Vanessa’s Story

I had just moved from Auckland and tried looking for a church in Wellington. I was sitting alone in a brand new church, and shortly after the worship started, two girls came in and sat next to me. I thought we were just having a casual chat… Looking back now, that was when I stepped into their trap.

Vanessa, Shincheonji Wellington recruit

It all started in February 2021. I had just moved from Auckland and tried looking for a church in Wellington. I was sitting alone in a brand new church, and shortly after the worship started, two girls came in and sat next to me. I was a little scared because they chose to sit with me when there were so many other seats. After the worship service, one of the girls took the initiative to chat with me. She shared it was her first time too, and that she was looking for a church. I thought we were just having a casual chat, but then one of the girls named S* asked for my WhatsApp and gave me her contact details before she left. Looking back now, that was when I stepped into their trap.

Meeting “Hailey”

For the next few weeks S* occasionally messaged me, and the three of us met a few times. One day, I met one-on-one with S. She told me she had to work on Sunday mornings, that’s why she doesn’t go to church anymore. She said that she attended online church services from her home church in Tauranga instead. At that time, she mentioned that she had a mentor. I learnt that this mentor is a girl also from Hong Kong, and that she wanted to meet me as there were not many Hong Kong people in Wellington. I didn’t think much of it, only that I could get to meet a new friend. We met up quite soon after. She called herself “Hailey”. We met again the next week. I thought it would just be a regular coffee catch up, however it turned into a weekly bible study. “Hailey” was very passionate in helping both of us grow. She had lots of bible knowledge. At that time, I wasn’t wanting to commit to a regular bible study, but when I thought about how reading the Bible is something a Christian should do, I continued with these weekly meetings.

Going deeper

After a few weeks, “Hailey” suggested that in order for us to learn quicker, it would be better for us to meet twice a week. I initially felt shocked, why do we need to be so rushed? But S* didn’t have any objections and seemed very eager to learn, so I went along with it. I did feel uneasy, as I didn’t really want to spend two evenings each week reading the Bible with them. However, we kept up with it for a few months. I noticed that Hailey was very interested in whether S* or I had mentioned this bible study group to anyone else. “Hailey” said that we should keep these meetings confidential as Satan will attack us while we are still learning.

At the end of May, “Hailey” mentioned that she had two other friends who also lead a bible study group. She said that it would be a good opportunity to meet together with two other small groups like ours. “Hailey” thought we could learn more in the larger group as Jason, the leader, had studied theology. However, this group met on Wednesday evenings, and every Wednesday I have basketball tournaments. I needed to make a decision between choosing basketball or bible reading. She gave me time to consider. To be honest, I didn’t want to go, I started to feel a bit of resentment towards this group. However, I couldn’t bring myself to choose basketball over bible study. So, I chose to go to these meetings, and gave up going to basketball.

Centre lessons

The bible study group consisted of 9 people – 3 teachers, 6 students. “Jason” was the main teacher, “Hailey” and another teacher would support him. They were very low-key – none of them mentioned use of social media; their WhatsApp accounts had no profile pictures. I rarely heard them talk about their other friends, and neither of them attended church services. They also rarely took photos. At the beginning, Jason started with teaching the parables in the gospels. It was also the reason I continued with the bible study as I hadn’t studied the bible in depth like this before. Though I may have done so reluctantly, I did learn a lot.

But around September/October, Jason started to teach more about the visions and imagery seen in the Book of Revelations. Essentially he said that the second coming of Jesus is now. Christianity has already become corrupt, and it is being used by Satan. God hopes that His people can escape from it and go to the new heaven and new earth He has prepared for us. God’s people should hear this and take action, to witness the fulfilment of the prophecies written in the Book of Revelations. Jesus’s first coming was the fulfilment of the Old testament prophecies. The second coming is when God has chosen another person whom He will speak through. He will tell people that it is the second coming now, and that prophecies from the New Testament are already being fulfilled. Throughout this, the teachers never mentioned who this person was, or who they believed “God’s people” were, or where they are now. They only described this person as the “new John” or “Mount Zion”. I also didn’t ask further questions, as I believed that at the right time, they would choose to tell me more.

When Jason taught the accusations against Christianity being corrupt, my own beliefs were shaken. I struggled. I really wanted to confirm whether the things he taught were correct. So I spent a lot of time reviewing what they taught, but I never found a definite answer. It was also difficult to confirm that they were a cult because at the time, they appeared to be biblical and believe in the crucifixion of Jesus.

In November, “Hailey” told our group her real name. She explained that she’d use a pseudonym because her aunt was connected to the Chinese church in Auckland. She had conflict with her aunt over her faith, and her aunt told others to be aware of Helen. Therefore, she could only continue the work of God and lead others to read the Bible by using a pseudonym. One time when I met with S*, I asked whether “Hailey” was already using this name when she met her about a year ago. She wouldn’t answer me directly. When I returned to Auckland for the Christmas break, I finally explained to my friends at church what I had learned over the past year. They mentioned SCJ, so I checked them out online and found out that the group I was with was a part of them. After researching more, I confirmed that they were a cult. Although they hadn’t taught me their extreme teachings at the time, I realised how they were trying to gradually lead me to believe in their leader. Once I knew that, I finally breathed a sigh of relief and left the group with no regrets.

Looking back, looking forward

The first photo of the nine of us getting together for the first time, I remember asking “Hailey” for it because I wanted to show it to my parents. She replied after two days. I noticed “Jason” was cut out of the photo. Looking back at the group of nine people, I’ve since learned only three of us weren’t already SCJ members. The others were just pretending to be students, pretending not to know Jason’s teaching. In fact, each of them really deserves an Oscar; all of them are movie stars. Especially S* – when I recall all the conversations I had with her, I think about how many of them were filled with lies. Even though some time has passed, I am still in disbelief that this happened. I managed to stumble across a cult, and even studied with them for more than 10 months. After I realised they were a cult, my first response wasn’t to blame myself, but rather to thank God. This is because God finally answered my prayers – I had been praying about my doubts towards this group for six months. God answered me in 2021, when I chose to leave the cult.

I am grateful that God created me to be so stubborn. Brainwashed by Shincheonji for 10 months but still able to hold onto the truth, and to learn more about my faith. Thanks to God’s care and grace, I’m able to still feel loved and be proud of being a Christian. I’m thankful to them too – because they made me spend a lot of time studying the Bible, checking it, and becoming firmer in my faith. I am not ashamed of this experience, because my experience can help others, reminding everyone to be vigilant, knowing that cults are near us. As Christians, we really need to understand the Bible well, and be strong in our faith so that it will not be shaken. Although there was a period where I was blaming myself for lacking in knowledge compared to them, and for not understanding the teachings of the Bible; I was grateful to God for constantly reminding me that His grace was sufficient for me.

Although this was an unfortunate event, by the grace of God, it became something that grew me. If you are reading this and have already been deceived by someone, I hope it doesn’t lead you to lose faith in people or in God. I hope that you won’t feel ashamed because you have been deceived. I hope it will not stop you from seeking God. Cults like to target people who seriously seek God. But God sees our true desire for Him. Our brothers and sisters in Christ will support you. May the Lord bless you and keep you.

Vanessa’s story

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