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Congregants Wait for Spaceship

December 24, 1997 GMT

SAN DIMAS, Calif. (AP) _ A family of four wearing white emerged from the God’s Salvation Church on Tuesday, saying they were headed for Texas to join fellow congregants waiting for God to appear so they could board a spaceship.

About 140 other followers of the Taiwan-based church _ also dressed in white and wearing sunglasses and white cowboy hats _ left earlier this week for Garland, Texas, for what they expect to be a March 31 arrival of God.

Although its practices seem similar to the Heaven’s Gate cult, right down to the uniforms and sneakers that followers wear, God’s Salvation members said they have no plans to kill themselves.

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``We don’t die,″ Pi Feng Chiang, mother of the family of four, said in halting English. ``We believe God. God like life.″

Thirty-nine members of Heaven’s Gate in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., dressed in black and wearing Nike sneakers, killed themselves last March by drinking a concoction of booze and pills.

Sheriff’s detectives, who investigated a Taiwanese woman’s claim that her teen-age daughter was kidnapped by the cult, said they did not believe God’s Salvation followers would kill themselves.

The girl had been staying with her uncle, a member of the cult, but her mother wanted her back after the girl’s father died last week of cancer, Deputy Joe Lomonaco said. She was reunited with her mother in Taiwan on Monday.

``It wasn’t a kidnapping,″ Lomonaco said. ``At the most it would have been child concealment. ... There was no crime.″

In Garland, meanwhile, dozens of Taiwanese families have moved into the quiet, middle-class suburb of Dallas of about 140,000 residents.

Taiwanese media reports last week said the group’s leader, Hon-Ming Chen, was encouraging newcomers to kill themselves so their bodies could be picked up by flying saucers.

Chen told reporters Tuesday that he had no such plans.

``There isn’t any danger,″ he said.

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.

Chen set up his organization in San Dimas then moved it to Garland early this summer because the name sounds like and means ``God’s Land.″

Although Chen, a father of two in his 40s, 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.

Neighbor Charles Amyx said Tuesday that Chen’s followers have caused no problems, 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.″