At the start of November, UNH senior musical theatre major Amanda D’Amico posted to Facebook regarding her experiences with religious solicitors on campus outside of the Paul Creative Arts Center on Halloween day. Her November 1 Facebook post detailed approaching the two female solicitors and her conversation with them regarding their religious motives. The two women, affiliated with the World Mission Society Church of God, were recruiting women on campus to join a Bible study group they were forming. Through a series of questions masked by a fake curiosity, D’Amico’s findings have put the University of New Hampshire (UNH) campus on alert ever since.
The post, now shared nearly 250 times in the month since being uploaded, went into detail about the implications behind the Bible study group. Writing she had heard about representatives from the Church of God on other college campuses throughout the country, D’Amico noted that the group gave off implications of sex trafficking in their recruitment tactics.
In her post, D’Amico wrote, “I asked them a series of questions under the impression that I was interested in joining their group. They did not have any pamphlets, flyers, or anything of the sort. I started by asking what they intend to do at these Bible study sessions. They told me they would ‘first evaluate us girls and divide us into four groups from there.’ Weird, but I needed more.”
With its headquarters located in Bundang, South Korea, the World Mission Society Church of God (referred to as the Church of God, for short) believes in “God the Mother.” In context, members of this religious body believe that God exists in the modern world, specifically in the form of a woman in South Korea. Founded by Ahn Sahng-Hong in South Korea in 1964, it is believed that “God the Mother” is Sahng-Hong’s wife. On their official website, their introduction video is prefaced with, “With Mother’s heartwarming love, we deliver eternal happiness to seven billion people in the world.”
College student newspapers around the country in the past year have written of similar experiences occurring to their female students. Schools across the nation, ranging from Boston College to Vanderbilt University to San Diego State, have all shared stories of how representatives of the Church of God have gotten kicked off their respective campuses for their recruiting tactics. Similarly, their conduct raised concerns about potential sex trafficking.
The post from D’Amico went on to describe her interaction with the two ladies. When she asked them about the on-campus location for the potential group, the ladies told her that there is no specific on campus location; instead, they come directly to you. In addition, they added that their “off-campus” location was in Hudson, N.H.; close to an hour away from the Durham campus.
Many girls on campus responded to the post echoing the content of it and stated that they were stopped by the women to talk about the Bible study group. Several accounts shared similar descriptions of the two women – one of them being a taller brunette woman and the other being a shorter, thin blonde woman. The women seemed to travel all over campus, stationing in spots with lots of foot traffic such as the Memorial Union Building, the Hamel Recreation Center and the Paul Creative Arts Center.
Katrina Wilson, a junior finance major, was with a group of girls from her sorority, Alpha Phi, when they were approached by the two women outside of the Memorial Union Building (MUB) around November 1. The women had a list of girls’ names and contact information on them, and one of Wilson’s friends played along with it and gave the women her phone number. It was later that night when that friend received a text message from one of the ladies that had been recruiting outside the MUB.
“Hey [anonymous] sorry for the late text but I wanted you to know I’m so happy we meet today. Seeing your expression after hearing about our soul from the Bible was so amazing,” the text wrote.
The next morning, the same girl received another text message reading, “[Anonymous] [Smiling emoji] Have a great day [rose emoji].” Wilson stated that her friend received another text the day after receiving that one, which was when she decided to contact her phone provider and block the number.
The phone number shown in the screenshot of the text conversation Wilson’s friend had sent to her linked back to Toms River, N.J. Interestingly enough, the Church of God location in Ridgewood, N.J. came under fire in 2014 when a former member of the religious affiliation sued them for being a “cult.” Specifically, the suit claimed that the church deprived a woman of sleep and “brainwashed” her. According to Google Maps, Toms River, N.J. and Ridgewood, N.J. are close to 90 minutes apart from each other.
According to the New Hampshire Secretary of State business search, the World Mission Society Church of God in Ridgewood, N.J. proposed to establish a branch in Bedford, N.H. According to the site, the purpose was “to establish a branch church in order to conduct worship services, Bible studies and volunteer services in the State of New Hampshire.” The registered agent is Ranier Henriquez who, according to the Whitepages, is a former resident of Ridgewood, N.J. The Bedford branch is listed as being located at 128 South River Road Building C, Bedford, N.H., with the last annual report filed being January 10, 2015.
With no contact for Henriquez, a search was done to find the Bedford branch on Google Maps. After discovering what appeared to be an empty building within the Woodbury Court strip of businesses, Vahe Haytayan of the Woodbury Realty Corporation confirmed in a phone call that the Church of God hadn’t been in the Woodbury Court area for “two or three years at least.”
Attempts to reach out to several members of the Ridgewood, N.J. Church of God branch failed on several occasions. Dong Il Lee, the registered Vice President of the branch and only remaining contact living in Ridgewood, N.J., was discovered on the Whitepages with three listed mobile phone numbers and one landline number. Attempts to reach all four of the listings failed. The call to the Ridgewood, N.J. Church of God main phone number went through after several rings but was followed by a loud, continuous screeching sound with no one on the other end. Thus, no confirmation could be made on any current existence of a Bedford, N.H. branch of the Church of God.
Also listed on the state business search is a Church of God branch in Rochester, N.H. at 15 Rochester Hill Road. The business status is listed as being in good standing. However, no contact information was listed for any agents involved with the branch. A look at Google Maps confirmed the address, as a Church of God sign is visible next to a small white building with a large cross on the front of it. The listing is right next door to what appears to be a regular house.
UNH students approached by the two female representatives expressed concern over the sincerity and truthfulness to the Bible study group being formed.
“I asked when they meet during the week and they basically said ‘Oh whenever, we just want to make a group’, and I started getting a little wary,” said Jillian Meszar, a senior music education major. “I asked them ‘So you don’t have a set time or anything?’ to which they responded ‘No.’ I then asked where they want to hold study groups on campus and they said they could come to wherever you are.
“…But overall it just freaks me out, because you never really think about trafficking around here and it’s weird to be up close to something like that, you know?”
Sophomore communication major Amanda Burgon was walking towards the Alpha Phi house when she was approached by the two women. They told her a bit about their Bible study group they were starting, and one of the ladies gave Burgon her phone number. In an email explaining her encounter, Burgon noted that the area code of the woman’s phone number indicated she was from New Jersey.
In addition, the same day that Burgon shared her experience with her mother, a post went viral on Facebook from a few days before in Salem, N.H. The post detailed similar accounts that females on the UNH campus were experiencing, delving into their encounter with a few representatives from the Church of God. The post had a picture of three women in a shopping mall, two of which match exact descriptions of the female Church of God representatives seen on the UNH campus.
Burgon noted that she contacted UNH police shortly thereafter when she discovered the concern regarding the group and their motives. Police responded that they had been escorted off campus and asked not to come back.
“We conducted a thorough investigation including reaching out to federal, state, and several campuses in Massachusetts and we found no information the women identified on the UNH campus are involved in any criminal activity,” UNH Police Chief Paul Dean said in an emailed statement. “We identified two women from [New York City] who were on campus engaging students around religious teachings. They hadn’t obtained a campus permit and were engaging students in areas of campus and were being distributive to the educational mission. They were explained the campus permit process and chose to leave campus.”
Several Facebook users commented on D’Amico’s post noting that there was a continuous problem of Hudson’s inhabitants being approached by members of the Church of God, specifically towards women in the area.
To close her post, D’Amico wrote “Please keep an eye out for yourselves and your friends. If you see something, call someone! I never thought I would be so close to the face of human sex trafficking. Stay safe!”
“We encourage the UNH campus community ‘if you see something, say something’ report any suspicious activity or people to campus or local law enforcement,” Chief Dean said.
Representatives for the Bedford, Salem and Hudson police departments did not respond to requests for comment before publication.