by Karim Shah
Vissarion – The Jesus of Siberia
Friday 14th August 2009
It takes us five hours of all-terrain driving to reach Petropavlovka, a village with close to a hundred houses, dominated by stunning views of wooded Siberian Mountains. We venture out and take our first shots of the village, everything home-made and home-grown, I see no branded products and there is certainly no TV. Signs of Vissarion become apparent, small details such as little photos or reproductions of paintings with heavy symbolism.
Saturday 15th August 2009
Every Sunday pilgrims trek to the top of the mountain to question Vissarion. Siegfried a tall, kind faced German believes our presence is a sign that he should do so. He avoids revealing his question, but it clearly weighs heavily on him. After a two hour drive, we are in deep forest and must continue on foot. It’s not easy to reach the ‘Abode of Dawn.’ After three hour hiking we stop to take rest and water. Out of undergrowth appears a bearded man, carrying a staff. He is ex-Russian Special Forces, had served in Afghanistan and now lives alone in the forest hunting tigers and bears. He then bids us farewell and vanishes back into the trees!
Sunday 16th August 2009
At dawn we find Siegfried and many others gathered in prayer around the totem at the centre of the village. We follow this 200 strong group further up the mountain. Every twenty minutes the group halt and sing hymns as a silent mist falls slowly from the treetops. Eventually we reach Vissarion, sitting serenely on a rocky outreach. The crowd sit at his feet, hanging on each syllable as he preaches. Siegfried finally asks his question. He raises himself to his knees and all turn around to examine him.“Teacher, I have been here for eight years, I have made many yet none of my suggestions are taken on board, I’m starting to wonder if maybe I should leave?”Vissarion’s response appears cryptic, but afterwards we witness a big change in Siegfried, much more jovial and relaxed. Later, through much diplomacy, we are granted a meeting with Vissarion at his beautiful and relatively large house. Three stories and an indoor toilet – nearly heaven in Siberia! Vissarion surveys us all with a smile on his face. To our surprise he is very open , answers many questions that he has refused to in the past. He seems to enjoy the whole process. The interview over, he proudly takes us outside to see an incredible view. From the top of this mountain one can see a thousand miles of never-ending forest.
Tuesday 18th August 2009
Today is the autumn festival and Petropavlovka is teeming with thousands, yet no alcohol in sight. Parades and music are happening all over the village. As the sun goes down, Vissarion enters the stage and delivers a simple and slow sermon. It’s an incredible sight, facing a sea of people in white, holding candles in the air. His followers are glued to him, they are in love.
David Shayler – The ‘Messiah’ returns to Israel
Tuesday 15th September 2009
As he sets his bare foot down on the Tel Aviv runway we realised that there is never a dull moment with David Shayler, whether one believes he is the Son of God or not. Although David’s controversial background does not cause us any problems through Israeli immigration, it’s sad that I can’t say the same for my Muslim name. It’s late when we finally arrive at our Jerusalem hotel. I go to sleep in anticipation of what daylight will reveal in this Biblical city, unavoidable to anyone familiar with current affairs.
Wednesday 16th September 2009
Our cameraman, soundman and fixer are nearly an hour late to breakfast. It transpires that the IDF were tipped to a bomb threat and now the whole city is on red alert, roadblocks set up all over making the traffic incredible. We walk to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The amount of pilgrims is theme-park like, yet made unpleasant by the bickering sects. This place has recently been the site of a mass punch-up between Christian factions, all laid bare on you-tube. David leaves the site almost in tears. He says a lot of pain was felt at there, the pain of crucifixion. “It’s the most un-spiritual place on the earth,” He tells us. From the vantage point atop the Mount of Olives the splendour of Jerusalem can be admired. The beauty of the Dome of the Rock and Al Asqar mosque seem ironic in a land of so much pain. On the way back to the hotel we pass teenage girls with Galil assault rifles slung next to their school bags.
Thursday 17th September 2009
We arrive in the West Bank. The land looks worthless, harsh and bare. A settler mentions to us later “we grow rocks”. It’s perplexing that people fight over such a place. We enter the settlement at Shiloh, an ancient city which holds David’s namesake and is one of the many clues that lead him to his messianic claim. I was most concerned taking David here, full of dedicated (and armed) Jews. I was unsure and uneasy on how they would receive him, yet I was proved wrong, even M16 carrying IDF conscripts greet us politely. We meet Israel Meidad, an American by birth and a lovely chap. He took time to show us around the settlement and had a sincere interest in David, with the two talking thoroughly.
Friday 18th September 2009
The greatest moment for me unfortunately could not be filmed. As we are leaving the country we are all interrogated for a few hours by Tel Aviv airport security. David is within earshot of me at the initial stages, “Name and purpose being in Israel” “My name is David Michael Shayler, I’m the Second Coming of Christ and the High Priest of Israel, I’ve come to spread unconditional love and understanding between all of mankind….” Camus couldn’t have written the rest better.
Pastor Apollo Quiboloy – The Kingdom of Jesus Christ, Philippines
Friday 25th September 2009
We arrive in Davao City situated at the southern tip of Mindanao, the second largest island of the Philippines. The humidity and the scent of tropical fruit hit us as soon as we step out of the plane. We make our way to the Kingdom of Jesus Christ’s compound in Davao City, not an arduous journey, as it’s literally a stone’s throw from the airport. On arrival we meet Sister Nori; Blackberry in hand. She has the air of a busy, yet charming, corporate executive. We agree on a filming schedule for the next few days. We are all impressed as to how accommodating they are. Their ability to accommodate filming and their hospitality is given in abundance throughout our stay.
Saturday 26th September 2009
We drive out of the city to a ‘Children of Joy foundation’ event. I’m shocked at the sheer scale; thousands of desperately poor children gathered for a free meal and entertainment. Most have never had ice-cream before and are surprised to discover that it’s cold. We meet the Pastor for the first time. Clad in film-star attire, aviator sunglasses completing the look, he’s very approachable and chats to us in a friendly manner. However, his minders are always in the corner of my eye. We drive back to the Davao City compound and watch rehearsals for tomorrows live broadcast. It’s an impressive set-up, like any TV station in the world, what stands out is how young the production staff is.
Sunday 27th September 2009
The day of the live broadcast is an overwhelming spectacle. Again the Pastor is very relaxed with his access and even lets us follow him onto the stage. We were disappointed to miss the congregation entering the Cathedral. The three-thousand strong congregation is asked to re-enact the whole entrance once our camera is in place! Exhausted from filming in such humidity we are not looking forward to a three hour drive to the Pastor’s mountain complex! The Pastor then offers us a ride in his private helicopter taking us all there in seven minutes! This complex is an impressive sight, extremely well kept and with some truly beautiful gardens, walled in from the surrounding jungle, the artificial paradise is built upon the area where the Pastor received his messianic fortitude.
Monday 28th September 2009
Early in the morning we drive to the chapel where the Pastor preached in his early years, its pretty much a shack and in a poor village, it highlights the lengths this man has come, regardless of the validity of his claims to be the son of God. We film one of the environmental projects wherein a large group, in the hundreds, of young people set about planting saplings in areas of deforestation. The pastor gives us a tour of the site and explains his concerns about global warming and man’s impact on the planet; he then takes his helicopter back to the mountain complex. We make our way back to Davao City to film another live broadcast – the show goes on.
Inside‘s “The Second Coming” premieres Wednesday June 15 at 9P et/pt.