Providence is a religious group founded in 1978 in South Korea by Jeong Myeong-seok.A self-proclaimed Messiah who sometimes refers to himself as Pastor Joshua, he is a former “Moonie” or follower of the late Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church.
The group also goes by other names including Jesus Morning Star (JMS, which also happens to be the initials of the founder’s name), Christian Gospel Mission and The Bright Moon Church.
Headquartered in South Korea, Providence claims to have 300 affiliated churches and more than 100,000 followers in its home base. The group also boasts a worldwide following of over 10,000 and operates in a number of other countries including Australia, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, South Africa, Japan and Taiwan.
Providence was set up in Australia in 1997 and has established branches in major cities including Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Canberra.
Providence’s teachings are based on the so-called 30 lessons, or 30 principles, which state that only a Messiah can lead people to heaven. Recruits wanting to gain admission to the Providence congregation must study the 30 lessons and vouch that Jeong is that Messiah.
Like the Moonies before, Providence recruits new members using a method called “heavenly deception”. Recruiters often lure new disciples into the fold by offering them modelling opportunities, Bible study classes or through participation in organised sport.
Female believers are taught that they are brides of God and by inference, brides of Jeong. They are drilled on the importance of looking good, keeping themselves slim and dressing well.
Recruiters are known to be active in and around shopping centres and university campuses and are said to target tall, attractive women to become spiritual brides for the leader.
Once they are inducted, new members are then encouraged to sever ties with friends and family and to live in a communal house with other members.
It has been reported that female recruits were encouraged to have sex with Jeong in order to attain purification.
In 1999, Jeong was accused of rape and fled South Korea. He was later charged with multiple counts of rape and in 2009, sentenced to 10 years in prison. His followers say he has been falsely accused.
He is due to be released on parole in early 2018.
Australian Peter Daley began following Providence when he arrived in South Korea to teach English in 2003. Daley gained first-hand knowledge of the way Providence operates when he was invited to a function at the cult compound. What he witnessed shocked and surprised him.
“The church seemed to really put importance in beautiful women,” he told 7.30. “The leader wasn’t there … but his brother was there and he was surrounded by an entourage of women that looked like they had just stepped out of a magazine. I thought this is strange for a church to focus on.”
Mr Daley, who has been harassed and taken to court by JMS, concluded that the organisation “is just existing to serve [Jeong’s] needs as a serial rapist”.
He has unearthed videos produced by the group which support this view. In one video, he says, four or five naked women are seen dancing around chanting “Seonsaengnim, we love you!” “Seonsaengnim” means teacher in Korean.
In another scene, a woman is shown licking a photo of Jeong before placing it close to her crotch.
Active from behind bars
Despite being in jail, Jeong has kept in contact with his flock. A number of recruits have told of how photographs of them, often dressed in bridalwear, have been sent to Jeong in prison. Others have spoken about being encouraged to fly to South Korea to visit him.
One former member of the cult, only identified as “Liz”, appeared on SBS in 2014 saying she had been encouraged to write intimate letters to Jeong, who would reply in kind.
“So, he would say things like ‘women are much more beautiful when they are naked’ and he said my white skin arouses him,” Liz told SBS. She also said recruits prayed to images of Jeong and Jesus and were given necklaces as symbols of their dedication to the founder.