Copyright 1997 Star-Telegram Newspaper, Inc.  

December 24, 1997, Wednesday FINAL AM EDITION


LENGTH: 811 words

HEADLINE: Group waiting for God;
Garland cult members say God will arrive soon in a saucer, and their homeland, Taiwan, will be destroyed.

BYLINE: Barry Shlachter, Star-Telegram Writer

   GARLAND - In a leafy middle-class neighborhood gaily decorated for
Christmas, 150 members of a Taiwanese cult have settled in to await
the arrival of God - via flying saucer - and the apocalyptic
destruction of their homeland.

Yesterday, at precisely 11:18 a.m., "the time ordained by God,"
the group's leader held a news conference to dispel rumors that have
spread from Taipei to Texas that his followers will commit suicide on
March 31 in the manner of the Hale-Bopp Comet cult, Heaven's Gate.

But Chen Hon-ming, 42, a social science professor who in 1993
began espousing a mix of Christian, Buddhist and New Age beliefs,
said he will willingly place his life in the hands of his followers
and be "executed, stoned to death or put on a cross" if his
predictions fail to materialize.

Come 10 a.m., March 31, in Garland, Chen predicts, God will step
onto Earth and have the physical appearance of Chen himself.

According to a printed rundown of his predicted calamaties, Chen
says the real excitement begins in January 1999 when China goes to
war against Taiwan.  In February, the second Korean War breaks out.

June and July see the economic collapse of East Asia.  Three nuclear
power plants explode in Taiwan in August, wiping out almost all its
people.  Then a nuclear bomb detonates in the Middle East in October,
on Jesus' true birthday.

As "proof," the academic-turned-cult leader displayed snapshots of
jet contrails - some parallel streaks, others crossed with a diagonal
line, and one that forms the "sacred" number code of "007. " Chen, who
taught at a university in southern Taiwan, said they are divine signs
that no earthly aircraft could have made.

More than one of the mostly college-educated followers said they
consider the photos to be clinching evidence that Chen's predictions
are based on the word of God.

Despite the uproar they've caused in Taiwan, members of the God
and Buddha Salvation Foundation, as the group is formally known, say
all are free to come and go.  And some have come, gone back to Taiwan,
and returned.  Reporters were free to talk with any of the members.

Two Houston-based representatives of the Taiwanese government,
conspicuously dressed in dark business suits, mingled with the
members at the news conference and later at an
American-Mexican-Chinese restaurant where Chen's large entourage
gathered for a vegetarian lunch.

"We're not concerned with their religious beliefs," said Chen
Chi-chia, one of the officials, who is no relation to the cult
leader.  "Our primary concern is their safety. "

Group members, who call themselves followers of Jen Dao, or The
Way of Truth, say they are worried, not for themselves, but for their
relatives in Taiwan.

"We told them about the nuclear destruction, but they didn't
believe me," said Michelle Wu, 38, a fashion designer from Taipei,
the capital.  "They think this is not a religion, just an
'enthusiasm. ' They think we're insane. "
For Dr. Lo Szu-Kuan, an ear, nose and throat specialist who gave
up his practice and sold his $ 330,000 home in Taiwan, there's more to
gain than lose.

"If it doesn't come true, I'll just go back to Taiwan and start
over," said Lo, who sported a straw cowboy hat like many of Chen's
followers.  But if the prophesies are correct, Lo said, "there is
nothing more important than God's coming. "

The group purchased about 20 homes in Garland in the range of
$ 120,000 each, considered a bargain in land-short Taiwan.  Many of the
buyers sold homes costing as much as $ 500,000 before coming to Texas,
said Walt C. Hsu, a Taiwanese-born branch manager of Texas First
National Bank in Richardson.

Without seeming to strain the credulity of his followers, Chen
introduced at the news conference two Taiwanese boys who he said are
the reincarnation of Buddha and Jesus Christ.  One is the son of a
college friend of Chen.  The man gave up his job as an investigator in
the Justice Ministry's Investigation Bureau, Taiwan's equivalent of
the FBI, to move to Garland.

Chen, who wore a straw peasant hat - "because it's shaped like a
pyramid which has spiritual strength" - and a white ski jacket, then
revealed that "2,000 years ago I was the father of Jesus Christ.

That's why I am so sad about world history. "

Some of the group's Texas neighbors, who didn't know the Taiwanese
were part of a religious group until a Friday night TV newscast,
appeared more bemused than worried.

Charles Amyx, whose home is next to Chen's, stood up at the news
conference to ask whether he was in danger.

But Chen and several followers said Garland was the spot chosen by
God for the group because it sounds like "God-land," and it might be
the safest place to be when apocalypse strikes Asia a year before the

PHOTO(S): Allison V. Smith


LOAD-DATE: December 26, 1997

Copyright© 2000, LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All Rights Reserved.