//American Evangelists Deported Under Pressure From Hindu Groups

American Evangelists Deported Under Pressure From Hindu Groups

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India (UCAN) — An American evangelist and his two associates were deported from a southern Indian state Feb. 2 for alleged visa violations.

The three men — identified on police records as Terrel David Heze, 73, his secretary, Carl Michael Van Meter, and bodyguard Taylor David Lee — came to Kerala three days earlier on tourist visas. The Church of South India had invited them to address a Protestant convention.

Acting on complaints from two Hindu groups, the police banned Heze from preaching at Amravila, a village on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border that has held the annual Christian convention since 1932. The police told the American that he would violate the visa regulations if he engaged in preaching in India.

The village is 25 kilometers south of the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram, near the country’s southernmost tip.

Hindu leader S.K. Vijayakumar told UCA News that Heze violated the visa rules by conducting "revival crusade programs" in two places on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. Vijayakumar is the district unit secretary of Hindu Aikya Vedi (Hindu unity front).

The other Hindu group that complained was the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (national volunteers corps), the umbrella body of Hindu nationalist groups.

However, City Police Commissioner Deenendra Kashyap told UCA News Feb. 3 that police had received a complaint from the Hindu groups that said Heze and associates were planning to address the Christian convention.

The unity front also produced leaflets and program schedules listing the American preacher. "We informed Heze that if he attends such programs, it would amount to violation of visa norms. He didn’t attend the meeting and returned to the United States," Kashyap said.

Heze also gave the police a written statement that he would not participate in any religious function in India without prior approval from the federal government.

In January 2003, some activists of a Hindu group attacked American missionary Joseph Cooper in Kerala. He too had come on a tourist visa but addressed a revival meeting organized by a Protestant Church group. Cooper too was deported.

The Hindu front’s organizing secretary for the state, Kumanam Rajasekharan, told UCA News Feb. 5 that an estimated 50 evangelists come to Kerala regularly and engage in "large-scale" religious conversions. "We have information about their activities and (are) monitoring the situation. If the government fails to act, our workers will deal with them," he said.

The Hindu leader alleged that with "the connivance of the police and government officials," missioners converted several people in Kerala’s tribal areas in the past two years. He stated, "We will resist all such activities."

Pastor Justin Charles of Amravila Church of South India denied the conversion allegations, charging that they are aimed at instigating sectarian division. He told UCA News that Heze had visited Kerala previously and was "not on a secret mission."

Pastor Charles said Heze addressed two meetings in Kerala during his current visit. "There was no problem. He has cited business as his purpose of visit" in the travel document. "His business is preaching," Pastor Charles explained.

He said the revival convention was an annual feature in his parish. This year it concluded Feb. 3. "Our church was established in 1899 and has 1,214 members," he said, adding that the convention is organized "exclusively for our members."

According to the pastor, the Hindu organizations have become a "serious threat" to minorities in the state. "They are on a misinformation campaign against minorities," he alleged.

The Church of South India is a union of several Churches including the Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches. It has 3.8 million members in 21 dioceses in southern India and northern Sri Lanka.