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‘I lost my entire family to a cult’: How one woman escaped Grace Road

A South Korean church which believes global famine is imminent has set up base in Fiji, where it’s gained considerable influence but faced growing allegations of abuse. One woman who fled what she believes is a cult told the BBC’s Yvette Tan she lost her family in the process – but has no regrets.

Seoyeon Lee had one chance to escape and she took it, running down the road in Fiji in her pyjamas and flip-flops.

“I was crying and I looked hysterical,” she told the BBC.

The then 21-year-old was being pursued by members of Grace Road – including her own mother – who she says had tricked her into going to the Pacific island nation.

“I would have killed myself if they’d made me stay,” she says.

‘I think it’s a cult’
A year earlier, in 2013, Seoyeon had come home to South Korea from the US, where she was studying, for the summer. Her mum was suffering from uterine cancer but had refused treatment.

She told Seoyeon she would only seek treatment if she went with her to Grace Road Church.

“It was very bizarre,” said Seoyeon. “There were people screaming, crying, speaking in tongues and the sermon was about how the end times were coming.

“I told my mum, I think it’s a cult but she didn’t believe me.”

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Image caption
Fiji looks like paradise on earth to many, but not for Seoyeon
Once back at university, she found her mother had still not sought treatment and would only do so on one condition – that Seoyeon quit school and went back to South Korea.

Seoyeon, whose father had died of cancer, took leave and went home.

After her mother went through surgery, she told Seoyeon that she wanted to move to Fiji to recover – and insisted that she go along with her. Eventually, Seoyeon agreed to go for two weeks to help her adjust.

“At that point, I didn’t know it was an elaborate ruse,” she said.

“But when I got to Fiji and saw we were driving to a commune… I was like, how could I have been so stupid?”

The ‘great famine’
South Korea has a significant Christian population, and in recent decades many small, fringe churches have sprung up, some of them developing cult-like characteristics.

Grace Road, which insists it is not a cult, started out small in 2002, but now numbers about 1,000 followers, according to Prof Tark Ji-il of Busan Presbyterian University, who has closely studied Korean cults.

But Yueh people talk about Heavenly Mother Mountain

 

Li Bai

TIANMU MOUNTAIN ASCENDED IN A DREAM

A seafaring visitor will talk about Japan,

Which waters and mists conceal beyond approach;

But Yueh people talk about Heavenly Mother Mountain,

Still seen through its varying deeps of cloud.

In a straight line to heaven, its summit enters heaven,

Tops the five Holy Peaks, and casts a shadow through China

With the hundred-mile length of the Heavenly Terrace Range,

Which, just at this point, begins turning southeast.

…My heart and my dreams are in Wu and Yueh

And they cross Mirror Lake all night in the moon.

And the moon lights my shadow

And me to Yan River —

With the hermitage of Xie still there

And the monkeys calling clearly over ripples of green water.

I wear his pegged boots

Up a ladder of blue cloud,

Sunny ocean half-way,

Holy cock-crow in space,

Myriad peaks and more valleys and nowhere a road.

Flowers lure me, rocks ease me. Day suddenly ends.

Bears, dragons, tempestuous on mountain and river,

Startle the forest and make the heights tremble.

Clouds darken with darkness of rain,

Streams pale with pallor of mist.

The Gods of Thunder and Lightning

Shatter the whole range.

The stone gate breaks asunder

Venting in the pit of heaven,

An impenetrable shadow.

…But now the sun and moon illumine a gold and silver terrace,

And, clad in rainbow garments, riding on the wind,

Come the queens of all the clouds, descending one by one,

With tigers for their lute-players and phoenixes for dancers.

Row upon row, like fields of hemp, range thefairy figures.

I move, my soul goes flying,

I wake with a long sigh,

My pillow and my matting

Are the lost clouds I was in.

…And this is the way it always is with human joy:

Ten thousand things run for ever like water toward the east.

And so I take my leave of you, not knowing for how long.

…But let me, on my green slope, raise a white deer

And ride to you, great mountain, when I have need of you.

Oh, how can I gravely bow and scrape to men of high rank and men of high office

Who never will suffer being shown an honest-hearted face!

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But my husband’s young sister shall have the fiat taste.

I decide that not my mother-in-law

 

Liu Changqing
FAREWELL TO A BUDDHIST MONK
Can drifting clouds and white storks
Be tenants in this world of ours? —
Or you still live on Wuzhou Mountain,
Now that people are coming here?


Wei Yingwu
AN AUTUMN NIGHT MESSAGE TO QIU
As I walk in the cool of the autumn night,
Thinking of you, singing my poem,
I hear a mountain pine-cone fall….
You also seem to be awake.


Li Duan
ON HEARING HER PLAY THE HARP
Her hands of white jade by a window of snow
Are glimmering on a golden-fretted harp —
And to draw the quick eye of Chou Yu,
She touches a wrong note now and then.


Wang Jian
A BRIDE
On the third day, taking my place to cook,
Washing my hands to make the bridal soup,
I decide that not my mother-in-law
But my husband’s young sister shall have the fiat taste.


Quan Deyu
THE JADE DRESSING-TABLE
Last night my girdle came undone,
And this morning a luck-beetle flew over my bed.
So here are my paints and here are my powders —
And a welcome for my yoke again.


Liu Zongyuan
RIVER-SNOW
A hundred mountains and no bird,
A thousand paths without a footprint;
A little boat, a bamboo cloak,
An old man fishing in the cold river-snow.


Yuan Zhen
THE SUMMER PALACE
In the faded old imperial palace,
Peonies are red, but no one comes to see them….
The ladies-in-waiting have grown white-haired
Debating the pomps of Emperor Xuanzong.


Bai Juyi
A SUGGESTION TO MY FRIEND LIU
There’s a gleam of green in an old bottle,
There’s a stir of red in the quiet stove,
There’s a feeling of snow in the dusk outside —
What about a cup of wine inside?


Zhang Hu
SHE SINGS AN OLD SONG
A lady of the palace these twenty years,
She has lived here a thousand miles from her home-
Yet ask her for this song and, with the first few words of it,
See how she tries to hold back her tears.


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People gather at a willow- clump and wait for the ferry

Yet how it serves to ease my heart!

 

Li Shangyin
TO ONE UNNAMED IV
A faint phoenix-tail gauze, fragrant and doubled,
Lines your green canopy, closed for the night….
Will your shy face peer round a moon-shaped fan,
And your voice be heard hushing the rattle of my carriage?
It is quiet and quiet where your gold lamp dies,
How far can a pomegranate-blossom whisper?
…I will tether my horse to a river willow
And wait for the will of the southwest wind.


Li Shangyin
TO ONE UNNAMED V
There are many curtains in your care-free house,
Where rapture lasts the whole night long.
…What are the lives of angels but dreams
If they take no lovers into their rooms?
…Storms are ravishing the nut-horns,
Moon- dew sweetening cinnamon-leaves
I know well enough naught can come of this union,
Yet how it serves to ease my heart!


Wen Tingyun
NEAR THE LIZHOU FERRY
The sun has set in the water’s clear void,
And little blue islands are one with the sky.
On the bank a horse neighs. A boat goes by.
People gather at a willow- clump and wait for the ferry.
Down by the sand-bushes sea-gulls are circling,
Over the wide river-lands flies an egret.
…Can you guess why I sail, like an ancient wise lover,
Through the misty Five Lakes, forgetting words?


Wen Tingyun
THE TEMPLE OF SU WU
Though our envoy, Su Wu, is gone, body and soul,
This temple survives, these trees endure….
Wildgeese through the clouds are still calling to the moon there
And hill-sheep unshepherded graze along the border.
…Returning, he found his country changed
Since with youthful cap and sword he had left it.
His bitter adventures had won him no title….
Autumn-waves endlessly sob in the river.


Xue Feng
A PALACE POEM
In twelve chambers the ladies, decked for the day,
Peer afar for their lord from their Fairy-View Lodge;
The golden toad guards the lock on the door-chain,
And the bronze-dragon water-clock drips through the morning
Till one of them, tilting a mirror, combs her cloud of hair
And chooses new scent and a change of silk raiment;
For she sees, between screen-panels, deep in the palace,
Eunuchs in court-dress preparing a bed.

Cloud-rifts are blowing toward Great Flower Mountain,

Boundless grasses over the plain

 

Zhang Ji
THINKING OF A FRIEND LOST
IN THE TIBETAN WAR
Last year you went with your troops to Tibet;
And when your men had vanished beyond the citywall,
News was cut off between the two worlds
As between the living and the dead.
No one has come upon a faithful horse guarding
A crumpled tent or torn flag, or any trace of you.
If only I knew, I might serve you in the temple,
Instead of these tears toward the far sky.


Bai Juyi
GRASSES
Boundless grasses over the plain
Come and go with every season;
Wildfire never quite consumes them —
They are tall once more in the spring wind.
Sweet they press on the old high- road
And reach the crumbling city-gate….
O Prince of Friends, you are gone again….
I hear them sighing after you.


Du Mu
A NIGHT AT A TAVERN
Solitary at the tavern,
I am shut in with loneliness and grief.
Under the cold lamp, I brood on the past;
I am kept awake by a lost wildgoose.
…Roused at dawn from a misty dream,
I read, a year late, news from home —
And I remember the moon like smoke on the river
And a fisher-boat moored there, under my door.


Xu Hun
INSCRIBED IN THE INN AT TONG GATE
ON AN AUTUMN TRIP TO THE CAPITAL
Red leaves are fluttering down the twilight
Past this arbour where I take my wine;
Cloud-rifts are blowing toward Great Flower Mountain,
And a shower is crossing the Middle Ridge.
I can see trees colouring a distant wall.
I can hear the river seeking the sea,
As I the Imperial City tomorrow —
But I dream of woodsmen and fishermen.


Xu Hun
EARLY AUTUMN
There’s a harp in the midnight playing clear,
While the west wind rustles a green vine;
There’s a low cloud touching the jade-white dew
And an early wildgoose in the River of Stars….
Night in the tall trees clings to dawn;
Light makes folds in the distant hills;
And here on the Huai, by one falling leaf,
I can feel a storm on Lake Dongting.


 

 

South go the wildgesse, for leaves are now falling, And the water is cold

I see a sail in the far sky

 

Meng Haoran
MEMORIES IN EARLY WINTER
South go the wildgesse, for leaves are now falling,
And the water is cold with a wind from the north.
I remember my home; but the Xiang River’s curves
Are walled by the clouds of this southern country.
I go forward. I weep till my tears are spent.
I see a sail in the far sky.
Where is the ferry? Will somebody tell me?
It’s growing rough. It’s growing dark.


Liu Changqing
CLIMBING IN AUTUMN FOR A VIEW FROM THE TEMPLE
ON THE TERRACE OF GENERAL WU
So autumn breaks my homesick heart….
Few pilgrims venture climbing to a temple so wild,
Up from the lake, in the mountain clouds.
…Sunset clings in the old defences,
A stone gong shivers through the empty woods.
…Of the Southern Dynasty, what remains?
Nothing but the great River.


Liu Chanqing
A FAREWELL TO GOVERNOR LI
ON HIS WAY HOME TO HANYANG
Sad wanderer, once you conquered the South,
Commanding a hundred thousand men;
Today, dismissed and dispossessed,
In your old age you remember glory.
Once, when you stood, three borders were still;
Your dagger was the scale of life.
Now, watching the great rivers, the Jiang and the Han,
On their ways in the evening, where do you go?


Liu Changing
ON SEEING WANG LEAVE FOR THE SOUTH
Toward a mist upon the water
Still I wave my hand and sob,
For the flying bird is lost in space
Beyond a desolate green mountain….
But now the long river, the far lone sail,
five lakes, gleam like spring in the sunset;
And down an island white with duckweed
Comes the quiet of communion.


Liu Changing
WHILE VISITING ON THE SOUTH STREAM
THE TAOIST PRIEST CHANG
Walking along a little path,
I find a footprint on the moss,
A while cloud low on the quiet lake,
Grasses that sweeten an idle door,
A pine grown greener with the rain,
A brook that comes from a mountain source —
And, mingling with Truth among the flowers,
I have forgotten what to say.


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