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Gainesville pastor Terry Jones previously led evangelicals in Germany

By Tara Bahrampour and Michelle Boorstein
Friday, September 10, 2010; 9:24 PM

Terry Jones, the pastor with the handlebar mustache whose plan to burn Korans on Sept. 11 caused international outrage, has left a colorful trail that spans the Atlantic Ocean, culminating in a surreal gathering in front of his church in Gainesville, Fla.

On the sprawling front lawn of the Dove World Outreach Center, Jones's 50-member church, 30 reporters ran Friday morning from one scene to another: Two evangelical ministers on their knees praying. A large man in an Army uniform screaming about Islam while holding a flag. Activity at the large warehouse that houses the church.

It wasn't clear what was going on inside -- the glass doors were covered with dark fabric. Members, including Jones's son Luke, occasionally stepped outside to give interviews. Church member Stephanie Sapp came out wearing shiny black heels, tight jeans, purple polish on her toes and a gun in a holster on her hip.

Luke Jones, a 29-year-old youth pastor at the church, said his father was leaving for New York "sometime" Friday and that the Koran-burning was off. Appearing in the entryway, wearing jeans and with a tattoo of blue stars and red stripes on his forearm, he said, "It's not a secret that there are a lot of good things in the Koran, but there's a lot of bad things, too."

Luke Jones said the FBI had been at the church four times in recent weeks and "begged us not to do this, said there were threats inside and outside the country."

Cpl. Tscharna Senn, a spokeswoman for the Gainesville police department, said law enforcement officials have spent a month preparing for this weekend and that, as of late Friday, "we've not changed our plan one bit," despite Terry Jones saying the event was canceled. "We're prepared for this event to go on."

Some members of the media said other journalists had stayed away, apparently out of concern that broadcasting images from the tiny church would be provocative.

The church has made local news in the past year for posting signs saying "Islam is of the Devil." Children of church members appeared in public schools last year wearing the slogan on T-shirts.

Asked about that, Luke Jones chuckled. "You know teenagers -- they get into politics," he said. "But if they want to do it, I think it's great. Kids take drugs and alcohol and do all kinds of sexual things and we don't mind that but if they speak their minds on politics, we get upset."

Complicated past in Europe

Although Terry Jones, 58, has been connected to Dove since at least the 1980s, he returned full time last year after he reportedly was kicked out of a charismatic evangelical church that he led for almost three decades in Cologne, Germany. He was sent to Germany by Dove founder Donald Northrup, and founded the Christian Community Cologne, according to the Gainesville Sun.

As a new church with "challenging teaching and modern music," it appealed to young people, so much that by the mid-1990s, the number of churchgoers grew to nearly 1,000, according to Pro, a Christian magazine in Germany that interviewed several former members. By then, they said, Jones was no longer spreading the Gospel so much as "creating his own empire."

According to an article the magazine published this week, Jones introduced a strict hierarchical structure that "functioned on the basis of command and obedience and created a climate of fear and control." The magazine said Jones and his wife, Sylvia, saw themselves as "the divinely ordained head of the community, which could not be undone by anyone mortal."

A Protestant Church official who monitors religious groups in the Cologne region told the German magazine Der Spiegel that church members had accused Jones of "spiritual abuse" and "brainwashing," and said the pastor "appears to have a delusional personality."

Emma Jones, the pastor's daughter, told the Gainesville Sun that her father and his wife left Cologne after being confronted by church members about financial abuse, including using church money to purchase a car for their son.

While Jones appeared outside the Gainesville church twice during the day Friday, he was not reachable for comment about why he left Germany. Luke Jones, however, dismissed reporters' questions, saying his father "wasn't forced to leave. He just left because he felt it was time."

Jones has an eBay furniture business housed on the nonprofit church's property, and it was investigated earlier this year after "somebody called in and complained" that a for-profit business was being run there, said Sheila Crapo, administrative analyst for the Alachua County property appraiser's office.

Crapo said that after she visited the property in March, the county decided to assess taxes on a 1,700-square-foot portion of the 11,000- to 12,000-square-foot building that was being run as a business; the church, which is said to be struggling financially, will receive a bill for $3,200 on Nov. 1, she said.

Crapo said church members told her they didn't know they were not allowed to run an untaxed for-profit business on the property and did not argue against the assessment.

'He never got in trouble'

Terry Jones graduated from Cape Central High School in Cape Girardeau, Mo., in 1969. A classmate of Rush Limbaugh, he was a pitcher on the baseball team. A class photo shows a grinning young man with a crew cut.

Craig Valle, his teammate there, recalled Jones as a good baseball player and "a real serious kid."

"As a student, he was just kind of quiet and really didn't get a whole lot of attention," Valle said, adding, "he never got in trouble."

Gregg Hopkins, another former classmate, commented on the high school's Web site: "He was a funny, friendly guy back then, when he was dating my friend, Lisa. My how the years change some people. Every picture I've seen of him, he's wearing an intense scowl. A couple of our Marble Hill friends figured out his connection about the same time I did. Sickening. His former in-laws, Lisa's parents, are fine folks. I feel embarrassed for them."

Jones married Lisa Barker in 1971; she died of a heart attack in Cologne in 1996. Her parents, reached in Florida, declined to comment.

Videos of Jones appear on YouTube: In clips called "The Braveheart Show," he expounds at length on his beliefs, including his complaints about fellow church leaders.

Elise Northrup, the widow of Dove's founder, said she and her husband bought the 20-acre plot in 1985 to build a nondenominational church, after evangelizing in Africa for nearly two decades. When her husband became ill in the mid-1990s, the church had more than 200 regular members.

Asked if Islam had always been a focus of the church, she said: "We believed in salvation and in Jesus Christ and a personal experience with him. And we believed in working with everyone we could, peaceably. We never had any force or violence or anything. That doesn't go along with a peaceful religious organization."

Northrup, who lives in Gainesville, said Muslims from the community sometimes attended their events. "We had people from the Islamic religion, different times, would come join us with festivities. There was nothing like this, not at all," she said.

After the Northrups left, "our people dropped off and went to other churches and [Jones's people] picked up their own congregation," she said.

Northrup said she left Dove a year-and-a-half ago and was uncomfortable criticizing Jones.

"I'm not in agreement with what they're doing and don't think they're handling it properly," she said. "Everyone is entitled to their own religious beliefs."

Boorstein reported from Florida and special correspondent Jabeen Bhatti reported from Germany; Bahrampour reported from Washington. Staff researcher Madonna Lebling in Washington contributed to this report.

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