In some ways, Geoff Miller lives like any other upwardly mobile suburbanite. He works as a software developer for an investment bank in downtown Chicago, commuting via rail from his home in the far north Chicago suburbs. His wife, Trish, works part-time as a physical therapist, in addition to running their two teenage daughters to sports activities and music lessons.
However, the Millers (who asked that their real names not be used) have some other pursuits that only a small circle of family and friends know about.
Trish avidly stockpiles food and other supplies. Each week she cans and dehydrates large quantities of meats and produce, and shops at her local big-box store to buy jumbo-sized containers of nonperishable foods that she stores in their basement. Trish has also stashed away first-aid supplies, toiletries, water, batteries, charcoal and matches.
All told, the Millers are closing in on having food and supplies to last about one year.
Geoff has been busy renovating their home—installing security cameras, tempered glass windows, solar panels, an indoor hydroponic greenhouse and an electric fence around the perimeter of the property. He’s also purchased pistols and rifles for himself, his wife and their kids, and they practice their shooting skills weekly. “You have to be ready to protect yourself and what’s yours from looters,” Geoff says.
Recently, the couple purchased land in rural Wisconsin and had an underground bunker built on the property—their safe haven should they need to wait out a short-term threat or permanently leave the suburbs. There they have stored additional food, water, guns and ammunition. No one outside their immediate family knows where the bunker is located. “We won’t have room for anyone else, so we don’t want others knocking on the door when everything starts going down,” Geoff says.
Preparing for survival
The Millers are doomsday preppers—part of a growing movement of individuals who believe a catastrophic disaster or emergency, including the possible total breakdown of society, is likely to occur in the near future and are working feverishly to survive the aftermath.
A lot of preppers, like the Millers, keep their preparations quiet, so there are only estimates for how many people are involved in the movement. Tom Martin, founder of the American Preppers Network, says it’s generally believed there are 3 to 5 million preppers in the United States, plus millions more in other countries. “The preppers movement is a worldwide trend, and it’s getting larger all the time,” he says. “Anywhere there have been natural disasters, people are prepping more.”
The number of new businesses and websites catering to preppers is a good indicator of the momentum of the movement. And they are reporting rapid growth. For example, one reported a 708 percent explosion in revenues over the past three years! Shelter and bunker building is surging as well.
Thousands of survival blogs and websites exist, as well as dozens of magazines devoted to prepping. TV is spreading the word too. National Geographic Channel produces Doomsday Preppers, profiling different prepping households in every episode; and Discovery Channel’s Doomsday Bunkers follows a company that builds underground shelters for preppers.
What’s driving the movement?
Admittedly, the prepper movement is not a totally new phenomenon. There have always been people, often on the fringe of society, who feared and prepared for apocalyptic scenarios. “What’s different about the movement today is it has gone mainstream,” observes Mr. Martin. “There are preppers from all walks of life—people from every age, gender and socioeconomic level.”
He believes 9/11 was the turning point that really accelerated interest in prepping. Disasters like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy or last year’s Ebola outbreak have added to the momentum. “Every time there’s a disease outbreak or natural disaster in the world, that fuels the prepping movement even more,” says Mr. Martin.
People prep for different reasons and to varying degrees. Most fall within one of two camps. The first is focused on regional disasters of some kind, natural or man-made. These preppers believe they need to be ready to “ride out the storm” for a period of time until life returns to normal.
The other camp is readying for all-out doomsday and “end of the world as we know it” scenarios. These are the so-called doomsday preppers. They’re convinced a catastrophe of world-changing proportions is looming, such as world economic collapse, the use of a weapon of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical or biological), a global superbug pandemic, an asteroid strike or comet collision, or electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) from a solar flare or nuclear detonation that would disable all electronics.
They’re prepping to survive not only the events, but the subsequent breakdown of societal infrastructure (transportation systems, roads, bridges, dams, utilities, hospitals, prisons, etc.), disruptions to the food supply, civil unrest and martial law.
It’s not surprising that preparing for these apocalyptic scenarios becomes their life focus.
The doomsday you can’t prep for physically
Without question we live in an increasingly uncertain and dangerous world. It makes sense to have some emergency provisions on hand in case of natural disasters, harsh weather, power outages or other difficult circumstances. “A certain amount of prepping for difficult times is always wise,” says Douglas Horchak, a minister with the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, in Dallas, Texas. “But the prepping that a lot of people today are pursuing isn’t going to save them from the doomsday that is coming!”
The Bible has long predicted an end-time scenario for which humanity will be desperately unprepared. “In fact, Jesus Himself told of a future time of ‘great tribulation’ that would take place—a time unlike anything the world has ever seen,” Mr. Horchak explains.
“Furthermore, despite being warned well in advance, Jesus said that time will come unexpectedly on the whole world, like a snare suddenly snapping. That’s the doomsday we ought to be prepping for, but the question is ‘how?’”
That unique preparation was, in fact, what Jesus stressed in His prophecy. “Therefore you also be ready,” we read in Matthew 24:44, “for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
How can one possibly be ready for the cataclysmic events surrounding His return? “The real key is what you’re truly preparing for. If you’re preparing for battle so you can defend your property, which many of the doomsday preppers are, that’s out of the realm of what God says we should be focused on. It’s only spiritual preparation that is going to ultimately save anyone,” Mr. Horchak emphasizes, citing Luke 21:36, where Jesus said, “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
“God has to be in the picture,” stresses Mr. Horchak. “When people start thinking about how bad this world is and how difficult things could get, if God isn’t in the picture, people are left to do nothing more than to deal with their fears on a physical basis. And when that happens, people become suspicious of each other, there is division and animosity, and it leaves tremendous amount of room for human nature to blossom—in a negative way.”
On the other hand, spiritual preppers stand confidently on the Bible’s many promises of protection to those who serve God. Nahum 1:7 says, “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him” (see also Exodus 14:14 and Psalm 34:19).
“While there are steps we can and should take to be prepared for emergencies and stay safe, God makes it very clear He wants us to rely on Him,” says Mr. Horchak. “We are to look to God for guidance, not just during calamities, but always.”
Rather than trust in God, self-reliance is a main tenet of the doomsday prepping movement. Many doomsday preppers don’t want to have to depend on anyone else or any other institution—or God—to take care of them. They are determined to take care of themselves—and do it their own way.
Spiritual preparation should be our focus
There is no better way to prepare for prophesied turbulent times ahead than to develop a close relationship with God through prayer, Bible study, fasting, meditation and fellowship with other believers. James 4:8 promises that if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us. He is the ultimate true security.
He likewise promises that we don’t have to cower in fear before the challenges of this world or to allow situations beyond our control to dominate our minds. As 2 Timothy 1:7 says, God gives us “a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (English Standard Version). Prepping for doomsday or fixating on catastrophe is not the attitude God has in mind for us. Rather, we can have hope and peace of mind, knowing that all things are in God’s hands.
“Truly, if we are preparing spiritually—which means striving for a close relationship with God—we have nothing to fear, because God protects those who are His,” Mr. Horchak concludes. “God is the only One who can provide protection from global calamity and catastrophes, and He is the only source of true security.”