ST. PETERSBURG — Dr. Ray Brubaker wanted to warn the world of the end times, of floods and hunger and war, of God's revenge and the tens of millions who will die in the tribulation before Jesus returns.
For more than 50 years that's what he did, working out of a small St. Petersburg studio. As the founder of God's News Behind the News on radio and television, Dr. Brubaker used current events to illustrate his biblical messages, paving the way for other Christian broadcasters such as Pat Robertson and Tim LaHaye. The television program still runs today.
His success came with a human cost. His children say that he was largely an absent father who sacrificed everything for his ministry.
Dr. Brubaker died Friday of a digestive illness. He was 86.
"I feel like he was a great man," said Kaye Van Koevering, 49, Dr. Brubaker's daughter. "He wasn't the greatest dad."
A minister's son who tagged along to tent revivals, he grew up in Mount Joy, Pa. At 5, his grandmother took him into the bathroom and asked him a question he would never forget.
"She said, 'Ray, do you want to go to the bad place or the good place?' " said Jay Brubaker, 62, Dr. Brubaker's son. From that moment on, Dr. Brubaker would say, he was saved.
As a boy, he loved the radio and wanted to be a news broadcaster. His parents believed radio was an instrument of the devil and permitted him to listen only to religious broadcasts.
Dr. Brubaker's big break came at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, where he worked part time at a radio station. When a news reader failed to show up on the set, he snatched up the script and read the news himself.
The program director rewarded him with a job.
When the United States bombed Hiroshima, Dr. Brubaker decided to start his own ministry to warn the world about the end times. By then he had met Darlene, a fellow student at Moody.
The couple married in 1947 and hit the road in a modified Airstream trailer, which Dr. Brubaker had stuffed with folding chairs and equipped with a retractable speaker's platform. Cathedral Caravan traveled to county fairs for years, advertising "movies, music and magic."
In 1948, Israel had gained statehood. Dr. Brubaker, who believed that everything hinged on Israel, took this as a sign he was on the right track.
In 1954, a Waynesboro, Pa., radio station broadcast Dr. Brubaker's first installment of God's News Behind the News. The family remained in Pennsylvania while Dr. Brubaker sent tapes to other stations, which began airing the 15-minute show.
In the early 1960s, Dr. Brubaker bought a modest home on 50th Avenue N in St. Petersburg with a studio where he wrote scripts and recorded sermons.
God's News Behind the News broke into television in 1974 and quickly established itself as a pacesetter. Dr. Brubaker narrated current events against the live news footage he bought.
He correlated an outbreak of Red Tide with a passage from Revelations about water turning to blood. He reported on UFO sightings with scripture about Ezekiel being transported to heaven on a wheel.
"He loved UFOs," said Jay Brubaker. "He thought that they definitely could be spiritual entities."
He moved operations to a 5-acre lot. The program soon aired worldwide. Many viewers began turning to God's News as their primary news source.
Dr. Brubaker's workload seemed to grow with his success. He subscribed to dozens of magazines, sleeping four hours a night and filling open cardboard boxes with clippings on Israel, China, communism and other hot-button issues.
"He saw end times in earthquakes and floods," said Dan Brubaker, 56, Jay's brother. "Those were just more places where he'd say, 'See? I told you so.' "
He saved coupons, watered down ketchup bottles to get the last drops and drove cars until they fell apart
He had little time for mundane conversation. He even cut short opening Christmas presents after about a half-hour.
"He would always have to leave the group to go to work," Dan Brubaker said. But in my opinion, when it was outside of his knowledge area, it was outside of his comfort zone."
God's News Behind the News faced competition from cable television in the 1980s. In 1996, Dr. Brubaker turned over the company to his son-in-law, Pastor Joe Van Koevering of the Gateway Christian Center on Central Avenue.
God's News Behind the News still runs on Trinity Broadcasting Network and the Christian Television Network, and continues its long-standing sponsorship of the International Prophesy Conference.
But in today's news-saturated climate, the program lacks the sense of up-to-the-minute urgency that once made it so distinctive.
"If you look at Pat Robertson's program, Perry Stone and Jack Van Impe, who have become very popular taking current events and relating them to prophesy, it's almost identical to what my dad was doing," Jay Brubaker said.
"He started in television when it really was a cutting-edge harvest field," said Van Koevering, 46. "There was no cable TV. There was no CNN. People watched Walter Cronkite for 30 minutes. Those days will never come again."
Dr. Brubaker had trouble slowing down in retirement, his family said. After Darlene died in 2004 at age 77, he realized how much he had depended on her for the things he hadn't had time to do himself.
"The poor guy was clueless," Dan Brubaker said. "He couldn't microwave things or anything else."
Dr. Brubaker also began to reach out to his family. He called his daughter, Kaye, to tell her he loved her.
At his service Wednesday at David C. Gross Funeral Home, Kaye Van Koevering said she admires her father's dedication but wishes she could have spent more time with him.
"He was pretty much an absent father," she said. "But he was working for God. How can you compete with that?"
She voiced one other regret: that her father died in a rehabilitation center instead of going to heaven in "the Rapture," as he had hoped.
"I feel bad that he missed it," she said. "It could be any day."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.