Waegukin - living and teaching in Korea

The Shinchonji/Mannam cult tries to recruit me

world peace initiativeAdvertising for the World Peace Initiative
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Sep 14 2012

There are two types of Koreans who will approach you randomly on the street for conversation: people who want to practice English, and religious recruiters.

By far the most common religious group to do this are the Jehova’s Witnesses. Recruitment is, of course, a large part of that movement, and foreigners in Korea seem to be a big target. I once had a Jehova’s Witness stop their car on the highway to talk to me while I was waiting at the bus stop. I’ve come to recognise these types pretty quickly, and usually when they initiate a conversation I will say, “Are you a Jehova’s Witness? I’m familiar with your material. No, I’m not interested.” And that takes care of it.

Korea is a petri-dish for new religious movements, the most famous of which is the Reverend Moon’s Unification Church. I don’t know why. According to this document there are 200 cults in Korea. Today, I met one of them – the Shinchonji cult, which has apparently been actively trying to recruit foreigners via their volunteer front organization, Mannam, for some time.

It began like this: last week I was approached on the street of my new city by a couple of attractive Korean girls. They asked me if I spoke Korean, and I gave my usual spiel about how I spoke just a little. They said they wanted to meet foreigners for their social club. As I said, there are only two types of Koreans who approach foreigners, and neither of these two spoke much English, so I probably should have been wary. But I’m keen to practice my Korean, and the materials they showed me didn’t seem religious. I thought that they were part of some university social club that wanted to meet foreigners to practice English, which is not unusual here. And I’m new in town, and would like to make some Korean friends. And they were really cute. So I gave them my phone number.

Today, the one with whom I spoke the most messaged me on Kakao Talk and asked if I had time to meet for coffee. She wanted to tell me about what her group was doing this Sunday. I was happy to go along. I was quite excited about my coffee date with the cute Korean girl.

So we met up and she took me to a cafe. Things were immediately a little weird. With her was the other cute Korean girl who had been recruiting with her, which was fine, but accompanying them was a grim-looking fifty-something Korean man, who bought us all coffees. We sat down and I had to ask for introductions. All of this was in Korean, and my Korean is not too hot, so I felt at a disadvantage. They told me the man was their… something, but it wasn’t a word in my limited Korean vocabulary.

They immediately produced a pamphlet promoting the World Peace Initiative, and wanted me to come on a bus with them this Sunday to Seoul to attend. They showed me a video on their phone. Both the pamphlet and the video, like the name of the festival, seemed curiously devoid of actual content. It was hard to tell exactly what they wanted me to come to, or why. I tried to ask who they were, what their group was, but I couldn’t follow the answer. They pointed to a logo on the front of the brochure which said “Mannam”.

They had made a tactical error. I was really quite open to the idea of hanging out with them on Sunday, and if we’d begun with some conversation, and the weird older guy hadn’t been there, I might have signed up. But the situation and their abruptness made me uneasy.

So I made some excuse about being busy, and things got awkward. They kept trying to convince me, in Korean I couldn’t really understand, and they seemed sad that I didn’t want to come, and I felt bad. I tried to make conversation with them, and they seemed nice and fun, but they kept coming back to the festival. I tried to tell them that I was interested in making Korean friends, and that I would be happy to do something with them some time in town, but I wasn’t going to go off to Seoul with them to attend the festival.

I was getting frustrated and I tried to make the point that they had come on a bit strong. I said to them that I wanted to make Korean friends, but that I would be more comfortable starting with coffee and conversation, and maybe meeting for some drinks, and then, if we were friends, we could go to Seoul. They said they wanted to make friends with me by inviting me to come to Seoul with them as part of their group. The middle aged-man looked put out and wandered off. He hadn’t really participated in the conversation.

I looked up the word cult on my phone dictionary and showed it to them. The thing is, I still didn’t think that they were a cult. I was just trying to illustrate the point that they had come on way too heavy and made me feel uncomfortable. They seemed genuinely regretful. I thought that they were just Korean volunteers for some oddball organization, and I was being unduly suspicious. I wondered if I should just have said yes, and seen where it all went; certainly there was nothing threatening about the situation. They told me that they were “good people” and not “bad people” – yes, this is the level of my Korean – and told me to look them up on Naver, where I would see that Mannam International and the World Peace Initiative were good organizations.

It was incredibly awkward. I had rejected their offer, eventually insistently, and my Korean isn’t really good enough to hold up a conversation for very long, and certainly not good enough for the kind of social niceties that the situation demanded. I finished my coffee quickly. I asked them if they wanted to go, and they said they were meeting another friend there. They said thank you for coming to meet us, and that if I changed my mind I should call them. I left.

I came home and took their advice, and looked up their loopy organization, which quickly took me to this article in the Korean Herald, and this thread on waygook.org, which is remarkably informative (for a thread on waygook.org).

I was surprised, but not very, to discover that my perceptions of oddness and cultishness were correct, and I wasn’t just being paranoid and over-cautious. It turns out that their Mannam volunteer organization is devoted to recruiting foreigners for the Shinchonji cult. Their motives seem pretty inscrutable – apparently they organize a lot of seemingly worthwhile activities and their approach to foreigners is very charming and generous, in contrast to the dues levied and duties assigned to Koreans. Is it preparation for a foreign push, or just that weird Korean desire for the affirmation of foreigners?* *A Geek in Korea blog thinks it’s the latter.

The thing is that I quite liked the Korean girl – her English name was Alice – who I had been talking to. I sent her a message, just saying “Shinchonji”. I was curious how she would respond.

A few minutes later she replied, in Korean: “We are not Shinchonji. We are Mannam volunteers.” She had switched to formal Korean. I didn’t reply. If she had spoken any English at all, I might have continued the conversation, but my Korean is too poor to have the kind of conversation that would have been interesting to me. She was pretty, and seemed very nice, and she’s working for a cult. Knowing that, I could have continued the dialogue for the interest of it, if not for the barrier of language. Of course, as the waygook thread makes clear, using attractive young women is part of the Mannam/Shinchonji modus operandi.

Apparently other Mannam groups use Korean language classes as a come-on. If that had been the case I probably would have been happy to overlook their cultish aspects and go along with it. The waygook thread has reports from a few people who’ve been content to use Mannam’s community activities and overlook the proselytizing. I’m confident of my own ability to avoid indoctrination. As it is my main regret is that I will have to start again with finding some Korean friends in this city; ideally ones who can talk about something other than their culty peace festival – whether in English, or Korean, I’m not too concerned.

For more extensive coverage of the Mannam/Shinchonji connection, see this post and the other articles in the series at Scroozle’s Sanctuary.

Waegukin wrote these 1492 words on September 14th, 2012 | Posted in Living |


40 comments on “The Shinchonji/Mannam cult tries to recruit me”

  1. Wayne Gretzky says:

    I saw a paper lying on the ground, it was like one sheet of a newspaper, and it was all about this festival today. The mannam logo was there, but my korean is good enough to read “shincheonji”, written on one hand, and “mannam” written on the other. If you know the logo, you’ll know that the hands are held in a handshake. If they are not shincheonji, they’re certainly bedfellows.

  2. The Waegukin says:

    They’ve admitted they are “co-hosts” of the festival. The link I posted above at Scroozle’s Sanctuary has their press release admitting this.

    I didn’t get into whether they are truly one and the same in this post, as others have already done that work, and it is obvious to me that they are.

    I am curious about the festival today, though. I’m looking forward to reading some reports of what goes on there.

  3. Michael says:

    Great article.

    There is no longer any question of whether SCJ and Mannam are connected, or how they are connected. Their Friday night press conference confirmed all of that.

    The remaining questions are:

    1. How heavily are they promoting religion through their activities?

    2. How frequently do organizers still deny this connection and the inherent religiousness of their goals, as stated by Lee Manhee and as demonstrated at the WPI?

    3. Where does all the money come from (we know the answer, but there should be documentation)?

    4. How can they honestly refer to themselves as a “volunteer association” when they barely do any events that raise money for charities? Over 100,000 attendees today, no donations raised. Pathetic.

    There is more, but. . . yeah, all foreigners need to be warned about them.

  4. The Waegukin says:

    All good questions, Michael. Unfortunately I don’t have answers. The only thing I would add is that we should also keep in mind the effect they are having on Koreans, too. So far, I haven’t seen any reports of foreigners being harmed in any way beyond having to endure silly rituals and having promotional photos taken of them that imply an endorsement. (Of course, this might change if they flip a switch and start actively seeking converts, which I have to feel is part of the plan at some point.)

    The Koreans seem to have it far worse. The two girls seemed like nice people, and I feel sorry that they are sucked into all this. One of them was telling me with some excitement about how she was going to be part of the performance, running about and holding up coloured cards. I also saw the list of foreigners whose contact details they had gathered in my small city. There aren’t a lot of Westerners here, and I know most of them, and they’d gathered up quite a few of their names. The majority of the list was Uzbekis, Philipinos, and Vietnamese. I wonder how well the word has gone out in those communities.

  5. Otto Silver says:

    I attend Mannam Korean lessons and heard allegations about the links with a cult, but because they only ever spoke about World Peace Initiative I was not sure. I was however sceptical about what they were actually doing.

    Today I attended their festival at the Olympic stadium, because, you know, I had a “Press pass” as a member of the Photo Club and they would have food from various countries. I don’t care what cult you are, I will brave your nonsense for those two things.

    The main celebrations started at about 10am and from then until about 1pm it was all promoting the cult in not to subtle ways. (After my personal confirmation I went a searching for who they were, hence my finding this article)

    At the festival it felt like the 60,000 or so Koreans there were essentially putting on a whole show to show how great god is in allowing them to do create such a big event. Foreigners were constantly photographed and filmed and I would not be surprised if that material will be used at a later date with subtle misinformation.

    Having personal experiences of the various aspects now I can answer the previous 4 questions.

    “1. How heavily are they promoting religion through their activities?”

    Not at all

    “2. How frequently do organizers still deny this connection and the inherent religiousness of their goals, as stated by Lee Manhee and as demonstrated at the WPI?”

    I have not asked, but when we asked one of our group leaders today if she was a member she said she was.

    “3. Where does all the money come from (we know the answer, but there should be documentation)?”

    Tithing and 10th, like the Bible commands, I suppose. If they had spent only half the money they, urm, pissed away today on actually working towards world peace then it would have been a great day indeed. It would seem their idea of world peace is that the world must follow their newly proclaimed prophet. We all know where the idea of everyone under the same religion ended up before, don’t we?

    “4. How can they honestly refer to themselves as a “volunteer association” when they barely do any events that raise money for charities? Over 100,000 attendees today, no donations raised. Pathetic.”

    The volunteer in the sense that the people who teach Korean, for example, are not paid, and we are asked a nominal fee, that is not nearly enough to cover the cost of what we are given.

    Volunteer does not mean charity. Volunteer mean doing anything free even if it is for people who don’t actually need it, eg, Korean lessons for people who earn decent money. Charity is doing something for people who are in significant need of something, eg food or a roof.

  6. Otto Silver says:

    Forgive me, I forgot to add. The event is rather fun provided you do some mental gymnastics and just experience it as a spectacle to be enjoyed with no added agendas, including World Peace 😉

  7. ron says:

    i went to the festival this passed sunday. I was approached and asked if i liked to run two weeks ago i said yes and they signed me up for 5k. I went i ran no one tried to recruit me or ask me to do anything other then run. It was a little wierd.

  8. The Waegukin says:

    Some good comments here. It does seem that most people’s interactions with Mannam have been weird, but without any overt attempt at religious recruitment.

    Which is a bit strange in itself. For so many people to be around so many other people who share a strong religious conviction, and nobody asks anyone to come to their church?

    I also wanted to add: I’m a dolt, again. The video clip I posted above is from Sinchonji. Which doesn’t make it any less interesting, but should be made clear. 천지TV – Chonji TV.

  9. Cult of Waygook says:

    I too was witness to this ‘World Peace’ convention bullshit. (Such a ludicrously idealistic title like world peace is a red flag on the kickoff) I had to leave half way through because I was so annoyed at wasting my time and having my ugly white mug used as propaganda for these lunatics.

    My previous experience with Mannam was for the free korean classes, cultural get-togethers, and volunteering at orphanages. That was great. But when I noticed that there was more effort made in hanging up Mannam banners, balloons, and taking pictures then there was for any actual activity, it gave me pause.

    I’m at an impasse. I can either continue with Mannam only for the events which I think are important and matter, or I can get out of it all together. I’m leaning toward the latter, as I think its unfair of me to continue on the efforts of these Koreans who’ve been hoodwinked when I know better. Not to mention the idea of my facade being used for propaganda sickens me.

  10. The Waegukin says:

    I think you’re right. There are lots of other opportunities to do volunteer work and the like in Korea – no need to do it in service of the promotional efforts of Mannam and Sinchonji.

  11. mannamcult says:

    I’ve been with the international division of Mannam for over a year now and a lot of the foreigners who work in Mannam are actually MARRIED to many of the Shinchonji (SCJ) women there. I actually know 3 foreigners who play a very BIG role in the organization promoting their clubs or what so have you. They deny having any ties with SCJ of course until you get to know them.

  12. eunnice says:

    성경의 마지막 예언인 요한계시록이 이루어져 실상이나타나 이루어지고 있는곳이 신천지 입니다 많은 사람들이알지 못하고 비방하고 있으나 곧 전세계가 깨닫고 나아오게 될것 입니다

  13. yoo says:

    hi, i read some your writings. it was very impressive. HAHA
    especially this posting is funny.
    i believe in christianity and i know about the religion, shincheonji. if they try to talk to you, keep silent or pretend like you are from France. ^^ i bet it will be easier to avoid the uncomfortable situation than before.

    one of my Amerian friend told me he bought a ticket for the mannam festival. so i showed him about article of the festival. (he didn’t care about it but didn’t go there cus of work. )

    although your writing is little bit long, i like your interesting story.

    if you don’t mind l will drop by your blog and leave comment sometimes. ^^

    have a nice day!

  14. cult research says:

    The link you posted to factnet.org concerning the 200 cults in Korea does not list shinchonji as a cult. http://factnet.org/cults-sects-index

    Did any formal cult watch organization list shinchonji as a cult?

    I would just be interested to know…

  15. michael says:

    Oh my God. For those not fluent in Korean, it’s a shame. Ha. Put eunnice’s recent post into google translate. That settles everything about mannam and SJ. Hope it does it justice. Ha.

  16. choi says:

    Meeting is a purely volunteer organization.Efforts around the world so that people can unite to serve the community and neighbors, the meeting is a good organization.

  17. kelly says:

    I can’t thank you enough. Wonderful!
    I thank mannam for volunteer work so much.

  18. 신나라 says:

    Honorary Chairman, Mr.Lee the peace of the move is expected

  19. selly says:

    Mr.Lee the peace of the move is really inspiring.

  20. selly says:

    Spectacular. Seems like the message of God
    Mr.Lee the peace of the move is really inspiring.

  21. hye nam says:

    thank you.
    Mr.Lee the peace of the move is really inspiing

  22. Anonymous says:

    I saw that festival on my eyes. it was great to see. Many
    people prepared all of it.

  23. The Waegukin says:

    Seems the cultists have discovered this page. However I will continue to let them comment here – apart from the “…but I will defend your right to say it” stuff, they unintentionally do a pretty good job of communicating what Mannam is really about, don’t you think?

  24. godlove says:

    In addition, I help organizations to society … I also serve well, it is an organization that also convey words grounded in the Bible

  25. godlove says:

    Organization is to impress the best social service. People received help have a lot of admiration

  26. Yang Su Kyung says:

    True God 신천지 to believe that Hallelujah!

  27. mtom says:

    mannam is an organization of world peace, want to sign to put the contents of the termination of the war on international law for the sake of world liberation.

  28. suji says:

    I saw that festival.

  29. Cult Nuts says:

    Wow, they’re really out in full force today.

  30. The Waegukin says:

    No kidding. And it’s not like they’re coming from a link in some Shinchonji forum, either. They’re all googling it. It’s like the instruction has come down: “On Sunday, google Shinchonji in English and leave wacky comments.”

  31. Scoozle says:

    Well here’s something they should understand, even if some of the grammar might be off:

    만남와 신천지가 징그러운 컬트입니다.

  32. The Waegukin says:

    Thanks, Zack, that’s helpful 🙂 Thank god I’m anonymous. Why aren’t they spamming up your blog?

    야, 신천지사람들… http://www.scroozle.com/2013/01/shinchonji-sincheonji-shinchunji.html 읽어주세요.

  33. So young says:

    Thank you
    True God shinchonji to believe that Hallelujah!

  34. Nigel says:

    Man Hee Lee is the messiah and if you don’t believe in him he will destroy you. So you’d better download his secret Mien Kampf book while it’s available…

  35. The Waegukin says:

    The above is a link to a pdf English translation of “The Creation of Heaven and Earth”, by Lee Man Hee, if anyone is interested.

    Personally I’m not, although I did enjoy this, from the preface: “The manuscript for every book I have written has been completed in 40 days. The manuscript for this book was no exception, but it was delayed by the interference of Satan, who was working through my transcriptionist.”

  36. Gloria says:

    No longer mind if you did not become hardened hoping I do not forget the excitement of the day

  37. mhp says:

    shinchonji a good thing to really think

  38. sally says:

    Made according to the Scriptures, really!shinchonji labor seems to fit great place.

  39. The Waegukin says:

    Due to the influx of banal Shinchonji spam on this page, I have reluctantly decided to close the comments on this post for now.


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