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Nine American Evangelists Arrested in India

March 31, 1995

NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ Nine Americans belonging to an evangelical group based in Texas were arrested in a remote area of India after a Christian prayer rally they organized turned violent.

None of the Americans was injured, Dino Caterini, a spokesman at the U.S. Consulate in Calcutta, said today. But they will be tried Monday, apparently on charges of inciting a riot and holding the rally without a required permit.

The rally took place Wednesday in Badapada, a village in the underdeveloped eastern state of Orissa, where many tribal groups live.

It turned violent after police announced the organizers lacked the required permit, Caterini said.

The church said the mayor of Badapada had approved a meeting for 2,000 people. When 30,000 people showed up, police sent 20,000 away.

The remaining 10,000 began to press against police lines ``when miracle healing began occurring,″ and police responded by firing into the crowd, the church statement said.

The local Samaj newspaper reported today that more than 100 Indians, including seven policemen, were injured in fighting that followed.

State police in Orissa said they were still investigating.

Caterini said U.S. officials had yet to contact the jailed Americans. He said the consulate was sending someone to meet with them and attend their trial.

The rally was organized by a Houston-based Christian mission, the Gospel to the Unreached Millions.

Two of the men arrested, the Rev. John H. Parks and Jeff Berkhouse, were members of the Abundant Life Assembly church based in The Woodlands, Texas.

Also among those arrested, according to the church statement, were Mike Walsh, pastor of Christ the King Church in Conroe, Texas, and his associate pastor, Larry Riechart.

The others were identified only as James B. Hall of Atlanta, Doug Dawson and Mark Magnusson of Colorado, David Freck of Minnesota, Dr. Finley of Kentucky and Raymond Yap.

The church identified them all as Americans, although Caterini said one of the 10 arrested was Singaporean.

Evangelists and missionaries from the West have long come to India to convert tribal people. Some of India’s original inhabitants still live in forests and wilderness areas and practice voodoo and witchcraft.

About 100 church members gathered Thursday night at Abundant Life Assembly to pray for the release of those arrested. Church leaders said a vigil and fast will be held until their pastor is freed.

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