End Times Ministries and Where it All Began

First Coast News, Florida/November 4, 2008

Sioux Falls, SD - Beyond the rows of corn fields and rolling hills is the heart of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

A place more than 1,450 miles north of Lake City, Florida.

Two places so far away, yet so connected.

"The interesting tie between Lake City, Florida, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, can't be broken. It's intertwined," says Bob Kiner, a retired high school teacher and college professor.

Kiner has made it his business to know all he can about that bond.

He's heard and seen the secrets that the quaint and quiet streets of Sioux Falls have hidden for a number of years.

"I remember teachers talking about what's happening to these kids, what are they doing. They are whacked out, what is it," says Kiner.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is a place where some churches are landmarks.

It is also a place where a controversial religion called Meade Ministries, or End Times Ministries, which is now based in Lake City, Florida, got its start.

The End Timers got their start in Sioux Falls in 1973 in another church.

First Baptist in Sioux Falls, opened its chapel doors to a group of kids who came to the church each night to sing and read scriptures.

"We were just a bunch of young college, high school aged kids," says Joni Cutler, who is a former member.

Cutler says her high school boyfriend and future husband, Gary Cooke, was the group's leader.

"A lot of us singing a song and listening to this preacher on an audio cassette tape. I remember at first not feeling that comfortable, but wanting to know more."

That preacher was Charles Meade.

Gary Cooke got to know him while going to college at Northwestern.

Cutler says what started out as a small gathering of about ten kids began to grow, and concerns began to grow too.

"I think we started making some people nervous with the type of teaching we were hearing on cassette tapes. It started making people uncomfortable here and the church, and so we felt it was time to go somewhere else."

The End Timers moved around, often meeting at area hotels in Sioux Falls.

Meade preached that no one needed to see a doctor because there was no need to be sick.

Meade also preached they would be the only ones to survive God's wrath in the end times, prophesied in the Bible.

According to those who have left the group, the End Timers targeted those in high school or college.

"They can snare your family away. You don't even know it's happening. They just kind of grab them," says Roger Peterson.

Peterson, and his wife Vonda, lost their three teenage daughters, 20 years ago, to what they call a cult.

They haven't seen them since.

"The question I get asked by most anybody is how could they believe this stuff, and I say well how come so many people followed Hitler."

"There's a reason why they like to get babysitters, college aged kids because they are more impressionable," says Cutler.

In the early 1980s, End Time Ministries bought a building and used it as its church and school.

The group was nestled between two college campuses and just blocks away from Lincoln High School, where students were recruited to become members.

"Gary Cooke was a college freshman and began to recruit a lot of his friends. Those friends were the best, the smartest outstanding kids in high school. They were leaders. They were terrific students and I think they were looking for meaning in life," says Kiner.

Kiner was a social studies teacher at the time and Joni was one of his students.

"As students began to talk about things, get no medical help, started secluding themselves, I needed to know more," said Kiner.

Cutler says she remembers Kiner and other teachers trying to help her.

"Some of the teachers tried to, outside of the classroom, to talk to us and intervene with us and get us to think about what was happening and who we were following," Cutler said.

Kiner says he spent all of his free time trying to find out what End Time Ministries really was.

Today, Kiner says he has no doubt that End Time Ministries is a cult.

Kiner fought back tears as he remembered some of the early days and students who were trapped inside the group.

"These people didn't believe in medical services. One of our very best students ended up dying giving birth to a baby in a bathtub because they didn't medical help. And when you feel that intensely about those kids, as a public school educator, you have a responsibility to do everything you can to help."

Kiner did what he could.

But in 1984, Meade moved more than 100 followers from the midwest to Lake City.

They constructed a large church there.

Meade built and then settled in to a sprawling estate in the Southwood Acres subdivision.

Over time, more End Timers moved to the area.

Today, you will find homes dotted along the path to the church, in numerous subdivisions, which only belong to End Timers.

Each usually has the signature Cadillac in the driveway.

Meade drives the luxury car and so do most of his followers.

"We actually drove out to find the place where they were living, to find some kids. We found the place where they lived because of roofing, but we couldn't get access to them."

Kiner has tried to reach out to those now in Lake City over the years, with no luck.

But he did manage to help one.

"When I first left the group, some of the people I first got in touch with were my teachers who cared so much about me," says Cutler, who never made it to Lake City.

She divorced Gary Cooke and kept her four daughters in Sioux Falls.

"I have been relieved when everyone who left that group left," says Kiner.

These days, there are no more End Timers in Sioux Falls.

There are only families who hold out hope that their loved ones will one day will leave the group and come back home.

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