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1st Mannam World Peace Race

by Robert McEntee

On the 16th of this month, Seoul’s Olympic Stadium will lay host to an event entitled the 1st Mannam World Peace Race. The event, alongside promises of dynamic international sporting competitions and as of yet unspecified cultural events, it boasts a variety of exotic food booths and a laser show! The Mannam website also states that the event will be televised worldwide. Here in Ulsan on the same date there may be a connected event – a representative of Mannam has posted a message on the Ulsan Online calendar, offering an opportunity for Ulsanites to celebrate the International Day of Mannam and join the launching ceremony of the World Peace Initiative. Currently, not much information on these local events is offered but the calendar event invites you to contact Pauline at mannam.ulsan@gmail.com for further details.

Who are Mannam?

Mannam is a humanitarian charity working with a largely volunteer workforce of both Korean and foreign philanthropists. Whilst the charity assures us the event in Seoul will be one we do not want to miss, what drew my attention to this group and these related events was a fiery debate that lit up a certain facebook group this week. It was suggested that the charity, whilst commiting itself to valued work, may have undesirable ties with an ever-growing religious cult.

The facebook debate, which at the time of writing has clocked up over 70 comments, has two camps:

In the pro-Mannam camp:

“I’ve been a member of Mannam for a year and they couldn’t be any nicer. They never bothered me to join anything suspicious. Just good people who do good things. Come out and see for yourself.”

And in the opposing corner:

“This cult, which is connected to Mannam, destroys and tear apart families… cults throughout history have covered over their true intentions by doing good deeds. Of course, the good deeds are good, but you could be doing those good deeds through so many other organizations with no ties to destructive cults”

 

So what are the accusations against Mannam and what ‘destructive cult’ are people linking them with?

The religious group in question is the Shinchonji Church of Jesus (SCJ). It is headed by the self-appointed messiah figure, Man Hee Lee. The information about him offered by the church can be read here and states that ‘He wrote a letter in blood, dedicating himself to be loyal to God… sometime later, he greeted God from the clouds’ and finally states that ‘He knows the deep things of the heavens are dwelling within him.’

Far be it from me to pass judgement upon any religious beliefs but this information put out by the church, coupled with some of the damning comments on various forums, certainly seem to paint the group in a ‘cultish’ light. Mannam declares as one of its four central principles that it will affiliate itself with ‘no religious activities’. Despite this, the main event advertised for Seoul, the World Peace Initiative sports event, will be in the same venue and at the same time as the Shinchonji Olympiad – a very similar sporting event organised by the church. Alongside this there is the crucial point that, whilst both the charity and the church deny links of any kind, Man Hee Lee is both SCJ’s figurehead and the honnorary Chairman of the Mannam volunteer group.

The two organisations do appear to be inextricably connected.

A much more penetrating analysis of their ties is presented in the in-depth expose executed by the Canadian ex-pat, Zackary Downey in which presents his own experience of Mannam and illustrates the Shinchonji Church of Jesus’ multiple ties with the Korea-based volunteer group and other humanitarian charities in the USA.

Downey insists that the Mannam group specifically target non-Asian foreigners to recruit. This is echoed by an Ulsan-Online article written this year by Michael Hollin which states: ‘I spoke to some members of the Mannam Volunteer Association, who were there looking for new members. We exchanged business cards and drank a bright red sour herbal tea called 오 미 자 together. According to their sign, the tea was free for foreigners but 1000 won for Koreans.’

Interested in the charity and its events?

I will reiterate that the Mannam group appear to contribute to valued causes – they have previously offered cooking lessons or Korean language lessons free of charge to its members – and these scheduled events will no doubt help raise money for the organisation. Whilst the advertised sports events and laser show sound like quite a spectacle, this article is intended to highlight the possibility that, by attending these events, you may be head-counted as a supporter of both the Mannam volunteer charity AND the Shinchonji church.

Whilst these elusive events may have connections to something a little darker, I will leave you with one facebook poster’s response to the question ‘Do you want to support a religious cult?’

Do I want to support helping the elderly, homeless, orphans and have fun through charitable events that give back to society not to mention language classes, cooking classes, cafe nights and a host of other things they do then my answer is yes.

The Seoul event is scheduled for the Olympic Stadium on September 16th and you can contact Pauline at mannam.ulsan@gmail.com for information on local events. Check www.mannamintl.org for more information on the charity.

 

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