Event designed to raise awareness of religious persecution

A report to Homer Police of suspicious activity at the NAPA parking lot on Main Street about 7:20 p.m. Nov. 5 turned out to be a church youth game. 

Homer Police Lt. Will Hutt said a man passing by called 911 when he saw young people sitting on the sidewalk wearing hoods and with their hands behind their backs near a Ford van.

That incident turned out to be youth participating in the Underground Church, a scavenger hunt and activity designed to make young people aware of religious persecution. Homer Police Chief Mark Robl said officers talked to an adult present at the incident and verified that nothing suspicious was going on.

Underground Church is a popular November event that has been going on for 15 years, with about 200 youth participating, said Assistant Pastor Joel DeBlaay of Glacierview Baptist Church. DeBlaay has organized Underground Church for the past four years. 

It’s co-sponsored by Christian Com-
munity Church, with volunteers from the Assembly of God and Church on the Rock. The event is held in early November around the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, he said.

“Religious persecution is happening all over the world,” DeBlaay said.

In the Homer event, youth in teams of eight to 10 with an adult leader walk around town searching for clues that are Bible verses. Trying to catch them are adults acting as secret police. The secret police catch the players by shining flashlights on them. When caught, the secret police put hoods on the players, safely put them in vans and drive them to secret police headquarters, where they’re held for 20 minutes and released, DeBlaay said.

Parents of youth have to sign release forms, and children elect to participate at various levels ranging from the “secret police” being able to yell at and intimidate players to proceeding with caution to do not touch. Players wear green, yellow or red armbands indicating the level they want to play. 

Teams are told not to trespass. The clues are at participating businesses. NAPA participated, DeBlaay said.

Players also are smuggling Bibles, with the goal of not having the “secret police” seize the Bible. Teams win if they get all their clues and keep all their Bibles.

Robl said police didn’t have good communications from the Underground Church organizers about where the teams would be and what they would do.

“I didn’t anticipate they would do something so visible and outside the mainstream,” Robl said.

DeBlaay said he had notified Homer Police of the event. He said he understood how if people don’t know about the event they could misconstrue something. People with concerns about Underground Church or who want to help next year can call him at 299-8807.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.