Sex trafficking, or new religious movement? JJC addresses social media allegation

Have you or someone you know been approached on or off campus, and questioned about “God the Mother?” Perhaps it was a few women who approached you, and asked if you could spare a minute of your time. Maybe they encouraged you to attend a bible study to learn more.

If you personally haven’t been approached, there’s a chance you have heard of this scenario taking place recently here in Illinois–maybe even more than once. If you have, you are not alone.

This summer, several social media posts warned people to be wary of the individuals behind the “movement.” These posts went viral, claiming that the group behind “God the Mother” is linked with sex trafficking.

These recruiters are affiliated with the World Mission Society Church of God, a church that originates from South Korea. They have appeared on several college campuses across the country within the last few years, spreading the message of their religion.

On the night of Aug. 21, 2019, during the first week of fall classes, a JJC student turned to Twitter to share her personal experience. The student claimed she was approached that evening by three women on the way to her class, walking alone towards the A Building.

The student said she was asked if she had time to complete a survey, and they began to ask her about God. They asked her to join them for a late night bible study. She did not join them, and she asked her fellow classmates to be wary, as these individuals were linked with sex trafficking.

The next morning, Kelly Rohder-Tonelli, Executive Director of the JJC Communications and External Relations Department, sent out a mass email, which read:

“Dear college community:

The college was made aware this morning of a widespread social media post claiming a small group of individuals were approached on the Main Campus yesterday and encouraged to join a late night bible study. The post suggests the group leading the effort is an underground sex trafficking group and to take caution…”

Rohder-Tonelli informs the community that the issue was immediately investigated by the college. There were, in fact, individuals evangelizing for their religion. However, there is no evidence that they were linked with sex trafficking.

She states that college campuses across the country have discovered similar posts over the last two years, and these posts were determined a hoax as well. She asks any questions or concerns be addressed with the Campus Police Department.

After the email was distributed, our very own Student Trustee, Shalma Marin, shared during a Student Government meeting that she and her sister, Ambar Marin, were also approached two years ago. They did what most seem to avoid– they actually went to a bible study.

Before Shalma went to JJC, she was grocery shopping at Meijer late at night after work with Ambar. They were approached by two modestly dressed women who asked them if they had a moment to chat.

“They asked us if we knew about what they call, ‘Mother God,’ and we agreed to go to a bible study to learn more,” Shalma said. “My sister went by herself the first time because I had to work. This was about two weeks after we met them.”

The two headed to Naperville, to the WMSCOG. Raised in a Catholic home, they had taken Catechism classes at a young age. Their curiosity to learn more about the Bible resulted in eventual membership with the church.

The sisters found that the WMSCOG and the Catholic Church had very contrasting beliefs. Their initial openness to the religion was followed by doubt as they continued to learn more. After about six months, both her and her sister decided to respectively call it quits.

When asked if she was ever aware of the sex trafficking allegations, Shalma stated,

“Before leaving, I decided to do a lot of my own research from home about the church itself. I did see stories online about the allegations, but I was not comfortable bringing it up, as I was planning on withdrawing anyway. But I never got the impression that something sketchy was happening behind the scenes.”

She says the members of the church were very kind individuals, with an approach that may simply rub some people the wrong way. Arguably, not many students feel comfortable talking about religion as they focus on trying to make it to their next class on time.

Overall, Shalma is grateful for her time spent at the WMSCOG. Were it not for that experience, she may not have been who she is today. Regardless of who it may be, she advises people across the globe to always be wary of strangers, no matter how trustworthy they may seem.

If you are approached, and feel uncomfortable with an interaction, the Campus Police Department can be reached at (815)-280-2234. Should something happen off campus, make sure to inform someone you trust. Do not hesitate to report it to your local authorities, or dial 911.