PERSONAL BACKGROUND INFORMATION
As the author of this historical archive I knew Vernon Howell personally, but not well. I had no desire to really get to know him or associate with him. Reports from the Roden Family, George Roden and his sister Jane, concerning the mistreatment of their mother, Lois Roden, was sufficient confirmation to me that I need NOT have anything to do with Vernon Howell, also known as David Koresh. The New Testament injunction “By their fruits you will know them”, was my guiding principle. I met with Vernon and talked to him on a number of occasions at Mt. Carmel (Waco) and once in California, when he first sought me out. The author of this site never accepted or supported Vernon Wayne Howell in his message or his takeover of the Branch Movement at Mt. Carmel beginning in 1983, but rather, the author was part of a small contingent of members actively resisting Vernon Howell and warning his followers early in the spring of 1984 when Vernon was securing his power base in The Branch Movement. The record of these events in 1984 are documented in The Sign of Jonah Report, written by myself in 1994.
MY TESTIMONY –
Through various providential events I was blessed to come into the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in the latter part of summer 1974 at age 20 and baptized later that fall, having embraced the Sabbath and Sanctuary truths, through personal study and prayerful decision, having carefully considered other Christian denominations and non-denominational sects so-called, otherwise all non-Sabbath keeping churches. I emphasize that I was not raised as a Seventh-day Adventist, but I was blessed to have grandparents who were SDA, having joined the SDA Church in 1950 after learning of the Seventh-day Sabbath at an SDA evangelistic series at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles that same year during a family visit. My grandparents were a real inspiration to me all my life growing up, embodying the high level of moral and spiritual propriety which they lived their lives. They were a living testimony to their family and friends, living into their mid nineties, vigorous and healthy, slim and trim. Both my grandparents, even in their long retirement years, helped in the family business part time, for the love of work and family.
In 1950, after learning of the Seventh-Day Sabbath of Scripture, “the soon coming of Jesus” and other important truths, seeing the beauty and balance of the Law and Grace, my grandparents returned to Hutchinson, Kansas, gave a heart-felt testimony to their long time friends and church family in the First Baptist Church, telling of what they had just learned in California, and that they were going to “keep” the 7th Day Sabbath from then on. They were baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Hutchinson. Imagine, taking such a religious stand at well into retirement age! However, my father and mother brought us up, myself, my brother and sister, in the Church of Religious Science (Huntington Park and Santa Ana), never observing the Seventh-day Sabbath but nevertheless teaching us the basic truths of the Old and New Testament at the weekly Sunday School. My parents volunteered and took charge of the Sunday School class to make sure we, their children, where taught the Bible. Curious though, it was my parents who took my grandparents to the SDA evangelistic series in 1950, having learned of the meetings and attending them also. The Biltmore Hotel was an interesting place for young adults to gather on weekends.
From 1974 through 1975 I had only attended the SDA Church a little over a year before a series of providential events and an invitation by a church friend to attend a Sabbath afternoon home meeting of Bible and Spirit of Prophecy studies which lead to my acceptance of the Shepherd’s Rod (Davidian) Message in the late fall of 1975, ultimately studying and fellowshipping with the Salem Association of D-SDA. Some would argue that a new SDA Church member did not have the knowledge and spiritual experience to encounter and study a controversial prophetic message in the SDA Denomination, however, I must challenge such a notion, considering the level of intense personal Bible study, prayer and devotion, that I daily engaged in for well over a year prior to my introduction to Davidian teaching. Considering the Savior’s caution about “new wine” (Matt. 9:17), symbolizing TRUTH, not to caution the new and inexperienced believers, but rather a warning to the older, more experienced brethren and leaders, whereby new wine poured into “old wineskins” will “burst”, I was ready to take on the task of investigation.
The Holy Spirit has no bounds or pre-requisites of leading into all truth. Consequently, in every Scriptural sense, I was actually in prime spiritual condition and knowledge base to properly investigate a new and controversial message in the Advent Movement, even though I had been warned of “those people”, due to local activities, months before my invitation to any Davidian study. The warnings by SDA friends, I determined later, were based on prejudice and baseless fear, not fact. The leading of the Holy Spirit knows no boundaries of age or experience, however, where the Torah (Law) is resisted or rejected, the Holy Spirit has limited power or influence. The Holy Spirit will not attend or remain where She is not wanted or where Her law is dishonored. The Spirit of Elohim (God) fully honors our free will and freedom of conscience, even to our own hurt, if we so choose. She is the embodiment of grace, patience and politeness. Her power and wisdom is incomprehensible where Her Law is honored, the Law of the Father, for, She only speaks of Him, and Her love for Her children, members of the Divine Family.
Early in 1976, after further considerable study and prayer, and personal evaluation of the consequences in my existing SDA fellowship, I fully embraced the Davidian Message. I was very refreshed by the honest kindly nature of the people, living the Advent Message and Spirit of Prophecy counsels, their intense personal study habits and by the good fellowship of my Davidian SDA friends. Not long after, I was invited to go live, study and work at one of the Davidian Headquarters, in Salem, South Carolina, in the spring of 1976, which I readily accepted. The leading brother there had studied under Brother Victor Houteff directly. I enjoyed my 9 months there, out in the country, with several new friends, one from my area in Southern California whom I had studied under before going to Salem about the same time. Along with my friend Dave, I returned to California after about 9 months, somewhat unexpectedly. We originally intended to stay indefinitely. However, my journey of TRUTH was not to end with the Davidian Message.
During my stay at Salem Headquarters I occasionally heard various casual comments, basically negative, concerning “the Rodens” and their son George, leaders of the Branch Message down in Waco. The comments were nevertheless cautious and guarded by the leading brother there, Don and his wife. I understand that Ben and Lois Roden had something to do with bringing Salem Association leader into the Rod Message back in the early 1950s, during Brother Houteff’s lifetime. They were both from the same area of Midland-Odessa, Texas. Over the next two years, after I returned to California, I had been supporting the Salem Association and meeting with other Salem brethren in my area. But a change occurred in the perception of the California support base early in 1978 regarding the Salem leadership and the perception of certain issues of concern at the Salem Headquarters.
Many of the Davidians I knew were very friendly to Ben and Lois Roden, who, at that time, were on a road trip teaching about the new revelation of the Divine Family in Heaven in mid 1978. The Roden family had a good reputation with Davidians in general from long before Brother Houteff’s passing in 1955 and they were generally liked, however, their "Branch Message" was not accepted by Davidians as a whole. When Ben Roden and his wife moved his family to Old Mt. Carmel in 1953, Brother Houteff put him in charge of the gardens. When Ben Roden applied for the ministerial school at Old Mt. Carmel, he took the pre-test and, after review of the answers, Brother Houteff told Ben Roden that he “did not need to take the course.” He was already qualified. Also, most curious indeed, Benjamin and Lois Roden were the ONLY Davidians who were given Davidian membership cards, signed by Brother Houteff, without an expiration date. Davidians in general understand the significance of this.
Every Davidian had to be issued a new membership card yearly, after review of tithe support and adherence to the lifestyle requirements of the Shepherd’s Rod Message. I was shown the original membership cards by Ben Roden in 1978 during my first visit to New Mt. Carmel.
I had first met Ben Roden and Lois Roden at the home of a Davidian friend in East Orange in the late Spring or early Summer of 1978 on one of their mission forays to California. This study meeting was conducted by Lois Roden, teaching about the Holy Spirit Feminine Message which she had received in late 1977. I never saw anything wrong with the message from a biblical perspective from the outset. At this same time, during the Summer of 1978, I was invited to the home of a Davidian brother in Los Angeles one Sabbath. Several of the brethren in our area attended the meeting and I also invited a new acquaintance, a brother whom I had been sharing the Shepherd’s Rod Message with. He had recently become a baptized member of the Orange SDA Church.
I invited this brother to the Branch study at the Davidian Sister's home in the Spring of 1978, where he and I heard the Message of the Feminine Holy Spirit for the first time. Just prior to this invitation study, I had only heard about "The Branch" group of Davidians of Waco, Texas. This brother had heard about or observed a “sub-culture” or sub-group, in the Orange SDA Church, only a few members, who were becoming unpopular to the church membership in general. This sub-group, namely Davidians, or as the general membership called them, “Shepherd’s Rods” had become an issue, as is typical in the history of the SDA Church since the beginning of the Shepherd's Rod Message in 1929. At this same time I began to share advanced truth studies with this brother, The Shepherd's Rod Message (Davidian Message/ 4th angel Message of Rev. 14), and regularly visiting with him, with a couple other close friends that regularly accompanied me. My friend was blessed to know there were a few people in the church that would associate with him, study with him and also hear what he had to say regarding his views on dress reform in the SDA Church. Both the Davidian church members and my new friend were fast becoming "outcasts" at the Orange SDA Church. My friend seemed to feel right at home with us.
When the Los Angeles (Salem) Davidian meeting took place in the summer of 1978, I invited a new SDA friend to drive up there with me, where we first met Athen and Barbara Slawson, two Branch representatives from Glendale, who were also present. It was providential, to say the least, that the Slawson’s heard about this meeting and attended. We talked with them briefly after the meeting and exchanged phone numbers. There was something about the Slawsons that I found a real blessing from the first time I met them. A week or two later, I received a call from Athen one Sabbath evening asking if I would like to meet at a park in Orange, in my town, to have an afternoon study time in the Davidian Message. I was very interested to hear what the Slawson’s had to share. The study was very thought provoking and had good support from the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy publications, relating to the Rod and Branch Messages, how the Rod Message/Movement would “merge into a greater one”, in V.T. Houteff’s own words.
Events were beginning to come together during that spiritually turbulent summer, not only dealing with the Salem Association conflict, but coming to the knowledge of a new message (the 5th angel of Rev. 14) that I could see evidently was very much connected to the history and continuity of the Shepherd’s Rod Message. As I further recount below, I subsequently shared the 5th angel message, The Branch, with my SDA friend at the end of that summer, after visiting New Mt. Carmel for the first time (August of 1978), and spending about a week personally studying under Benjamin Roden. I acquired a second set of Branch Literature for my friend, sharing with him on my return to California, along with reiterating specific studies I had learned from Brother Roden. During this transition time, my new brother however, found himself coming into two new messages at the same time, The Shepherd's Rod and The Branch. He was particularly receptive to the Branch Message, not only the Divine Mother aspect that Lois Roden had just introduced, but also the concept of a Divine Daughter as well, because of a personal healing experience he was given many years before. His conviction was further confirmed to him in a song by Bob Dylan, where he poetically wrote of the Divine Feminine, in his famous song, "Shelter from the Storm."
During the summer of 1978 the California Davidians [of the Salem Association] chose to send me on a fact finding trip to meet with local Davidians in Salem, and those of “Smithville” as Don like to call them, to find out what was going on at the Salem Headquarters, having confidence in me, regardless of my relative youthfulness and total inexperience in such matters. After the first fact finding trip, I was sent back to Salem two more times, with others, in attempt to facilitate a positive change but also an attempt to protect Association assets through legal means. On the last trip, in August of 1978, having heard about the Salem intra-association conflict, Ben and Lois Roden traveled there to make their own assessment, offer counsel, but primarily to have the opportunity to give studies to Davidians.
At that meeting, several of us were formally disfellowshipped from the Salem Association by majority vote of those at the meeting, where after, Ben and Lois took the occasion and invited several of us out to the front yard in a beautiful country atmosphere that summer afternoon, and proceeded to give us Branch studies concerning revival and reformation according to V.T. Houteff.
Before departing California for this last trip to Salem with another Davidian friend Lewis, this time driving cross country departing about August 1st, I had told my new brother in the message that I would obtain a complete set of Shepherd’s Rod Literature for him. He was very interested in having his own set. I told Lewis that I wanted to drive through Exeter, Missouri on the way out since it was the headquarters of the Bashan Hill Davidian group. They were also printing the Rod Literature. I was able to purchase from them what I promised to my new friend. The Bashan folks, the Bingham Family, particularly Jemmy, Brother Bingham’s wife, including their two sons, were friendly, accommodating and made our weekend stay very pleasant. We did have several studies while we visited with them. The Bashan Hill group was the only other Davidian group printing Rod Literature at the time. Salem was the other. I was not likely to get any more literature from Salem,… the understatement of the year. I also wanted to stop at Bashan Hill to hear what M.L. Bingham had to say, since he was one of the original Davidians, from early in the message, under Brother Houteff. Myself and fellow Davidians from California were ‘association shopping’, in effect. I, and a few others in California, knew we were done with the Salem Association.
What I was looking for was something distinctive and authoritative about an association or a Davidian leader, not just a place to relocate my fellowship and support. Brother Bingham’s headquarters was a very beautiful place, in the woods, on a hill, very representative of the message and movement. It was idyllic. When Lewis and I departed, after a weekend stay, we felt blessed, and sometime after leaving Bashan Hill, I decided that we should stop by there on the way back to California, to learn more. But for now, the final meeting in Salem, a two year “session” meeting, where the full representative membership of the association would be in attendance, lay ahead of us in South Carolina. Lewis was a great traveling friend, also very interested in learning more truth having embraced the Rod message himself. He was/is a very knowledgeable and articulate brother. I somehow knew there was more out there that we needed to learn. In the Book of Proverbs, a verse reads, “the path of the just is as a shining light that shines more and more unto the perfect day.” I knew this applied to us, then, as it still does today.
Before leaving California, Lewis and I had obtained a “drive-away” car to make the trip, so I would not have to use my car for such a long trip. After the stop at Bashan Hill, the left front wheel on the car began an intermittent squeak. We figured it was only a squeaky disk brake. But actually it was the wheel bearing. Not a good thing. The squeak gradually became worse along the way. Somewhere in the Smokey Mountains, or the Blue Ridge Mountains of eastern Tennessee, the squeak became quite bad. Finally, on a deserted mountain road, in the middle of no-where, late in the afternoon, we stopped to check the squeak since something all of a sudden did not feel right and there was smoke and a burning smell. When we looked at the wheel/tire, not only was the wheel smoking, but the wheel had completely separated from the axle. We were not going anywhere further that night. I felt we could miss the meeting at Salem if this delay appeared as serious as it did, and it was. There was nothing we could do but wait. Of course, cell phones did not exist then.
Nevertheless, SomeONE was looking after us. I don’t think we waited twenty minutes, near sundown, before a late model, white, four-door Cadillac pulled up and stopped. We may have been trying hitch a ride to a phone, to wave someone to stop, I can’t remember, but we were in the middle of a deserted mountain road. What else could we do? Two young guys, driving a very used car, now inoperable.
People in that part of the country are different, truly different. They will stop, inquire and help if you look like you need it. Wonderful God-fearing people. A middle aged couple asked if we needed help. We asked if there was a gas station anywhere near so we could make a phone call to get a tow. They invited us to get in the back seat, on the clean white leather seats, and off we went down the mountain. Before long we came to a gas station at a little crossroads, but it was closed. We did however find a phone booth and called back to Maryville and arranged for a tow truck to meet us on the mountain.
This wonderful couple then drove us back up the mountain to our disabled car and left us there to wait for the tow truck. To this day, I believe they were angels,.... or just regular people directed thereby. The tow truck finally arrived, well after dark. We went back the way we came, down the mountain. The tow driver was a devout Christian and we talked about prophecy all the way back to the city. He left us at a major car dealership, where we slept in the car the rest of the night. The car got fixed, after a few phone calls to determine who would pay for the major repair since we did not own the car, and we did not have the cash to fix it and neither of us had a credit card. The “drive-away” agency agreed to fix it and authorized the repairs since we did not cause the damage. It was mechanical negligence by the owner. Wheel bearings on older cars need to be greased every five to ten thousand miles or so.
We were delayed about a day, but we were on our way and quickly made it to Salem. When we arrived at Glen Green’s home, he and his gracious wife invited us to stay with them for the week. It was a very large two story house. Glen’s wife then told us, in a secretive whisper [like there might be a plague] that “the Rodens are here” in the house, actually, as honored guests, since the Greens gave them the master bedroom. Again, people in that part of the country understand hospitality. The Rodens were old friends with Glen Green and his wife, since they were all at Old Mt. Carmel during Brother Houteff’s time. It felt like a family reunion was underway. We arrived at the Greens home early in the evening. Glen escorted us to our room past the master bedroom where Ben and Lois were getting settled in, and they received us with warmth and interest. We had a very pleasant evening with the Greens and the Rodens. Lewis quickly departed the next day to drive the car to the final destination up in North Carolina, not far, but that is all I saw of Lewis for the entire week of meetings. He also picked up another “drive-away” car for the return trip.
All the negative comments I had heard about the Rodens I could not substantiate, and I perceived yet again a pattern of attempting to promulgate prejudice against the Rodens, and a message. After the final session meeting at the Salem Headquarters, where the expected disfellowship took place of Sister Sorenson and myself, Ben and Lois invited us to have a Rod study on the front lawn. It was a good study. Ben and Lois departed the next day, but I quietly determined at that point, right after the study, that on the long drive back to California, after stopping again at Bashan Hill, I suggested to Lewis, in no uncertain terms, we should stop and make a surprise visit to the Rodens at New Mt. Carmel and see what the place was all about and learn more of the message. I also wanted to take the opportunity to stop at Waco and visit Old Mt. Carmel for the first time and learn of the history of the place near Lake Waco. The rest, as the saying goes, is history. I picked up a couple of sets of Branch Literature for myself and for my new friend. Lewis also obtained a set. We had an interesting and enjoyable surprise visit and I was increasingly impressed with Brother and Sister Roden, their teaching and deportment, but unfortunately, it was the last time I would see Benjamin Roden alive, in the very brief time I had known him, only a few months or just a few meetings.
Adding to the fast paced events of 1978, when I had returned from the third trip, my local SDA Church called me in for two formal church board meetings, myself and two others, to determine my involvement with the Davidians. I was called to give an answer for my involvement with the Davidians, and the controversial message.
That same month, after I returned, I was formally disfellowshipped from the SDA Church, after the second board meeting, along with two others, which included Doug, solely for my (our) association with the Davidians and embracing the message, which, by the way, fully upheld every historic tenet of the original faith and lifestyle of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which I lived, certainly to the best of my ability. When it came to the signature cause of the SDA Church, “religious liberty”, I found that it really does not apply within the church for those who see Truth as progresssive, periodically increasing, ever unfolding. Those who think differently, outside of the established doctinal envelope, those who think progressively, searching for more light, wanting to move forward spiritually, in knowledge and Truth,… well, they can 'move on', outside of the mainstream of SDA fellowship. This I did, by no choice or fault of my own. This was a unilateral decision by the local church board. My entire response to the local church board during the disfellowshipment meetings was given in a spirit of candor, politeness, and I say, a spirit of love, answering the barrage of questions directed to myself and two other new members over two separate meetings. Freedom of conscience is sacred right that I understood well, the one primary duty each one has to one's self that cannot be violated or leveraged by organizational membership, for any reason, for family or friends.
There were no bad feelings on my part. It was all a blessing. My love for the Seventh-Day Adventist Church did not diminish, to this day. Many of my friends in the church continued to be friends with me, as I continued to attend Sabbath services with my grandmother for roughly another year or two. I later learned, the board meeting vote against me (us) was pretty much unanimous [my grandmother abstained from voting, but she was present], but those who were good friends before the disfellowshiping I treated as if nothing had happened. In my world, personally, what is a little misunderstanding between good friends, brothers and sisters on the upward path? To me, it was what Yahshua (Jesus) would do.
In the compilation Book, Upward Look, on page 315, Sister White defines what constitutes “the church”. A.T. Jones, of the 1888 Message, also wrote a wonderful study on what the true church is and what it is not. But Yahshua, Jesus, said it best, “Where there are two or three gathered together in My name, there I am in the midst of them.” This was my church. This IS my church, Yahshua's body, the torn and scattered flock. A very portable experience indeed. Your “church” can be anywhere, even in your own home.
Amazing to me, I was kicked out of two organizations in one month! Within a few days of returning to California, after reading enough of the Branch Literature, I called Athen and Barbara Slawson, to let them know, that I accepted The Branch message. It made sense. It was the authoritative Message and Movement that the Rod Message had foretold in 1 Timely Greetings 8 (by Victor Houteff), to carry on the prophetic work of Brother Houteff, to prepare and gather the first of the Firstfruits, not just the “Firstfruits”, the 144,000 (wheat), but the first of the Firstfruits, represented by the barley “Wavesheaf”.
Any Davidian who does not agree with my assessment of Brother Houteff’s statement, relating to The Branch--1955, then show me a better understanding, and if your counter application is “yet future”, then I will be pleased to hold on to what I have until something else is manifested. We are only accountable for what we know, not what we don’t know. We are not accountable for future unfolding of events.
Lewis, the new brother and myself were the last (new) students of Ben Roden, that I know of, to accept The Branch Message. It was a threefold blessing to Ben and Lois, before he was laid to rest less than two months later. After returning to California from the third trip, Lewis shortly thereafter gathered his belongings and drove back to Waco, to New Mt. Carmel, to live and work. He had found a new family.
Little did any of us imagine the turbulent events to face the Branch movement, to unfold in the years ahead after Benjamin Roden's passing.
One interesting last story I would like to share when Lewis and I were driving back to California via Tulsa and then Waco, was when we stopped in the Ozarks, to visit a tourist cave. It was a nice break from driving. For that tour, Lewis and I were the only ones, but the young woman that gave us the tour, a devout Christian girl, very perceptive spiritually, at the end of the tour, we paused outside the cave as she looked at us, then she said, “you know where your people are? …. Your people are in Waco, Texas!” We told her nothing of our trip, our plans or itinerary. Came to find out that she was supporting a Christian missionary group in Waco called “Wings for Christ.” Wings for Christ was based about a mile from New Mt. Carmel. A providential and interesting situation and event indeed. She did not attempt to get us to visit Wings for Christ or tell us much of anything about the organization, but just that “your people are in Waco.” There was another interesting and providential event to tell, but I will not take the time or space here.
Upon my arrival back in California about September 1, 1978, the first Sabbath, I shared the many events along with Brother Roden's message, the complete Branch Message, the new brother, giving him both sets of Rod and Branch literature. He was very encouraged and, as myself, could find nothing wrong with the new message, The Branch. I shared the message with all of the Davidians I knew and none of them agreed with my conclusions. None of them could see any truth or continuity of the Rod Message in the Branch Message. Some searched out new Rod associations to fellowship with. All new Davidian organizations, after the 1962 dissolution of the original DSDA Association, attempted to have Leviticus (a Davidian publication of organization) structure, but all lacked a “president”, automatically invalidating any other officer or council member, without the living Spirit of Prophecy in their midst. This was and is understood by all Davidians today as it was then. It was an insurmountable paradox for Davidians. But to no avail. This, in and of itself, proves nothing. But it is a significant preliminary observation and a serious mitigating factor in Davidian organizational law and principles.
On the other hand, Benjamin and Lois Roden, not only presenting the beginnings of a new message about three months after Brother Houteff’s death, not only with perfect timing in the Ezekiel prophecy relating to the message, not only a message called “The Branch”, and for nearly five years not only warning and counseling the Davidians under Florence Houteff, but of all things, they possessed Davidian membership cards, signed by Brother Houteff, without expiration dates. To me, this was very interesting. This was the point in my progressive spiritual journey, where weight of evidence takes hold.
That third trip to Salem was a long trip driving. We were gone for a full month. I could write a small book about that last trip to Salem alone, all I learned about the Davidian and Branch Messages, particularly some good people I met and enjoyed along the way, but the main point is that in the space of less than five years, really only four, I came to the knowledge of all three prophetic steps of the Advent Movement of 1844, and embraced each step of new truth, after careful study and prayerful evaluation. The quest for truth, in the unfolding of the Seven Angels’ Messages of Revelation 14 and 18 (the Advent Movement, three messages and their repeat phase, and finally "the angel that joins the Third Angel" (Early Writings 277, Test. to Ministers 300, EGW), will steadily progress to its completion.
But TRUTH will continue to unfold, as a rose, as the Rose of Sharon, exposing each new petal of fragrant, life giving Truth, to see us through these final days of earth’s history, firmly established on the platform, where not one block or one pin will be stirred of this beautiful message! It is a message of hope, preparation and instruction, to board the ark of safety.
This is my testimony, to set the record straight.
I write this in –
The Name - YHSVH – Yahshua, (Jesus) The Branch,
my Messiah, and before the recording angel, to the best of my recollection.