Taiwanese religious group settles in suburb of Dallas Leader says God will appear there March 31

December 24, 1997|By HOUSTON CHRONICLE

GARLAND, Texas -- The leader of a Taiwanese religious group that has settled in suburban Dallas said yesterday that he believes God will descend here in human form on March 31 and begin preparations to save the Western Hemisphere from nuclear annihilation in 1999.

Hon-Ming Chen, a 42-year-old former sociology professor, also declared that 2,500 years ago he fathered Jesus Christ and that when God arrives next year, he will take Chen's form.

If God doesn't appear as promised, Chen pledged to offer himself up in penance, submitting to death by stoning, %o crucifixion or some other method.

But Chen denied that the group is a cult and discounted fears of a mass suicide among his followers if God fails to show up. He said the group members are free to return to Taiwan.

A bizarre news conference, which included discussion of reincarnation, a plane piloted by God and secret messages in airplane vapor trails, was called in response to reports in the Taiwanese media that the group of 150 or so, including 30 to 40 children, was planning to commit mass suicide similar to this year's Heaven's Gate episode in California.

A Taiwanese cultural officer visited Garland over the weekend and came away convinced that no mass suicide is planned. He noted that members of the group purchased round-trip airline tickets.

At a suburban home owned by the group, members spoke excitedly yesterday of God's coming to Garland in what Chen referred to as the "Godplane" and said aircraft lost in other dimensions would also appear.

The group's leaders say God speaks directly to Chen and told him to come to Garland.

"You know, if you say it quickly -- Garland -- it sounds like 'God's land,' but we don't know if that's the reason," said Chun-Sheng Wu, a former professor of environmental engineering.

During a rainy, hourlong news conference, Chen introduced two young Taiwanese boys he claimed were the reincarnations of Jesus and Buddha.

As proof of his other claims, Chen exhibited several snapshots of airplane vapor trails -- two intersecting to form a cross -- and the word "God" and "007" written in smoke by a skywriting plane over California this month.

"Next year, that is in 1998, on March 31 exactly at 10 a.m., God will change into a human being and step on Earth exactly at this place," Chen said, speaking through an interpreter.

Chen added that television viewers could tune in to television Channel 18 on March 25 to see God make an announcement of his imminent visit.

Chen is the leader of a community of believers in an ancient Chinese philosophy that has transplanted itself from Taiwan to conservative Garland, surprising local officials and amusing their neighbors in an upper-middle-class enclave of brick homes and oak-lined streets.

Chen said the group has no official name.

His literature listed such names as "God's Salvation Church," "God and Buddha Salvation Foundation" and "The Chinese Association of the Light of Soul."

Pub Date: 12/24/97

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