A Wellington man who was part of an apocalyptic cult is warning others about their deceptive recruitment tactics and dangerous teachings.
The man, who Stuff has chosen not to name, was involved with Shincheonji – also known as the “New Heaven and New Earth” church – until a few weeks ago.
The South-Korean linked group is known for infiltrating churches and university groups using deceptive recruitment techniques.
They teach a distorted Christian theology heavily focused around the end of the world and have been criticised for brainwashing people and breaking apart families.
Founder of the group Lee Man-Hee professes to be Christ’s messenger, and is referred to as “God’s advocate” by followers.
The Wellington man – who is in his early 20s – joined the group after being invited to a Bible study by a friend earlier this year.
The group, made up of half a dozen people, met regularly at a house in Karori. The majority of members were young professionals.
The leaders of the group initially seemed normal, and were offering the Bible study to people who wanted to grow in their faith, he said.
The man believed he was one of a number of people new to the group, and formed friendships with the leaders and other members.
“Sometimes we just hung out. They seemed like normal, friendly people.”
However, over time the teachings became increasingly twisted and secretive.
None of the leaders had social media accounts or gave away any personal information – including their last names.
Members were told “to get rid of our own thoughts” before studies and to not tell anyone else about what they were doing.
They were also encouraged to distance themselves from people not part of the group.
“We were told not to do outside research because mixing teachings from elsewhere would poison our minds.”
The teaching increasingly focused on the group having exclusive knowledge of the Bible and the true revelation of its meaning.
This included Lee Man-Hee a prophet appointed by God.
Eventually the leaders revealed they were Shincheonji. Some of the people claiming to be new members of the Bible study were already Shincheonji members, planted to help with the recruitment process, the man said.
The group revealed they infiltrated churches to “harvest” people and teach them the “truth” about the Bible.
“I was sickened to my stomach at how blatantly manipulative their practices were.”
The man is now wanting to warn others about the group.
“These people seem to know the Bible extremely well. You need to think critically about what they are trying to teach you and be alert.
“If you are involved and want to get out – don’t be ashamed.”
Senior church leaders throughout Wellington met earlier this month to discuss how to respond to the cult.
Pastor Nick Field of The Street Church said it seemed Shincheonji had been active in Wellington since last year.
Much of their activity had been based out of the house in Karori and had only fully come to light recently, he said.
“I have never come across a cult which seems to be as highly organised, systematic and effective in what they are doing,” Field said.
Upwards of 12 members of the The Street congregation had been caught up in the cult, while many more had been approached.
Those people involved had similar experiences to the man spoken to by Stuff.
“I am proud of these people who have stepped out of this group and talked to us. There is no shame. There is no embarrassment.”