Sect targets Kiwi brides for rapistSave
By Lincoln Tan
New Zealand women are being targeted by a religious movement hunting spiritual brides for a convicted serial rapist.
South Korean organisation Jesus Morning Star is recruiting young women in universities, shopping centres and churches here - often by promising them lucrative modelling contracts. But the group, which uses multiple aliases, ultimately wants members to be "purified" by having sex with their leader Jung Myung-seok.
The University of Auckland has issued a warning to student groups, and the Presbyterian Church of Auckland says its members are also being targeted. At least 10 New Zealand women have been taken on trips to Korea by the group, the Weekend Herald understands.
Two women who have left the group say the experience has left them psychologically and emotionally scarred.
A 22-year-old University of Auckland student, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisal, said she joined the group after a woman approached her on Queen St.
"She told me I'm beautiful and asked if I wanted to join a Christian modelling agency that will focus on inner beauty," said the student, who is of European descent.
"Along with photoshoots and fashion shows, we also had to attend a Bible study course."
She was asked to wake up at 3am to be part of the group, but it was an instruction she did not follow.
"The Bible classes started quite normally, but a few sessions on we were introduced to Joshua as a prophet, and then as the new messiah," she said.
"I was constantly asked to write to Joshua in prison, asking questions and telling him about myself. I was also not allowed to meet other men from the group."
The student said the photo sessions usually had a bridal theme, where the models would be dressed in white. Seven months after joining, the group asked her to fly to Seoul to visit Jung in Daejon prison. She decided at that point to cut contact with the group, and turned to the university chaplain for help.
She said it made her "shudder" to think that her photos had been sent to Jung in prison.
The student said, except one, none of the leaders she met in the group here in Auckland were Korean.
The group, often referred to as a cult or quasi-Christian sect, was founded in 1980 by Jung, who is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence in Seoul for raping and molesting his followers.
Of those recruited from New Zealand, some are believed to have become "reapers" to help the search for new brides.
Rev Dr Carolyn Kelly, chaplain at the University of Auckland, said JMS had been active for "quite some time" at the university and there were grave concerns for safety of female students.
"We know this because we've had personal stories from people who've been recruited," Kelly said.
"The front (used by the group) varies, usually it's like a dance school, modelling course or athletics group...they target attractive, committed young women particularly those with the Christian faith."