It was 5 p.m. on a typical Saturday night when Alyson Kapun stopped by the campus Starbucks to quickly grab coffee before heading back to her apartment.
“It started out with two. With what they were saying I didn’t agree with and I felt like they were attacking me in a way so I felt I had to defend myself so I obviously defended myself then they called other people in to help their argument. So it ended up as four against one.”
The strangers, who appeared to be in their mid-to-late 20s, were members of the World Mission Society Church of God (WMSCOG) seeking to share their message with locals and invite them to an event they were holding at a hotel in Wilkes-Barre.
The members told Kapun that they were non-denominational and belonged to a church located in New York.
A common occurrence, but one that often leads to a hostile conversation, Kapun held her ground. As a devout Roman Catholic, Kapun used her 13 years of Catholic schooling to share her thoughts with the group.
What Kapun did not know was the church’s questionable background.
“They don’t seem to be Christians from their past, but they claim to be Christians,” Kapun said. “They didn’t inform me of their background at all or where it originated from.”
The WMSCOG has roots from the late 1990s with more than 2,500 churches in 175 countries. Their mission is of the Holy Spirit Movement which claims to follow the original depiction of the Bible with ties two early religious practices, according to their website.
Expanding from South Korea to North America, the church has faced lawsuits and has been questioned for practices.
Former missionary Ron Ramos, a 12-year member of the WMSCOG, completed an online interview in January of 2013 with cult expert Steve Hassan on his reasoning for leaving the church.
“It has a lot of characteristics that resemble a cult. I’m not saying it is a cult but it has a lot of characteristics. When I researched freedom of mind, BITE model, it kind of mirrors a lot of that,” Ramos explained. The BITE model stands for the cult’s control of an individual’s behavior, intellect, thoughts, and emotions according to Hassan.
Ramos explained that the church would not explain things to new members, not answer questions about the faith and leave out details.
“Sometimes it wasn’t what they said… it was what they didn’t say,” Ramos said.
“It kind of scares you in the fact that people aren’t familiar with religion arguing the fact that if you don’t follow the Bible literally you’re in trouble,” Kapun said.
The members spoke to Kapun about their belief in God the Mother and God the Father, only worshipping on the Sabbath and the Pope. To every comment she made, the members would counter argue with a Bible verse, though could not provide Kapun with their own thoughts.
“Whenever I would ask questions they would just say, “come and see what it’s all about.”
While Kapun did not feel threatened or fearful during her encounter with the church members, after learning more about the church’s background, she said she may have been more defensive to her faith.
“I might be more defensive on how I got my points across but I don’t think I would have avoided them either only because I feel comfortable enough in what I believe that I wouldn’t change it.”
At Wilkes University, various religions are practiced. In the basement of the Farley Library is the campus Prayer Room. Upon pushing through the heavy doors, the space is no larger than the size of an expanded storage closet. Inside are ornate green and red prayer mats with intricate gold and black details that are often associated with Islam. The room creates a juxtaposition of serenity with such an event as the one Kapun experienced.
For students looking to expand their spiritual journey, the Interfaith Office and the Center of Global Education and Diversity offer services.
“The Interfaith Office connects students with their preferred houses of worship and can provide students community resources when needed,” Megan Boone Valkenburg, Civic Engagement Coordinator explained. “The Center is also a good resource should a student feel persecuted or discriminated upon because of his or her practices.”
Kapun concluded that while her encounter with the World Mission Society Church of God was not a terrible one, for someone not grounded in their faith, a different outcome could have occurred.
“I think if another person were to encounter something like this they may be closed minded about it but it in a way I view that it’s good to see other views.. It illustrates what I believe and how much and reveals who I am and what I stand for by seeing other people’s views.”