Apr 4, 2022

Cape Town women lured into secretive religious sect

Tracy-Lynn Ruiters
April 3, 2022

THREE Cape Town women have lifted the lid on how they were lured into joining a “cult-like” South Korean-based church whose leader is labelled the immortal messiah.

The women, between the ages of 23 and 29, said they were recruited into the Shincheonji Church of Jesus (SCJ), a known secretive religious sect, under the false pretence of becoming better Christians. They wanted to speak about their experience to ward off others from falling prey to the alleged “secrecy, lies and a false prophet from South Korea”.

The church, which has been labelled a pseudo-religion or cult by other mainstream churches, was founded in the 1980s by leader Lee-Man Hee and is believed to have more than 200 000 members. The church has been the subject of numerous investigations because of its cult-like activities.

The church was at the centre of huge controversy last year when it emerged that it accounted for more than half of South Korea’s coronavirus cases.

Lee was also found guilty of embezzling billions of rands from his organisation and given a suspended prison sentence.

The church’s teaching claims that their founder is a prophet called to deliver God’s work before the second coming of Christ and that only he can decipher the Book of Revelation and its metaphors.

The Cape Town women as new recruits had to write a test on the church’s teachings before they were welcomed into the fold. They were also warned not to speak to their family or friends about the church.

The women like other newbies were recruited through social media such as Instagram, BumbleBee and LinkedIn.

They said they were initially not told about the type of teachings but only learnt more about the organisation once they were members or had been “sealed”.

A Mitchells Plain woman managed to leave the church after she was approached on Instagram in 2021.

She said: “I didnt think anything of it because another Christian girl approached me. After some time she invited me to sit in on a virtual Christian meeting.”

The 23 year old said the meeting seemed like a normal Christian gathering. Attendees were asked to leave their contact numbers should they wish to attend bible study classes.

“I was contacted two days later (by) a recruiter. The classes went from one lesson a week to two. In the classes or breakout rooms, you get your instructor who gives the lessons and a facilitator who leads the post-lesson reviews.

“You learn about parables and are told that the Bible is written in metaphors.

“We also had face to face meet-ups. We were told to not discuss anything with our families because they wouldn’t understand, they were considered to be easily used by Satan to distract us.”

The woman said her turning point was when her family pointed out that she was changing.

“I then searched for what they were teaching. I found testimonies that explained what I was taught. They mentioned that it was the Shincheonji cult, and I ended up researching that. That is when it all made sense. I was drawn into a cult unknowingly.”

The woman said she later learned that the organisation also used different names to attract young people.

“Arise Christian Fellowship, Anchor and Good Hope Bible College are a few of the names I know they used,” she added.

“They make you confused about the Bible and expect you to cut yourself off from anyone close to you. So I left (and) blocked them on social media.”

Another woman, 29, from Brackenfell, said she was approached after suffering extreme heartache and loss.

The women said they were told to not share the details of the teachings with anyone else. Picture : Tracey Adams/African News Agency/ ANA
“I was in a space of loneliness, and when someone messaged me and I was open to listen and be motivated through Christ, I didn’t think anything of it,” she said.

“When you think of a cult, you always tell yourself this won’t happen to me, I would know what to look for. But these people are clever and trained to recruit.”

The woman believed that the cult preyed on women who were vulnerable. “They also tell you that its okay to lie as long as its in the name of Jesus’ work.”

Another victim, 28, from the Cape Town CBD, said she was involved with the church for over five years.

“You end up cutting off everyone close to you. You build relationships in the cult. They become like your family.

“They make you feel special and they applaud you for taking on their teachings.

“They make you believe that you are chosen Christians, of the very few who will understand the real truth when thetruth is, everything they teach is a lie.”

The woman said she made it into the inner circle after writing a test on the church’s teachings and the chosen prophet.

“You didn’t pay to write the test or do the courses, the only money you gave was normal tithes, but you were paying a bigger price with your soul without you even knowing.

“At the end of the day you question God. You question who you are really praying to because Lee-Man Hee was the one with all the answers.

“Lee-Man Hee was the immortal. He cannot die because he needs to live until Jesus comes back.”

The 28 year old said she became suspicious when she started asking questions that angered church leaders.

When Weekend Argus contacted one of the facilitators of the church, he denied any involvement with the organisation. According to the man, whose name is known to Weekend Argus, he is a facilitator-volunteer, and not tied to the Shincheonji church.

Religion experts said the type of behaviour denoted cult-like attributes.

Professor Solomon Kgatle, who is a professor of missiology at the University of South Africa, said indoctrination of this nature could be a form of occultism. “We call it a cult when you force a certain doctrine on someone.

“Also, it’s considered a cult when only one person is seen as the ‘one’. The only one who can give the word. It is what we call a personality cult.”

Kgatle said youngsters were an easy target. “Generally, when we look at the youth, they are not active economically, and with most of them sitting at home without work, it’s easier to recruit them.

“For younger people it is easier to leave and join something new. You become vulnerable and pessimistic because these types of cults will show you the negative side, like you are poor or hurt so that later you feel that their way is the only way.

“They thrive on emotional vulnerability and you lose your identity, your connection with your family.”

Spiritual leader, pastor Jan Oosthuizen, said he immediately picked up red flags because the girls were told to keep the teachings to themselves. Jesus is not a secret and neither is his word and work.”

Oosthuizen concluded that he believed the cult was out to get personal gain.

Yesterday the church confirmed that those wishing to join it write a test, but denied it was a cult.

It said: “As with any organisation, there are specific admission requirements to become a member of SCJ. It would be much to our dismay to frame our organisation as a ‘cult’ or ‘part of the occult’ after someone reporting it as such from their perspective. The allegations of SCJ being labelled a ‘cult’ are historical.

“Those who oppose Shincheonji, its courses, theology, structure or the way we conduct our ministry refer to us as a ‘cult’. The definition of a cult and who decides which organisation should be labelled a cult has been a problem throughout the ages.

“Unfortunately, once labelled a cult without any factual evidence of wrongdoing, the public view an organisation through that incorrect lens and this becomes the common narrative.”

The church said the aim of the courses was not to recruit members but to make sense of complex Bible scriptures. “Towards the end of the short course students are introduced to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus.

“Students who participate in the course want to know where the content and theology originates from because it is nothing they have ever heard before.”


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