(വിവാദം സെക്ഷന് കാണുക)
Evangelist home in Ormond Beach after being jailed in India for preaching without proper visa
ORMOND BEACH -- Locked up with violent criminals after preaching at a gospel convention in India, Daytona Beach pastor William Lee continued to praise God -- and faked an illness to get out of a dingy and dangerous jail cell.
"God had given me peace, but it was still a place I didn't want to be," he said.
Lee, pastor of Daytona Deliverance Church of God, returned home Friday after an ordeal that had got him imprisoned in a foreign country for a week.
He traveled to India on Oct. 3 after being invited to preach at a convention called "Musical Splash 2011" in the southwestern Indian city of Kochi.
The event had gone off without a hitch. It was the last day of the conference, and Lee would preach to a crowd of 10,000 strong. He had just started his message when police officers showed up.
It ended up being one of the shortest messages Lee has ever preached, but it would lead to the most-trying time of his life.
The minister was able to elude police and later negotiated with authorities to surrender. He would later learn that he unknowingly violated his visa by preaching at the conference.
"That has never happened before," said Lee, who started traveling to India in the late 1990s and has gone on about 50 mission trips around the world. "I felt they were trying to make a statement, and they were being a little selective."
Lee was arrested and held in a hotel room for two days to await his hearing.
It never took place.
The 48-year-old minister said he was taken to a stuffy cell in the Ernakulam Sub-Jail in Kochi. Lee, a former Massachusetts corrections officer, said it was one of the worst places he has ever been.
Jailers gave the Ormond Beach man a 4-foot wicker mat for a bed, and he was placed in a 20-foot-by-20-foot cell with a toilet and a spigot for a shower to be shared with seven other men, including a murderer.
But Lee, who lives in an upscale, spotless home with high ceilings and a pool in the back, wouldn't stay there for long.
Before he was taken to the jail, event officials advised him to fake an illness. Hours after his incarceration, Lee started to complain of chest pains and pretended to faint, hoping to force officials to move him. He was later taken to Thrissur Government Medical College Hospital for the duration of his time in India.
He was still behind bars, but it was an upgrade.
"I just had to make sure I didn't go back to that jail," Lee said. "At least now, I had a bed."
Back at home -- more than 9,000 miles away -- Lee's wife, Sheila, stood steadfast knowing her husband would come home soon. She said the outpouring from around the world was enormous.
"I just had to keep praying," she said.
Lee said he was able to fool doctors long enough to extend his stay at the hospital by drinking a liter of salt water. Even while he was in custody, pastors Lee had met more than a decade ago in India traveled to the hospital to pray for him. The Daytona Beach evangelist, used to preaching to a congregation of about 300 at home, said he was also able to share his testimony with others, even to one of the officers who was guarding his cell.
"When I was sitting there in jail, I was just thinking how can I get something positive out of this."
Lee would stay at the hospital for four days before being sent back to the U.S. On Friday morning, he arrived at the Daytona Beach International Airport and was greeted by throngs of family, friends and members of his congregation.
"It was a relief," he said from the comfort of his Ormond Beach home, about an hour after visiting his hometown doctor.
It's unknown whether Lee will be allowed back into India. Before being deported from India, Lee was fined 10,000 rupees or $250.
The Global Council of Indian Christians blasted the Indian government Saturday, claiming Christian missionaries are held to a different standard than groups from other religions.
Dr. Sajan George, president of the organization, said in an email that Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists openly preach in India while Christians are denied religious visas. He said other evangelists have also been asked in the past to leave the country.
"We are deeply hurt and pained by the action of the Indian government," he said. "Pastor Lee's deportation should open the eyes of (the U.S.) and reciprocal action only will ensure justice."
A message left with the Embassy of India in Washington D.C. Friday night was not immediately returned.
The Hindu, a newspaper that covered Lee's arrest and deportation, reported the minister has been blacklisted.
But Lee said he has every intention of going back, if allowed.
"This is going to push me to another level," he said. "When the enemy hits me, I just hit back."