In early November, Amanda D’Amico, UNH’s senior musical theater major, posted on Facebook about her experiences with on-campus religious advocates outside the Paul Creative Arts Center on Halloween. Her November 1 Facebook post detailed the approach of the two lawyers and her conversation with them regarding their religious motivations. 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 false curiosity, D’Amico’s findings have since put the University of New Hampshire (UNH) campus on high alert.
The post, now shared nearly 250 times in the month since it went live, detailed the implications behind the Bible study group. Writing that she had heard of Church of God representatives on other college campuses across the country, D’Amico noted that the group drew sex trafficking implications in their recruiting tactics.
In his message, D’Amico wrote, “I asked them a series of questions under the impression that I was interested in joining their group. They didn’t have any brochures or flyers or anything like that. I started by asking them what they planned to do during these Bible study sessions. They told me they were going to “evaluate us girls first and divide us into four groups from there”. Weird, but I needed more.
With its headquarters located in Bundang, South Korea, the World Missionary Society Church of God (called 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, especially 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 the wife of Sahng-Hong. On their official website, their intro video is prefaced with “With Mother’s comforting love, we offer eternal happiness to seven billion people around the world.”
Over the past year, college student newspapers across the country have written about similar experiences of their female students. Schools across the country, ranging from Boston College to Vanderbilt University to San Diego State, have all shared stories of how Church of God representatives were expelled from their respective campuses. for their recruiting tactics. Likewise, their conduct has raised concerns about possible sex trafficking.
D’Amico’s post goes on to describe his interaction with the two ladies. When she asked them about the potential group’s campus location, the ladies told her that there was no specific location on campus; instead, they come directly to you. Additionally, they added that their “off-campus” location was in Hudson, NH; nearly an hour from the Durham campus.
Many girls on campus responded to the post by echoing its content and saying they had been stopped by the women for talking about the Bible study group. Multiple accounts shared similar descriptions of the two women – one being a taller brunette woman and the other a shorter, thin blonde woman. The women seemed to travel all over campus, parking in crowded spots, like the Memorial Union Building, the Hamel Recreation Center, and the Paul Creative Arts Center.
Katrina Wilson, a junior finance student, was with a group of girls from her sorority, Alpha Phi, when they were approached by the two women outside the Memorial Union Building (MUB) around November 1. The women had a list of girls. their names and contact details, and one of Wilson’s friends played with it and gave the women his phone number. It was later that night that this friend received a text from one of the women recruiting outside MUB.
“Hey [anonymous]sorry for the late text but i wanted to let you know that i am so happy that we are meeting today. Seeing your expression after hearing about our soul in the Bible was so amazing,” the text wrote.
The next morning, the same girl received another text message saying: “[Anonymous] [Smiling emoji] Have a nice day [rose emoji].” Wilson said her friend received another text message the day after this one, when she decided to contact her phone company and block the number.
The phone number listed in the screenshot of the text chat Wilson’s friend sent him related to Toms River, NJ Interestingly enough, the location of the Church of God in Ridgewood, NJ came under fire in 2014 when a former member of the religious affiliation sued them for being a “cult.” Specifically, the lawsuit claimed the church had deprived a woman of sleep and “brainwashed” her. According to Google Maps, Toms River, NJ and Ridgewood, NJ are approximately 90 minutes apart.
According to the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s corporate research, the World Mission Society Church of God in Ridgewood, NJ offered to establish a branch in Bedford, NH According to the site, the purpose was “to establish a branch church 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 White Pages, is a former resident of Ridgewood, NJ. Bedford is listed as being located at 128 South River Road Building C, Bedford, NH, with the last annual report filed being January 10, 2015.
Without contact for Henriquez, a search was made to find the Bedford branch on Google Maps. After discovering what appeared to be an empty building in the Woodbury Court strip of businesses, Vahe Haytayan of the Woodbury Realty Corporation confirmed in a phone call that the Church of God had not been in the Woodbury Court area. for “two or three years at least.”
Attempts to contact several members of the Ridgewood, NJ branch of the Church of God have repeatedly failed. Dong Il Lee, the branch’s registered vice president and the only remaining living contact in Ridgewood, NJ, was discovered on the White Pages with three cell phone numbers listed and one landline number. Attempts to reach all four lists failed. The call to the Ridgewood, NJ Church of God main phone number was made after several rings, but was followed by a continuous high pitched sound with no one on the other end. Thus, no confirmation could be made on the current existence of a branch of the Church of God in Bedford, NH.
A Church of God branch in Rochester, NH at 15 Rochester Hill Road is also listed in the state business search. The status of the business is listed as in good standing. However, no contact information has been listed for the agents involved in 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. The listing is right next to what appears to be an ordinary house.
The UNH students approached by the two representatives expressed concern about the sincerity and truthfulness of the Bible study group being formed.
“I asked when they met during the week and they basically said, ‘Oh, whenever we just want to form a band,’ and I started to get a little suspicious,” said Jillian Meszar, a major in music education. “I asked them ‘So you don’t have a set time or anything?’ to which they replied “No”. I then asked where they wanted to hold study groups on campus and they said they could come wherever you were.
“…But overall it freaks me out, because you never really think about the traffic here and it’s weird being around something like that, you know?”
Sophomore communications major Amanda Burgon was on her way to 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 for the woman’s phone number said she was from New Jersey.
Additionally, the same day Burgon shared his experience with his mother, a post went viral on Facebook a few days prior in Salem, NH. some representatives of the Church of God. The message contained a photo of three women in a mall, two of which matched the exact descriptions of Church of God representatives seen on the UNH campus.
Burgon noted that she contacted UNH police soon after when she found out about the concern about the group and its motives. The police responded that they had been escorted off campus and asked not to return.
“We conducted a thorough investigation, including contacting federal, state and multiple Massachusetts campuses and found no information that the identified women on the UNH campus were involved in criminal activity,” said UNH Police Chief Paul Dean said in an emailed statement. declaration. “We have identified two women from [New York City] who were on campus engaging students around religious teachings. They had not obtained campus permits and were hiring students from campus areas and distributing to the educational mission. They were explained the campus permit process and elected to leave campus.
Several Facebook users commented on D’Amico’s post noting that there is an ongoing issue with Church of God members approaching Hudson residents, especially women in the area. .
Closing his post, D’Amico wrote, “Please keep an eye on yourself and your friends. If you see something, call someone! I never thought I would be so close to the face of human sex trafficking. Be careful!”
“We encourage the UNH campus community ‘if you see something, say something’ to report any suspicious activity or person to campus or local law enforcement,” Chief Dean said.
Representatives from the Bedford, Salem and Hudson police departments did not respond to requests for comment before publication.