INP vs. the World Mission Society Church of God.

So the Thursday night before I head home for my vacation, I'm walking back from the coffee shop where I was studying Korean, through the subway station. A commotion starts across the way, as I begin to head up the stairs, and I pause, because I've learned that attempting to keep walking whenever something like this happens usually ends up being more embarrassing in the long run. There aren't many foreigners around here, and whenever someone gets a mind to talk to one, having to chase someone down the street shouting in order to do so rarely seems to be considered an insurmountable obstacle. Especially with the young folk. And these guys were young.

After a bit of pushing and shoving, the young men who were with the group basically just turned and walked away, so it was two muttering young women who eventually made their way over. They were cradling a pen and paper and a cell phone.

"Excuse me..... excuse me.... uh..... excuse me...." False start. You didn't really think this through, did you? The other girl glanced down and saw the intermediate level Korean book in my hand. Saved! After a bit of chit chat in Korean about whether or not I speak Korean, the first girl eventually felt comfortable enough to switch back to English: "We are doing an assignment for school. We want to ask you some questions."

It's not uncommon these days to be wandering around Seoul and to randomly be grabbed out of a crowd by university students who have been forced out into the world to inflict their English homework of having to interview a foreigner on the general foreign population. And I feel bad that they have been put in such a ridiculously awkward situation, so I always stop and try to be as polite as possible while helping them to finish their assignment. Now. If I'd not been so tired from work and studying and whatever else I'd already done that day, I would've had the mental capacity to work out the fact that the chances of university students even from an Incheon university choosing my subway station as a place to stake out for foreigners were not in their favor. And I would have realized. But I didn't.

When I asked what denomination they were, they simply informed me that they are not a denomination. That there are no denominations. That there is only the one true God and the one true church, and that's the one they were from. They informed me that the only way to get to Heaven is to take something called Passover (which bears absolutely zero resemblance to the Jewish Passover -- it's actually what we Baptists refer to as the Lord's Supper, what Catholics call the Eucharist) on January 14th of every year. They also believe in the Heavenly Mother and quoted some verse to me which I'm nearly 100% certain does not exist in the KJV. Or, if it does, it is one my church, holding the "values" that it does in regards to women, would have certainly gone out of its way to avoid, anyway.

It was at this point that I realized what I had on my hands: World Mission Society Church of God. Now. I'm not usually one to get into the murky waters of trying to define churches versus cults, since, for the most part, I think those who are frank with themselves will recognize that the only real difference is the level of mass acceptance involved. But I am generally more creeped out by churches who have living leaders who they consider to be actual gods. Why? I don't know. I just am.

At any rate, I really do try not to be an asshole to missionary types. Even though I really could, if I wanted to. I come from a fiercely religious background, and only worked my way out of it by doing a lot (a lot) of hardcore historical and philosophical research. I know my own home religion inside and out, from both an indoctrinated and a historically factual perspective. I can still quote reams and reams of scripture from memory. I can also rattle off a timeline of how the church and the scripture were invented, manipulated and transformed via various political agendas over time. I'm also not an atheist, and I don't believe or accept the idea that believing in a god is ridiculous. I find science to be rather arrogant, given its own history, and I find most hardcore atheists to be as obnoxious and delusional, if not more so, then the heavily indoctrinated religious types.

I am bothered by the idea that most of the people who approach me to explain life and God and religion to me often don't know a fraction of what I know about their own scripture, or the history of their religion. And it's tempting to get into a tit-for-tat with them over that, and at times, if they are being overly arrogant and obnoxious, I will. But as for the run-of-the-mill pamphleteer, I actually have a lot of patience. They honestly believe that what they are doing is the kindest thing that they can do, and most of the time their intentions are nothing but gentle and sincere. I'm not about to set out to be rude about it, or to try to cause some kind of ripple in their faith. I respect them for devoting time and effort to something they truly believe in, and for trying to help people in the way that they know how. And many of these churches step up and do feel personally responsible to do a lot of good, hard work in society that the average person doesn't think twice about not doing.

So. My usual routine is just to smile and listen patiently for a while, throwing in a few bits here and there to show that I do know a bit of what they're talking about, mention that my grandfather was a preacher, and thank them for what they are trying to do, but explain that I already have my own personal beliefs. And attempt to exit the conversation as gracefully as possible.

For the ones who let me go at that point, it usually ends well. But for the ones who try to hold on and insist, sometimes there's a tense exchange about being respectful of other people's beliefs, and what kind of behavior I personally find to be Christ-like. And what kind I don't.

These young women luckily fell into the former category. I didn't make it out completely unscathed, though. They did get my phone number. But only after we'd branched off into conversation about other things, especially how they are having to study English at university and how I am now studying Korean at about the same level.

The next day, I received two messages from one of the girls. Not saying anything too pushy, but wishing me a safe trip home and things of that type. But, in the meantime, I'd had time to reflect on the encounter and I'd realized that they had completely lied to my face in our initial conversation. And it annoyed me. I understand why they did it, but I couldn't get around being annoyed about the shamelessness of it. So, I didn't answer.

This week, something happened that's made me realize that just ignoring this is not going to make it go away. I'll explain why a little later.


Rob-o-SE-yo said...

I had that once - these people asked if they could practice a speech, and the speech was one of those "nine minutes to having somebody accept jesus christ as their personal savior" sales talks.

my dad's a preacher too, and I explained to them quite calmly that by starting their interaction off with a lie, they're undermining everything they want to accomplish.

I also enjoy answering the questions they ask with honest, but also completely airtight answers, such that they have no toehold to start their talk.

Anonymous said...

I usually claim to be Jewish or Muslim, or if I'm feeling like cracking out some of my old essay topics, Hindu. If they want to convert me, they gotta be on their game with fresh material.

Marilyn said...

Ugh, I had the same "it's for class" approach from the same group (but in Seoul) Must be training they get.

I'm no Picasso said...

Well, that's what I wanted to say. About the lying. Basically, my introduction to your religion is that you will lie to me in order to get me to do what you want. I'm not into that, and I think just a little bit of critical thinking would help them realize that maybe it's not the best way to go about things.

And as for claiming to be Jewish or Muslim.... I might do in Seoul. But, as will be come obvious in the next post or two, doing things like that in my little neighborhood usually ends up being pretty tricky in the end. I'm The Foreigner and sometimes I'll hear things like what I like to buy every Tuesday night at the local market from a coworker who heard it from a parent who heard it from the store clerk.

Rob-o-SE-yo said...

sometimes I'm tempted to try and recruit them into my own personal church... or the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, whose heaven features a beer volcano.

I'm no Picasso said...

I'd join.

Haha. They got super excited when they mentioned the Heavenly Mother being an original part of the Bible, and I nodded in agreement. Watching their eyes bug out of their skulls while I went on to talk about Gnostic theology was pretty classic. They gently shook their heads and let me know that I'd gone completely off the rails with my crazy talk, and that Heavenly Mother lives in Korea.

Anonymous said...

The first time they asked about Heavenly Mother, I didn't know about their church too well and went on a different theology kick, too. The next time, once I had looked into it and read up on who she was, they were similarly blown away.

Yeonsu is overrun with foreigners. They'll forget me the second they leave, so Jew today, Sikh tomorrow is all it takes.

(That said, and I don't know if they were just messing with me, but some of the solicitors claimed to not know what Judaism is, including when I explained in Korean. It doesn't always work.)

Previously said...

I was home sick with pneumonia and some women from this denomination knocked in my door. I answered in pajamas wrapped in a blanket thinking it was my supervisor and they basically pushed their way into my apartment. I was feverish and could barely stand and they just continued to show me video after video and explain about the passover. They even claimed that Jesus is a woman and that she has actually come back to life and is is Korean. I asked if there was a picture and they showed me this tiny thumbnail in a pamphlet. I am just astounded by the pushiness and inconsiderate behavior of these nuts, in addition to the fact that I have no idea what they actually wanted from me. After 40 minutes of waiting for an "okay so here's our card, hope to see you at church" or SOMETHING, they just continued as if they were just waiting for the chance to wrap me up and take me away with them. What's the point? Does anyone ever give them the impression that they are listening or suddenly convinced? What do they actually want?

FreeAtLast said...

What they actually want is to wrap you up and take you with them lol. They try to baptize people at the end of the first encounter if possible. The members get praise for their ability to recruit. That's kind of how they move up within the organization. And the deceptive recruitment tactics are sort of their M.O. Here are some websites that will explain more about who they are and how they have been hurting people and their families for decades.

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