Former professor believes he's the father of Jesus, will become God
GARLAND, Texas (AP) -- There was hardly a ripple here as dozens of Taiwanese began moving into this quiet, middle-class suburb of Dallas, one family at a time.
Then came this week after a newspaper in Taiwan reported that the newcomers were members of a cult whom officials in their homeland feared planned a mass suicide.
Taiwanese media reports last week said Chen was encouraging entire families to kill themselves so their bodies could be picked up by flying saucers.
Hon-Ming Chen, leader of the "God Saves the Earth Flying Saucer Foundation," told reporters Tuesday that he had no such plans for a mass suicide, such as that committed in March by the Heaven's Gate cult.
"There isn't any danger," he said.
The California mansion where 39 UFO cultists committed suicide last spring by poisoning themselves in their bunks has since been refurbished, with its owner considering sale.
Yu-Chung Lo, deputy director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Houston, has met with Chen and his followers and he agrees there's nothing to fear.
"I believe they would never commit suicide because as so far as I understand they are very gentle, friendly, and most of them are highly educated," Lo said. "They are businessmen, professionals, engineers, teachers. ... I don't think they would do anything like commit suicide."
But the reports, which surfaced on Dallas-Fort Worth television early this week, fired the first curiosity, if not concern, shared by any of the group's neighbors in this middle-class northeast Dallas suburb of about 140,000 residents.
Next-door neighbor Charles Amyx said Tuesday that his neighbors have caused no problems since moving in over the summer, but he was concerned about talk of flying saucers and mass suicides.
"They say my house isn't insured for acts of God," he said, "so I guess I'm not covered if God comes down in a spaceship."
The curiosity was enough to draw about 20 local reporters, twice as many foreign journalists, several followers and a few curious neighbors to the 1-1/2-hour news conference, conducted in the cold and rain of Chen's back yard.
Although Chen denied any suicide plans Tuesday, the former Taiwanese sociology teacher did claim to be the father of Jesus Christ and that God will assume his body at 10 a.m. on March 31 in this increasingly diverse Dallas suburb of about 140,000 people.
Speaking through an interpreter, the bespectacled father of two in his 40s promised that on March 25, God will announce his arrival during a commercial-free appearance on channel 18 of all U.S. television sets. Other nations would not receive the message because they "have been announced to be the world of devils," he said.
Chen's group -- whose Taiwanese name translates roughly into "The True Way" -- has about 150 followers, including 30-40 children.
Chen was joined at a table by two young boys. One, wearing a white Cowboy hat, was described as the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. The other, who wore a white ski jacket with the word "Phenom" stitched in blue on the back of the neck, was introduced as the reincarnation of Buddha. Neither spoke.
So far, one of Chen's prophecies has come true. The Taiwanese dollar has lost about 16 percent of its value against the American dollar since June, around the time he told followers to convert their funds into U.S. money.
Chen set up his organization in San Dimas, Calif., then moved it to Garland early this summer because the name sounds like and means "God's Land."
The followers may be at least a bit skeptical as most reportedly bought round-trip tickets from Taiwan.
Creators of the animated Fox television show "King of the Hill" have cited Garland as an inspiration for Arlen, the town in which the show is set.
Garland police said they have had no problems with the group. A local FBI spokeswoman said the agency was aware of the cult, but that it couldn't or wouldn't do anything unless the visitors were suspected of a crime.