Personal Reflection after "Encounters with Shincheonji": I Was Depressed for Half a Year

The Korean cult Shincheonji's founder Lee Man-Hee
The Korean cult Shincheonji's founder Lee Man-Hee (photo:
By CCD contributor: Wan Yu March 18th, 2020

I met members of the Shincheonji cult several times in 2012. At that time, I had been a Christian for a while and involved in the service of the church. As I recall how zealously the members of Shincheonji preached to me, I thank God from the depths of my heart for his mercy and safekeeping. If I hadn't had some foundation in my faith, I could have unknowingly become their "possession." Even if it didn't work out as they wished, the experience really made me miserable for half-a-year because of being entangled with all of the information that they gave me.

Together with a sister, I once went to a Sunday evening gathering at the largest local church in the city. We worked hard to follow the pastor's sermon and consulted the Bible. An elder "aunt" sitting in the back row patted us on the shoulder from time to time, asking us for help with the Bible. But I was uncomfortable because I felt she was overly enthusiastic.

The sister who was with me was happy to communicate with her. The "aunt" kept complimenting us because we both longed for the Word of God. After the gathering, she insisted on asking for our contact information. The sister who was with me agreed, but I didn't.

I told the sister to be cautious because this lady seemed weird. But she thought it was nothing. She simply thought that she was a kind old lady. The following day, the sister got a message from the lady, inviting the sister to her home.

The sister wanted to go, but I recommended that she not do so. However, she thought that it was not appropriate to refuse an elderly person. Since we were both unsure, I decided to go with her if she insisted on going.

When we met again, the lady greeted us with enthusiasm, brought us fruit and invited us to her house. It was difficult for my friend to  refuse her kindness. However, after arriving at her place, I recognized from the lady's words that it was not her home. She explained that although this was not her own home, it was a place where brothers and sisters in the Lord gathered to study God's words, and cook meals. She said she wanted us to help her judge and see what was going on there, but in fact she was a member of this community. After she got us settled, she went to pick up another sister she had invited.

The people in that house, who had heard that we loved the Bible, welcomed and praised us, and seemed overly warm in their welcome. During our discussion they asked some questions like: "What do you think of the sermons in the church? What do you think of salvation? Do you think the pastor clearly states how to be saved?" I replied that I thought the sermons were good and worthwhile. But the other people in the room had their own opinions. One said that she didn't understand the sermons, and the pastor did not teach thoroughly. She claimed that the pastor once said that he was not sure whether he would go to heaven. Others concurred.

I hadn't heard as many of the pastors sermons as they had, but I was sure that some of their opinions must be taken out of context or deliberately misinterpreted. I offered an opinion in defense of the pastors. A Sister Li who was at the meeting didn't become angry with us, but gently led us to look up the scriptures that confirmed her point of view.

Unlike discussions with other believers, she turned to the Book of Revelation first, and then found several scriptures from Old Testament prophets. She asked questions like; "Do you know about the Passover? Do you know who John in the Book of Revelation is? Or do the Scriptures imply that he is someone else? Does Revelation foretell the future or is it happening?" I could sense that she was suggesting that the John in the Book of Revelation was not John, the disciple of Jesus, but a man connected to the second coming of Christ. He is the one who would unravel the prophecy, and he alone has the living water.

I was having a hard time listening, and I became more and more certain that there was something wrong with what she was saying. Later, I just asked her directly, "You can just go ahead and say it, do you mean you know who this John is? If you know him, where is he?" She said I was too anxious, but as long as I followed her for a while, I could then draw my own conclusions. She mentioned their seminary to me, and said that someone who studied well at their seminary for only six weeks could then teach the Bible to others. She also said that I would be able to skip the basics, and go straight to the improvement program, which would be a faster pace than others. I said I wasn't interested and that I had my own church. Then, my sisters and I left. Before we left, they continued to express their love to us. Sister Li repeatedly asked for my contact information, and I finally agreed to give it her.

We decided not to go there again and shared our experience with our pastor. Based on this experience, I searched the Internet and found that these persons had many similarities with the Shincheonji group.

Sister Li contacted me several times and said she would meet me at the cathedral, not the small church. I told my pastor about this; he thought it was ok, and that perhaps I could share my own faith testimony with them. When we met this time, I found that Sister Li was the head of a youth fellowship group in that church, leading more than ten people to study together in a classroom in the church. Because of this, no one at the church found it strange when she invited others to study the Bible.

She told me more directly that the Book of Revelation is about events that have already happened. She talked about the establishment of their church, and hinted again that the person who can unravel the sealed Book of Revelation is the true "lamb". I asked her: "Do you know Li Wanxi? Are you talking about him? Do you have a relationship with Shincheonji?" She did not answer me positively, but simply let the question go. I once again stated that I was not interested. She was very disappointed, and we didn't have contact with each other anymore.

About half a year later, during a gathering at our church, I met another Sister Li, whom I had met the first time at Shincheonj. She brought  another sister to our gathering. We were both surprised when we saw each other. When the gathering was over she greeted me, and we talked about our own situations, and she kept my contact information.

Since then, she has been very eager to keep in touch with me. She greeted me and would not immediately discuss anything about faith.  But she would then subtly shift the focus of her conversation to our beliefs, and try to convince me with the teachings she knew. Once, she arranged for me to meet with someone who looked better than she did, hoping that I'd respond to them better. That sister was very eloquent and knew a lot about the Bible, but it was obvious that she was trying to indoctrinate me. They even showed me internal videos from their church. They said the videos were for students in advanced courses, but they were so eager for me to understand that they broke the rules. The video was from an assembly in South Korea, with large numbers and mostly young people. At that time, I suddenly realized that this was the video about Shincheonj I'd seen on the Internet forwarded by many brothers and sisters. It was a "game" they organized in the name of love, gathering people from all over the world to spread the "idea of love."

They group members have really been quite caring. In order to make me change my mind, they were always enthusiastic, didn't hesitate to spend money when we met, complimented me, shed tears for me, and even made me feel guilty when I refused them. After thinking about it over and over again, I was ready to break my connection with Sister Li and not even have her as a friend. This is because each time I met them, I felt physically and mentally exhausted. I thought this was the end of my story with them, and then I realized that it was much more than that.

Later, a brother of our church was unable to come to the gatherings because of a work-related injury. Our pastor asked several of us to go to the brother's house twice a week to read the Bible, pray, and share with each other. At one time, two sisters we didn't know came to the gathering. They said that they heard we were reading the Bible together, and they also brought four more people with them. We received them warmly and talked happily with each other.

At a Sunday service, I met two of the six sisters, and one of them recognized me and sat down beside me. While the pastor gave the sermon, she was giving me her own ideas. I found that she was sharing the same doctrine as Shincheonj. I took a closer look at the entire gathering and found that it seemed to have been "invaded" by members of Shincheonj. They sat scattered in different corners of the church, each spreading their ideas to the people around them.

Because they were so unscrupulous, the church attendants had to pick up the microphone and warn the congregation to "be alert to the wolves in sheep's clothing." Another time, when I went to a gathering at another church, I saw one of them again. It seemed that they were everywhere and almost always two people at a time, listening humbly at first, asking questions about salvation in a longing manner, and then beginning to gently debate in their warped manner.

Since that time I have encountered members of the Shincheonj cult more than once. They have great passion for redeeming souls and bringing them out of their original churches. I have been in contact with about ten different members of the Shincheonj group. I was  worried about attending any of the churches in that city because Shincheonj had a wide coverage and great mobility. My chances of meeting them were so high that I had a lot of worries. Later, I left the city and never met any of Shincheonj members again.

It took me a long time to get over these worries and sorrows. One of the main reasons is that I left that city and met some good Christians. If I were still in that city, I think I might still be suffering from depression.

- Translated by Sophia Chen

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