Victim breaks silence about SCJ's deceptive tactics to recruit overseas members, inhumane treatment of its members

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Victim breaks silence about SCJ's deceptive tactics to recruit overseas members, inhumane treatment of its members

A group of Turkish customers are seen in this photo provided by Seo. In the cafe located in Istanbul, Turkey, allegedly running by SCJ's overseas recruiting team, K-pop fans gathers to dance to Korean music, write letters to the stars and learn Korean culture, according to Seo. Courtesy of alleged former SCJ member surnamed Seo
Korean woman 'brainwashed' into overseas recruiting, warns Turkish people

By Kang Aa-young

The last eight years have been a nightmare for former nurse, Seo, 29, who asked to be identified only by her surname.

Her passionate, can-do spirit pushed her to leave her country for Turkey, to fulfill her missionary zeal to spread "the word" of Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony (SCJ) to recruit SCJ members overseas.

She used to be a pious SCJ believer until just a few months ago. According to Seo, when she left her mission destination Turkey, there were about 60 SCJ members in Istanbul alone, and the number was increasing rapidly.

"The SCJ classifies its believers into three different groups, such as politicians, young people and foreigners. If a member recruits foreigners, he or she is highly praised as foreigners are one of the groups SCJ leadership was anxious to attract," she said.

As a member of one of the 12 "tribes" of SCJ, she felt bad that her tribe wasn't doing its best. In fact, her tribe was at the very bottom of the performance rankings. "When I was brainwashed, I didn't know what I was doing was wrong. I just wanted to lead other members by example," she said.

Her group thought of Turkey as a blue ocean with enormous opportunities. The local culture and the country seemed appealing and, most importantly, many people thought of Koreans favorably thanks to the Korean wave, she said.
As she became one of the major members of the "overseas recruiting team" consisting of 10 members, she felt certain she was headed in the right direction.

"The lecturer said one can achieve one's ultimate goal, when they abandon everything, including their job and country, to dedicate themselves to SCJ," Seo said. "It felt like destiny for me to leave the country."

She was desperate to make the best out of this opportunity, as a "representative" of her religion.

Things happened fast after that. Over the following two weeks, she quit her job, and lied to her boyfriend and parents saying that she was going to Turkey for work, and was participating in an overseas recruiting program, just for a year. Her parents tried to stop her but she basically ran away.

"But when I arrived in Turkey, I realized the project could not be done in just a year. It wasn't quick and easy work. I realized it needed at least two years, with several steps to lure new recruits."

Last Tuesday evening, she came with her mother to a counseling center located in Guri, Gyeonggi Province, to share her experiences with The Korea Times.

Before talking, the center asked her to show her ID first. With a sigh, she agreed to share everything she'd done in the name of promoting the controversial church.

"I want the Turkish people to know what the group has done, and still is doing," she said, as if confessing.

Her life in Turkey was horrible.

She and her teammates shared a room, having only one or two meals a day. Some members were even forced to marry Turkish people, she said.

"Single members were often targeted for brainwashing, including me," she said.

She was among the driving force of the group in Turkey that desperately wanted to "complete" its mission.
A group of Turkish customers are seen in this photo provided by Seo. In the cafe located in Istanbul, Turkey, allegedly running by SCJ's overseas recruiting team, K-pop fans gathers to dance to Korean music, write letters to the stars and learn Korean culture, according to Seo. Courtesy of alleged former SCJ member surnamed Seo

"What I'm afraid of is that Turkish people could turn their backs on all Koreans ultimately, just because of SCJ's activities. That's why I was determined to break my silence. What they are doing is hurting Korea's image," she said.

"They do not tell people directly about their goal. The SCJ members hide their religious affiliation and just say they are in Turkey for work or study to befriend the locals, which I did too. I told them I was there to get a nursing job," she said.

"All that deception later made the Turkish people ultimately feel betrayed, which I still think is embarrassing. Since Turkish people have such a good image of Korea compared to other countries, the recruiters tried to advantage of it by using Korean culture as a means to approach the locals."

As a member, she said she participated in a series of Turkish recruiting projects, which has several steps. Starting from early 7 a.m. till noon, she worked endlessly, online and offline.

For the introductory level, she said they used a cafe specializing in holding K-pop fan meetings, to lure in vulnerable fans. The cafe was mostly booming with fans of Korean boy bands EXO and BTS, she said.

Selling some Korean food on the first floor to make money and holding meetings in the basement to attract K-pop fans, she said they never told visitors their aim was to recruit them into the church.

Once a visitor becomes a friend, she said they then set up a meeting to persuade them further.

"The cafe was important, since its secret mission was to bring in new members and to make money. We mostly met outside when we saw possibilities of turning visitors to members," she said.

"Sometimes, fans wrote letters to stars. We pretended that we could deliver them to the stars."

Most of her work seemed random but worked well, she said, thanks to the popularity of Korean culture.
A group of Turkish customers are seen in this photo provided by Seo. In the cafe located in Istanbul, Turkey, allegedly running by SCJ's overseas recruiting team, K-pop fans gathers to dance to Korean music, write letters to the stars and learn Korean culture, according to Seo. Courtesy of alleged former SCJ member surnamed Seo
Running Korean language classes worked well too.

"Many Turkish people in the town were from other regions. They didn't have enough money to travel far but were very open to new cultures. They especially loved Korean culture," she said.

They succeeded in gathering foreign members and used those members to recruit more.

It was when she came back to Korea for a visit that her parents realized she was part of SCJ, leading to the end of her recruiting activities. Her world broke down as she stopped believing.

Just as when she took off to Turkey suddenly, she returned to normal life just as abruptly.

"I was almost going to marry a Turkish guy," she said.

Looking back, she said she now thinks she should let them know the truth of their work.

"People do not know the truth. When they realize, it's too late," she said.

Despite her missing years, Seo is still a vibrant, glowing young woman, who is now on a mission to let people know the truth through her experiences in Turkey.

SCJ's foreign believers have reportedly increased since 2014 when the church started to eye overseas recruitment. According to the Guri Cult Counseling Center in Gyeonggi Province, SCJ is believed to have over 22,000 overseas members, making up about 10 percent of its total.


A group of Turkish customers are seen in this photo provided by Seo. In the cafe located in Istanbul, Turkey, allegedly running by SCJ's overseas recruiting team, K-pop fans gathers to dance to Korean music, write letters to the stars and learn Korean culture, according to Seo. Courtesy of alleged former SCJ member surnamed Seo
Korean woman 'brainwashed' into overseas recruiting, warns Turkish people

By Kang Aa-young

The last eight years have been a nightmare for former nurse, Seo, 29, who asked to be identified only by her surname.

Her passionate, can-do spirit pushed her to leave her country for Turkey, to fulfill her missionary zeal to spread "the word" of Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony (SCJ) to recruit SCJ members overseas.

She used to be a pious SCJ believer until just a few months ago. According to Seo, when she left her mission destination Turkey, there were about 60 SCJ members in Istanbul alone, and the number was increasing rapidly.

"The SCJ classifies its believers into three different groups, such as politicians, young people and foreigners. If a member recruits foreigners, he or she is highly praised as foreigners are one of the groups SCJ leadership was anxious to attract," she said.

As a member of one of the 12 "tribes" of SCJ, she felt bad that her tribe wasn't doing its best. In fact, her tribe was at the very bottom of the performance rankings. "When I was brainwashed, I didn't know what I was doing was wrong. I just wanted to lead other members by example," she said.

Her group thought of Turkey as a blue ocean with enormous opportunities. The local culture and the country seemed appealing and, most importantly, many people thought of Koreans favorably thanks to the Korean wave, she said.
As she became one of the major members of the "overseas recruiting team" consisting of 10 members, she felt certain she was headed in the right direction.

"The lecturer said one can achieve one's ultimate goal, when they abandon everything, including their job and country, to dedicate themselves to SCJ," Seo said. "It felt like destiny for me to leave the country."

She was desperate to make the best out of this opportunity, as a "representative" of her religion.

Things happened fast after that. Over the following two weeks, she quit her job, and lied to her boyfriend and parents saying that she was going to Turkey for work, and was participating in an overseas recruiting program, just for a year. Her parents tried to stop her but she basically ran away.

"But when I arrived in Turkey, I realized the project could not be done in just a year. It wasn't quick and easy work. I realized it needed at least two years, with several steps to lure new recruits."

Last Tuesday evening, she came with her mother to a counseling center located in Guri, Gyeonggi Province, to share her experiences with The Korea Times.

Before talking, the center asked her to show her ID first. With a sigh, she agreed to share everything she'd done in the name of promoting the controversial church.

"I want the Turkish people to know what the group has done, and still is doing," she said, as if confessing.

Her life in Turkey was horrible.

She and her teammates shared a room, having only one or two meals a day. Some members were even forced to marry Turkish people, she said.

"Single members were often targeted for brainwashing, including me," she said.

She was among the driving force of the group in Turkey that desperately wanted to "complete" its mission.
A group of Turkish customers are seen in this photo provided by Seo. In the cafe located in Istanbul, Turkey, allegedly running by SCJ's overseas recruiting team, K-pop fans gathers to dance to Korean music, write letters to the stars and learn Korean culture, according to Seo. Courtesy of alleged former SCJ member surnamed Seo

"What I'm afraid of is that Turkish people could turn their backs on all Koreans ultimately, just because of SCJ's activities. That's why I was determined to break my silence. What they are doing is hurting Korea's image," she said.

"They do not tell people directly about their goal. The SCJ members hide their religious affiliation and just say they are in Turkey for work or study to befriend the locals, which I did too. I told them I was there to get a nursing job," she said.

"All that deception later made the Turkish people ultimately feel betrayed, which I still think is embarrassing. Since Turkish people have such a good image of Korea compared to other countries, the recruiters tried to advantage of it by using Korean culture as a means to approach the locals."

As a member, she said she participated in a series of Turkish recruiting projects, which has several steps. Starting from early 7 a.m. till noon, she worked endlessly, online and offline.

For the introductory level, she said they used a cafe specializing in holding K-pop fan meetings, to lure in vulnerable fans. The cafe was mostly booming with fans of Korean boy bands EXO and BTS, she said.

Selling some Korean food on the first floor to make money and holding meetings in the basement to attract K-pop fans, she said they never told visitors their aim was to recruit them into the church.

Once a visitor becomes a friend, she said they then set up a meeting to persuade them further.

"The cafe was important, since its secret mission was to bring in new members and to make money. We mostly met outside when we saw possibilities of turning visitors to members," she said.

"Sometimes, fans wrote letters to stars. We pretended that we could deliver them to the stars."

Most of her work seemed random but worked well, she said, thanks to the popularity of Korean culture.
A group of Turkish customers are seen in this photo provided by Seo. In the cafe located in Istanbul, Turkey, allegedly running by SCJ's overseas recruiting team, K-pop fans gathers to dance to Korean music, write letters to the stars and learn Korean culture, according to Seo. Courtesy of alleged former SCJ member surnamed Seo
Running Korean language classes worked well too.

"Many Turkish people in the town were from other regions. They didn't have enough money to travel far but were very open to new cultures. They especially loved Korean culture," she said.

They succeeded in gathering foreign members and used those members to recruit more.

It was when she came back to Korea for a visit that her parents realized she was part of SCJ, leading to the end of her recruiting activities. Her world broke down as she stopped believing.

Just as when she took off to Turkey suddenly, she returned to normal life just as abruptly.

"I was almost going to marry a Turkish guy," she said.

Looking back, she said she now thinks she should let them know the truth of their work.

"People do not know the truth. When they realize, it's too late," she said.

Despite her missing years, Seo is still a vibrant, glowing young woman, who is now on a mission to let people know the truth through her experiences in Turkey.

SCJ's foreign believers have reportedly increased since 2014 when the church started to eye overseas recruitment. According to the Guri Cult Counseling Center in Gyeonggi Province, SCJ is believed to have over 22,000 overseas members, making up about 10 percent of its total.




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