Korean church seeks recruits on campus

Group, which some recognize as a cult, invites students to learn more

· February 1, 2008, 5:00 am

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Do you know of the Heavenly Mother?

Many students do now, after recent encounters with teams of missionaries on campus.

Members of the World Mission Society Church of God have been proselytizing on campus over the past few weeks, approaching students on various street corners and outside University buildings.

The Korea-based organization is one of a number of groups that have broken off from the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Its principal belief is the second coming of Jesus Christ in the body of Korean man Ahnsahnghong, the group's founder.

Religious Studies professor Stephen Dunning said many conservative Christians would consider the group a cult, given its deviations from traditional interpretations of the Bible.

It is not unusual for such groups to try to recruit college students because they believe they are more open to new ideas than adults, he added.

Many students at Penn said they have encountered representatives from the group, which is not associated with the University, on multiple occasions.

College sophomore Sarah Martin said she was approached by two young women from the organization as she was about to cross the 38th Street bridge one day last week. One walked with her to Logan Hall and then invited her to a Bible study session.

Martin said she found the incident more humorous than anything else. "I didn't want to interrupt her because she seemed so intense," she said.

College junior Eliora Porter said two recruiters stopped her last Friday to ask whether she had heard of the Heavenly Mother, a central figure in the group's belief system. When she said she was in a hurry, the missionaries expressed their disappointment.

"It's kind of annoying that they're harassing me when I'm in a rush," she said. "I don't like the idea of missionary work in general, of having to convince people that your beliefs are right."

The group did, however, manage to engage some Penn students in conversation.

College junior Kathleen Sieffert, an officer of Penn's Campus Crusade for Christ, said she talked to two representatives from the World Mission Society for 10 minutes on Locust Walk, discussing their differing interpretations of certain Bible verses.

"It was a totally peaceful conversation and we ended it agreeing to disagree," Sieffert said.

Penn has no policy regarding such groups proselytizing on campus, as long as they do not pose any danger or impediment to the community, University spokesman Ron Ozio said.

Still, religious leaders on campus warn students to be wary of any deceptive information or messages such groups may offer.

Interim University Chaplain Charles Howard said that, while rare at Penn, visiting religious groups have been known to put pressure on vulnerable college students.

According to Dunning, proselytizing was more common in the early years of his career at Penn but has died down since the late 1990s. For example, he said, the Unification Church, whose members are sometimes called Moonies, has a building on 41st Street and used to have a more noticeable presence on campus.

Despite repeated attempts, members of the World Mission Society could not be found for comment on this article.

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