How Lee ran away
22 September, 2018, 12:02 pm
GRACE Road Church members were “worked like slaves” and subjected to violence by their leaders, a former member has told this newspaper.
Yunzae Lee, 53, said he had no regrets after escaping from the Grace Road base in Navua last year, saying he still cannot face attending church.
Grace Road has denied the allegations.
In an interview with this newspaper, Mr Lee, who now lives in Korea but is on a visit to Fiji this week, said he decided in 2014 to join the church because he was attracted by the speeches of Grace Road leader the Rev Shin Ok-Joo, or “pastor Shin”, as she is called.
Mr Lee said he came to Fiji in 2015 after an order from pastor Shin.
His wife and two children joined him a short time later.
“Pastor Shin said Fiji was paradise. She said sooner or later a famine and war will come over to Korea,” he said.
“She said some sort of emergency situation is coming and all these happenings and incidents are according to God, so that is why everybody has to go to Fiji. At that time, most of the church people got their passports to come to Fiji.”
Mr Lee said when he arrived in Fiji, he was amazed by its beautiful natural surroundings. But, a few days later, he claimed life became different to what he had been promised. Mr Lee said he was an agriculture worker at the Grace Road Farm in Navua.
“Everyone had to work like a slave. We worked 12 to 14 hours a day,” he claimed.
“There were restrictions put on us to control people. Through this process I felt some sort of guilt and started regretting. Mr Lee described “thrashings” being used as punishment.
“I was brainwashed by Pastor Shin’s speech and part of it still remain with me. I still cannot go back to church because of that,” Mr Lee claimed.
Mr Lee said that in March 2017 someone in the top hierarchy of the church showed him a message that he would soon be punished for something he did not know about.
He said during his lunch break on March 12 last year, he escaped from the farm, taking with him his laptop and the clothes on his back.
“Pastor Shin had made some orders for me to be taken to the thrashing ground because she didn’t like some kind of situation.
“I didn’t have time to pack my stuff. I ran from the farm to the main road. I ran and walked because it was so far.
“I was assisted by some locals who were working at a nearby farm and got into a taxi,” he said.
“I went right to the Korean embassy and they helped me.”
Mr Lee said nothing else was going through his mind at that moment, but to get back home and try to get his family back.
“When I ran away from the farm, I left behind my wife and two children, but I wanted to go and settle down first and then try to bring them back to Korea.
“When I reached Korea I felt so much freedom.
“Pastor Shin brainwashed us and cut all connections with our families.
“Two days after leaving, my wife and two children were ordered to return, while another son is still in Navua.”
In a response to Mr Lee’s claims, Grace Road Church Group administration staffer Heera Chae denied all the allegations.
“According to the email sent by you yesterday, we deny all the claims, these are all false claims,” she said. Pastor Shin and three others were recently arrested at Seoul’s Incheon International Airport.
The arrests were linked to allegations of violence against some of the estimated 400 Grace Road worshippers in Fiji.
In an earlier statement, the Grace Road Group said they stood by their leader and believed that Fiji was the “promised land” referred to in the Bible.
The group said its members came to make Fiji the light of the world by spreading the word of God come true.
The group also denied allegations levelled against their leader, saying they were enraged by the “lies”.
“We listened to the Words of God through our reverend, gathered from all over the world, and moved to Fiji for the God-given vision,” the Grace Road Group said.
“With the motto ‘Let’s make Fiji shine!’ in our hearts, we came voluntarily and all our members are the shareholders and owners of the group.”