Hello, my name is Clarissa, and I am a member of Shincheonji.
A Dying Hope
My journey began back a few years ago. I was about 22 years old and wrapping up my last stretch of city college. I recently made up my mind to transfer to a school 400 miles away to pursue a film degree. I had hopes of breaking into the entertainment industry. Less for fame, somewhat for money, but mainly because I had a hope that if I joined this glamorous world and changed it from inside out–if I made films that represented me, that challenged all the “-isms” of the world–that perhaps the world could truly begin to be a better place. It was a dying hope, but it was all I had.
You see, I grew up Baptist, like most of my family before me. I spent the better part of my life in the church, and sunk into as many ministries my grandmother could feasibly enlist me in. I was familiar with the phrase, “Put your hope in God.” “Put everything in God.” “Trust in God.”
My “Shameful” Questions
But how could I have hope in a God that would condemn the people I loved outside of the church, my closest friends who were atheists? How could I trust in a God who condoned the suffering of anyone? How could I put “my everything” in a God that I barely understood?
When I asked these things to the leaders around me — quietly, as if I was sharing a shameful secret by having these questions — the answers were always the same. ‘“You don’t have enough faith. Read the Bible more. Pray on it.” And the results were always the same: nothing.
I drifted from faith at that time, very easily. I entered adulthood and decided if this mysterious God wasn’t going to fix the horrors of the world, then I would, in whatever way I could. I felt drawn to the movie industry and threw myself into it, using it as a bandaid to stem the bleeding hope I had in humanity.
And that time, in 2015, was exactly when my journey to God started.
My First Invitation to Shincheonji
I came across a member of Shincheonji at that time, which of course, I had no idea back then. She approached me at my city college, told me about a Christian scavenger hunt she was doing. I still called myself a believer, if only out of habit, and agreed to answer her questions. It blossomed into a conversation about my dim and nearly dead faith, the questions that pushed me there, and the pain I wanted to remove from the world. She nodded along and smiled–she had been there herself. Then she told me the questions I had, the fleeting hope I was chasing, was found in the Bible.
So I began meeting her in a little Bible study group. We spent an hour, twice a week in a coffee shop, to pour over the Bible. But to be frank, my heart wasn’t in it. When it came time to move to the Bay to begin university, I decided once again, Scripture wasn’t for me and tried severing ties.
But my mentor was persistent, and she let me know there was another Bible study opening up near where I was going to school. At the time, I ignored most of her invitations. However, curiosity eventually won out, and I joined one of the meetings without thinking much of it.
Being Absent from God
Today, though, I know God allowed me to move so that I’d enter this study and actually begin learning who He was.
I was not an ideal student, to be frank. Nor was I an ideal believer. College was the exact distraction the film world depicted, as the many distracts present in college made me put little effort into the Bible study.
Yet no matter how absent I was, how reserved and closed off I acted, or how arrogant, the believers working there didn’t give up on me.
The teacher didn’t stop requesting to meet me, offering lunch and deep talks about school and my life goals, guiding me through lessons I had only half-listened to. For them, the hope that they had in even just one soul being healed, transformed by God’s word, was enough motivation. For an entire year, they poured genuine care and guidance into me that even my sorority hadn’t shown.
For a year, I learned who God actually is. It took that long because so many of my previous ideas had to be broken down. Where had I gotten this idea that God approved of suffering? Why did I think He didn’t want to save all of His creation? Where in Scripture did it say that God was not working, every single hour, to heal our sins and bring this world back to Him?
A Renewed Hope in Fixing the World
In this way, not only was my knowledge of the Bible completely remade, but so was I. The hope I wanted to chase was no longer in “fixing” a broken world. I understood, through God’s very Word, how He planned to restore all things. And with the people who had become my family beside me, I learned of a greater purpose that God was calling me to carry out. Because of that very transformation, this true hope became my life.
Now, my hope remains. It has grown even. I now hope that just as I have come to understand the Father, the world will as well. I have faith in this and I know, truly, where that faith comes from. I have added to this hope that as I am now truly working to help the world, the world will be willing to listen.
Shincheonji has been called “malicious” and negative in many ways. But that has not been my experience, or that of the spiritual family around me. For me, it has brought purpose and joy into my life. If you have heard negative things abbot Shincheonji, perhaps, like myself, you all will be willing to put those ideas down for a moment and see in a new light.