger than Roger's problems. One headline said,


and another said,


"Yeah, I've seen them," said Juan. "We should've known it was going to happen sooner or later. Have the other prisoners seen it?"

"Yeah, but they're taking it surprisingly well. Several have come around asking if the reports are true; but when I explain the facts, they seem to know straight away that I'm telling the truth. The others have warned me about a couple of suck-ups who act just like your typical churchy… believing everything the establishment says, and doing all they can to prove their loyalty to the system. But so far they're just avoiding me, and I'm avoiding them."

"That's good," said Juan. "Anyone with any sense at all will know that the media has distorted things." What Juan was not saying was that he believed the general public did not have much sense at all. Perhaps it was part of God's mercy that, at a time like this, Diane was with others who knew what it was to suffer as social outcasts.

"I'm more worried about Sean," Diane continued. "What're we gonna do now? What if they try to take him away because of this?"

Diane was still struggling with the shock of facing a further month in prison, for she really was in prison now. She had been removed from the remand facility.

Sean was waiting with Roger in a hall outside the visiting room. Juan wanted to be sure that Diane was in a good frame of mind before he brought him in.

"You know we've talked about this possibility before," Juan said. "Either we trust God all the way, or we don't trust him at all. Isn't that right?"

"I trust him," Diane said as a silent tear ran down her face. "But I want to be sure we've done everything that we can do, too."

"Sean has been handling the separation really well so far. I'm proud of him. But you've got to be strong yourself if you want him to be strong. You've got to set a good example. When he comes in, you mustn't let him see you fretting."

"Yes, I'm trying," she said as she wiped the tear away. "It's just the suddenness of it all. I never expected that they would take this as far as they have. It's those damn cult-busters who are doing it."

"I wanted to talk to you about the cult-busters," said Juan. "We're having a bit of a problem with Roger. He's pretty bitter against Ganley. Ganley seems to have played a big part in breaking up their marriage, and that's obviously playing on his mind.

"Roger's so strongly committed to justice that he can't seem to accept what he's suddenly learning about the big bad world. He and I distributed together this morning, and anyone who stopped to talk got an earful of his complaints. It wasn't a very positive testimony. If we're going to help Roger love Ganley, we're going to have to love Ganley ourselves."

Dynamite was the one person in the group who was most like Roger Seeker in her fierce desire for fair play. But she knew the theory.

"You know I wouldn't really want to hurt Ganley or anyone else," she said. "But it's not realistic to think that I wouldn't be at least a little angry with him."

"Go ahead and be angry if you like; but don't sin." Juan was quoting a verse from the Bible. Not "sinning" for the bin raiders meant not wishing bad on the person they were angry with. It was Roger's desire for revenge on Ganley that had caused concern to others in the group. Such a desire could quickly destroy all the excitement and pleasure of Roger's new lifestyle, making him miserable and even jealous of those who were still working in the system.

"No problem," said Diane. "But for now, can we just concentrate on Sean? Do you think I can see him now?"

"I'll bring him in. Just remember that even if he should be taken away from us, we'll make it easier for him if we don't panic. It's not like they just automatically take kids away from parents any time someone goes to jail. A month in here isn't that long; and when you're out, things will soon die down. If we can get past this initial hysteria, we should have no trouble proving that you're a good mother even if someone does put in a complaint."

Sean and Roger then came in for a visit. Roger felt awkward, since he hardly knew Diane. He had not seen her since he had moved in with the community just four days earlier.

"Hi, Sean. How's my little man?" asked Diane as Sean ran over to her and climbed up into her lap. They were sitting around tables in an area where visitors were able to have physical contact with the inmates. Around the area were cameras and guards, always on the lookout for drugs being smuggled in; and Diane would be strip searched at the conclusion of the visit. But for now she just soaked in the luxury of Sean's desperate cuddle. He said very little, but he held her like he was never going to let her go.

Diane made several attempts to start up a conversation with Sean, but he gave only one word answers. What he needed most was just to hold her; he was not interested in conversation with others present.

So the conversation turned to Roger.

"Welcome to the group," said Diane. "How have you been finding things?"

"It's like a whole new world," said Roger. "I had no idea that people in a civilised country like Australia could be so unjust. All the people I used to trust are now my enemies... and just because we're trying to obey Jesus."

"What do you like best about the group?" asked Diane, in an effort to get Roger thinking more positively. He had to think for a moment. "I like having other people around who believe the same as I do," he said. "I used to think that I had a lot in common with my friends in the church; but not one of them has contacted me since I left. They were probably told not to contact me. What a bunch of robots!"

Diane could see that Juan had not been exaggerating Roger's problem. She gave Juan a knowing look, and then started down a different track.

"Are you jealous of them?" she asked, startling Roger with the implied accusation behind such a question.

"Of course not! Why should I be jealous? What do they have that I don't have?"

"That's a good question," said Diane. "Because when I find myself getting angry with someone, it's usually because I'm not happy with what I've got, and I want something that they've got. If I really had something better, I would be more inclined to feel sorry for them."

"I do feel sorry for them," said Roger. "I pity them, with their empty, pointless lives."

Roger was not very convincing. Even his pity was expressed angrily. He realised that Diane was joining the wall of bin raiders who were coming down hard on him about his attitude. That made him retreat from further conversation with her.

Juan could see that Diane's efforts had backfired, and he moved in to divert attention away from Roger.

"What's the food like here?" he asked, for lack of a better question.

"Not bad," said Diane. "Of course it doesn't measure up to frozen pizzas and out-of-date yoghurt from Buy-Rite." And they both had a good laugh. Sean continued to hug Diane, and Roger just shifted uncomfortably in his chair as the couple resumed doing most of the talking.

By the time the hour was up, Sean had loosened up a bit, and he left with very little fuss, assured that he would be able to see Diane again the next day.

Chapter 21.    More Legal Battles

Three television stations had come by the flat that morning, with one of them offering to pay for exclusive coverage. Dave refused to do an interview with any of them.

When reporters could not get an interview with Dave, they would start asking for Roger. Juan had wisely taken Roger with him to distribute tracts in Parramatta for the day, so that he was unavailable for comment throughout the day.

Roger's first reaction when hearing of the media interest at dinner that night was to jump at a chance to get his side across. Dave cautioned him:

"What they did in the papers this morning is just the start of what they could do to you on TV. The papers can misquote you or leave out what you've said; but TV can make it look like you actually said things you never even thought... and everyone will believe that they saw and heard you with their own eyes and ears."

Dave told of an incident that had happened years earlier:

"Cherry was filmed at a peace march talking about war. She said, 'It'll never solve anything.' But when it appeared on TV, they put her statement right after a statement by another demonstrator supporting the demonstration itself. Obviously the station wanted some quotes against the protest, and when they couldn't get one fairly, they just cut and spliced until they had Cherry saying what they wanted her to say... that the demonstration would never solve anything."

"Did you take legal action against them?" asked Roger.

"Legal action in itself doesn't solve anything," said Dave. "We need to change peoples' hearts if we're going to have any lasting effect. Stooping to the level of those we're fighting only changes our hearts. It can make us just as bitter and tormented as they are."

Just then the phone rang. It was the landlord.

He said that he had received a complaint from the Health Department: There were too many people staying in the flat. Of course, this was true of most of the flats in Redfern. But, because the landlord did not want to be challenged with regard to his other properties, he told Dave that he would have to give in to the pressure from the Health Department. The group would have until Monday to shift out. If it was any consolation, he said he would give a very good reference for them to show to their next landlord.

"Four days' notice!" Dave said at an emergency house meeting, convened moments after he got off the phone.

"Don't you have a lease?" asked Roger.

"No," said Dave. "Not many people do, in this neighbourhood. The landlords like to be free to boot people out if they fall behind on the rent. It's hard to get a place for seven people at the best of times, and when none of us has a fixed income, well, we have to take whatever we can get. It's never been a problem in the past, because we always pay on time, and because we look after the place well."

Dave heaved a deep sigh. "Well, boys and girls, we've got four days to get out, and the media may be coming and going in the middle of it all. Sound exciting?"

"We'll never get a place that quickly," said Anna, who handled the group's finances. "Besides, it'll take all weekend just to move out. What about using the tents for a while?"

Greg warmed to that. "Roger, Juan, and Sean can sleep in the van," he said. "Dave and Cherry can use one tent; and Anna and I can use the other. How's that sound? We can camp by the canal in Leichhardt."

Everyone agreed, and jobs were quickly assigned. Cherry and Anna volunteered to pack, and to clean the house; Juan would place an ad in Saturday's Herald, then make garage sale posters and stick them up all over Redfern; and Roger, Greg, and Dave would start putting price tags on everything in sight.

*    *    *

"What'll we do with these?" asked Greg on Friday morning, when he came to the box of 144 pieces of chalk that Anna had purchased on Monday.

"Put them in the van. We'll use them eventually," said Dave.

The van was already crowded with clothing, bedding, the computer and mobile phone, important papers, and boxes of tracts. Some things were stored in Roger's car, but Dave did not like making themselves dependent on a disciple who hadn't yet finished his trial week, and whose car was not yet paid for. Virtually everything else was put up for sale. Most of their meager belongings had been found or donated anyway, so any money they received from the sale was straight profit.

One TV station came by on Friday afternoon, still hoping to do a report on them. There was little that anyone could do to stop the cameras from filming in the yard, but everyone had agreed not to speak to the reporters. Roger reluctantly co-operated with the decision. The cameras returned to do more unauthorised filiming on Saturday, during the garage sale. The bin raiders did not, however, let it stop their plans.

By noon on Saturay the group had sold $280 worth of belongings.

"It's great to be free of it," said Anna. "I prefer living on the road. And the money will go farther on petrol than it would on rent." Anna was a hippy living inside an accountant's body. Sales slowed to a trickle in the afternoon, and a lot of stuff went for free. A bit more sold on Sunday, bringing the total to $430. It was nothing by system standards, but it was quite a stash for the bin raiders.

Sean was excited about living in the van, and Roger Seeker was actually looking forward to living on the streets. Barbara herself would have been surprised at how quickly her prediction had come true. But it wasn't at all the way she had imagined. Adversity had drawn each member of the team closer together, in a way that nothing else could have done. The whole thing was turning into an adventure for Roger.… one that was graciously taking his mind off more negative thoughts. On Sunday night they all slept together on the empty lounge room floor, after a rather boisterous late night singalong. One guitar had remained from the sale, although Anna suspected that Greg's price tag may have had something to do with it not selling!

On Monday morning, Anna turned in the flat key and collected the bond. Cherry had the electricity cut off, notified the Water Board, and arranged with Nanna Cuthbert to have the mail re-directed to her address. The men distributed tracts for most of the day. Monday was usually a slow day for getting tracts out, but they all had an extra incentive - the more tracts they could get out, the more room they would have to sleep in the van that night!

Sean was caught up in the excitement of roughing it, and being one of the men. He got out 35 tracts, and would have done 40 if Juan had not stopped him for his afternoon nap. That evening they all met up at Blackmore Park in Leichhardt. The location was ideal. Trees along the canal gave some cover for the two tents, providing they packed them away before joggers started arriving in the morning. There were not only toilets in the park, but hot showers as well. The track beside the canal was perfect for an out and back run in the mornings. There was even a playground where Sean could amuse himself while the others discussed business. It was a van-dweller's paradise.

A ranger lived nearby, and police patrolled the area during the night; but the bin raiders had used the park on a number of occasions in the past without any problems from the authorities. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the others took Roger's car to Parramatta to distribute, while Dave and Cherry used the van to hunt for another place to live. The pair also had to contact people who normally attended their Wednesday night meetings, to let them know that there would not be further meetings until they had a new home. They did not bother to contact Joshua King, of course, who had never given them a residential address anyway.

On Wednesday afternoon, Dave and Cherry stopped by Nanna's to get the mail. When she saw who it was, she quickly asked them to come inside.

"We're pretty rushed," said Cherry. "We have so much to do before we can move into another flat."

"It's important," said Nanna, and Cherry softened when she saw the worried look on her face. "Okay, but just for a few minutes."

"I had visitors this morning," Nanna announced when they were seated around the kitchen table. "People from the Department of Community Services. They were looking for Sean, and asking questions."

"What sort of questions?" asked Dave.

"Questions about where he's living now, and about what your group believes. They're trying to say he's being neglected, or that he's being abused or something. Don't worry. I didn't tell them anything."

"We should notify them that we'll be in another flat by the weekend," said Cherry. "It's not like we plan to stay camping out."

"I don't think that's what's bothering them," said Nanna. "They got my address from the post office. They thought you were living here, because of the mail thing. But they had some kind of a paper that they wanted to give to Juan. And…" She paused before going on. "There was a policeman with them."

"Hmmm. Must've been coming to take him," said Dave. "It's almost certain. We'd better warn Juan, and get Sean off the street."

"But wouldn't they investigate first? Find out if he's being looked after properly?" asked Cherry.

Dave answered, "Sure, that's the normal procedure. But when the "c" word has been said, a lot of other rights just go out the window."

"I never told 'em where you were," said Nanna. "I just said your plans were uncertain at the moment. You could pretend you never knew they was looking for you."

"Maybe so," said Dave. "But they know we're picking up the mail here."

It was fortunate that the group had chosen that week to shift their distributing spot out to Parramatta. They would have been easy pickings for DOCS in the city, where they were known to distribute regularly. Dave and Cherry drove straight to Parramatta to warn the others, and to discuss the situation.

*    *    *

They sat in a circle in a park near the Parramatta court house. Anna had taken Sean away to feed some ducks, so that the others could talk freely.

Roger, who had been slowly adjusting to the injustice of their situation, was thrown into another bout of complaints and agitation. Dave had to rescue him from further thoughts of hitting back. "We'll never beat them through force," he warned. "Our only hope is to overcome hate with love. If they're going to take Sean anyway, the most important concern at the moment should be ways to make it more bearable for Sean. It won't make things any easier if he sees us hating (or fearing) the people with whom he may have to live for some time."

"What about shooting through?" asked Greg. It was a valid question. They had often moved away from a locality when things became too tense. But Juan was the one who had to make the final decision.

He had been thinking about the dream he had experienced only a couple of weeks earlier. So much had happened in such a short time. In the dream, he had left Sean in order to protect another child. He could see now that Roger was that other child. Roger needed to see that love really was the only Christian response to a cruel world. Letting go of Sean could well be the price Juan would have to pay to demonstrate that to Roger.

"Sooner or later they're going to catch us," said Juan. "And when they do, we won't get any favours for having run. Sean will sense our fear too, and it'll be ten times harder for him to go with them if he's scared of them."

"What if we just lie low for a day or two at Leichhardt, before we hand him over," said Cherry. "We could help prepare him for it during that time." There was no objection to Cherry's proposal.

Dave added, "In the meantime, Cherry and I can check around to find more information. We don't know for certain that they want him, or for how long, or on what grounds. We don't know what visiting rights we would have, or anything."

"Can we have time off from distributing so we can spend the day with Sean tomorrow?" asked Juan. "Of course," said Dave. "We can go back to Leichhardt now, and spend the rest of the day in fellowship."

Then Dave added, "In the midst of all the confusion, we forgot that Roger's trial week ended last night. We may need to discuss where Roger is going to go from here."

"I didn't forget," said Roger with a smile. "As far as I'm concerned, I knew what I wanted the day I moved in, and I still feel the same. This is what I want to do with my life… if you'll have me."

Dave asked the others to share their thoughts about how Roger's first week went. There were compliments about his enthusiasm and sincerity; but there were also concerns about his anger. "No offence, mate," said Greg. "I was a lot more angry than you when I first come in. I felt like bustin' up the churches that put me down for so many years. But I reckon you're different. You got it really together in other ways, and it's too bad you let them get under your skin like you do."

Being criticised so bluntly in front of everyone else embarrassed Roger deeply. It didn't seem fair either, since he hadn't really lost his temper at anyone; and he said so.

"It's not like you lose control," said Juan. "I think what Greg's talking about is something different, something that's hurting you more than anyone else. Bitterness destroys the person who harbours it more than it hurts the people you're bitter with."

Dave could see that Roger was staggering under so much public criticism. People who generally do a good job of disciplining themselves are usually the first to crack under direct criticism... because they are so un-used to receiving it.

"I don't think anyone is talking about kicking you out," he said, in an effort to reassure Roger. "They're just saying that this is something you need to work on. Even when a teacher gives you a high distinction on an exam, she's entitled to let you know if you got any answers wrong, isn't she? On the whole, I think we've given you a high distinction. Am I right on that?" Cherry, Greg, and Juan all indicated their agreement.

"It's just the the way we are," said Greg with a smile. "We're pretty up front about criticising each other."

Roger managed a smile, and he responded to the hugs and welcomes that the others gave him; but he still felt that the initiation ceremony would have been more pleasant without so much criticism.

Chapter 22.    Memories

With Roger's acceptance into the community completed, Juan reeled in Sean and Anna from the duck pond, and Dave suggested that they celebrate with a meal at McDonald's before returning to Leichhardt. The motion carried without dissent, and with strong support from Sean, who cheered:

"McDonald's! Yeah! McDonald's!"

He was a properly brainwashed product of the fast food culture!

Cherry whispered to Dave that they should guard against spoiling Sean just because he was likely to leave them soon, and she asked Dave to pass the message on to the others.

Dave dutifully passed it on, but it was virtually impossible for any of them to act as though nothing had happened.

Although they usually took it in turns to supervise Sean in the tunnel maze next to the restaurant, this time everyone volunteered to go out into the play area with him, and Greg got into trouble for climbing into the tunnel after Sean. He would have gotten away with it, except that he tried to turn around, got a cramp in his leg, and then had to be helped out. He made such a fuss over the cramp that it brought one of the staff out to see what was going on. Sean thoroughly enjoyed the entire spectacle.

When they were back at the canal, they made a small campfire and sat around it telling stories. Anna started it off by commenting on how Greg's experience at McDonald's had made her think of a story that she had heard from the early days of the Sydney bin raiders, when it was just Dave and Cherry working on their own.

The two of them would often sneak into churches on a Saturday night and put tracts in the church hymnals. One church had been locked up tight, except for a small window high up on the side wall of the main auditorium. Dave had managed to squeeze his bottom through the hole, with the intention of holding on to the window frame while his feet dropped through. However, he got stuck halfway. His legs would not come through, and he was afraid to call out to Cherry, for fear of alerting the neighbours. Cherry walked several times around the building looking for Dave before she spotted him. He was too high up for her to reach him, and he looked like being stuck in the window until the congregation arrived the next morning. Eventually she managed to get a door open and to climb up on a pew inside to give Dave a hand in getting down from his embarrassing perch.

Sean said that his funniest memory was the time when the men all dressed up like babies and they passed out pamphlets about becoming like little children. "Daddy was wearing a nappy!" he shouted gleefully, "And a old lady pinched his bottom!"

Juan recounted the time when they wrote Christian messages on thousands of dollar bills. They had just sold a vehicle, and asked the bank for $3,000 in one-dollar notes. What they received were 3,000 freshly printed notes. Their plan to distribute the notes was to go from shop to shop asking if they could have a tenner in exchange for ten ones. If they pulled out ten mint condition notes, the shops would suspect that they were counterfeit, and a close examination would have revealed the messages written on each of them. It could have made the whole project fail. So they decided to make the money look 'used', by wadding up each note, putting it through the wash, and then hanging it out to dry before writing their message on it.

"It gave a whole new meaning to the term 'laundered money'," laughed Juan. "There were about twenty clothes lines strung across one bedroom, with hundreds of notes pegged up on them."

Cherry told her favorite story about her "angel". A man suffering from Down Syndrome (whom she had never seen before) walked up to her on one of the main streets of a northern suburb of Sydney one day, shook her hand, and then kissed her on the cheek before walking off. "It's not so much a funny story as one of the nicest things that has happened to me when I was out on the streets," she said.

Dave's funniest memory was when he had been witnessing to a couple of young churchgoers in Sydney. He had been telling them that God would feed them if they would just use their time to help others. Both of the men had been arguing against such a doctrine, on the grounds that it was not workable.
"You can't just expect food to come falling out of the sky," one of them had said.
"At that very instant," recalled Dave, "a couple who were apparently involved in a heavy argument, walked past us. The woman took off running across George Street, and the man, who was carrying a piping hot pizza in a cardboard box, threw the pizza at my feet and ran off after her. I picked up the box, opened it, and said, 'How's this? Home delivery from God!' I then offered some to the two young men, and the three of us ate our fill of pizza while I shared more about God's miraculous provision."

Greg's favorite story was about Wally, a former member who had, a few winters earlier, gone on a "survival outreach" with him and Juan between Bendigo and Ballarat, in Victoria.

On survival outreaches, the participants decide for themselves what the rules will be. Basically, they try to survive on fewer provisions than they would normally take with them. Wally, who had worked as a camel safari tour guide in the Northern Territory, believed that he could get by with just about nothing.

"The rules we made were that we couldn't take lifts from no one," said Greg. "We were gonna walk the whole way from Ballarat to Bendigo. For some reason I can't remember, Wally wanted to do it in sandals. Well, the straps broke straight away, and Wally walked most of the way barefoot in the cold. We come across a foam cushion and he wrapped some of that 'round his feet. He stretched his socks over the foam, to hold it on too. But the bottoms wore out of his socks in no time. I gotta hand it to him, but; he never complained. Just kept soldiering on with his feet blue from the cold.

"It started rainin' too, and we was all soaking wet with no place to sleep. We found a public toilet and it had a hand dryer in it. Wally stayed up most of the night pushing the button every time it turned off, so's he could re-start it and keep himself warm."

They all laughed as they remembered some of Wally's bush tales.

"Can I tell a story from the same walk?" asked Juan. "Remember how Wally found a pocket knife right at the start of the trip? We hadn't even walked a hundred metres when he found it. Wally showed us a lot of grasses and flowers that we could eat, but it was hardly enough to make us feel full. In the middle of the day, I whinged about wishing we had some meat to eat.

"That's when Wally said, 'How does koala meat sound?' Sure enough, there was a dead koala lying right at his feet. It had been killed by a car, and from the look of things, it had been quite a while since the accident had happened. The poor thing was stiff as a board. But that didn't bother Wally. He skinned it, and cut up the meat while Greg and I lit a fire. You shoulda' seen it. It was green as could be! Wally made out that it tasted really great, and he ate his fill; but Greg and I had one bite before we gave up. It was as tough as leather, and it tasted like eucalyptus leaves!"

When they had finished with their stories, Juan gave a little talk, mostly for Sean's benefit.

"I want to say something about being strong," he said. "We have a lot of good memories about things we've done together, don't we? It's easy to be strong when you're part of a strong group. But you know what God does when he thinks you're really really strong? He gives you a chance to stand all alone for him. Only the toughest, strongest Christians can do that."

"Boy, that would be hard to do," said Dave. "Do you think any of us is strong enough to live for Jesus all by ourselves, with no one else to help us?"

"What would you do if God asked you to go away from the group and stand alone for him?" Juan asked of everyone in general.

"We'd have to pray a lot," said Greg. "I wonder if we're praying enough now."

"I pray every night," said Sean, and everyone went suddenly quiet, as they waited to hear what else he had to say. "When I'm sleeping, Jesus talks to me. I don't have any bad dreams now, but when I was little, I had bad dreams, and then Mummy said to pray for dreams from Jesus when I go to bed. Now I only have good dreams.

"When is Mummy coming home?" he finished up, turning toward Juan.

"Not for a long time, Sean." Juan was fighting to control his emotions. "God must think that Mummy is one of those special strong people, because she's all alone, isn't she? And you've been a big, strong soldier for Jesus too. You've hardly complained at all with Mummy in jail. Maybe God thinks that you're one of his special people."

"Does Mummy cry for us?"

"Yes, I think she does. But she talks to Jesus too. And she has other friends in the jail that she can talk to, so that she won't feel so sad."

"If I was by myself," said Dave, "I'd try to think about what God wants, and not do things that I know are bad - not even if other people do bad things."

Anna joined in. "Yes, a strong Christian won't do bad things when other people do bad things.

Like when that girl was being naughty at McDonald's today… Remember that, Sean?" Anna was referring to a girl who had crowded in front of Sean, pushing him to the ground. He had not complained or tried to hit back.

"That's right. Sean was very strong then, wasn't he?" said Juan. "He didn't hit back or anything. I think you must be one of the strong people that God can make stronger by putting you on your own."

"But I don't want to be away from you," he said emphatically.

"No, I'm sure you don't. None of us wants to be alone. But if you were, God could still help you to be good and to be strong. Do you believe that?"

Sean just frowned and hung his head.

"I don't want to be alone," he said, with his lips pushed out in a pout.

"Don't you worry about it just yet," said Dave. "God won't give you more than you can take."

And he ruffled Sean's hair. "How about if we sing a song, and then you can be off to bed?"

"Can I sleep in the tent tonight?"

"I think we can manage that," said Juan. "But it'll be crowded."

Arrangements were quickly made for Juan, Greg, and Sean to squeeze into one of the little two-man tents, and for Dave and Cherry to sleep in the van.

Chapter 23.    Tragedy Strikes

While the bin raiders had been sitting around their campfire, Nanna Cuthbert had been watching T.V. She had heard during the afternoon that A Current Affair was doing a report on the bin raiders at 7:30pm. She tried to call the group on their mobile, but they must have left it in the van while they were at McDonald's, because there had been no answer.

Nanna fretted about her inability to warn the others, but she determined to act as their eyes and ears in case anything important was said in the report. All alone in her house, she pictured herself as a sentinel, standing guard over the reputation of the tiny band of faithful believers who had become her closest friends. She turned on the TV and lit the lamp beside her armchair, so that she could see to take notes. She had a pencil and a pad of paper to keep a record for the others.

The report included footage of the bin raiders carrying boxes to the van, as they packed up in Redfern. It also included several shots of Sean at play in the yard. In fact, Sean was the main focus of the report, which hinted from the start that he had disappeared to face some vague indeterminate fate that would be worse than death.

"Silly people!" Nanna muttered to herself as she scribbled information down on her notepad. The TV commentator went on, and as she did, the picture being painted grew worse: "The Department of Community Services tracked the cult to a small cottage in Redfern today. But they were told that the young boy was not at home. An elderly woman answered the door, and said that she did not know when he would be returned to the group's headquarters."

Nanna had not realised that, along with a police officer, the social workers had brought a secret camera crew when they visited her home earlier in the day. The camera showed Nanna Cuthbert's house from across the road, and then zoomed in to show a close-up of her talking to the officials. Next to her head was the house number. This, together with reference to the street and suburb enabled viewers to locate the house precisely if they were interested.

The commentary continued: "Investigations have shown that the owner of the cult's new premises is an elderly woman, known locally as Nanna Cuthbert. The woman is alleged to have actively recruited children from the local primary school. Neighbours reported that a steady stream of children visit the house after school on weekdays, and at all hours on the weekend. School authorities said they had no knowledge of the woman's involvement with the cult. She had, over many years, gained the complete trust of teachers and staff at the school."

"Oh, my goodness! Oh, my goodness!" Nanna repeated to herself as she jotted down the gist of this latest distortion.

The report then switched to John Groenig. His imaginings about the bin raiders took on a new lustre each time he told them. The emphasis this time had a decidedly sexual slant, apparently to make it blend with the muck flavour of the moment. Groenig had a talent for using words in such a way that they could have two different meanings, and of putting them together in a way that could mislead the public without technically being termed a lie.

"Children are shared between adult members," he said, "with no one taking full parental responsibility. The group has a bizarre approach to sex. It is forbidden for adults. But they have a much more liberal approach to sex with children. Group literature includes articles about masturbation, and naked pictures of the human body. We have grave fears for the moral and physical welfare of young Sean."

Comments from the Department of Community Services were only slightly more restrained. They focused mostly on Sean's physical well-being. A representative of the Department said that their biggest concern was simply that Sean could not be located. The impression given, however, was that the mere fact that DOCS could not locate a child meant that the child must be in grave danger.

"This is not good at all," Nanna said to herself as she continued to write.

The media, DOCS, and John Groenig were all fuelling each other's outrage at something that existed almost entirely in their own imaginations. But they each were getting so much satisfaction from their own indignation that they could not see how cruel and unfair it was becoming.

Nanna turned the telly off in anger when the report was finished, and cried tears of frustration as she sat there, alone in her lounge room. "Why are they doing this?" she sobbed. "Why?" Some time later, when she had gathered her composure, Nanna tried phoning the bin raiders once again. The others were already setting up their tents, so that Sean could go to bed, and Dave and Cherry were getting ready for an early night in the van when the phone rang.

"It's Nanna. Nanna Cuthbert here. Is that you, Cherry?"

"Yes it is. Is something the matter?"

"Did you see the report on Channel Nine?"

"No. What report? We don't have a TV, remember?"

"Oh yes, of course. It was simply dreadful. They were going on about wanting to rescue Sean." She referred to her notes: "They said that I've been recruiting kids from the local school for you. They're trying to say that Sean is in moral danger because of what you teach. And Community Services says they're trying to find you, but they can't. I wrote it all down. Do be careful, won't you?"

"Don't worry, Nanna," Cherry said reassuringly. "We've counted the cost, and we're prepared for the worst. God won't give any of us more than we can take. We just have to trust him. Do you want us to come around?"

"Oh no. I don't think that would be very wise. They may be watching for you."

"Dave and I could come alone. We'll leave Sean here. Besides, we'll probably be contacting Community Services in the next couple of days anyway. We're not going to run for it, especially if it's going to make things worse for you. People need to know that you have nothing to do with us."

"No, no, no. I don't mind at all if they think I'm part of you. I think I am in a way. But I don't want them thinking that we have bad intentions for the children. We must show them that they have nothing to be afraid of. But I don't know how we're going to do it now." Cherry could sense the strong concern that Nanna was feeling, and she wanted to be near her, to console her. She asked Nanna to hold the line while she conferred with Dave, and then she returned.

"Just sit tight. Dave and I'll be over in about half an hour. Okay?"

"Well, if you think it's safe…" Nanna was obviously relieved to know they would be coming. "I'll put on a pot of tea and be waiting for you," she said.

Dave and Cherry quietly informed the other adults of the situation without letting on to Sean that there was anything wrong. A few minutes later they headed off in the van for Redfern. After replacing the phone, Nanna put water on the stove for tea. She thought she heard a noise outside, but then it stopped. Just to be safe, she locked the doors and turned out the lights. That way, it would be difficult for anyone to see in and know that she was still up.

There was no street light at her end of the street, and there was no moon tonight. The wind was blowing, and that made a few noises in itself. Nanna hoped that she was just imagining things. The gas flame of the stove was enough for her to see by while pouring herself a cup of tea. She was seated at the table, sipping her tea when she heard the noise again. It sounded like footsteps at the front of the house. She thought she heard a shout. And then a deafening crash drowned out any other noise. It was followed by running feet on the footpath.

But Nanna never heard the footsteps.

*    *    *

Dave and Cherry could see that something was wrong as soon as they pulled up in front of the house. The kitchen window had been shattered, and a curtain was blowing out through the hole in it. When they rang the bell there was no answer. The house was dark, and disturbingly quiet. "The door's locked." Dave announced.

"Try the back!" shouted Cherry. Dave was already racing around the side of the house, and Cherry followed him. The back door too was locked, but Dave easily kicked it in. Together they raced into the kitchen, and turned on the light.

There was Nanna lying in a pool of blood. Her eyes stared blankly at the ceiling. Dave made a desperate attempt to use CPR, while Cherry dialled the police emergency number. From the amount of blood on the floor, it appeared that Nanna had bled to death. There was a brick on the floor, a small cut on the side of her head, and a deep cut on her arm.

Shards of broken glass were scattered across the kitchen table and all over the floor. Nanna's teapot and cup were still on the table, although the cup had been knocked over. A severed vein or artery had spurted blood across the room. Apparently the brick had struck her in the head, knocking her unconscious, and she had bled to death from the cut on her arm.

Dave was covered in blood by the time he gave up administering CPR. He hugged Cherry, and some of the blood passed to her.

"How can people do such things?" Cherry sobbed.

Ever the rationalist, Dave tried to get things into perspective. "I don't think they intended to actually kill her," he said. "They probably just meant to break the window, and didn't know she was sitting on the other side of it. They probably thought they were making a statement for decency after the media got them worked up about how evil we're supposed to be."

"Ganley Toogood is the one responsible for all of this," sobbed Cherry. "They had no right to do this to such an innocent, sweet woman!"

Dave had no answer, and so they just hugged each other and grieved quietly over Nanna's body while they waited for the police to arrive.

Chapter 24.    Behind the Scenes

In another part of Sydney, Ganley Toogood was involved in a tense discussion with his wife, Valerie.

They had recorded the Current Affair report, and then watched it together after their usual Wednesday night prayer group had gone home.

Ganley had been singularly successful in keeping the whole bin raiders affair quiet in his church, considering the trouble it had caused in Barbara and Roger's marriage. There were whispers about Roger running off with some weird hippy cult, but most of the members hardly needed to be cautioned by Ganley to stay out of it. No one wanted to be seen as prying into Barbara's marital problems, and it was generally believed that Roger had experienced some kind of a breakdown, for which Barbara deserved the utmost privacy, as well as sympathy.

Although Ganley had maintained personal contact with John Groenig after the Wednesday night meeting, Groenig never did address the entire congregation. Ganley made arrangements for $50 to be given to Groenig for his appearance at the mid-week service, and that was the end of it as far as official contact with the Baptist Pentecostal Church was concerned.

The bin raiders were small enough, and their message was unpopular enough that there was little need to attack them publicly. More could be done quietly… behind the scenes, through such bodies as the banks, and through government departments. It seemed that Groenig had contacts everywhere.

The real purpose of Groenig's appearance at the Wednesday night meeting had been simply to warn Roger Seeker away from the bin raiders. When that failed, Ganley and Groenig had turned to more private courses of action.

Another factor which helped Ganley to keep the matter quiet at the church was that it took only a cursory knowledge of the bin raiders philosophy to make members of his congregation see that it was threatening to them personally. No one wanted to defend someone who was likely to tell them to change their lifestyle. The women who had been present on the night when Roger had challenged Ganley to list the various commands of Jesus had nothing but sympathy for Ganley under the circumstances.

"The cheek of the man!" Marge Phipps had said later. "Pastor Toogood should have put him in his place straight away." Marge didn't need any further justification for her position than that. Roger was in a tiny minority in his quest for truth. What most church attenders wanted was an escape from truth, or at least from the uncomfortable ones that Jesus and the bin raiders were trying to get them to consider.

But an unspoken conspiracy to cover the truth does not guarantee unity in other areas, and Ganley was facing some unpleasant disturbances in his own marriage as a result of his dealings with Roger and with Barbara as a consequence.

"Roger, Roger, Roger! That's all I hear these days!" complained Valerie, when they had finished watching the Current Affair replay on their VCR.

"I only said that I hope Roger saw the report. Is that so wrong?" replied Ganley sheepishly. "Look, he's living with them. If they're as bad as you make out, he must know it even better than you do by now. He doesn't need to see it on the telly."

"But they hide a lot of it, even from their own members. John said so."

"I'm sick of hearing John's name mentioned too. You believe everything he says, like he could never be wrong. Haven't the two of you hurt them enough? What is it that you hope to achieve by all of this?"

"The truth, Val. I just want to get people to see the truth, so that even if Roger doesn't come back, we can at least stop others from making the same mistake."

"And what is the truth, Ganley? Is the truth all those lies and innuendoes that John was giving to the media? Or is the truth that the two of you just want to hurt somebody to make up for some lack in your own character?"

Ganley looked shocked. He knew that Val wasn't happy with all the time that he had been putting into this matter, but that was often the case when he was deeply involved in some church problem. Attacking his integrity was taking it too far. Ganley felt a rush of panic.

"Val, what are you saying? Are they getting to you too?"

Valerie spoke with genuine concern: "No, Gan, they're not. I dislike them as much as you do. But I don't understand your obsession with them. Can't we just leave well enough alone? John Groenig has taken over your entire life these past two weeks. You haven't had time for church business, much less for me."

"You don't understand." And then Ganley realised that she couldn't have understood, because he hadn't taken the time to tell her. "I'm sorry," he said. "I should have been sharing more with you. Val, I think God is leading me into a new ministry. I think he's leading me to become more involved in dealing with cults, and with teaching others how to deal with them.

"You don't know how exciting it has been for me these past two weeks. I used to think that it was good enough to hold the occasional Bible study on false teachings; but we can do so much more through the media, and through the government, just by working behind the scenes, like we have been with these bin raiders."

"We have a good life," pleaded Valerie. "The church takes good care of us. We have plenty offriends. I don't want to become the wife of a professional muck-raker."

"It's not muck raking, Val. It's setting people free, from groups that mess up their minds. There's a big need for this kind of ministry in the churches today. John said that he and I could work together. He's not well received by some pentecostals, because he exposed a few extreme pentecostal groups in the past. But I could help him to break into the charismatic circles. I may even be able to get him over his own hang-ups about pentecostals."

Valerie was not impressed, but Ganley seemed oblivious to that.

"Besides, we don't have that good a life anyway, Val. Look at us. We've got a nice house, but it doesn't belong to us. We're never more than a vote or two away from being booted out… and then what? We would have to start all over again, with a new church and a new parsonage if that happened.

"John gets support from a whole string of different churches, and he doesn't need to worry about keeping a church board on-side either. If one church turns against him, he always has plenty of others. We could get our own home, and settle down in one location. Believe me, Val, this is going to be a definite move up. You'll see."

"You're not hearing me, Gan," Val replied sternly. "I don't want that kind of life. I'm happy being a pastor's wife. I like being part of a local church. Whether you agree or not, to me, exposing cults is a depressing, negative, muck-raking way of life. I don't want it." Ganley could see that Val was going to take a lot of convincing. Perhaps she needed to spend time with John. John's enthusiasm for his work had rubbed off on Ganley. On the other hand, maybe there were just some people who were drawn more to that kind of vision than others. Even when it came to Bible studies, Val never had much to contribute. She got her thrills from serving up tea and biscuits afterwards.

Neither of them were aware, of course, of what had transpired that same night as a result of John and Ganley's supposed success with the media. But even that was destined to split them farther apart; as Ganley would see Nanna's death as judgment from God on the evil cult, while Valerie would just be bothered by the nastiness of having to think about it at all.

Their marriage was headed for trouble, and in the end, Ganley would come to see even that tragic consequence as having been caused by the bin raiders. He was unable to recognise that the appeal of cult-busting was just that it would provide him with a convenient scapegoat (or a list of scapegoats) to blame for all of his own problems and all of the problems of the world.

For a while his church had given him support in blaming various other denominations and social influences besides himself for the problems that surrounded him. But with the escalation of financial problems between himself and his church board, he needed a new emotional and spiritual support base. Fighting cults meant that he could find acceptance in other denominations besides the Baptist Pentecostals.

Ganley convinced himself that he would become more repsectable, and not less, by becoming a cult buster. His happening upon Greg and Diane in the bin behind Buy-Rite just two weeks earlier had, in his opinion, been almost providential in leading him to the answer to his problems.

Of course, for a mature person, it was easy to see that cult busting did not truly answer anything. It was little more than a diversion, and a very nasty one at that. But it is difficult for a religious person to point the finger at a cult buster when so much of the appeal of denominationalism is the same. Religion, with all of its ritual and jargon does not solve problems so much as it helps people to escape from them into a world of perceived superiority based on some meaningless point of doctrine.

Ganley had, in his own way, "won" the battle against Diane, Nanna, Greg, Roger, and all of the bin raiders. But a closer look would reveal that he was, indeed, a very "lost" soul himself, trapped in a world of bitterness and hate, self-righteousness and hypocrisy. Such is the world of religion in general, and cult busting in particular.

Chapter 25.    More Grief

The police and ambulance arrived at Nanna's cottage within five minutes of Dave's phone call. The sirens and flashing lights soon filled the footpath in front of the house with rubber necked spectators, all wanting to know what had happened.

It gave those who had watched the Channel 9 report a perfect opportunity to share their theories on what had been going on in the house. Though many locals knew of Nanna's love for children, the gossip worked quickly to undermine all the good she had done. It left little sympathy for her by the time her body was rolled out to the waiting ambulance.

Then someone recognised Dave, from a short film clip on the TV report,. When they saw blood on his clothes, the crowd immediately assumed the worst, which was that Dave had caused Nanna's death. It didn't matter that a few minutes earlier they had seen Nanna as the monster. Dave gave them someone else to hate. Abusive shouts and taunts made it dangerous for either Dave or Cherry to leave the house.

The pair were taken away by the police, for their own protection as much as anything, so that they could be questioned at the police station and then allowed to leave.

Dave gave Nanna's address as their own, and the officer interviewing them seemed ignorant of the controversy surrounding Sean's whereabouts. Presumably it had been someone on another shift who had visited with the DOCS representatives earlier in the day, and the incident had not yet been talked around at the station. For whatever reason, no link with Sean had entered the mind of the interviewing officer.

"Could be dangerous going back there tonight," said the police officer who had been conducting the interview. "Got anywhere else you could go?"

"I do; but my car's there. How will I get it?" asked Dave.

"Dunno. Want us to drop you somewhere tonight?"

"No thanks." Dave could hardly ask to be driven to the canal in Leichhardt! Instead, the couple set out walking four or five kilometres back to the campsite.

They trudged along the city streets, sharing their thoughts about Nanna's death as they walked. Cherry was in a great deal of pain long before the end of the walk, because of her arthritis; so they stopped to rest frequently along the way. It was after eleven before they reached the campsite. Greg, Juan, Anna, and Roger were still awake. The campfire had been relit, and the four had been sharing quietly together, out of earshot of young Sean.

Earlier discussion about the TV report, which they hadn't even seen yet, had kept them awake and talking while Dave and Cherry had been away. When they heard the tragic news about Nanna, their distress was increased beyond measure.

"Why Nanna?" asked Anna in disbelief. "Why pick on her? She had nothing to do with us."

"I never met a sweeter person in my life," said Greg. "This is gonna be one more shock for Sean. He loved her so much."

"Don't anyone tell him," said Dave. "He'll have enough problems to face in a couple of days."

Juan just stared at the fire as his eyes filled with tears. He had no words to describe the heartache that he was going through. His wife was in jail. His son was about to be taken from him. And now one of his best friends had been killed.

"Ganley will have to answer for this!" Roger exclaimed. "Ohhhh!" he groaned. "How I hate him. He's going to cop it one day, and see who feels sorry for him then!"

"C'mon, Roger. You know better than that," Dave remonstrated. "The wrath of man doesn't accomplish the will of God. Remember?"

"I know it with my head," said Roger, who had received more than enough teaching on the subject over the past week. "But that's not enough. I can't make it work in my heart."

At that same moment, a police car pulled into the roadway beside the canal. It wasn't unusual, as the police patrolled that area several times each night. But this time the car pulled up opposite the campfire and stopped. Two police officers stepped out, one carrying a big torch, which they shone in the direction of the campfire.

"Could be more trouble," said Dave, as they all sat quietly and let the police come up to them. "One of you Jew-an Ventura?" said a tall, middle-aged policeman, mispronouncing Juan's name. "Yeah, that's me."

"We have a warrant here to take your son, Sean, into custody. Is he here?"

"He's sleeping," Juan replied. "Can you tell me what it's about?"

"I don't know much myself. We just got a notice that the Department of Community Services has been looking for you. They got the registration number for your van from someone, and sent it through the computers. Our records showed that you had been camping here the past two nights, so we came out to collect the lad. Simple as that."

"Can I go with him?"

"You're welcome to come with us to the station if you like, but after that, it's between you and DOCS," said the officer. "They're not in the habit of catering for parents when taking a child. Guess they see you as the enemy."

"Any chance of him sleeping through the night and coming with you in the morning?"

" 'Fraid not. The Sergeant has already sent for someone from DOCS to meet us at the station when we get back. They'll be waiting. Our instructions were to call them any time, day or night, if we found you."

"Will I be able to visit him?"

"That's between you and DOCS."

"Can we say goodbye to him first?" asked Dave.

"Long as you keep it short."

Cherry interjected. "I don't think we should wake him. It looks too final. He may go without a fuss if we don't wake him up with a lot of cuddles just now."

The others could see good sense in what Cherry was saying, so they readily agreed. Juan went to the tent and returned with Sean over his shoulder, still sleeping. A moment later, he was in the car and driving away.

The entire community was in shock by this stage, as one trauma had compounded on another.

But they needed to get the van if they were to have something to live in the next day. If they left it in front of Nanna's house for long, it too would be targetted by hate-mongers. So Roger and Greg headed off in Roger's car to pick it up. Neither of them would be recognised, and it was so late by this time that there would probably be no one left on the streets to bother them anyway.

That left Dave, Cherry, and Anna at the campsite.

Meanwhile, at the Leichhardt police station, Juan was met by a stern-faced woman in a business suit, who walked quickly up to him, with a police officer in tow, and reached out to take Sean. Juan had been hoping to break the news gradually to Sean, and to do what he could to make the DOCS snatch sound like something he personally had agreed with, but the Department was doing nothing to help him in that regard.

He made a quick decision to go along with their agenda for Sean's sake, and handed the boy over.

Sean, who had been sleeping all the way there, woke up when the woman took him and turned to reach out for his father.

"No, you go with her for now, Sean. We'll be coming to see you soon," said Juan. "I love you."

Sean immediately started to cry. "No, I don't wanna go with her. I wanna go with you. Where's Mummy?" That was about all he could get out before the abduction was complete. His new warden had turned and walked briskly into an adjoining room, where Sean was out of sight of his father. But Juan could hear him screaming, and it was tearing his heart out. "No!" Sean screamed at the top of his lungs. "I don't want to go. No! No! No!" And Juan could picture him kicking his feet in anger. He breathed a silent prayer for God to help Sean, before enquring yet again about his visiting rights.

The sergeant led him to a back room where another DOCS worker, a young man in his late twenties, was waiting to interview him.

"You're really causing more trauma for that boy than you could ever hope to be saving him from, you know?" Juan said. It was a waste of breath, because he already knew what the reply would be. "I'm afraid it has to be done. A decision has been made, and it's our job to carry it out."

"Well, someone ought to teach you guys how to go about it a bit more tactfully. I should think that you, of all people, would see the good sense in breaking it to the kid gradually."

"Most of the people we deal with are not in control of themselves as much as you are, Mr. Ventura," the young man replied. "It saves a big scene if we move quickly."

"Please don't call me Mr. My name is Juan." The bin raiders refused to use or accept titles for themselves or for anyone else; but Juan was using a doctrinal issue in an angry way, to hit back at the worker.

He caught himself, and said, "I'm sorry. I realise that you're just doing your job. But don't forget that you guys can be wrong at times too. Spare a thought for parents who genuinely love their children, okay?"

"We need to verify some facts," said the young man, who had also been trained not to acknowledge any sympathy toward parents when taking custody of their children. "What's your residential address at the moment?"

They went through the particulars, and then Roger was told that it would be a week before he could visit Sean, because the Department wanted to get the child adjusted to living with them first. After that, Juan would be able to see him once a week. He could begin steps to regain custody whenever he liked, but it could be a costly and dragged-out affair, especially if the Department felt strongly about opposing it.

It was almost three in the morning before Juan walked back into Blackmore Park in Leichhardt. Dave and Cherry were sleeping in the van, Greg and Anna in one tent, and Roger was in the other one. Juan slipped quietly into the tent with Roger and was soon asleep.

Chapter 27.     Love Never Fails

The next day, Juan met a strange little solicitor in the city, who had read about him in the papers. He said that he had been hoping to find a way to locate him, because he wanted to represent him pro bono in his efforts to get Sean back. The man was a maverick in the legal fraternity, but his support was just what Juan needed. He worked feverishly on the case, gathering material, and making personal representations to DOCS, until he had them convinced that, if they did not hand the boy over, they would have hell to pay for having taken him in the first place. By the time Diane's sentence was up, Juan had Sean back in his care, and the group was safely settled in another flat not far from the one they had moved out of.

"Most of life is somewhere between a tragedy and a romance," said Dave at the first Wednesday night meeting in their new digs. "As Christians, we must learn not to be fooled by either. When things are going well, we know that they can change at any time. Our confidence is not in circumstances. And when everything appears to be hopeless, there is always a silver lining somewhere."

And that is about when Cherry came in carrying a huge tray full of hot pizza. "Here you are!"

she said, looking at Diane. "A welcome home party compliments of… guess who?"

"No, you didn't!" said Diane, putting her hand to her mouth.

"Yep! I had to do it for you, and to get one back on Buy-Rite!" said Greg, showing his missing tooth through a huge grin. "Did it all by meself this morning, without Ganley even spotting me."

"It's a welcome back party for Diane and Sean both," said Dave. "Whadya reckon, Sean? Are you glad to be back?"

"Yep!" said Sean, who was already tucking into the biggest piece of pizza on the tray.

"But just remember that it could all change tomorrow," said Dave. "All of us need to be prepared to face our cross at any time. The Bible says that those who think everything is going well should take heed, lest they fall."

*  *  *


The word "Eternity" started appearing all over Sydney footpaths shortly after Nanna's death, and the media took notice once again. But along with the word Eternity another word was being chalked almost as often, in the same distinctive copperplate style of Arthur Stace. It was the word "Love", and it was being written by a man who had been affected as deeply by recognition of his need to love his enemies as Arthur Stace had been affected by the concept of Eternity.

As for Ganley Toogood, he ended up divorcing his wife and running off with Barbara. But she diddled him too, in the end. He now sells used cars in Parramatta, and Barbara is running her own business in North Sydney.

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