WMS church proselytizing on campus

Group, which some recognize as a cult, invites students to learn more

The Gateway, University of Alberta/May 20, 2011

The World Mission Society Church of God (WMS) has been looking to bring new members into their organization, and they've brought their search to the University of Alberta campus.

Students have reported being approached around HUB Mall, the University LRT station, and in CAB by missionaries from WMS, a South-Korean based church who teach that their founder, Ahn Sahng-Hong, is the second coming of Christ. The missionaries have been preaching to students and handing out brochures.

Katelyn Bellerose, a second-year Anthropology major, spent about 45 minutes talking with WMS missionaries, and said they were very persistent and attempted to convince her to be baptized in the washroom.

"They just kept insisting that my soul was in danger and that I needed to be baptized, even when I told them I already was. I was actually getting creeped out and scared, so I told them that no, I didn't want to be baptized today [...] but they still insisted."

Bellerose said she avoided CAB the next day because the missionaries sent her a text message saying they would be meeting her there.

Fourth-year finance student Bailey Cameron has been approached on campus three times by WMS members. She said some of them have been willing to leave her alone quite quickly, while others were more determined.

"I don't think there is anything wrong with them approaching students," she said by email to the Gateway. "Although, it's a bit irritating when they don't respect your beliefs."

Reverend Richard Reimer, a Lutheran minister with the U of A Chaplains' Association, said that it's fine for religious groups to preach on campus, as long as it's done in a manner that's open and honest.

Reimer said that he hadn't heard enough about this group to draw any conclusions about their behaviour, but said he would have concerns if students were being baptized on campus.

"Baptism is an initiation rite into a whole way of life, and that's not something you undergo lightly. It's not something you do in the bathroom after you've talked to somebody for five minutes. I mean, this is a whole life-engaging thing."

Reimer said other groups have been banned from Canadian universities before for the recruitment tactics they were using. Specifically, in 2003 the International Church of Christ was banned at Ryerson University in Toronto.

The U of A Chaplain's Association has rules about organizations proselytizing on campus, and has a brochure about abusive religious groups. Reimer said it's only a concern if the groups are deceiving students to join, and creating a dependence on that organisation. At this point they haven't had cause for alarm.

A representative from WMS declined to comment, except to say that the missionaries visit campus at sporadic intervals.

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