Joseph Souza | Features Editor & Oliver Brobeck | Reporter
Senior Madison Bruce sits in her orange Honda Element, too scared to even leave her car. Her friends, armed with golf clubs, venture out to investigate the edifice before them, but she makes sure one stays with her— there’s safety in numbers after all. Her friends return shortly after, swearing that they had heard something strange, so she puts the car in reverse, tires screech, and in deft pursuit of them, Bruce says, is a white truck.
“You always hear that it’s the Satanic church, and there are people there that are going to come to kill you,” she said. “The truck definitely confirmed the rumors for me.”
The story goes that the church, colloquially dubbed Joppa, worships the evil breed of Satanism, has its cultist meetings at some odd hours of the night, and that if you dare visit them, you’re bound to be chased by a white truck.
“I’ve heard… that they go there at three in the morning, then they sacrifice animals,” Bruce said. “I was certain that the driver of said white truck sacrifices animals in his free time… you really think it’s some man in a black coat coming to kill you.”
The urban legend has driven countless high schoolers to visit the church, be it out of boredom, adventure, or morbid curiosity. The church’s pastor, John Parsons, said that has raised concerns about the safety of their endeavors.
“It’s a miracle that somebody hasn’t gotten killed down here. People will go down here and fire guns, or they’ll go by here and throw out fireworks. You can’t tell the difference,” Parsons said. “And I don’t know how in the world that we’ve been able to go this long without somebody being seriously injured or killed here.”
The church, which actually practices non-denominational Christianity, has been the victim of a disinformation campaign that’s lasted decades to the point where the very name of the church has been lost in translation. Joppa actually refers to the township adjacent to the church; its real name is the Belleville Bible church, and it isn’t even in Joppa.
“This is Salem,” Parsons said. “When they built this in 1829, they called this ‘Salem’ because this was the most peaceful spot they’d ever been in.”
Unfortunately, the recent history of the church has been anything but peaceful. From the vandalism to the rumors that it’s a cult, the church and its congregation have suffered. Throughout his over 40 years as a pastor, Parsons has replaced the windows of the church more times than he can count.
“I’ve spent thousands of hours trying to clean up,” he said.“We installed cameras, thinking if we got the license plates… we’d be able to do a lot more… we had our hands strung when it was people younger than 18. And kids know that ‘Well, I’m less than 18. Nobody can touch me’ and that’s their attitude when they come here.”
As Parsons puts it, all everyone knows is the “satanic story” that’s been proliferated by the internet and radio talk shows and now word of mouth, and when they come to visit the church, it’s typically not for service.
“One thing’s for certain, everybody that comes here, without exception, they lie. There’s never, ever, in all my years of putting up with this, [has] been an exception where someone didn’t lie,” Parsons said. “When somebody was here and they told us a story… it’s always lies.”
Although nobody knows for sure, Parsons thinks the Satanic rumors stem from the fact that there was actually a Satanic church nearby.
“We always call that little community over there Joppa, and that’s where [the church was]; it was in Morgan County, not too far down there,” he said. “Two and a half miles [away from] here, there used to be a satanic church, and I think that’s why they got to coming here, when somebody burned it.”
Since then, Parsons’ church has been burnt down twice on top of the vandalism it already endures, as people mistake it for the now non-existent satanic church. As for why, Parsons blames media outlets and the internet.
“I think the internet definitely helps that along. There’s a radio station in Indianapolis that used to run programs, and they tried to get kids to come here,” Parsons said.
As for who drives the supposed white truck, Parsons said that too has been fabricated.
“There’s people with trucks here, there’s nobody who has a white truck,” he said. “There’s a lot more to this situation than I’ll ever know, there’s something going on, always has been.”