Greaves and I tuck into our food and strike up a conversation with Norio Owada, whom I recognize from the DVD. Mister Owada is 64, and manual labor and a good diet of homegrown vegetables have pared him down to a taut, leathery minimum.
“Nice to meet you,” he says, bowing his head quickly. He speaks English well enough to feel self-conscious when it’s not quite right. Before he joined Moon in Fuerte Olimpo for the retreat, he worked as an English translator in greater Tokyo. He disliked the work and wanted out. Urban life felt meaningless.
“I needed a special challenge, and I couldn’t find one in Japan,” he tells me. “I had lost my motivation. When I came here I recovered it.”
Mister Owada is a good example of your average founding Messiah: a city dweller with very little experience in construction and even less in wilderness survival. His wife was selected for him by Moon, who was said to possess the ability to intuit good matches, and Owada left her in Japan with their children when he came here. He gets a church salary, which helps keep the colony solvent. His family and other members of the Japanese congregation provide more money, though no one can tell me how much has been poured into the place. Once every 11 months, Mister Owada gets four weeks of vacation, which he can use to go to Japan. His wife has visited him twice since 1999.
In the beginning, the colonists hoped they would be joined by their wives (as well as many, many more followers). Every August, they invite children of Japanese church members to visit for a couple of weeks, but so far none have chosen to stay on. “My wife thinks that it is not realistic for her to move here yet,” Mister Owada says, “because we still have to raise the standard of living more.” When I press him on how tough and lonely this must get, Mister Owada says it doesn’t bother him. Moon sanctified his personal sacrifices, promising the men that spiritual rewards would make up for their suffering. “Even if you die, what regret will you leave behind?” Moon asked the founders in 1999.
“We’re risking our lives for this cause,” Mister Owada says, his left eye twitching convulsively. “I like to risk my life,” he continues. “That is doing something worthwhile. We have continued to stick with this.”
Months later, after Moon’s death from complications from pneumonia, I will once again reach out to Mister Date to see if the True Father’s passing affects the Messiahs’ dedication. It doesn’t. They have the blessing of his widow, Mister Date says, and the ongoing feuds among the Moon children won’t affect them. They plan to work on Puerto Leda for at least another decade.
“OF COURSE THERE IS ecotourism potential here,” says Mister Date. We’re standing outside an unfinished three-story brick building near a shed that protects three car-size generators. Mister Date refers to the brick building as “the hotel,” but for the moment its only occupant is a stick-legged baby goat nosing around the food pellets being stored on the ground floor. Mister Date begins running down the potential pluses of opening the place up to travelers: tourism would allow people to see examples of sustainable living and take the lessons home with them. This Eden is intended to be an environmental paradise, he says. He tells me the Messiahs are also considering building an insect museum.