June 14, 2014 Update: If you're looking for information about fugitive Yoo Byung-eun, his branch of the Salvation Sect, and the Korean ferry disaster, you can find it here: The Salvation Sect (Gu Won Pa) & the Sewol Ferry Tragedy.
Guwonpa is an umbrella term used to describe several (now different) groups with shared origins. The below information concerns the Guwonpa group that was, before the ferry sinking, the most visible and notable of the three Guwonpa groups.
Nice to see Ock's cult get some deserved attention in the US:Traveling to Teach English; Getting Sermons Instead
A few weeks before Christmas, someone passed Malachy F. Cleary Jr. a flier as he rushed from the subway station to class at Hunter College on the East Side of Manhattan. It was a call for volunteers to teach at an “English Camp” in Mexico during the winter break, no experience needed; $300 would cover transportation, room and board.
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Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times
Malachy F. Cleary Jr., left, and Nick Scherer, college students, said a trip promoted as being for volunteer work did not live up to its billing.
Later that day, a friend of Mr. Cleary’s from high school, Nick Scherer, called from State University at Stony Brook, where he was a student. He, too, had picked up the flier on his campus. “We thought, why not?” Mr. Cleary, 18, said. “It’s really cheap.”
That, say Mr. Cleary, Mr. Scherer and others, is how they found themselves this month confined to a hotel outside Dallas, sleeping five and six to a room, and being awoken at 5:30 a.m. for a full day of what ostensibly was teacher training in preparation for the camp in Monterrey, Mexico.
In fact, they said, the volunteer teaching was tucked into a much different and larger agenda centered on the religious theories of Ock Soo Park, a Korean preacher and founder of Good News Corps, the sponsor of the “English Camp.” Mr. Park also founded the Good News Mission, which its Web site says consists of 300 churches in Korea and 120 churches in 43 other countries, and Mahanaim, a theology and music school in Huntington, N.Y.
Speaking in Korean, Mr. Park delivered talks that often ran two hours or more, to a group of 1,600 people, about 400 of whom were connected with the camp and had traveled from as far as Alaska to volunteer. Associates gave supplementary “Mind Lectures” on biblical passages as interpreted by Mr. Park, who asserts that the human heart is lodged with “filth and evil.”
Security guards at the doors to the ballroom of the hotel, the Intercontinental in Dallas, discouraged anyone tempted to skip out, Mr. Scherer, 18, said. Volunteers who turned up late for 6 a.m. sessions of calisthenics and group massage were ordered to perform squat thrust exercises, said Seda Oral, a junior at Hunter. Those who skipped sessions were tracked down by teachers and ordered to explain their absences.
“The whole concept of their theology was that your heart is evil and that you need to have an ‘open heart,’ ” Mr. Cleary said.
Many of the rooms had five or six people sleeping in them, and often only one trusted person, a captain, was given a key, Mr. Cleary said. Ms. Oral, 20, said that she had been issued her own key but that it was confiscated after her room captain discovered that Ms. Oral was skipping the religious sessions.
All three dropped out and flew home to New York before the four days of training sessions ended.
“I was the victim of a scam,” Mr. Cleary said.
Not so, said Joseph Park, the coordinator of the English Camp and theology director at Mahanaim, who says he is not related to the founder. The religious nature of the program was made clear to the volunteers when they signed up.
“We notified them by e-mail of this,” Mr. Park said, though he was later unable to provide copies of the e-mails. He noted that the Web site for the camp contains a description of the distinctly religious nature of the “Mind Lectures.” It says the talks “are a series of insightful lectures that focus on exploring the depths of the heart and mind through the Bible.”
Other than that single sentence, on the second of six Web pages, nothing else on the site explicitly discusses any religious matters. In describing the camp, the Web site says:
“The English Camp Mission Trip is a short-term volunteering initiative sponsored by the Good News Corps, that is centered around teaching English in foreign countries. Through a unique and diverse blend of language learning programs, volunteers have an opportunity to expose nonnative speakers to English, American culture, and a greater world of hope.”
Mr. Park said that before going to Texas for training, the volunteers could have attended local workshops and learned about the religious dimension. Most people knew what would be involved, he said, and of those who went to Texas, only about 20 dropped out before going on to Mexico for the camp, which lasted for three days.
The 400 volunteers who remained taught about 2,000 Mexican students over three days, he said, adding, “Almost everyone had a very wonderful experience.” He provided testimonial e-mails from five participants.
The squat-thrust penalty imposed on those who were tardy, he said, “was in no way mean-spirited, and most of the volunteers laughed it off.” The shortage of room keys, he said, was a logistical wrinkle. And no one was required to stay for the religious lectures, he said.
That was not exactly Mr. Scherer’s experience. One evening, he said, listening to a long sermon about “how we’re all evil, lying people, and our hearts are deceitful, I was getting uncomfortable and got up to leave,” he said. “My teacher called me out, and said, ‘You don’t have an open heart.’ She basically guilted me into staying.”
Mr. Park said, “Students who did not feel comfortable could leave, but of course, we encouraged them to participate.”