by David Sisler

Guyana is a country of 83,000 square miles located on the northeast edge of South America. It is bordered by Venezuela to the northwest, Brazil on the west and south and by Surinam on the east. Its northern border is the Atlantic Ocean. Seventy percent of Guyana is made up of tropical rain forest. It rains 80 to 100 inches a year and daytime temperatures approach 100 degrees.

Guyana has much natural beauty, many rivers and waterfalls, but many Americans do not think about beauty when they think about Guyana. They think about Jim Jones and the deaths by murder or suicide of 913 members of his Peoples Temple Full Gospel Church 20 years ago.

Peoples Temple was founded in 1956 in Indianapolis as an integrated church combining religion and socialist politics. Jim Jones claimed a healing ministry which attracted many members. The church became a part of the Disciples of Christ in 1961 and Jones was ordained by that denomination in 1964. In 1965, Jones moved Peoples Temple to the San Francisco area, which he thought would be safe in case of nuclear war.

It was also during this time that an organization of concerned relatives was formed in response to reports of beatings and other punishments inflicted on members by Jones and the Temple's leaders. As allegations of wrongdoing increased, Jones moved the Temple to Jonestown, Guyana to escape his perceived threat of media and police persecution.

Temple members set up an agricultural commune, and practiced socialism and racial harmony. Reports indicated that they built cottages, workshops and dormitories, grew fruit and vegetables and raised chickens and pigs. They educated their children, and cared for the old and sick.

Then San Francisco Congressman Leo Ryan came to Jonestown to investigate continued allegations of abuse. As Ryan was preparing to return to the United States he was ambushed and killed, along with three newsmen and a Temple defector. Before the day ended, 913 more people were dead.

Jim Jones continually warned Temple members that the day would come when the American CIA would invade their sanctuary. Several times a month, they would practice ritual mass suicide which Jones promised would result in their reincarnation. When they returned, Jones who in the end claimed to be the reincarnation of Jesus, as well as Buddha and Lenin said they would rule the world. Suicide practice meant drinking a fruit juice containing a sedative. Cyanide was on hand for Saturday, November 18, 1978.

Children died first; babies were killed by poison squirted into their mouths with a syringe. 276 children died, then the adults. Most drank the poison willingly. A tape recorder found at the scene, and survivors who escaped into the jungle, revealed that some were forced to consume cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. Some were shot by security guards. 409 bodies were grouped around the altar where Jim Jones' body lay. The Temple leader was the victim of a gunshot wound, whether by his own hand or another is not known.

As that tape recording ends, women are still screaming. Children are still crying.

Dr. Mary McCormick Maaga, author of Hearing the Voices of Jonestown: Putting a Human Face on an American Tragedy, says that more was involved than the idol worship of Jim Jones. "It was a combination of the leadership's self-righteousness and their demonization of anyone who disagreed with them. They had all the answers, and they believed that they had to be the ones to make the world a better place."

The Peoples Temple began with a man preaching Christ. It ended with a man preaching Communism. It is history repeated. The first step is always the teaching of the Bible, teaching it straight, teaching it with the grace of God, the love of Christ, and the promises of Scripture. Then it turns from the Lord Jesus Christ to the teacher, who is then proclaimed as Lord. The next step is property, given willingly at first, then forcibly.

The early church even tried it, but there is no evidence that common living and common sharing of wealth was ever used again. Only that one time did the believers live together in a commune, each receiving according to his need, because somebody will always find a way to beat the system. And when it is no longer voluntary, it is no longer Christ.

The Bible teaches if you want to follow Jesus you must deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow him. If you honestly do not want him, you do not have to follow him. The Lord God Almighty only wants volunteers. Are you in or out? It is your choice, and yours alone.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 11/14/98

Copyright 1998 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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