The footage that flashes across the screen dates from 1999. We see the founding Messiahs walk across untamed wastes—the grounds where we now sit. They lay bricks in wet mud. They sand metal frames. They wash dishes in the river. They wear heavy clothing, light fires to keep the mosquitoes away, and sweat in the wavy heat. They stagger through gale-force winds.
Then, in a clip from 2000, we see Moon himself, touring the partially cleared grounds, wiping sweat from his brow, eating lunch, leaving in a private plane. The footage segues into scenes of the men working feverishly to build a luxury house for Moon and his wife, Hak Ja Han, who visited for a second and final time in late 2001. The rest of the DVD covers more recent developments, and the highlights—set to swelling orchestral music—unfold like a training montage from Rocky. Messiahs erect the water tower. Man-made fishponds materialize on the grounds. A landing strip is planed flat by tractors. The Messiahs unload saplings from the Aquidaban, then plant them in sprawling groves. A group of about a dozen visiting Japanese students—the children of Unification Church members—help the Messiahs build a school in a nearby village. When the DVD ends and the lights come up, I’m exhausted just from watching all that drudgery. I look at Mister Date’s corded forearms, his gaunt face, his waspy waist. Every aspect of his being seems molded by toil. Even with the help of the local hires, the Messiahs labor all day, usually outside.
“It’s a lot of work just to maintain,” he admits.
The fact that only 10 men live here comes rushing back to me. The colony has actually lost population since its inception, despite all the construction. Four of the original Messiahs have returned to Japan. Only the hardest of the hardcore have stuck it out.
And this raises a couple of questions: Who are these guys? And why have they put themselves through this?
MISTER AUKI WALKS ACROSS the dining hall carrying a basket filled with whole fish freshly yanked from the river. He’s a short, balding Messiah whose task this morning, as on most days, is to catch something for the grill.
“I caught lots of piranha today,” he tells the men, his face splitting into a smile. “And also a five-kilogram pacu.”
The pacu is now part of the lunch buffet, which the four Messiahs plus Wilson, Greaves, and I spoon onto plates. It’s noon, the midpoint in an unchanging daily regimen: up at 4:30 a.m. for a half-hour of silent worship, breakfast at five, then back to their bedrooms to prepare for work at 6:30. Each is assigned a separate job: one fishes, another tills crops, another feeds the fish in the ponds. Someone tinkers with the water-purification system and checks the pH level in the pool, though no one swims. (“We don’t take much time for recreation,” one Messiah tells me.) They generally work in 1.5-hour bursts, taking half-hour breaks in between. Lunch always runs from noon to 1:30. They’ll work until 5 p.m. and round out the evening with dinner and a short prayer meeting. That leaves them about two hours until the lights go out at nine. Most use that time to read, pray, or watch satellite TV.