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Author believes Y2K precautions prepared churches for ministry


ATLANTA (BP)–While none of the nation’s worst Y2K fears materialized, the leader of a ministry that encouraged churches to prepare for calamity believes the effort was worth it.

Shaunti Feldhahn, whose book on the millennium bug was a best seller, said the message of being ready to minister in case of a crisis helped counteract doomsday survivalists’ propaganda.

“Maybe for the first time a church started a mercy ministry because of the potential for problems,” said the founder of Joseph Project 2000. “Well, hallelujah. They’re doing what Jesus has always called us to do.”

Based in Atlanta, Joseph Project 2000 urged churches nationwide to form networks to help communities in the event of Y2K disruptions. Helping the body of Christ to prepare to be a blessing to their communities was not a futile exercise, she said.

Formerly an analyst with the Federal Reserve system, Feldhahn said she realized beforehand if she succeeded in convincing people to make adequate preparations that she could wind up looking foolish.

She credits prayer and taking the threat seriously–an Associated Press report today said Americans spent $100 billion correcting potential computer snafus–with averting a crisis.

The author of “Y2K: The Millennium Bug–A Balanced Christian Response,” also recognizes some will criticize her for writing a book to enrich herself. But Feldhahn said she donated the bulk of her royalties from the sale of approximately 250,000 copies to her church and the Joseph Project.

“I haven’t earned any salary for the one and a half years I’ve worked on this,” she said. “I hope that shows I’ve tried to be obedient and pure of heart in following what the Lord wanted me to do.”

Mike Hyatt, whose two books on the millennium bug were also best sellers, is warning the situation could worsen. In a special e-mail bulletin distributed recently, he said the threat is both acute and chronic.

“Acute” refers to problems surfacing after the date rollover, he said, when old computers programmed to recognize years ending in two digits would misinterpret 2000 as 1900. “Chronic” means problems that surface afterwards, as corrupted data passes from one system to another, he said.

“I have said from the very beginning that this is the greatest threat and it will take weeks, or perhaps even months, before we will be able to assess the full impact,” said Hyatt. “As a result, I think it is too early to declare victory or to feel badly because you or others made preparations.”

And, according to postings today on the Nashville, Tenn., author’s Web site, Y2K has caused a number of interruptions:

— A reader in Ireland quoted the Irish Times as reporting customers of Irish Telecom who inquired about phone bills through an automated service had their account balances backdated to 1900.

— A resident of northern Maine complained he was watching a local weather report and a satellite image couldn’t be shown because weather radar wasn’t functioning.

— A commodities trader unexpectedly faced a margin call this morning. The correspondent purchased five copper contracts for May at $86.10 a pound, but overnight the computer showed they had dropped by $85.98, to just 12 cents a pound. Quotes checked at another source showed copper was only down 10 cents a pound.

“I should have a profit of $200 per contract, or a total of $1,000, not minus $107,425,” the trader said. “This is a Y2K glitch if I ever saw one.”

— Among other problems listed were Social Security checks failing to be deposited to bank accounts (although others said they had received payments), computers showing a date of 1980 and reports of flight delays last night in Boston and New York.

One of the most serious Y2K problems surfaced at a Japanese nuclear power plant. Associated Press reported last Saturday that a radiation alarm system shut down for 17 hours at the Shika Nuclear Power Station.

The report said the problem was unnerving because it occurred just three months after the worst nuclear accident in Japan’s history. One worker died, two were seriously injured and at least 150 people exposed to above-normal radiation levels in the Sept. 30 mishap.

The news service reported problems in other countries. Courthouse computers in Italy mixed up prisoner release dates by 100 years, heat went out in 900 families’ apartments in South Korea and government computers in Hong Kong and China failed to display correct dates.

Still, various countries are reportedly beginning to dismantle Y2K emergency taskforces because of the absence of widespread problems. Feldhahn acknowledged that even the skeptics are astonished at how well things turned out.

“Obviously we are rejoicing that there aren’t these needs,” she said. “That’s the most success we could have hoped for. That’s one reason I’ve been very careful not to make predictions (about what would happen), but people don’t always make those distinctions.”

For example, she said a caller last weekend left a “nasty” message on her voice mail, telling her and her husband to pray and repent for being doomsayers. But anyone who read materials from the Joseph 2000 Project knows they weren’t making dire predictions, she said.

The Atlanta author also lamented reactions from some Christians. People like Hyatt and Karen Anderson, whose writings targeted women, have already been getting hate mail, she said.

“I’ve seen this over and over in politics and other places, where Christians respond with a lack of grace,” she said. “It grieves my heart. I hope they respond with grace.”

Other critics faulted Y2K authors for unnecessarily alarming people. But the Atlanta resident said remaining silent while survivalists urged “grab a dog, a gun and head for the hills” would have shirked Christians’ responsibility to spread a different message.

It doesn’t hurt the church’s witness to proclaim a desire to minister to people’s needs, Feldhahn said.

The Joseph Project’s next step is considering whether to join a proposed national ministry alliance, she said. The group may get under way later this year, with a goal of improving the community responses of evangelical mercy ministries and humanitarian organizations.

“One thing I’ve learned is don’t be afraid to be obedient to God, to have a pure heart and clean hands,” she said of the lessons of Y2K. “The call of the Christian is to be a light in this world for Christ. We must do that and leave the results up to him.”

    About the Author

  • Ken Walker