In 2011 I was a student at California State University, Fullerton. A couple of girls befriended me on campus and eventually invited me to do a Bible study with them. I was praying at the time to know God's will and thought this was an answered prayer. They were kind and intelligent and I was trusting.
Within a couple months they sent me to a class to study further. I had a gut feeling that something was not right, but I ignored it because I was naïve and thought the teaching made sense. I didn't have a deep enough knowledge of the Bible to see that they were teaching falsely.
Over the course of about 8 months I was indoctrinated into Shincheonji. They prepared me to accept their chairman, Man Hee Lee, over the course of many months by teaching that God used a person to lead His people in each era. They taught that all believers were in spiritual darkness and had to receive the word of revelation from Lee to be saved. Had they told me the truth the first day, I would have been alarmed. But it was very carefully and gradually presented and I became close to them more than other friends. This is their intention.
They showed me love bombing to win me over, and I didn't know that the one who introduced me was lying to me. She had already learned and was pretending to be like me while actually her role was to make sure I learned well.
For the most part I believed what they told me, but when I had doubts I would suppress it because we were trained to reject our own thinking and instinct. It didn't feel right to me because I believed our mind and instinct is given to us as a free agent to think critically. Yet the way scripture and my faith were used to influence led me to believe in trusting the "word," and suppress those doubts.
Subconsciously, perhaps the suppressed doubts manifested in my fear to give up as much of myself as others did. Although I was really active I held back in some ways, like choosing not to live with other members which would have totally immersed me. There was a feeling that if I did that I would completely lose my identity.
This happened anyway, as it were, by my involvement. This was a high demand group. I spent about 20 hours a week in service, centers, trainings, and meetings where we were trained, disciplined, and maintained regularly for the purpose of scj.
They taught us to lie to people by pretending we were normal Christians in order to evangelize to them without them knowing we were scj. I didn't like lying but went along with it in order to evangelize because I thought it was God's work. I met with people to introduce them to the study and taught one on one Bible study. I drove to the centers in different cities to maintain people who were learning. I thought I was saving them.
I was also a full-time student and worked part time. We were often told to even go without eating or sleeping to do God's work. I was often too tired and busy to think and I began to lose focus on my studies, where previously I had done a good job.
Attending service was mandatory. I met with my small group to evangelize sometimes as well. We were strictly advised not to confide in any outsiders, even family because they said we had to hide what we were doing to avoid persecution from the enemy. So we were told to say something different to our families. As a result, I became increasingly distant from family and friends of mine in scj struggled with this painful distance as well.
I was constantly afraid because they said if we didn't do well we could be kicked out of heaven, and our families would also suffer with us. They used scripture to enforce this, such as seven evil spirits inhabiting an empty house, the wicked being cast into darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth, labeled a goat, betrayer, a pig, and a dog that returns to its vomit. I never felt good enough and lived in constant fear and oppression.
Eventually, I struggled with major depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Later I learned other members struggled with this as well. It was difficult to keep up with the demands while going through this. When I told a leader my thoughts to seek help from the clinic at school for mental issues she discouraged me from doing so. It was suggested I reflect on my character instead.
Because I was misunderstood and looked upon critically I felt alone in this struggle. This caused me to worsen. Finally the pressure took its toll on me, breaking me over time and I had a mental break down.
A relative called my parents to take me back home and I had to see a psychiatrist because I was so deep in depression and starting to drift from reality, to disconnect from my body and even to hear a voice telling me to take my life and to fear an evil spirit was attacking me. Upon receiving treatment, this subsided and the depression began to lessen a little. However, I was not free yet.
That was 2014. It took me a year after going home to stop communicating with and serving scj, not wanting to let God down. I finally stopped involvement because their over me began to weaken; I saw scj was making me worse and I needed time apart to heal. I prayed for clarity and allowed myself to entertain doubts and read things about destructive groups. It was difficult and took time.
Finally they told me if I didn't come back right away I would never be allowed back, which meant judgment. This was very distressing, but it was the catalyst that caused me to accept that it was a cult due to their tactics and that I would never go back. I was very disillusioned, hopeless, and isolated.
I tried many treatments for depression, have made attempts on my life and was hospitalized in mental hospitals but there was a wound I guarded, trusting few to be privy to it. I struggled with anger, confusion, and distrust about God. I couldn't read the Bible or talk about God without becoming angry and upset from the experience and resisted attempts of conversation about religion. I developed a fear of people and found it difficult to trust.
In the meantime, others as well as some family prayed for me. In May 2019 my aunt sent me a testimony of a man who was deceived by the New Age and the occult but eventually had an encounter with Jesus. It reached me because I could relate and I prayed to God to forgive me, to help me trust Him again and asked Jesus back in to my life. Then God saw my sincerity, spoke to my heart and gave me real peace after all those years.
Now I feel God's presence and love and not oppression like before. It has not been an easy journey, and there is still a battle, but I am healing and am thankful God rescued me. Now I see these things happen because we live in a fallen world, but He has a plan for us. God is powerful to bring us back to Him even when we think our faith is broken, and to use these struggles to foster insight, understand suffering, and learn to help others.
I forgive scj and the individuals who hurt me. I pray for them as well that the deception would be broken. I know many scj members are hurting as well as their families and friends who miss the trust and close relationship they once shared.
I hope that through my story others can be wary of false Christs and be alert. And if you are in scj or have left and read this information, I know it's difficult to consider. I was in the same place. Friend, if you are hurting or doubting, I hope that you will know you can find freedom and hope once again.