Korean cult’s Mannam gets a facelift as IPYG: Why you should know.

**Update**

Since the publication of this article the IPYG has taken its webpage offline, but is available cached here.  Hours before it was taken down, representatives of Mannam sent messages for removal of their faces, one of which I have left below:

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Well, well, well…

It appears the Shinchonji cult has rebranded its foreigner credibility lending machine into The International Peace Youth Group. 

But Adam, you may ask, what the hell would any of this ever have to do with me? There are literally hundreds of cults in Korea, and I haven’t been recruited into one. You must think I’m an idiot if you picture me not knowing I’m participating in a cult.

A lot of us with or without a particular faith have been given bread or wet wipes with a flyer stapled to it, or have been woken out of a Sunday lie in to fend off the latest person who to ask us if we know who Jesus is. Yeah, as if that was clearly what was standing in our way. Semi-harmless, mostly annoying.

Especially in Korea, when I’ve been anything but dismissive to these people, I’ve paid in full with my patience and time.

However, a few years ago, a group of flaky Korean nationals emerged at bus stops and large social events, hailing from a group called Mannam.

At first, you’d peg them for run-of-the-mill evangelists, but they were far too well instructed not to say anything about religious beliefs. No, when I met them, they insisted that they were merely a philanthropic organization looking to help out foreigners and promote peace initiatives (In fact they identified themselves as Mannam Volunteer Organization).

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See?

They also offered free Korean classes and were looking for help with charitable endeavours. I went home and checked their website (which has since disappeared), and it specifically stated that they are not a religious organization.

Not without my suspicions, I went to a Korean class they were hosting that week.

I even went to one of their events. It was some ‘peace walk’ or some other nonsense along Haeundae Beach. Hundreds of foreigners came. Although no one seemed particularly sure what the hell walking past Haeundae beach was gonna do for peace, it was a nice enough day for it. Plus, who doesn’t like to feel like they’re making a difference for world peace, huh? There was no fundraising for it, and it when I asked any particular questions, I was given the old ‘raising awareness’ line.

Right, if there’s one thing people need awareness of, it’s world peace. I know some of you will scoff at my cynicism, but world peace is a well meaning, empty thought. The kind of thought empty enough to have room for a lot of insidious agendas.

But still, they seemed to carry themselves as though they believed they were making a difference in the world. Despite my intensifying suspicions, I help myself to some cookies and light refreshments.

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Face removed at the request of the person in the photo. Ironic, no?

At the end of the day, the group photos come, and we are all being instructed to make this particular hand gesture… Kinda like the way Psy puts his thumb and index finger underneath his chin at the end of the Gangnam style video. I’m told it’s their version of the ‘victory sign’. As they walk people through this gesture, a banner is rolled out in front of all of us.

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“When light meets light, there is victory”

Again vague but inconclusive religious imagery. There were so many foreigners, only foreigners. There were foreigners that were Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, you name it. I wonder how many of them eventually gathered that their likeness was being used to promote a faith they didn’t belong to? And how peculiar for a world peace awareness event to be closed (as I later found out) to non-Mannam Koreans?

I left that day, deciding that there was definitely something wrong with this picture. Who were they? And what the hell did they want with a bunch of foreigners? Who paid for this stupid shirt and those delicious cookies?

I never stuck around to find out, but after that day I read up about how Mannam is suspected of having ties to a cult called Shinchonji. There was a standing theory that these events, and indeed Mannam in its entirety, were a giant ruse to lend foreigner credibility to Shinchonji in order to help them with their recruiting efforts.

One particularly well researched article (which I cannot find at present) pointed to cross-posted photos, copy-and-pasted mission statements, and even Mannam pins being worn by Shinchonji members. It wasn’t very widely known at the time, as this thread from waygook.org’s timeline can attest, but the evidence was starting to add up fast. Mannam was probably at the height of its popularity with the foreigner community, but that was about to change.

A few months later was their ‘66th Liberation Day celebration‘. As a happy little coincidence would have it, the original venue for the event wasn’t available, so they were graciously invited by a religious group to share the stadium. I’ll let you guess which one.

And so it was. A huge celebration in a stadium with games, food, and face painting. A whole bunch of suspiciously free stuff that was flowing from everywhere. A good turnout, for sure. Mannam had really pulled out their finest hour with their foreign recruits.

The ceremony started. It was…creepy. Obviously religious, and maniacal enough to make anyone question which side of the DMZ they were on. Have a look.

At a certain point, the members of the volunteer organization directed all eyes to the front for their special presentation, the way a parent does when you’re being a shitty child. What the hell did that matter? Yeah sure. We’re all having fun, right? We’ll listen to a bit of whatever this is.

Amidst the thunderous applause of the Mannam people, they proudly announced that ‘the title of honorary chairman was to be given to Lee Man Hee!’ (1)

Yeah, cool. Good for that guy.

Wait…Who’s that?

Sure enough, Lee Man Hee founded a cult called Shinchonji in 1984. The one that just happened to be able to spare the room to host the Mannam event.

Lee also just happens to be “the only person who saw and heard the events of Revelation and can testify to the mysteries of Revelation, exactly according to the Bible.” (2).

Of course. This guy. It had to be someone, right? Why not him?

He’s even got that light hue around him. See?

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Read more about him and his cult here. Please also note the image provided by his followers has an aura of light around him. Adorable, no?

Bingo. Nearly immediately following that, the jig was up for the old ‘prophet of appropriation’ and Mannam. Foreigners caught on almost all at once that their best intentioned naivete and want for belonging, a better world and shitty facepaint was all in service of making the fledgling ‘prophet’ seem more attractive and acceptable to Korean people.

They fell right off the face of the Earth after that. Shinchonji, however still boasts a following of over 150 000 people, and is in no position to back down from this idea. In fact, they’re back to their old tricks right now, as the International Peace Youth Group.

I’m not here to tell you if he’s a prophet from heaven or not (he’s not). I’m also not telling you that this group is necessarily dangerous or life threatening. I just believe people have a right to believe as they please as much as they have the right to know what they’re supporting. I’m just writing this to preempt this new organisation from picking up steam and swallowing up a whole new batch of foreigners who might unknowingly be used as ad fodder for this muppet.

So we’re clear: The IPYG is Mannam is the Christian cult ShinChonji. You need look no further than their history page, which I’ve screencapped below.

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Sister organization. Right.

P.S. Here’s a list of some resources that I may or may not have hyperlinked. There is a lot of fine work already from some people more knowledgeable about Korean cults than I.

Asia Pundits: Understanding Cults in Korea: An interview with Peter Daly

JMS Cult main page (an excellent source for all things cult related in Korea)

Yonhap News on Foreigners revelations about Mannam

Scroozle’s much more concise explanation of Mannam, IPYG and Shinchonji

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