by D. Barrett
In Keremeos, BC, Canada, in 1950, The Children of Light, a Christian sect, was founded. Agnes Carlson, a preacher of the Pentecostal Church, announced that she had received a message from God, in the form of a fireball rolling down the mountainside. She’d been told that the world would end on December 23, 1950. That day, Carlson, also a postmistress, gathered her followers and hiked up a nearby mountain called ‘pin cushion’ near the stellar rock formation known as The Columns. Across the valley, to the south, is the much taller mountain whose rock slides present the letter K. Agnes, calling herself Elect Gold to show that she was God’s chosen, said the K stood for Kingdom and that God’s Kingdom was at hand.
But judgment day never came.
So on Christmas morning they descended the mountain and entered a nearby farmhouse, on Upper Bench Road, where they were to await further instructions from God. Elect Gold preached that their purpose was to begin a life free of personal possessions and worldly ties and to follow the ways of God to live for eternity, right here on earth.
Elect Gold proclaimed that God had told her that the end of the world was near and repentance was in order. They must vow to forgo sex, meat, and other “sins.” They would then live forever, as “The Children of Light.”
The newly formed group of forty, including school children, spent their days in the farm house, saying prayers and listening to their founder and leader, Elect Gold. Here they wore white shirts and red capes lined with gold satin intended to repel atomic rays.
Later they were to refer to this time simply as “The Separation.”
In January 1951, the newspapers described Agnes Carlson, aka Elect Gold, as a tall, strong, austere woman with a penchant for fiery oration and confrontation. Followers, however, described her as a kindly woman who welcomed everyone. But some families of the followers were horrified by the absence and isolation of their loved ones. The police demanded that all underaged children in the group be released. A Keremeos father went to the farmhouse to take home his teenage children. A mother charged that her son had been hypnotized into joining the group. A dropout member sued to get back the worldly goods his family had bequeathed to them.
Soon, the Vancouver Sun reported, “The Children of Light have vanished…Nineteen members of the cult left so suddenly that townsfolk were not aware of their absence for more than a day.” In interviews at the time, residents of Keremeos were in shock that Agnes Carlson and her followers had agreed to abandon their homes and their families and start a new life elsewhere.
In an interview with author Adam L. Gollner, in 2008, Elect Phillip is quoted as saying: “On January 13, 1951, the group received a crucial sign: a cloud shaped like a human hand had changed from white to red to white again. That night they tiptoed through the swirling snowfall, past dozing newsmen and photographers. Getting into their cars, they raced away, never to return. The blizzard caused an avalanche, which closed the pass off, so (the) media couldn’t follow.” Recently, Elect Star has added that they had hurried away from Keremeos to a motel in a suburb of Vancouver.
“Scorned by their non-believing neighbors, the Children of Light fled, wandering Canada and the United States for twelve years as religious outcasts, homeless but devout.” This was written in a blog by ‘Johnny Jazz’, who had lived with the group for two years.
As they moved around, The Children of Light picked up and lost members along the way. At one time they were more than sixty strong.
In 1963, outside a motel in Fontana, California, Elect Gold told her followers that the words “Agua Caliente” had appeared to her in fire-like letters in the sky. They found the place in Arizona and settled there, on an oasis in desert country near the small town of Dateland. They call their place Agua Caliente, which means hot water.
The members say that there is much evidence that God is with them. Such evidence has come in many forms, including a large donation that helped them buy the 80-acre parcel of fertile land in 1965, the clean, natural water source found on the property, helped them grow the abundance of date palm trees there.
Now, in 2017, the flag flying above their large house has a gold star and the words: “Purity, Promise, Peace, Perfection.” The sole remaining original member, Elect Star, and two other members, Elect Philip and Elect David, live a simple life, gardening, sewing, and patiently awaiting the apocalypse. They will be ready. And for now, they trade their sewing, fresh vegetables, and a variety of dates for other necessities, with their main income coming from donations and Social Security cheques.
They wear white robes, red vests, and blue aprons. Their names are embroidered on their vests. They have all the amenities they need, even a television, on which they prefer to watch the older “clean” videos. There is a large swimming pool on their land to which children of the nearby town of Dateland come for swimming lessons.
“I wouldn’t live anywhere else,” said Elect Beryl in a 1995 interview.
The three surviving members—there has been no procreation—say that they are still on the road to eternal earthly life. They say that though Elect Gold (who lived to be close to 100 years old) and other followers have died, it was either because they sinned in some way or because God had another plan for them.
Annually, The Children of Light celebrate the anniversary of Elect Gold’s vision by gathering around an oaken table in a special second-floor room that is always set up for the many that they expect will soon arrive. Here they dine at a table set for eighteen, read scriptures, and discuss the meaning of their six decades of communal existence. For The Children of Light, this is an event more sacred than Christmas.
They no longer preach or recruit followers, but are convinced that the masses will soon come to them to escape the violence and vulgarity of modern life. Elect Star has been quoted as saying; “There will definitely be an in-gathering of people as things get worse. We are an ark of safety, just as God commanded.”