On Saturday, more than 20 miles apart, two groups calling themselves Davidians assembled separately for two very different purposes.
Both groups are spiritual heirs of Victor Houteff, a self-proclaimed prophet and Seventh-day Adventist Church outcast who died nearly 50 years ago. The Branch Davidians who still meet near the community of Elk assembled to remember a horrific past, including a federal siege of their compound in 1993 that ultimately claimed 86 lives.
Meanwhile, the Davidians of Waco met to plan their future - and all while lamenting that their spiritual brothers east of town had followed David Koresh to death and destruction.
The full name of the group occupying the buildings and church at 2500 Mount Carmel Road near Lake Waco is the General Association of Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, led by an executive council of elders headed by Norman Archer. Made up primarily of black and Hispanic believers, the group settled in Waco in April 1990, reclaiming land that once belonged to Houteff's Davidian SDA members who lived in Waco from 1935 to the late 1950s.
More than 200 Davidians from this particular branch of the prophetic tree and from throughout the nation are meeting in Waco this week for Session 2003, the 12th annual assembly commemorating their return to Houteff's land. Besides communal worship, members elect officers and evaluate missionary efforts, targeted mostly among the original SDA community, whose members they believe have lost their way.
The Branch Davidians so well known to American and, in particular, Waco history have not strayed far from the minds of other Davidians meeting in Waco. The 51-day siege of the communal compound near Elk "has affected us," Archer insisted. One reason: "People put us all in the same basket."
When the fire was extinguished and the loss of life counted up, 76 Davidians, including 21 children, perished in the FBI-led assault. "We were saddened, of course," Archer said.
"These people had been deceived," he said, referring to David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidians. "They didn't know the truth. They put their faith in the wrong one."
Archer became acquainted with Koresh when the latter was named Vernon Howell and lived in California, dreaming of success as a rock musician. Even then, he thought Koresh - who later proclaimed himself a Central Texas prophet - was a little "kooky."
Meeting up with him again in Waco in the early '90s only convinced Archer that Koresh had gone off the deep end, he said. He now wonders if the devil isn't responsible for the Koresh catastrophe.
Big differences exist between his group and the Branch Davidians, Archer said. "We're not suicidal, we don't bear arms, we aren't a bunch of nuts. We're normal, rational human beings, like other Christians, who can be dealt with," he said.
Raul Pereza of Southern California, a first-time visitor to the Waco session meetings, said he also wanted people to know there are "huge differences" between the Davidian SDA he subscribes to and the Branch Davidians 10 miles east of Waco. "We are not violent people," he said. "We are non-combatants."
Jody Mueller, also of Southern California, said those in the Seventh-day Adventist Church don't recognize differences among the various offshoot groups calling themselves Davidians. "They said, 'Don't go to Waco, you'll become one of them!' - she said.
Known to some as the "Jamaican Davidians" because of the large number of Caribbean believers among them, the Waco Davidians strive to adhere more rigidly to the original doctrines and understandings of scripture established by founder Houteff, said Rick Ross, a professional deprogrammer who monitors sects and cult-like organizations.
"The Jamaican Davidians appear quite exclusive and teach that only they know the correct observance and/or path to salvation as approved by God," Ross said. "I don't receive many complaints about Davidian sects since the Branch Davidians largely dissolved away after the standoff."
So many offshoot sects have sprung from the fractured original group founded by Bulgarian-born Houteff that it is no longer clear just how many Davidian groups remain in the world today.
Meanwhile, Archer tries to look at the bright side of what happened to the Branch Davidians in 1993, now largely decimated as a religious group. Sometimes, he said, bad things occur for a divine purpose.
"The Lord allows certain things to happen to get us off-track," he said, "so we will know we must turn back to him."