A fringe religious sect, which has reportedly brainwashed young women for sex with a messianic South Korean leader, has been accused of recruiting potential members through a soccer team based at Sydney University.
The Global Association of Culture and Peace, a social group started by the controversial Providence church, has also run dancing and modelling activities to attract students in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and other cities.
Until recently it held secret ceremonies behind a nondescript Annandale shopfront, where attendees participated in choreographed cheerleading and watched videotaped sermons. The building was sold eight days ago, and the group is thought to be looking for new premises.
The organisers of the culture and peace association and other social groups linked to Providence, such as International Cultural Exchange Australia, say it is a legitimate religious organisation, and members are free to leave.
The association was founded by Jung Myung Seok, also known as Joshua Jung, Joshua Lee and Pastor Joshua, who is being hunted by Interpol for alleged rape, sexual abuse, fraud and embezzlement. His whereabouts have been unknown since 2003.
“He is one of the most evil men I have ever heard of, but they all believe he is the messiah,” said a whistleblower, Paul Jewsbury, who spent nine months with the group in Melbourne and Sydney before deciding it was ruining people’s lives.
Providence is a quasi-Christian sect started by Jung in South Korea around 1980. Providence doctrine regards him as a living deity on a par with Jesus Christ, and many members devote their lives to him.
Critics and newspaper reports from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the US regard the Global Association of Culture and Peace as a front group for Providence recruitment, quoting people who have joined the group only to be trapped and brainwashed.
Australian Providence members see the association as an “affiliate” organisation and say the church has sometimes funded its social activities.
“There’s absolutely no pressure on people that they have to stay,” a Providence spokeswoman said.
“We let people know there’s a Bible study group if they are interested. I have been going to church for a while and there’s many people who have got out – if you want to use that term.”
Mr Jewsbury disagrees. “They are incredibly secretive. They often recruit without telling people it’s a religious organisation,” he said.
Mr Jewsbury attended meetings at the group’s Annandale base in a Parramatta Road shop, which members referred to as their “church”.
People familiar with the premises said young, attractive and well-dressed South Korean women would arrive for regular sessions of singing, dancing and cheerleading.
Mr Jewsbury said he had been shown videos of sermons by Jung at the Annandale premises.
Another man, who asked not to be identified, said a video projector had been mounted in the ceiling and religious paraphernalia lined the walls.
“I want to let people know about it because it is dangerous,” Mr Jewsbury said.
“I was never really pushed to give money; it’s more psychological. It’s subtle. Giving money is seen as a sign of your faith, and members start to feel pestered to give their money.
“It’s really stressful and it takes over their lives.”
The group has run a women’s soccer team based at Sydney University, and funded dance and cheerleading groups.
It also advertises for “peace models”, with opportunities for beautiful young women to attend international festivals.
Jung is said to be fond of tall, attractive young women. About 100 former devotees, some of whom had travelled from overseas to see him, have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse under the guise of religious purification, according to the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun.
Jung was formally charged with rape in 2001 and was captured in Hong Kong in 2003, but was granted bail and vanished.