January/February, 1998 Volume XII Number 10
The "Year 2000 Problem" and your family
By Steve Gregg
The Year 2000 problem (hereafter referred to as Y2K) has to do with a programming detail affecting the way mainframe computers around the world will read the date, January 1, 2000. To make a long story short, unless corrected, mainframes may mistake the year 2000 for the year 1900.
Ho hum, I don't even own a mainframe computer. Why should I care?
Well, the problem is that lots of people or agencies do own mainframe computers, and cannot function without them. These include those who maintain the infrastructure of modern civilization as we know it -- like utility companies, banks, hospitals, major manufacturing firms, oil companies, airlines, railways, telephone companies, the military and virtually all federal and state government agencies -- not only here but in the entire Industrialized World. These industries depend on date-sensitive files to a very large degree. On January 1, 2000, if all or most (or many) mainframe computers spew corrupted data or crash (two possibilities some experts are predicting), then what would become of our high-tech civilization? Of course, the answer to that question depends on how long it would take to get everything back on-line. Some experts think that it would take between five and ten years to recover from a worst-case scenario.
Some computer magazines have been tracking the Y2K problem for years. The Mainstream Media has said little about the subject in general (probably to avoid creating widespread panic). Representing a notable exception, Newsweek (6/2/97) featured a cover story on the Y2K problem, entitled "The Day the World Crashes." The story was fairly apocalyptic, though its capacity to inspire terror was slightly mitigated by the editorial decision to include comical, "sci-fi" type photos and artwork.
American Survival Guide magazine (Oct.,1997) also ran a recent article on the problem, outlining five alternative theories as to how the problem, if unfixed, will affect society in the western world. The five alternatives, ranging from the most optimistic to the most disastrous, are labeled: 1) Speed Bump, 2) Slow Drag, 3) Severe Drag, 4) Optimistic Disaster, and 5) Pessimistic Disaster.
An example of the more optimistic "Speed Bump" theory is seen in a memorandum from the Library of Congress's Congressional Research Service (CRS), which warned that "it may be too late to correct all of the nation's systems." According to this government agency's analysis, problems include:
Malfunctioning of certain Defense Department weapon systems;
Erroneous flight schedules generated by the Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic controllers;
State and local computer systems becoming corrupted with false records, causing errors in income and property tax records, payroll, retirement systems, motor vehicle registrations, utilities regulations, and a breakdown of some public transportation systems.
At the other end of the spectrum (the pessimistic end), author and Reconstructionist Gary North is an advocate of the fifth theory, and presents cogent arguments and documentation for his forecast.
The January 2, 1997 issue of Computer World (a specialized computer publication, not available on most newsstands, that goes to computer programmers), ran several reports under the general title, "Year 2000 may ambush U.S. military." Retired Air Force General, Thomas McInerney, assessed it this way: "I think the president or vice president should declare that this is a potential national emergency."
But the problem is not confined to the realm of national defense. The entire high-tech infrastructure of western civilization may be at risk. Have you ever had your electricity go out for 24 hours? . . . for a week? . . . how about for a year? If bank computers lose access to their records, how will they know whether or not you have anything in your checking or savings account? If trucking and railroad companies, which bring food and supplies to cities, cannot keep track of delivery schedules or even the whereabouts of their units (which are managed by computers), how long will it take for your local grocery store to run out of food (markets usually must restock every 72 hours)? If 45 million urban welfare dependents and 50 million Social Security recipients cannot receive their monthly checks from the government, how will they pay their bills? Will your job be secure if you work for a company that either depends directly on mainframe computers (most large companies do), or that depends upon vendors who are dependent upon them? If government agencies experience a breakdown in their payment delivery systems, how will they maintain police services? According to Newsweek, there have already been cases of prisons accidentally releasing prisoners prematurely because a computer glitch misread the release dates. Is this just the beginning?
This would make a dynamite plot for a new disaster film, or a great theme for a Bible Prophecy conference (a caller to my radio program suggested that the anti-christ will gain the world's admiration by solving problems associated with a Y2K civilization meltdown). Actually, I don't personally link anything in this scenario with anything that I see in the prophetic Scriptures (with the possible exception of the fall of "Babylon the Great" in Rev.18). I am not so keen on the imminent end of the world as some prophecy experts are. I am, however, keen on being a wise man who "foreseeth the evil and hideth himself." The sixty-four-dollar question is: Is there really any danger from which to hide oneself and one's family, or is it merely another phony "the sky is falling" gimmick that someone hopes to exploit for money or to motivate the masses?
I don't claim to know the answer to this question, but if there truly is a danger to families, I might wish to use the information to motivate people to prepare themselves in some appropriate manner.
Will it get fixed on time?
The first reaction (and the second and last) of most people who are vaguely aware of the problem is to say, "Well, there are still two full years in which to fix the problem. This is America, not Uganda! We've put a man on the moon and a robot on Mars! `Two years is an eternity in the world of technological development -- certainly someone will be able to fix Y2K on time!"
Perhaps. But people in the know are concerned. You see, 'the fix' requires the manual conversion of hundreds of millions of lines of code into the world's mainframes by technicians acquainted with several computer "languages" that are not widely known or used today. Mainframes aren't like your PC or Mac at home. You just can't shove in a Norton Utilities for Mainframes and have all problems automatically correct themselves.
Such a "silver bullet" is only a dream at present, and a dream that many experts believe will never materialize. In the meantime, a good programmer can go through and correct 100,000 to 165,000 lines per year. The majority of programmers are already occupied full time just running and maintaining the existing systems, leaving a shortage of human resources for the special task of "Y2K compliance conversion." How great a shortage? The Washington Post (March 2, 1997) quoted an authority who said that the US and the UK, between them, will require a million more experienced programmers than now exist in order to fix their problems before the deadline. And this does not take into consideration the needs for programmers in the continental nations of Europe, in Australia and in Japan -- all of which are way behind the US in their awareness of the problem and in their efforts to fix it.
To put things into perspective, the US and Canada are ahead of all other nations in the effort to remedy what has come to be called the "Millennium Bug." In America, government agencies that lead all others in progress toward the necessary software conversion are The Pentagon and the Social Security Administration (SSA). Social Security has 30 million lines of code to fix. They started work on the fix in 1991. As of June, 1996, their 400 programmers had completed the conversion of a whopping 6 million lines! That leaves 24 million lines to repair in the next two years. You do the math, and draw your own conclusions.
The IRS is in much worse shape than the SSA. They have 100 million lines to fix, and they just started with only 300 programmers on the job.
All other government agencies are in similar crisis. Congressman Stephen Horn, chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology, and Congresswoman Maloney sent out a survey to 24 agencies of the Federal Government concerning their preparedness for the Y2K problem. On July 30, 1996, Congressman Horn issued a statement to the 104th Congress concerning the results of the survey. The following is excerpted from his report:
The responses received from Federal agencies, in most cases, provided us with limited information on when and at what cost agencies plan to correct this potentially disastrous computer software conversion problem.
And how is the Department of Defense coming along? On April 16, 1996, Assistant Secretary of Defense Emmett Paige, Jr. testified before Congressman Horn's subcommittee. I recommend that you read his entire testimony on Gary North's web site. You may need to read it twice in order to fully grasp his meaning and implications. Among other things, he said:
Even with this information, an outline forms, which portrays a Federal government unable to meet the challenges of the 21st century because of a lack of awareness and preparedness. Some of our major findings include: Major departments are in the initial planning stages of this effort, even though agencies need to have their systems inventoried and fixed by 1998, in order to provide sufficient time to test and ensure total accuracy. This means, in the next year and a half these departments must complete their plans, inventory and fix millions of lines of code, while simultaneously meeting agency needs.
Even those agencies considered leaders on this issue, such as the Social Security Administration, and the Department of Defense are not close to completing the inventory and solution stages of conversion.
The Department of Defense has not yet completed its inventory of computer software code which needs to be converted. The cost estimate to fix the 358 million estimated lines of code to be reviewed could cost between $1.02 and $8.52 per line. This means the cost to review and fix DoD [Department of Defense] systems could range somewhere between $358 million and $3 billion.
NASA, one of the most innovative, advanced and computer dependent agencies in the Federal government, has not prepared a plan to solve the problem and does not anticipate having a plan completed until March 1997-this leaves less than a year to inventory, and fix systems.
The Department of Transportation, which includes the Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration did not respond to the questions as of this date. The Department of Energy did not begin to address the year 2000 issue until a week after it received the subcommittee's survey.
The Department of Defense is very much aware of this serious problem and we are treating it much as we would a computer virus. . . We face a firm deadline and there is no 'silver bullet' product in the marketplace to find, fix, and test all the changes required. The impact of taking no action on the Year 2000 Problem is that we risk the high probability of severely hampering, in some cases, many Defense activities. Some of those activities will involve military operations. . . This, of course, could have catastrophic consequences should it happen during a time when our fighting forces are being called upon to react to a national security crisis or lend emergency assistance. Some of our weapons systems would not function properly. Our databases would be greatly corrupted.
If the US military is this vulnerable, you can safely bet that the military of other industrialized western nations are at least as vulnerable. Meanwhile, Red China has the largest army on earth and a navy that uses World War II-era technology (i.e., not dependent on mainframe computers).
. . . The management aspects associated with the Year 2000 are a real concern. With our global economy and the vast electronic exchange of information among our systems and databases, the timing of coordinated changes in date formats is critical. Much dialogue will need to occur in order to prevent a 'fix' in one system from causing another system to 'crash.' If a system fails to properly process information, the result could be the corruption of other databases in other government agencies or countries. Again, inaction is simply unacceptable; coordinated action is imperative. . .
. . . The Military Departments and Defense Agencies are assessing the impact of the Year 2000 Problem and prioritizing the needed work on the systems for which they are responsible. We cannot spend an inordinate amount of time analyzing and assessing the problem; we do not have the time.
On September 24, 1996, Congressman Horn submitted to the full committee a report on the Year 2000 Problem. He reiterated that there is not enough concern among government agencies over the threat this problem poses to the operations of the entire U.S. government:
"Without greater urgency, those agencies risk being unable to provide services or perform functions that they are charged by law with performing."
As bad as the situation looks in the governmental agencies and the military, the problem may be even worse in the private sector. Consider the following facts:
A Reuters report (April 9, '97) reports on a survey of Fortune 500 company information technology officers. Of those surveyed, under 13% said their firms had implemented plans to correct the Y2K problem. Another 18% said they had developed a plan of action.
In 1995, Union Pacific Railroad discovered that it needs to convert 12 million lines of code on its computers. It is estimated that this will require 200,000 man-hours (or 100 staff years) to complete the conversion.
Allstate Insurance (America's 2nd largest insurance company) discovered in 1995 that they have 40 million lines to convert (remember, SSA has managed to convert 6 million lines in five years!).
The nation's two largest banks are Citicorp and Chase Manhattan. Citicorp has 400 million lines to check and an estimated 20-40 million to convert. They began working on the fix in 1995 . Chase Manhattan has 200 million lines of code.
On June 17, 1996, Jimmy Barton, Chief National Bank Examiner of the Comptroller of Currency, wrote in the OCC Advisory Letter (addressed to CEOs of all national banks:
. . .industry estimates are that only 30 percent [of financial institutions] are currently addressing the issue. . .This lack of planning could result in extended or permanent disruption of computer system operations. . . This issue affects every financial institution. . .
In the crash of the 1930s, the major money center banks were kept afloat by the Federal Reserve System. In a Y2K crash, the FED may be nowhere to be found. William McDonough, President of the New York Federal Reserve Bank in a speech on September 21, 1997, said:
Getting the Year 2000 issue right is critical for every organization. Failure to get it right will affect the integrity of the payments system and the performance of the domestic, and maybe even the global, economy. Because the changes necessary to fix applications to make them Year-2000-compliant will be completed at different times, testing and retesting will be needed to assure that information flows properly. Continual testing, however, will consume a very significant amount of resources, usually drawn from business line areas. Consultants estimate that testing alone will absorb as much as 70 percent of Year 2000 project resources at some institutions.
Edward Kelley, Jr., a board member of the Federal Reserve Board, substituting for Alan Greenspan at the Senate Banking Committee hearings on July 30, 1997, testified:
Like our counterparts in the private sector, the Federal Reserve System still faces substantial challenges in achieving Year 2000 readiness. These challenges include managing a highly complex project involving multiple interfaces with others, ensuring readiness of vendor components, ensuring the readiness of applications, testing, and establishing contingency plans. We are also faced with labor market pressures that call for creative measures to retain staff who are critical to the success of our Year 2000 activities.
One of the most disruptive effects of Y2K could be the disabling of all telecommunications, an industry heavily dependent upon mainframes that are not currently compliant. Will they be by the deadline? AT&T has 500 million lines of code to check, Sprint has 100 million. MCI isn't disclosing the size of their problem (according to Computerworld, Nov.11, 1996). Are you an optimist? If so, consider the following additional factors discouraging any realistic hope of a timely total repair:
a.) Even if many or most computers did manage to reach compliance by the target date, there is concern that corrupted data from non-compliant computers interfacing with compliant ones may corrupt the data in the repaired units, canceling the advantages of the completed fix. Since computers used by banks and other major institutions are part of a global electronic network, the hopes of avoiding such a systems-wide crash seems like a pipe-dream. Some experts suggest that, unless every computer in the network is compliant by January 1, 2000, individual fixed computers will have to avoid interfacing with all infected units in the system.
b.) Before international computer networks can begin to be made compliant, it is essential that European computers notate the date by the same method as do the computers in the US (i.e. is the month or the day of the month written in the first position?). No universal standard has even been agreed upon yet.
c.) Many computer systems (including those in space and under the ocean) have chips that are not Y2K compliant embedded in their hardware. No one knows which chips are and which are not compliant. Noncompliant chips, if not replaced, can crash the systems. Will these all be fixed?
While channel surfing on my car radio a few days ago (Oct.22, 1997), I happened to catch a few minutes of the G. Gordon Liddy national talk show. When I noticed that the discussion was partially about Y2K, I turned on a tape recorder and caught the salient portions of the program dealing with the issue. There were two guests being interviewed by Liddy on the general topic of new technological developments related to the Internet. One of the guests was Brock Meeks, chief Washington correspondent for MSNBC, who writes and publishes the award-winning Cyberwire Dispatch (a free Internet news service). There was not much to report from the interview in general, but I thought the following exchange was interesting:
Liddy: The Y2K compliance problem is a serious problem. Your insurance policies could be wiped out, your ATM machine. . .and there's going to be a huge amount of litigation going on because of problems here. Is it correct that there is not enough time to rewrite all this code?
Though statements from a radio talk show may not carry great authority, Meeks' comment was a typical example of many people's response to the problem: "I'm counting on them fixing it, but the people who are involved in the project are far from optimistic."
Meeks: There's no way to actually know that. I know that the people that are involved in it-the people who don't have a vested interest in some company or consulting firm-are sweating bullets that they're going to have enough time to get it done. I mean, these are the people in the trenches. I think I'm still enough of an optimist and a believer in the work ethic and the fact that it always seems like when the folks in the technology side are pushed up against the wall, they can make the chips smaller, lighter, faster, and keep coming up with something. It always seems at the last minute that they're going to pull it out, but when you talk to [those involved in fixing it], you know, they're very seriously concerned that there's going to be some catastophic events happening here and there. The world's not going to come to a halt, but there's going to be some catastrophic events happening.
A Theology of Disaster Preparedness
For the 26 years since I left my parents' home, I have adopted a lifestyle of trusting God. I have trusted God, and none other, for my health, my finances, my safety and that of my family. I have avoided "safety nets" like the plague, feeling that these may be interpreted by God as evidence of my diminishing confidence in His well-documented faithfulness and ability to deliver from all harm. I have always adopted an attitude that these are personal policies merely, and of not making secret or public judgments of those whose convictions lead them otherwise. Therefore, if my life has exhibited imbalance in any direction with reference to preparation for contingencies, it has been in the direction of shunning such preparations.
On the other hand, I have always been aware that caution and foresight are a function of wisdom. The Bible says (twice): "A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished" (Prov.22:3/27:12). The ant is commended for anticipating the winter and making appropriate preparations (Prov.6:6-8), and Jesus instructed the believers in Jerusalem to watch for the signal of foreign armies coming against the city indicating that they should hastily escape (Luke 21:20-23). Jesus warned His disciples to see themselves as living in a precarious world ("as sheep among wolves"-Matt.10:16) and to exercise wisdom with harmlessness (apparently ruling out the stockpiling of assault weapons).
While preparedness seems to be a fruit of godly wisdom (unpreparedness would thus be a function of foolishness), yet the believer is denied the self-destructive and God-dishonoring luxury of worrying. The command of Christ to have done with all anxiety about future contingencies (Matt.6:34; cf.Phil.4:6-7) is one of the greatest struggles in the lives of many Christians, even when no obvious crisis is looming, and yet is one of the principal attitudes that is to distinguish between believers and "the Gentiles" (Matt.6:31-32). The believer's faith in a faithful God sets the manner in which he anticipates the future apart from the way pagans do. We are told that we are much more the objects of God's care than are the birds of the air, whom He feeds day by day. If a cynic would observe that the birds of the air sometimes starve, or succumb to the elements or to predators, the believer's response is "not without the will of my Father"(Matt.10:29). The object of the Christian's existence is not to survive as long as possible, but to live or die according as the Father wills. To die faithful is to be preferred over the option of surviving through compromise. Resignation to the sovereign disposition of Providence replaces fretfulness and anxiety for the instructed disciple of Jesus.
If, in the Providence of God, a believer receives advance notice of impending dangers, the appropriate response is, first, to ascertain the will of God. ("Does God wish for me to face the danger head-on at the risk of my life, or has He forewarned me in order to prepare an ark to the saving of my household?" Heb.11:7) Next, the Christian must consider what legitimate measures may be open to him for the fulfillment of God's perceived will.
Remember, the safest place for the family of the righteous is not necessarily in a mountain cave while Sodom is being reduced to a smoldering crater. The safest place for the Christian family is in the center of the will of God, wherever that may be. Nonetheless, it should not be assumed that the place of God's will for the believer is necessarily along the trajectory of His terrible swift sword. In Scripture, more often than not, God called His informed followers to get out of the "line of fire" to a more sensible venue.
You can run, and you can hide
When they persecute you in one city, flee to the next. (Matthew 10:23)
There have always been some martyrs, who, seeing the approach of danger, have felt called of God to face it and to absorb its worst. Polycarp is said to have escaped initially when he heard that soldiers were coming to arrest him, but in his second hiding place he dreamed a dream which he interpreted as a call to martyrdom. Therefore, he refused to escape a second time when his hide-out was discovered.
Jesus Himself refused to escape from the Garden of Gethsemane, when His hour had come to be taken. However, until His hour came, He spent much of His time escaping and moving about in secrecy (Luke 4:28-30/John 8:59/10:39/12:36).
Peter, when released from prison by an angel, fled from the place of persecution and danger "to another place"(Acts 12:17). Paul also did a lot of escaping by night and out of windows in city walls, though he was in no sense averse to dying and going to be with the Lord (Phil.1:21-23). He simply exercised reasonable caution so as not to shorten his tenure in ministry unnecessarily.
Flight from perilous circumstance has a noble history in the Old Testament as well, whether it be Lot's flight from Sodom on "the eve of destruction," or David's early career of wilderness escapes from Saul. In the history of Christianity, Christians have frequently fled en masse from dangerous places to safer ones. (American Christians rarely think in terms of international flight from domestic dangers, since America has historically been the place of security to which the world's refugees have fled, but the times they are a-changin'.)
Flight, can be very inconvenient and generally involves the leaving behind of cherished possessions and relationships (ask Lot's wife!). Many people would prefer to take their chances in the danger zone, so long as they have an AK-47 for every able-bodied male in the home, plenty of ammunition, sandbags and MREs (Meals Ready to Eat packaged for long-term storage). In my opinion, this "Alamo Model" of survival is not ideal for Christians. Those who die trying to kill others in a dispute over a loaf of bread are not to be classed among the martyrs, who die for the glory of God alone.
I can think of no reason to object to the idea of storing food. The ant is commended for storing enough food for the short-range future (Prov.6:8), and Joseph stored enough for seven years. In fact, if you currently visit the supermarket only once or twice a week, you are already practicing "food storage" beyond the amount demanded for "immediate" needs. However, there are two factors that prevent the Christian from finding any real security in freeze-dried calories stockpiled in the root cellar:
1.) One can not be sure how long a general food shortage may last-and can, therefore, never be sure that the amount stored will not run out; and
2.) Jesus commanded: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth" (Matt.6:19). In times of starvation, what is "treasured" more than food? The functional phrase here, I think, is for yourselves. Neither Joseph nor the ant laid up a personal store just for themselves. In both cases, the accumulation is intended for the general survival of the community. If you have seven-years' worth of dried foods in your garage, are you going to sit down complacently with your family for a meal while your neighbor's children starve fifty yards from your door?
Faith and wisdom would dictate that a family store some reasonable amount of goods against temporary shortages, fully intending to share with others in need, and trusting that God, if necessary, can perform another miracle of the loaves.
Better still, relocate somewhere (like out of the city) where food shortages will not be so severe, and persuade as many people as possible to do the same!
Options for Christian Families
There are a number of ways that Christians might legitimately respond to news such as that I am presenting about the possibilities of a Y2K problem. The first is to do some first-hand research on the subject in order to determine whether this is just much ado about nothing. If you do this, let me recommend that you not accept the first opinion you hear without further inquiry. You might think that your friend who works for Texas Instruments in research and development ought to know a great deal about this "tekkie computer stuff." He might. But there is no guarantee that he has studied the question or has access to better sources of information than are available to you. If he has heard of Y2K, his supervisors may have told him, "Don't sweat it. Your job is secure." I have personally talked to several such technicians over the past few months, some of whom appeared to have never heard of the Y2K problem before I brought it up. Their off-the-cuff assessment was, "No problem. It'll get fixed." On the other hand, the technicians I have talked to who had researched the matter were much more alarmed.
Since a satisfactory fix by any presently known means is apparently impossible, most people who stand to lose a lot in a Y2K disaster tend to retreat to denial when confronted by the enormity of the problem. The Newsweek story alone should have triggered a significant general panic, but it didn't. Most people don't even remember seeing that cover story. Few, apparently read it. In a book entitled The Sovereign Individual, authors Davidson and Rees-Mogg wrote:
A recent psychological study disguised as an opinion poll showed that members of individual occupational groups were almost uniformly unwilling to accept any conclusion that implied a loss of income for them, no matter how airtight the logic supporting it. (page 339)
If your research leads you to conclude that we are facing a mild-to-cataclysmic disaster, you should begin to consider some response options. Some of those that I am about to suggest may seem far-fetched, but each of them has been chosen by persons who have no history of clinical mental illness. Here are some of the factors which I would encourage you to consider:
A. Location. In any crisis, a family's location can literally be the most important variable determining survival. Some people simply find themselves "in the wrong place at the wrong time" (remember Reginald Denney?). Some of you are already in about the best possible place a person can be during a societal meltdown. Others are arguably in the very worst of possible locations. Please consider the following alternatives:
1. Stay where you are. The Psalmist wrote: "In the Lord I put my trust; how can you say to my soul, 'Flee as a bird to your mountain?'" (Psalm 11:1). You may already be where God wants you to be stationed for a long time, where, you are confident, you should take your stand by faith and let the chips fall where they may. God is able to keep His people unblistered in the fiery furnace, if that is where they must be. Though choosing [apart from God's leading] to make ne's home in the brick kiln might well qualify as "tempting the Lord."
2. Buy or lease farm acreage. This would seem to be a more sensible option than that of staying in the city. The first major city was built in rebellion against God (Genesis 11), and its successors have generally been worthy reincarnations of the same spirit. Christians are often called to the city for outreach purposes. In the recent past, movement of the population into metropolitan areas facilitated an increase in convenience and prosperity, though a serious Y2K economic meltdown would transform cities into anything but convenient or prosperous places to be. There is already a noticeable trend of population movement from urban and suburban properties to more rural alternatives. If the masses get wind of the impending Y2K crash, this movement may become a stampede. Properties for sale in the cities will be unsaleable, while the value of rural acreage will soar, due to the increased demand of the homeless refugees from cities. If you have been thinking seriously about moving to a small farm property, it would be wise to do so now.
There may not be enough to go around by mid-1999. If you move to the country, and the Y2K bomb proves to be nothing but a firecracker, what have you lost? You now have a more self-sufficient life much more like the one you have long desired.
In view of the 45 million welfare recipients whose checks may not be in the mail, some Y2K-watchers suggest that it would not be wise to be living within a half-hour's drive of a city with a population above 20,000, nor within 100 miles of a city of more than 100,000. This may be over-cautious, but the rule of thumb would be to provide as large a buffer between your family and urban violence as your calling in God allows.
A move to the country involves some possibly difficult adjustments for those accustomed to the convenience of 7-Eleven and the stimulation provided by flashing neon lights, those microcosmic universes called "malls" and perennially congested traffic arteries (to say nothing of the excitement of drive-by shootings, school-yard homicides, and S.W.A.T. teams besieging the drug house next door). The difficulties of such adjustment, however, may not be so great as the benefits. City life is sustained by an artificial infrastructure over which the individual has no control, but upon which his life depends. If you are not in a financial position to buy rural acreage, there may be the option of renting, leasing or sharecropping five or ten acres on the edge of a larger farm. For a few thousand dollars, a used mobile home could be put there for a scaled-down, but more self-sufficient lifestyle for your family. Alternately, several families might combine their resources and purchase large acreage in some state where building restrictions are minimal or nonexistent and then build homes there.
3. Live on the road (or on the sea). To avoid the defilement of society, in obedience to their patriarch Jonadab, the Rechabites adopted a nomadic lifestyle-neither dwelling in cities nor settling long enough to raise crops-which they maintained for at least five generations. Though they are not particularly commended for their homelessness, God had nothing but good things to say about the Rechabites' loyalty to their ancestor's standards of purity (Jer.35:6-11).
A recent movement (not particularly among Christians) called "PT" is gaining tremendous interest in America and the UK. "PT" stands for "permanent traveler" (or "passing through," or "prior taxpayer," depending on who you talk to). Books for such persons actually give instructions on how to legally obtain multiple citizenship, disappear from government computer files, and be regarded as a visitor by all nations and the possession of none! This movement, needless to say, makes its appeal primarily to the rich, who can afford to pay $35,000 to $50,000 for second passports from obscure countries like Grenada and Cape Verde. For the less rich, books like one called Freedom Road (published by Loompanics) give detailed practical instructions for making a living and enjoying unparalleled freedom and privacy by living in an RV with no permanent address (this, too, is legal).
Other freedom seekers have opted for life on family-sized sailing vessels on the high seas. Few of these people, as far as I know, are Christians, and the lack of adequate fellowship that would seem necessarily to result from such a lifestyle may not bother them much.
Jesus described Himself as a permanent traveler when He told a would-be follower: "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head" (Luke 9:58), and Peter described Christians generally as "strangers and pilgrims"(1 Pet.2:11), though he was speaking of our relationship to the world generally, rather than of a nomadic lifestyle. While nothing in Scripture forbids such a "PT" lifestyle, and it presents certain advantages of anonymity for those who can afford it, I suspect that few Christian families would find it ideal for the meeting of the social needs of themselves or their children. Also, a Y2K breakdown would almost certainly interrupt all regular air transportation as well as the availability of motor vehicle fuel. This would presumably seriously cramp the style of the free-wheeling "PT."
4. Relocate to a less-industrialized country. Is it time to respond to that missionary call you've felt for so long? You know, the first missionary efforts to occur outside Jerusalem were those of believers scattered from Jerusalem to foreign lands in order to escape the new dangers that arose in Jerusalem. It is possible that Y2K may become the greatest boon to world missions, if devoted Christian families stage a mass exodus from industrialized nations to those regions less dependent upon technology. Common sense would suggest that, if mainframe computers crash, the societies least affected will be those least dependent upon a high-tech infrastructure. Vanuatu (formerly New Hebrides) would, in that case, be the nation least affected by Y2K, since it is the least industrialized nation in the world. (It is affected, however, by cyclones and active volcanoes). In Vanuatu, 85% of the population never have dealings with money, but survive by subsistence farming and bartering (the alleged "cashless society" expected by many prophecy buffs would not affect these people in the least). Of course, until about a generation ago, some of these people found an important protein source in the persons of their neighbors.
Needless to say, for an American to relocate to Vanuatu (if he could get permission to immigrate, which is somewhere between doubtful and impossible) would involve a fair amount of culture shock. Only hard-core missionary types need apply.
The same considerations apply to many other Third World nations. In any society, "immunity to computer crashes" will vary along the same scale as "cultural distance from western lifestyles At the risk of sounding overly cynical, I would also suggest that Third World peoples, who presently treat white American visitors with respect, might find less reason to tolerate their presence at a future time when the US is no longer wealthy, powerful and intimidating.
5. Escape to the woods. The prospect of fleeing to and surviving in the wilderness has held a mystique and attraction for many Americans (including myself) for as long as I can remember. This option has appealed especially to those who link an impending crisis with an expected eschatological scenario, like the anticipated seven-year tribulation. I know people who have made elaborate preparations for an escape into a particular wilderness area, where they have been storing food and supplies for several years now.
David fled into the wilderness to escape Saul's persecution (1 Sam.21:5). Jesus instructed His disciples in Jerusalem to flee to the mountains at the approach of the Roman armies (Luke 21:20-21), and the sun-clad woman in Revelation flees to the wilderness to be sustained by God for 1260 days (Rev.12:6, 14).
I suppose that one's eschatology (view of end times events) will necessarily play a large role in shaping his perception of and response to the Y2K problem. If there is a one-world government of the anti-christ predicted in Scripture and about to appear in our time (neither of which is certain), then even Y2K will not slow him down. In fact, something as major as the Y2K problem can hardly avoid finding some place in the modern prophecy expert's scenario.
B. Fellowship. There is little to be gained by individual Christians scattering into isolated survival bunkers. The greatest earthly resource that God has given Christians is the Body of Christ. Whichever of the above options is chosen, it would work best if Christian families would choose them corporately. Some friends of mine are thinking in terms of several families purchasing a large acreage together or else several smaller nearby or adjacent acres individually. If the normal supply delivery systems of the whole western world become unreliable, it would be very convenient for a Christian family that raised chickens to have access to nearby Christian grain growers, vegetable gardeners and dairy farmers-as well as builders and mechanics. I have lived in one form or another of intentional Christian community for about 25 years, and have always had access to Christian auto mechanics, plumbers, doctors, etc. This has been a great blessing, and I would hope that, whatever happens and wherever we might end up, we will still be a part of a Christian community.
C. Skills and Physical Condition. If the cities are evacuated, former city dwellers will be uniquely unequipped and unskilled for the task of isolated survival. Most have never raised a crop or livestock, and many have never hunted. (These are the ways all humans used to survive in pre-industrial times.) The modern urban norm of extreme specialization has left few of us knowing how to do very many things for ourselves. If you find yourself out of a job in the year 2000, you may at that time have time on your hands to study the essential skills that will either produce your family's needs or which will render you indispensable and thus capable of bartering labor for food, housing, etc.
D. Supplies. There are many theories as to what will become of banks, the federal reserve, cash, etc. on or before January 1, 2000. The general feeling among those writing about and discussing the issue of preparedness seems to be that life after an economic disaster will be greatly enhanced by the ability to barter goods for goods. If you already produce a surplus of food or other essential products, or are skilled in some essential service that everyone needs, then you may already be prepared for a system of barter.
If you have no religious scruples against saving money in the bank, then there can be no reasonable objection to saving (additionally or instead) barterable commodities. Gold, silver, food and fuel are better than money in a crisis. Their value will only increase in a situation where everybody wants them and few have them.
The money you would normally spend on luxuries or entertainment might better be spent over the next two years. A year's supply of plain, wholesome, packaged food might run you, perhaps $200-$300 per person in the family. A basement accumulating these buckets over the next two years probably makes more sense than a family room with a new home theater system. Perhaps a late-model car can be sold for the price of an older car and a year's supply of food for a family of six.
Ask yourself what things you would wish to have on hand if there were no stores open for, say, a month. You would probably wish to have a first aid kit, flashlights with batteries, extra toothpaste, soap and cleansers, contact lens solutions, any prescription drugs that you might be dependent upon, etc. It is advisable also to have some bottled water on hand for drinking, cooking and cleaning.
Also, if you can back-up your home heating with wood heat and keep sufficient fuel wood on hand to make it from January 1st to the spring, you will not need to be concerned about staying warm. A wood stove with a flat top can also double as a cooking surface if your gas or electric range is not working. If wood heat is not an option where you live, you may want to put out the minimal investment for enough "space blankets" for the whole family. These extremely compact items, which look like a sheet of aluminum foil and retain an extraordinary percentage of your body's heat, can usually be purchased for less than $10 each from many outdoor supply sources.
It also would make very good sense to obtain some way of generating electricity for basic uses. I'm sure that readers are aware of various alternative energy options, such as wind generators, solar panels, and bicycle-driven generators-though a good old Coleman generator would prove more versatile and portable. If a family had more than one option available for electricity, it would make the adjustment to the loss of the power grid much smoother.
At the midnight hour (Dec.31, 1999), those who have not provided enough oil for their lamps might not find the merchants who sell oil open for business. Better to have enough beforehand. But remember that there are saints who barely survive on their meager incomes already, and who have no ability to provide a buffer for their family against future crises. It would seem good for churches to develop (as Joseph did in Egypt) a food bank for their members who are unable to afford the luxury of surplus food storage. The ideal of Scripture is: "Those who gathered much had no extra, and those who gathered little had no lack" (Ex.16:18/2 Cor.8:13-15).
Circumstances beyond Y2K
Decisions with reference to some of the above options must be partially affected by consideration of precisely what kind of society can be expected to emerge from a Y2K crisis. Will things get better quickly, or only after years of chaos, or will they get worse instead? What kind of challenges will the post-Y2K civilization present to Christian families? Will there be local government, federal government, world government, or what? Will society turn back to God, or further away from Him? Will Christians be sought out for their counsel, or for their heads? Will the worst problems for Christians be shortages of food, marauding criminal gangs, or official government persecution?
A consideration that I find particularly sobering is something of which I have heard, called "The Presidential Powers Act." I have been unable to document what I have heard, but various sources have informed me that this Act provides the option for the President of the US, in the event of a declared national emergency, to "temporarily" suspend the Constitution. Now I don't get as teary-eyed as some do over the good ol' Constitution, but I do wonder whether Mr. Clinton, in the year that the Constitution would require him to leave office, would find in the Y2K disaster just such a national emergency as to justify such a "temporary" suspension of the Constitution, and whether, once suspended, he could think of any powerful incentives to reactivate it? Now there, it seems to me, we might have a first-class "national emergency"!
On the bright side, a Y2K technological cave-in might prevent the President, or anyone else, from being able to exert any control whatsoever over the populace. Gary North thinks that nothing broader than local or county government could function after Y2K. He believes there will be perhaps seven to ten years of economic chaos, followed by an America more resembling that of the 1890s than that of the 1990s. This would mean the end of the Welfare State, of the National Department of Education and the NEA, of the IRS, and of all the grandiose Big Brotheresque plans of the New World Order. This is very encouraging. But is it what the future holds? Only time will tell.
There is still the threat of China, of course. If the NATO weapons systems go haywire, only the hand of God is powerful enough to prevent China from pursuing an unstoppable course of aggression. I fully believe that the hand of God alone is more than adequate to protect the West from any designs China may have against us. My problem is in imagining reasons why God might want to protect a civilization that has spit in His face and turned its back to Him. One might well reason that Y2K is itself a form of God's judgment upon industrialized civilization. History and Scripture portray a pattern of God's sending wave after wave of disaster upon nations upon whom He has decided to vent His wrath (e.g. Lev.26:18, 21, 24, 28; Isa.5:25; 9:12, 17, 21; 10:4; Ezek. 26:3; Rev.9:12).
We must confess not to know for sure if there will be a Y2K crisis, how the matter will resolve itself, or what society will look like a decade from now. This ignorance should not paralyze us, but should lead us to take precautions with the broadest spectrum of possible scenarios in mind, and leave the rest to God.
The one thing that is certain is the faithfulness of God to those who cast themselves wholly upon Him and who do His bidding. The advent of the year 2000 renders all slackness in knowing and doing God's will a luxury no one can afford.
Steve Gregg is the founder/director of the Great Commission School in McMinnville, OR, a nine-month, intensive, full-Bible, tuition-free discipleship training program for adult Christians. His 520-page commentary, Revelation: Four-Views, was published in 1997 by Thomas Nelson Publishers, and is available at Christian book stores everywhere. For a fuller treatment of Y2K and disaster preparedness, send $1.50 to Steve Gregg, P.O. Box 1274, McMinnville, OR 97128, USA.