Chapter OneNew Hope
Judd Thompson Jr. had always sized up situations
quickly. It was clear to him that of the
four kids who had fled to nearby New Hope
Village Church during the greatest crisis the
world would ever see, he was the oldest. The
redhead, the only girl, had a hard, bitter edge
to her. But still, if Judd had to guess, he
would have said she was younger than he
Ah, what did he care. How could he ever
care about anything anymore? The end of the
world, at least the world as he knew it, had
come. Millions all over the world had disappeared
right out of their clothes, leaving everything
but flesh and bone behind.
It wasn't that Judd didn't know what had
happened. He knew all too well. As he had
heard in church and Sunday school and at
home his whole life, Jesus Christ had come
back to rapture his church, and Judd had
been left behind.
He even knew why. It didn't take the earnest
visitation pastor of New Hope Village
Church, Bruce Barnes, to explain that. Of all
things, Pastor Barnes himself had been left
Bruce Barnes had spent the last several
minutes telling Judd and the three other
shell-shocked kids his own story. He finished
by telling them there was still hope. Life
would be miserable from now on, of course,
and they would be alone except for other
new believers, but it was not too late for
them to come to Christ.
Bruce had urged them to think about it
and not to waste much time. The world had
become dangerous overnight. With so many
Christians disappearing from important jobs,
the result was chaos. No one had any guarantees.
Life was fragile. Judd was impressed that
Bruce seemed so eager to convince them that
their only hope now was to trust Christ.
Judd knew it was the truth. He had to face
himself, and he didn't like what he saw. His
whole look, the way he carried himself, the
me-first attitude, the secret that he had never
really become a Christian-all those things
sickened him now.
Why had he wanted to appear so old? Why
was it so important to him to know where he
fit in every crowd? Everything that ever mattered
to him now seemed ridiculous. He had
been a tough guy, a big shot, the one with all
the plans and schemes. He had stolen his
dad's credit card and bought phony identification
papers that said he was old enough to
travel on his own. Yeah, Judd thought, I was a
But though Judd had come to some hard
realizations about himself, he still had a major
problem. There was no question Bruce was
right. Judd didn't want to live without his
family and without Christ. Though he knew
he had had every chance and could have been
in heaven with his parents and brother and
sister right then, everything in him still fought
to blame somebody else. But whom could he
His parents had been wonderful examples
to him. Even his little brother had recently
asked Judd if he still loved Jesus. If he couldn't
blame his family and he didn't want to blame
himself, that left only God. He knew there was
no future in blaming a perfect and holy God,
but right then he had to admit that he didn't
much care for God's plan.
Whatever happened to the idea that God
loved everybody and didn't want anybody to
die and go to hell? What kind of a God would
leave a sixteen-year-old kid without his family?
Judd knew he wasn't thinking straight. In
fact, he had to admit he was being ridiculous.
But just then he didn't like God very
much. He was mad at God because there was
no one else to be mad at.
Besides, Judd was grieving. No, his family
had not died. But they might as well have.
He was glad for them, he guessed, that they
had gotten their reward for believing. But
that was of little comfort to him.
Bruce Barnes asked the four kids to introduce
themselves and talk about themselves a
bit. Judd didn't see the point of that. Bruce
began with the youngest boy, the little blond
who appeared stocky and athletic.
Judd was reminded of his own little
brother, Marc. Marc and Marcie were twins,
nine years old. Both had been tremendously
athletic. While Judd had lost interest in
sports after Little League, Marc and Marcie
had seemed interested in every sport imaginable.
They had both been dark-haired and
younger and smaller than Ryan Daley, but
still Judd found it hard to listen to the boy
without thinking of them both. Already he
missed them more than he could say. Just
being around someone even near their age
cut like a knife deep into his heart.
Ryan was telling his story at just above a
whisper. Judd could tell the boy had spent a
lot of time crying that day. No doubt there
would be more tears until he could cry no
"I don't know what I think about all this
stuff you've been saying, Mr. Barnes. If it's
true, I don't think either of my parents went
to heaven. For sure my mom didn't because
she was killed on the road sometime this
morning. My dad was listed with the passengers
that went down in a plane crash. I don't
think he would have been one of those who
disappeared. I mean, he was great and I
loved him, but he never said anything about
being a Christian or even going to church."
Ryan told about waking up to find his
mother's note and then hearing from the
police about her death. When he stopped
and buried his head in his hands, Bruce
Barnes leaned forward and put a hand on his
shoulder. "So you've never, ever been in
"Well, not never," Ryan managed, raising
his head. "Somebody invited me to one of
those Bible school things they have in the
summertime at church once-"
"Vacation Bible School?" Bruce said.
"Yeah, that's it. But I was really little then
and I don't remember much about it. My
friend-his dad's an airline pilot-wanted me
to go to church with him here. I never did."
"And who was that?"
"His name was Raymie Steele. He tried to
tell me all about this, the way you just did. I
thought he was nuts."
"What do you think now, Ryan?"
With that, Ryan buried his face in his
hands again and sobbed. Bruce began to ask
him something, but Ryan wrenched away
and shook his head. Judd thought he knew
exactly how Ryan felt.
Bruce turned to Lionel Washington. Judd
noticed that the lanky young boy with the
smooth face and chocolate complexion had
sat expressionless since they had begun. His
wide, dark eyes seemed to rarely blink. He
merely sat forward, his chin resting on his
fist, listening. Judd couldn't tell if he was
interested or not, but something had brought
Bruce asked Lionel if he knew any of the
others. "No, but my sister Clarice knew Vicki
here. They rode the school bus together."
"How do you feel about all this?" Bruce
"Oh," Lionel said, "this is nothing new to
me. I know exactly what happened. You're
right, we all missed it. The real Christians
have gone to heaven, and we've all been left
Ryan leaped from his seat and ran out,
shouting through his sobs, "It's not fair! It's
not fair! This is crazy! Why would God do
Judd, Bruce, Vicki, and Lionel watched
him go. "Aren't you going to stop him?" Judd
Bruce shook his head. "He'll be back.
Where else does he have to go?"
Lionel, who seemed to Judd to have been
shaken by Ryan's quick exit, finished his own
story of having grown up in a Christian family
and gone to church all his life, only to never
have made a true decision himself to become
a follower of Christ. "I don't know how the
rest of you feel, but I can't say I'm surprised or
that I didn't get exactly what I deserved. I
don't know if I believe there's really still a second
chance, but if there is, I want it."
"Believe me, there is a second chance,"
Bruce said, "and I think it's something you'll
want to take advantage of right away, don't
"You better believe I already prayed the
prayer," Lionel said. "If that's what you
mean. I told God I was sorry, begged his forgiveness,
and asked him to save me once and
for all. You're saying it's not too late?"
"That's what I'm saying. Welcome to the
"To tell you the truth, sir," Lionel said, "I'd
rather be in heaven with my own family right
"You and me both," Bruce said.
Judd was stunned at how much he and
Lionel had in common, though they had
never even seen each other before. Lionel,
like Judd, also had a younger brother and sister.
And Judd and Lionel had been raised in
the church by Christian families.
Now it was Vicki's turn. "Well," she began
with a quavery voice, "I guess I should have
known better too."
Judd noticed how young and scared she
sounded for someone who said she was fourteen
years old. Of course, he felt very young
and scared himself just then, but she looked
like a tough girl. Whatever edge there had
been to her seemed to have been stolen away
when her mother, father, and little sister had
been raptured. She told her story about growing
up in the trailer park, about the weekend
beer brawls and dances that had one time,
seemingly out of the blue, begun with an
evangelist preaching for just a few minutes
and resulted in her parents becoming Christians.
"I saw big changes in their lives," Vicki
admitted, "but actually I hated it. I hated
church, and I didn't want to have anything to
do with religion. They kept telling me it wasn't
religion, it was Jesus, but I didn't see the
"Now you do, of course," Bruce said.
"Of course," she said.
"Forgive me for being pushy," Bruce said,
"but what are you going to do about it now?"
Vicki looked down and busied herself tracing
a pattern on the floor with the toe of her
shoe. "Actually, even though I know you're
right, I just don't want to make a decision
like this while I'm still in shock."
Bruce seemed to be trying gently to push
her into seeing that, despite the trauma she
had just been through, she really shouldn't
take more time. "You know the truth. That
makes it your responsibility to act upon it."
"I know," she whispered. But she would
not return his gaze. Her body seemed rigid.
To Judd it seemed as if she was through listening
or talking about it. He was surprised
when she looked up and appeared to be listening
when it was his turn to tell his story.
Judd kept his account short. He merely
mentioned that he too had been raised in a
Christian home and knew exactly what had
happened. He told of his plan to run away
from home and be his own person, and how
it had all come crashing down on him when
the Rapture occurred while he was on a plane
over the Atlantic on the way to London.
"I have to say, though, Pastor Barnes, I feel
like Vicki here. I know what I'm supposed to
do, what I should do, and what I'm sure I will
do. But I just feel too much pressure. I can
hardly get my mind around the fact that I'll
never see my family again."
Bruce stood and moved near to Judd.
"Don't you kids see? That's my point! If I'm
right and a seven-year period of tribulation
begins soon, it's unlikely any of us will live
through it. We had better be prepared to see
God, or we'll wind up without him for all of
Judd knew Bruce was right, but he caught
Vicki's glance and knew the two of them
were still determined not to be pushed. He
only hoped that it wasn't simply a pride
thing. He was pretty sure it wasn't. He was
way past pride now.
"I'm sorry, Pastor Barnes, but I just need
more time to deal with all of this," Judd said.
"Me too," Vicki said.
"Don't be waiting too long now," Lionel
said. "I waited way too long as it is."
"I couldn't have said that better myself,"