I was encouraged to post my testimony here about a bible study, called Revive Sacramento, that I left recently due to their toxic demands and the fact that they were part of the Shincheonji. I learned this revelation after posting a similar testimony on my school's social media page and was privately messaged by a peer about this dark truth of my bible study. Now, here I am giving my testimony on this page.
About two years ago (November 2018) while I was walking to class, a random person (the recruiter) approached me and asked if I can have a few minutes of my time to answer a few questions like "Are you a Christian?" or "Do you read the Bible?", that sort of thing. He proceeded to ask me if I was interested in joining a bible study. The recruiter did not have any fliers on hand, mention a website that I can refer to, and did not tell me what church they're from. This was a first red flag for me but I let it slide. I then told him that I can't join because I was already part of a bible study that my church runs and I am also heavily involved with my church since I serve in their worship team. This for some reason intrigued him (and now I see why) so he asked me for my number which I carelessly gave out. Later on, I was greeted by his excessive texts which focused on him wanting to know me more. This pattern kept on happening every day but I did not want to judge people too quickly even though this was already a visible red flag.
Now keep in mind, at the time that this happened, I did not have a lot of friends or people I can talk to daily and chronically suffered from depression because of that. At the same time, there were also somethings going on in my church. One issue was the sudden decrease in the number of people. There were not a lot of people my age that I could talk to anymore and I began to lose faith in the future of my church because I would sometimes feel ignored by the remaining people there. But then I would realize this was a lie and those people did care for me (I explain more of this towards the end). I decided to use this recruiter's offer as an opportunity to expand my friendship, make the most out of my college experience, and strengthen my knowledge in the bible. So I said yes to the recruiter in joining and after meeting him in person again to know him more, he was not as bad as I thought he would be. You can see how naive and desperate I was before I knew this bible study was not what it seemed. I can agree that the SCJ goes after people who have felt this way.
Here is how my time with the bible study went because I faced a similar pattern that other ex-SCJ members here faced:
The bible study first started as a small group at a coffee shop on my campus with just the teacher, recruiter, and I. We only learned basic lessons and there was no mention of Shincheonji.
After a month, the small group transitioned to a large group at an office building where I would meet more people who would soon be my classmates. This is usually the orientation period where the teachers introduce the program and then hang out with the people afterward by treating them to a restaurant or having picnics at the park.
Finally, after about 2-3 months, the lessons start to get serious by indoctrinating you with parables, increasing the level of commitment from 2x a week to 3x a week, and the teachers start getting upset if you forget the material or object their teachings.
Before the lessons became serious, the thing that got me in these first few months with this large group was their unusual kindness. I never expected them to treat me like I was popular by being super interested in the things I do and also having meaningful conversations with me. This made me want to commit to these bible studies more. Here are some examples where they treated me like "family":
Cycling is one of my hobbies (I've been doing this for 6 years) and I typically go on morning rides before lessons. My teacher would usually ask how my day went and I would tell her that I went on a bike ride. Before she started the lesson, she would give me a shout out for going on a bike ride.
There was a time where I had to miss bible study for a week because of a mission trip to Honduras with my church. The group bought me snacks to bring along. Keep in mind, this happened before they would get mad over absences.
There was another time I broke my shoulder after a cycling accident. The group sent me snacks and a card for me to get better and I also somewhat became the center of attention after returning from the ER.
I read from various posts that these SCJ members, by design, are trained to fake their kindness to entice you to stay. When I learned about this recently, I felt somewhat devastated since most of my positive memories came from them. Learning that their actions are in-genuine gave me a sense of betrayal because they were the only set of "friends" I had at the time. So now I will tell you how I began to see the true character of these people.
One of my circumstances is not owning a car and this is a disadvantage for me. As a result, I would have to rely on public transportation or rides from people to go to bible study. Sometimes it is hard asking for rides going to the bible study given that I live far from Sacramento and there is a lot of congestion there. So I mainly use public transportation (train and bus) to go to bible study. Sometimes the busses would delay because of heavy traffic and I end up arriving late for the lessons. When this happens, the teachers would constantly text me, asking me where I'm at and would threaten to mark me absent if I miss more than two-thirds of the lesson. When I explain to them my situation, they would normally respond with a "you should've managed your time better". To accommodate their demands, I decided to leave my house very early so I can have a huge window of time. Doing this repeatedly can get exhausting because I am usually the first to arrive at the bible study and I have to wait a while in the afternoon heat for the people to show up. Going back home is also a challenge. The lessons would sometimes end late to the point where I have to catch the last train (around 10 PM) and there is even a MANDATORY small group afterward for review, which takes slightly longer. By the time I have less than 20 minutes before the last train arrives, I would remind the people in the small group that I am about to miss it (usually a hard task), ask somebody for a ride, and then frantically race back to the station to catch it. Sometimes, the train has already stopped at the station by the time I get out of the car, and then I would sprint as hard as I could because the train does not stop too long. There are also other extreme instances where I would commute to the bible study by bike. I would bike from my house to the train station, board the train with my bike, and then ride the remaining route to the bible study. I would repeat this same process going home and it usually happens very late at night where I have to vigilantly watch out for reckless drivers while having to race back before the last train leaves. I slowly begin to see here that they are not courteous of my time and they never commended me for commuting like that. However, I did not want to jump to that conclusion yet.
This behavior continued to manifest. There was a time where I wanted to miss bible study because of an exam I had the following day. Keep in mind, I am very studious and don't enjoy failing. Exams are always my priority and this particular exam was worth a bulk of my grade but I did not have time to review for it properly. I asked the teacher that I needed to miss bible study for only a day and he seemed disappointed. He let me miss it and said he was going to video call me the next day. In this call, the teacher explained to me that although we are busy with our outside commitments, we should still make bible study our priority because that is where we learn the word to earn God's salvation. He even sent me a YouTube video of how to manage my time better which is messed up. Months later, I would find myself missing out on lessons frequently because of an exam (my school also demands a lot too you know) and I would then be greeted with confrontations from my other teachers. The teachers would usually compare me to other classmates who also have exams but are still able to commit and then they would tell me to persevere more so that I can be accepted by God. Sometimes they would constantly bring up the Hosea 4:6 verse (without knowledge, they were destroyed) to emphasize the reason for choosing bible study over exams. When I read it then, I fell for it. But if I read the verse now, I can see that they took it out of context.
There was also another instance where I had a fever and missed a full week of bible study which angered one of the teachers who then told me that I should not let illness be an excuse. Now, the reason why I got this fever was due to overworking myself. Every week I would use Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday to attend bible study and come home late and then Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday to catch up with my school work. Even on those non-bible study days, I still have classes to attend (those are my full school days) and church on Sundays. Once I recovered and came back to the bible study, they were planning to shoot a parables music video. Just as when we were about to begin, the teacher told me that I cannot join them and needed to stay behind with another teacher to make up the lessons I missed which angered me internally. I had to watch these makeup lessons on this teacher's low-quality smartphone (his battery would drain fast and the video would lag) and it took me nearly all day to finish it while the rest of the others went home early. When I finished, the teacher, who told me to stay behind, came back and wanted me to still be part of the video. I declined because I would not have the same thrill in being part of that video had he included me earlier. But he insisted. I did not want to waste any of my time so I pretended to look happy and shot the video with him.
From their excessive demands, I began to see the legalism in their doctrine where they believe that keeping the word in the bible and having knowledge about it constitutes acceptance from God. From forcing you to memorize parables/certain verses, giving you exams about it, teaching in a "one-size fits all" approach, and trying to do good other good works non stop, this is legalism. I am saying this because I was taught by my church that having this kind of mindset can be destructive since you will not receive satisfaction in life, you begin to treat others poorly, and you lose the meaning of being justified by faith alone since Christ has already died for our sins. When I conformed to Revive's doctrine, I began to feel these effects of legalism. I did not feel the salvation that the bible study would promise. So I am glad I still remembered the important lessons my church taught me even while I was being indoctrinated by this bible study. I finally realized that this bible study conflicts with my church's doctrine and I began to trust my church's doctrine more than theirs. Now I wanted to leave.
On a side note, this bible study still allowed me to attend my church but did not strictly enforce the rule of not telling anybody outside what I was learning. I told some people in my church what the bible study was teaching me and they began to feel concerned since they don't rely on parables too much for salvation. Conversely, I also told my bible study about my church and its teachings. During small groups, when I bring up my church's ideas, they would reject it and tell me that my church is preaching lies and that it's "spiritually dead". This was also another factor that influenced my decision to leave because they insulted my church, the church that I've been attending as a kid, and grew up in.
Besides noticing the legalism, there was also another reason why I wanted to quit this bible study. When I mentioned earlier that the size of my church grew smaller and I began to resent it since I felt ignored, I saw a change of heart in myself after recognizing that the feeling of being ignored was a lie I made up, and those people in my church did care for me. I realized too that church size does not matter and it is how I spend time with the remaining people that matter more. Here are some moments where I had this change of heart.
My dad is a pastor of my church, during a service, he addressed the fact that the church grew smaller in attendance and was asking the remaining people if they can help with the church. After the service, he came up to me and encouraged me to come back to help the church (he knew how I felt prior since I told him my feelings about the church). I play the bass in their worship team (been doing this for 5 years) and he missed seeing me up there playing worship songs. Note, I had to give up this commitment because of the demands of my bible study. From there, I decided to tell my worship team leader that I wanted to come back to playing again. When I told her about this bible study I joined and how I wanted to leave it, I never saw her that happy. There was also another moment too that surprised me. My church has a prayer group where they gather before the service and pray for the congregants. What I did not know was that behind my back, the entire time that I've been committed with that bible study, the group had been praying for me to leave it after suspecting that I may have joined a cult. This is based on the teachings I've been sharing with them and they did notice my unusual change in behavior since I have been acting socially withdrawn (they have known me since I was a kid). They were right.
Around mid-December, before the bible study transitioned into the intermediate lessons, I decided to give my teacher a call and tell him that I wanted to leave. It was a long and hard call because he was trying to guilt-trip me into continuing the bible study so that I can be a better person to others. Unfortunately, I fell for his tactics at the end of the call by indecisively saying that I will think about not leaving. But I quickly changed my mind and told him I was leaving for good and we ended the conversation there. I never got a call from him or anyone else ever since.
So because of my choice, I had to give up the things I enjoyed doing because of the cult's excessive time demands. I gave up my long time hobby of cycling, spending time with my family, playing with the worship team, and the bible study obstructed my goal of pursuing internships (something that I was trying to find prior to being recruited). Even after I left this bible study, it was difficult for me to resume these things because of the mental scar they gave me. But I try to not let that scar hinder me. On a positive note, this experience did motivate me to learn more about my church's doctrine and its teachings.