Josh’s Story

I was in an echo chamber.

Josh, Shincheonji Auckland member

My story starts when I ran into an old friend at university, we had not seen each other since high school. I was at a stage in my life where I had been a follower of Christ for a while and was looking to move to a church that was more theologically rich. I shared this with my friend and he suggested we meet up to read the bible together. We caught up a few times and chatted about our lives and then he introduced me to his old “mentor” who supposedly mentored youth leaders to teach the bible better. Of course I agreed to meet once and was then pressured into meeting 3 times per week for these bible lessons.

Initially I thought the teaching was great! I was having things explained in such a simple way to me and my teacher could recite everything from memory. There were a few things that I had never heard before: that God’s will is found within the bible and we must know God’s will to go to heaven (quoting Matthew 7:21-23); that lying is okay as long as it is a “righteous lie to do God’s will”; in order to recognise Jesus at the second coming, we must know the prophecies of Revelation, which he defined as the New Covenant and it didn’t matter if I belonged to Christ as I would just be like a pharisee; and that I needed to learn the Figurative language in the bible in order to unlock the mysteries and parables recorded in Revelation. Little did I realise, scripture was taken out of context, original languages were never considered in exegeting the text properly, and I was being told a false gospel. Later on I found out my friend was actually an SCJ member pretending to be learning for the first time and our bible teacher was an instructor from SCJ pretending to have gone to a Christian theology college. I was not able to speak to my family or friends about these lessons or do research online as I was told that Satan would get in the way of me learning, pull me away from the classes, and poison my mind. I was in an echo chamber. The bible teacher then invited me to join a larger class where I could learn how to read and understand these prophecies. I had a very busy schedule, but agreed.

A typical meeting with Mark, one of Shincheonji NZ’s instructors.

Passing over

Fast forwarding a bit, I was enthralled by these teachings. I wanted to share this with everyone! I thought it was the second coming of Jesus and that I was part of some select group and was willing to give my life for it. I learnt the reality of the “New John” and “Mount Zion” and passed over (a ceremony where you join the church) into the church. I quickly worked my way up their structure and was a cell leader in a few months, I began bearing fruit (recruiting), studying till 4 am for my graduation tests, doing the bare minimum for my university degree, and moved into an SCJ flat as my parents were wondering why I was home so late all the time. Slowly, I burned through my savings as I didn’t have time for a part time job, and distanced myself from my Christian friends who had wondered why I stopped attending church. I was given a harsh mindset and unrealistic goals to achieve, but I just thought that I simply needed to “stretch my heart bowl” and “change my way of thinking” as it was the time of the second coming. I was told that I should not be able to sleep if I perceived how important this work was.

There were so many things that didn’t make sense, or I was unhappy with, but I kept being reminded to think of God’s heart and how He is longing for this work to be completed. We were constantly told that this work will soon be done and the entire world will come to SCJ. It was like chasing a carrot on a stick. I saw and heard of a lot of abuse in the church, people being told to go out and recruit 10 people and not come back till they did, being yelled at and publicly shamed, and seeing members not leave the temple until 1am. I even heard one leader tell me that his grandma is dying in hospital but he will not go to visit her as God’s work is more important. I justified this since it was the time of the second coming and we should have the mindset of martyrs and soldiers.

When COVID hit

COVID then hit and this was a good chance to rest. I wasn’t too affected by this, but it was a good chance to sort my life out: spend more time with my family, catch up on sleep, put on some weight, get a proper job, sort out my living situation, and of course study the doctrine more. I went through all the SCJ content over and over again to memorise it. I felt like I really equipped myself. Things started to slowly get busier and I began to partake in the work again, but with a different mindset. I realised that if I am to do this work I need to remember it is a marathon not a sprint. I worked full time, made sure I had enough time to rest and sleep, ate healthy, exercised, I also wanted to give the members I was in charge of the choice to do things and not treat them like garbage. I had also realised I was given some really bad advice from leaders in the past, so was determined to discern their words and actions and question whether it was truly the flow of heaven, as in the past I had blindly followed.

Many people began to leave from the church in 2021 but we never took much notice as we saw this as “Satan pulling away the sheep” or people who were labelled as betrayers. One of these people sent his reasons for leaving to everyone in the church.* My curiosity led me to read it, along with my new way of thinking that if this is the greatest truth then there is nothing that should prove it wrong.

* Note: Here is the document that Josh read: “What it Took for me to Leave” by littlebird (SCJ = Shincheonji; CHJN = Chairman, referring to Lee Man-Hee; JPJN = tribe leader, one of the highest levels of leadership in SCJ); CCK = Christian Council of Korea, a mainstream Christian organisation SCJ labels as “Babylon”)

More contradictions emerge

I later found out that Lee Man-Hee was involved in three other cults before he started Shincheonji (The Olive Tree Movement, The Tabernacle Temple and the Recreation Church) and that their teachings are a copy and paste of Shincheonji’s. Also that some of the major doctrines of SCJ had been updated and no longer made sense. I went on a journey to try and answer these, however, after some time, I just felt like I was doing mental gymnastics to try and trick myself into believing this all true. What had once started as such a logical word, was now so illogical.

At this point, things were also becoming really busy again. We had compulsory meetings every night to discuss plans for our fruit, had to schedule time to do street evangelism and deliver flyers, set goals for how many people we were to recruit, and would have “verifying sealing” tests every 2-3 weeks. These tests were strange, as we were made to re-sit them if our mark wasn’t high enough. These were for the selection of the kingdom and priests who would rule the earth, yet people were blatantly being told to cheat to try to look better in God’s eyes. It became more about having a perfect score than actually knowing the answer. Surely God would know?

Eventually, it got to a point where I had no reason to stay. The doctrine didn’t make sense as it had changed and I was starting to see how morally corrupt Shincheonji was. I spent weeks trying to get my questions answered and experienced a variety of things. The answers were vague and gave me more questions. I was then told that there were translation errors in old articles and books, and that what I had learnt was incorrect. I was then gaslighted, emotionally manipulated, and had phobias instilled into me as to why I should not leave. I was made to feel like I was the problem. Realising all this, I tried to share what I was going through with our close friends in SCJ to help get understanding, but also to help them see that they were also deceived. This led to being reported on and having a meeting with the church head, who rebuked me for sharing my questions. He gave me a choice: stay in the church and stay silent, or leave. For me, the answer couldn’t have been more clear.

Life after SCJ

It has been so liberating to finally leave and to be free of the lies of Shincheonji.
But to be honest, leaving SCJ has been difficult as well.

Josh, Shincheonji Auckland member
Photo courtesy Auckland EV

It has been so liberating to finally leave and to be free of the lies of Shincheonji. I have begun reconnecting with friends I had cut off and spending more time with family. I also began the journey of rediscovering who God is and have joined a healthy church that is supporting me every step of the way. But to be honest, leaving SCJ has been difficult as well. There have been a lot of hard days and tears due to the guilt and shame from the past 3 years. My friends in SCJ truly believe in the doctrine and to many of them, I cease to exist and will be thrown into the lake of burning sulphur.

Some final comments:

  1. If the word of Shincheonji is the greatest truth, then shouldn’t it stand up to scrutiny? To make an informed decision you need to look at both sides of an argument. Also, why does someone need to use manipulation and coercion in order to make something seem more convincing? Many people simply look at factual information, alongside Man-Hee Lee’s own teachings (and evidence of his inconsistencies) and leave because there is no truth there.
  2. SCJ claim to be healing all nations, yet we see they leave a trail of destruction in their path. Will all the lives they have ruined suddenly be fixed? If the world is to flock to SCJ, then they have a lot to answer for. SCJ tells the media that they are misunderstood, but that is a lie. There are people who have been hurt so badly by this organisation. This hurt is not just from a few bad leaders, but this is a problem at the root of this organisation. God will hold Man-Hee Lee and the members of SCJ accountable one day.
  3. I worked so hard for many years, however, it got to a point where things just did not make sense. This word seemed so logical, yet what I saw around me were people tirelessly tricking themselves into staying. They were too busy to think for themselves or did not care to have their questions answered.

Staying in SCJ and believing in its doctrine was so illogical. SCJ is a group that controls the information you should read, endorses deception in recruitment, and relies on fear and indoctrination to keep people believing – how could it be where God is? Despite what SCJ will tell you, we are saved by grace and there is no amount of work you can do to earn that (Titus 3:4-5, Ephesians 2:8-10). The members of SCJ are following a false prophet and it really breaks my heart that they cannot see that.

Josh’s story

We're grateful to Josh for sharing his story. If you have any questions about his experience or would like to share your story, please contact us.
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