THE FIRST MARTIAN CHURCH OF GOD
“Did you hear the big news,” Smith asked Spender, “about how the NASA Colonization team discovered life on Mars?”
Spender stopped stirring his coffee, the black stick swirling in concentric circles on its own through the cloudy concoction. He set the cup down and licked his lips. His brown eyes glistened under the solar fluorescent lighting. “It was a matter of time before they either found the Martians or declared that Mars was truly devoid of life,” Spender answered, smiling. “What do they look like? The Martians, I mean.”
Smith grunted and shook his head. “That all depends on which channel you listen to. CNN4.0 says they look just like us and that we should begin an immigration program immediately to integrate some of them among our borders.”
“That would be their style,” Spender sighed.
“And Fox News2.7 has flashed pictures clearly taken from old Science Fiction television shows. Since most of today’s youth hasn’t seen those classics like Farscape and Star Trek, they are taken in by the images.”
“In other words, no one knows for sure?”
“That’d be my guess,” Smith said. He took a long pull of his coffee and Spender finished preparing his own drink. They drank in silence, sinking into plush ultravelvet chairs. An occasional hem or a hum cut through the silence like a subtle knife.
“Do you realize what this means?” Spender ventured at last. Smith looked over at him with raised eyebrows but said nothing. “It means that we need to have a meeting with our Missions team.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Smith said. “Do you really think that they are going to want to send us out to Mars as Missionaries?”
“I bet many churches are going to be having that discussion,” Spender said. “I would guess that the Catholics and the Baptists and all the others are going to want to be the first to plant a church on Mars. We should want to do the same.”
“We don’t even know anything for sure,” Smith answered. “For all we know the Martians could be hostile. Could speak a telekinetic language that we’ll never understand. Might have been a hallucination of the team. They probably already have their own religion.”
“But think of the possibilities, Jonah. We’ve spread the Word of God to every tribe and every nation on the earth now. Many of us believed that Christ would return when that happened and we’re still waiting. That must mean there is another nation needing the Gospel. What if the Martians are that nation?”
Smith harrumphed and rose from his chair. He paused in the doorway, not looking back at Spender. “Even if you are right, by the time you get the funds to fly out there and plant a church there will be dozens of others already there.” Then, he walked away.
In 2033, two years after the first Martian sighting took place, construction of the first church on Mars began. The Catholics had pooled together resources in order to fund the construction of a special shuttle designed to carry a dozen of their most devout and fervent missionaries into space. The news stations around the world unanimously heralded it as one of the most important moments in the history of the Catholic Church and the ground-breaking session was livestreamed to everyone’s telecast screen. The event brought a vibrancy and relevance to the Catholic Church that hadn’t been seen since the Middle Ages. Pope Imperius I enjoyed a surge in numbers, both congregational and financial, for months as the progress was regularly updated to the citizens around the globe.
No one expected the disaster to strike. A massive dust storm swept through the area as construction neared its climax, obstructing the view of every visual recording device and deafening the sound recorders. The storm raged for three weeks straight, abating on the day when the final reveal of the church was to take place. When the video came through at last, all that remained of the Catholic Church building was a pile of reddish rubble. Nothing more was heard from the expedition team. And the number of Catholics plummeted below where it had been prior to the expedition.
“Did you hear that they are making a portable machine capable of terraforming a patch of Mars?” Smith asked. He resumed his task of picking soggy bits of apple from his teeth with a fingernail.
“Are they now?” Spender asked with raised eyebrows. “What would be the benefit of such a device?”
Smith inspected a rather long sliver of apple, shrugged, and stuck it back into his mouth. “Apparently it would make that patch of land like the Earth.”
“What part of the Earth?”
“Hell if I know. The best part of it?”
“Well who decides what the best part is? Are we talking the jungles of the Amazon or the deserts of Egypt?” Spender set down the book he was reading.
“What does it matter, Spender? It isn’t like either one of us is going to be affected by it. They are certain this terraforming will prevent the same disaster from striking a second time. Word is that the Lutherans are going to be launching next.”
“No one else is planning on sending out a church planting team?”
“Not yet, and who can blame them?” Smith took a long pull from his coffee cup. Spender shook his head as half of it dribbled down Smith’s chin and clung to his unkempt beard. “After the failure of the Catholic mission no one was in a real hurry to be the second.”
“And then if this one fails, is that it? The Martians will be given up as unreachable?”
“Shit Spender,” Smith said. “You still got a thing for reaching these Martians, huh?”
“Someone needs to burn with a fire to reach the lost. God’s laws are written on the heart of every being on Earth. Why wouldn’t it be the same on Mars?”
“For all we know these Martians are little more than animals. I mean, we haven’t found a single building with all of our scans and satellite images for years.”
Spender was silent, thoughtful. After a while Smith got up and left the room, shaking his head and cursing under his breath. Spender began to pray.
In 2035 the second church-planting shuttle was launched to Mars. It carried two dozen missionaries, the materials for the church and three dozen mercenaries to ensure the safety of the church and those doing God’s work. The Lutherans funded the expedition, seeing their own numbers inflate rapidly. Their leadership took the extra tithe money and fulfilled their mission on Earth: placing a Lutheran Church next to every Catholic Church, making sure their church was larger and more grandiose in appearance. The Catholic Church numbers dwindled further as many found the appeal of a larger, fancier church too much to resist.
The planting team landed on Mars without setback or delay. They carefully unloaded the Porta-Terraform device, one of only two sold in the world, and switched the machine on. People safe in their homes watched in awe as the machine generated a dome of space and, within months, green grass and verdant vegetation started to grow. On the day that the plants began to grow an anonymous source purchased a third Porta-Terraform device and no more were ever made.
For months the team of missionaries labored under the dome. They had studied every hour of the Catholic livestream and understood the design the Catholics had used. Their own approach was similar, only magnified to be bigger and more visually appealing. They knew how to steal a crowd on Earth and this was their time to steal a planet of worshippers on Mars. Winds howled and dust storms battered the dome of terraformed space but the machine held up. They were safe under their dome of protection. Or so they thought.
The church would be completed in four days. It was more magnificent than anyone had dreamed. And then disaster struck. Mars had dust storms but the Earth had wind terrors of its own. A scrap of loose paper had lain on the plush grass for days, idle and sticking out like a marshmallow in a cup of hot chocolate. A gust of wind pierced the air and the sky darkened. The missionaries felt a chill run through their bodies and their clothes grew damp and sticky with sweat. A piercing whistle knifed through the Martian air, constant and unending. The mercenaries fingered the safety off of their Oblit-O-Rays and did what they knew how: pointed the weapons menacingly in every direction with scowls plastered on their faces. But their foe felt no fear at this sight.