City Harvest Church opens overseas branch despite scandal

California branch is its first in US and 'operates autonomously'

Even as its leaders are battling criminal charges of embezzlement among other problems, City Harvest Church (CHC) has opened its 48th overseas branch, in Orange County, California.

The church, which is CHC's first in the United States and its farthest branch from Singapore, joins a network of 47 others in places such as Malaysia, Taiwan and Australia.

CHC supports its affiliates financially and also sponsors church workers to attend its School of Theology here.

Former CHC Singapore executive pastor Derek Dunn, 40, who is leading CHC USA, told The Straits Times that funds for the Orange County branch have come from Singapore, his own speaking engagements and donations to Derek Dunn Ministries.

About 60 per cent of the church's rental budget for the first year has already been raised, added Mr Dunn. He did not provide any figures.

Services at the new church were first held in a movie theatre at the University of California, Irvine over the Easter weekend last month. About 50 worshippers were in attendance.

Mr Dunn, who left Singapore in 2011 after 16 years due to a crisis in his extended family, said it has been CHC founder Kong Hee's vision to set up a church and a bible school in America. The school was launched in 2011.

Kong has been ministering in the US since the early 1990s, said Mr Dunn. In 2000, Kong's wife, pop singer Ho Yeow Sun, started CHC's Crossover Project there to reach out to non-Christians through her songs.

Mr Dunn, who is originally from America, said the church's plans in the US were unaffected by the problems here. He added that CHC USA operates autonomously.

Kong and five others will face trial on May 15 for allegedly embezzling more than $50 million from their parish.

The Commissioner of Charities has also acted to remove eight of the church's leaders, including Kong.

Singaporean members of the church here, such as senior project manager Lawrence Koh, 38, a CHC member for 13 years, helped with the Orange County launch, with some even paying their own way, Mr Dunn said.

Mr Koh said all CHC branches should continue their work, regardless of what is happening in Singapore. "When Pastor Derek and his wife Susan went to America in 2011, no one could foresee the situation we are in right now."