Mystery "Religious" Events That Left People Of Korea Speechless

Four stories of unbelievable cult cases in Korea! From fraud to murder and mass suicide, these stories will definitely creep you out.

Yujin Kim
3 years ago

main images for four shocking religious events in korea

The most popular religions in Korea are Christianity, Buddhism, and Protestantism. However, the vast majority are atheists. Meanwhile, there have been instances of people that posed as religious groups, but actually committed unethical crimes which left many people as victims. Today we will introduce you all to four "religious" events that left the nation speechless.

다미 선교회

side view of pregnant woman with dami mission sign off to the side

A pregnant women went to an OB/GYN in Incheon and requested for a silent abortion. When the doctor inquired about the reason she responded with, "I cannot have a child on October 28th." This was the beginning of the influence of the Dami Mission (다미 선교회) in Korea.

dami mission leader lee jang-rim arrested

In 1987, the head pastor Lee Jang-rim (이장림) published a prophetic book titled Getting Close to the End (다가올 미래를 대비하라). This book outlined his theory and prediction about the end of the world. Now in 2021, we can look back and scoff at the ridiculous notion. But then, Getting Close to the End was a bestseller and converted many people to the Dami Mission. Just four years after the establishment of Dami Mission, there were 92 branches in South Korea and 40 branches abroad. In Korea alone there were over 100,000 followers.

propaganda for dami mission in korea during the 1980s

What exactly was the prophecy that had people spooked? Here are a couple points outlined in Getting Close to the End

  • "The world will end in 1999, but the rapture (휴거) will occur seven years prior on October 28th, 1992 at midnight. The rapture is when Jesus returns to Earth and chooses those who can rise to Heaven."
  • "One billion of those who are not raptured will immediately disappear. Pilots and drivers will disappear, therefore, leaving the streets in chaos." 
  • "Also, not only will the world end in 1999, those remaining after the rapture will live and die in suffering."

group of dami mission believers in korea preparing for the rapture

You now might be wondering why people believed this fantasy-like novel. When you listen to people who believed in the rapture at the time they said that Paster Lee Jang-rim preached with great detail, so it was easy to buy into. For example he preached that "bodies would rise with tremendous speeds." However, these details were likely Lee Jang-rim's misinterpretations of the Bible.

SBS news segment of dami mission storySource: SBS

October 1992 was a time of complete chaos in South Korea because of the Dami Mission. In anticipation of the rapture, many believers left their jobs and gave all their assets to the Dami Mission. After donating their possessions, believers would gather at greenhouses to sing hymns and pray while crying.

Some junior high students, whose parents would not let them attend church, poisoned themselves and died. There was even a support group for parents whose children have run away because of the rapture.

group of people in dami church in korea all wearing white and praying and singing hymns in tears

So happened on the highly anticipated day of October 28th, 1992? While the majority of people across Korea were in turmoil, about 3,000 non-believers and reporters gathered at the Dami Mission.

Most of the congregation entered by 8:00PM while many others came before right before the rapture at midnight.  They wore white clothes, sang hymns, and knelt to pray while crying. Then came midnight.

korean news reporter coving the rapture of the dami church

11:59.58... 11:59.59... MIDNIGHT!

All the believers that were united looked at each other awkwardly. They were stunned that nothing was happening. Even the newscaster that covered the event declared, "nothing is happening."

group of korean people in chaos after the midnight on october 28th 1982

After midnight, unlike the people at Dami Church, those outside were scrambling to find which family members disappeared after the rapture. A news story at the time showed a scene of a mother hitting her son who ran away on the back while saying, "Did listening to the pastor help you rapture?"   

SBS korean news clip of women scolding her son after the rapture in koreaSource: SBS

Unfortunately, the efforts of the believers in preparation of the rapture were in vain. Pastor Lee Jang-rim was arrested for fraud and the funds that people donated were restored. But unbelievably Lee Jang-rim's sentence was only one year in prison, despite the fact he traumatized and duped over 100,000 people. 

Since then, he has rebranded and continues to work as a pastor elsewhere. Also, those that were influential in the Dami Mission branched off and began their own churches therefore bringing more controversy.

오대양 집단 변사사건

photo of korean company odaeyang trading co from the 1980s

On August 29th, 1987, 32 people were found dead at Odaeyang Trading Co. in Yongin, Gyeonggi-do. Among the 32 people were Park Soon-ja (박순자) and her family. They were found in the drop-ceiling of the factory's cafeteria.

park soon-ja head of odaeyang trading co in Korea giving an interviewSource: SBS

Park Soon-ja was the head of Odaeyang Trading Co. which was a disguise for a religious organization. In an interview, she was crying and said, "Let me live for others that are in need." This impressed many people and they dubbed her as a successful female entrepreneur. On the premise of wanting to help people, she borrowed over 8 billion KRW (approx. 7.2 billion USD) to "expand her company."

group of korean men with their heads hanging in shame

An investor and his wife went to the company to withdraw their loan of 500 million KRW (approx. 448,090 USD). Instead, they were assaulted by 13 employees and forced to sign an addendum to abandon their money. They proceeded to reported this incident to the police. The 13 employees and Park Soon-ja were arrested, but released after investigation.

image of park soon-ja head of odaeyang company and leader of religious cult in korea

The day after the investigation on, August 25th 1987, Park Soon-ja along with 80 people disappeared. Following the report of the investor and his wife, the police found multiple reports of people not receiving back their loans from Park Soon-ja. The total from the reports surpassed billions of won. The police then upgraded the case from a simple assault to major fraud.

sign for korean company odaeyang trading co., ltd

But Park Soon-ja and more than 80 people disappeared without a trace. When they went to search the company the only person left was Mrs. Jang, an ahjumma that worked in the cafeteria.When asked if she had seen Park Soon-ja, she responded with, "I haven't seen her at all, why?" Days passed and there was no sign of Park Soon-ja. People were about to give up, but then Mrs. Jang called.

korean news MBC coverage of bodies found in the drop ceiling of odaeyang trading company

"Actually, the people you are looking for are all in the factory... But the circumstances are quite odd."

After this message the police went to investigate, only to discover 32 bodies in entangled in the space above the roof. The strange thing was that although they seemed to be killed by the same person, there were no signs of resistance. One person died of suicide, while the others were murdered.

black and white image of removing the bodies from the ceiling of odaeyang trading company in korea

Also, the police found a piece of torn paper with some phrases written. The phrases were, "If you only kept your mouth shut, "You should have kept it secret," and, "About five people went [died] starting from four hours ago." 

Who were the phrases referring to?

empty and abandoned ceiling of odaeyang trading company in korea

They were about Mrs. Jang from the cafeteria. After being constantly asked by the police, Mrs. Jang finally confessed some shocking facts. Park Soon-ja was not only the president of Odaeyang Trading Co., but also a leader of a religious group. Mrs. Jang admitted that she was the last line of defense for this group.

Source: SBS

Odaeyang ended up being a fake company. It was a cover for a religious organization. Park Soon-ja claimed she overcame her cancer through prayer alone. She believed she was the chosen one to act as a savior through Odaeyang. To appeal to people and gain followers, Park Soon-ja contributed many charitable acts towards orphans and homeless people.

black and white image of people gathered at odaeyang factory after mass suicide incident in korea

After Park Soon-ja established trust with people, then she was able to receive loans and hired her followers as employees at Odaeyang. It was presumed that Park Soon-ja and her followers, in attempt to expand their religious beliefs, accumulated too much debt so chose to die out of desperation.


birds eye view of korean village in sepia tone

Korea's worst case related to religion was the Baekbaekgyo (백백교), this religion was most prominent during the 1920s-1930s. The leader of the religious group was Jeon Yong-hae (전용해) and it was said that he wore white clothing that completely covered his face and body.

scene from korean movie the pure white cult with leader dressed in all white clothing that covers faceSource:  The Pure White Cult (백백교)

"When the country is in turmoil, if you make a donation (Baekbaekgyo defined) and seek refuge, you will be granted eternal life filled with wealth and prosperity." If you take a closer look at the Baekbaekgyo doctrine, you may notice it was a mix of multiple religious beliefs such as Christianity, Donghak (prominent religion in the late Joseon dynasty), and prophecies from late Joseon dynasty.

During the 1920-30s there was a lot of chaos left by the Japanese occupation. So people were quick to believe in pseudo, or unorthodox beliefs, which is why Baekbaekgyo thrived.

scene from movie the pure white cult about the baekbaekgyo religion in korea of leader and women sitting with him at a tableSource: The Pure White Cult (백백교)

Baekbaekgyo had a pretty elaborate, but fraudulent marketing scheme for 90 years ago. During a time when gold was precious, people would stage gold in a mine in advance, then proceed to deceive people into thinking that priests were able to find gold with a mysterious power. This led people to think, if you follow this religion, you will become rich.

scene from korean movie the pure white cult (baekbaekgyo) of leaders committing murders of followers that disobeyedSource: The Pure White Cult (백백교)

What were the conditions to joining Baekbaekgyo? Some were quite shocking. Men had to donate all of their fortunes and women had to have sex with the religious leader. Looking back these condition seems absurd, but back then if someone objected to these conditions they were killed.

At the time if women ever lost interest or became pregnant, they would be killed, along with their families.

historical black and white image of han river in korea

It seems like murder was not a huge taboo for this group. If a believer was too poor, or caught fighting for social power within the group, they were murdered out of fear of being caught by the police.

In other words, the group used murder to control believers. Also, it was said that executives of this group would use bicycles to carry dead bodies, then dump them into Han River. It now about 90 years later and this is still a disturbing image.

scene from OCN's save me of father that falls into religious cult and two childrenSource: OCN's Save Me

How did the identity of the religious leader come to light? It was revealed by a young man, whose father fell into the Baekbaekgyo group. This young man was horrified at the fact that his father gave up his daughter to the religious leader. She suffered from the leader's sexual abuse. So the young man went to local newspapers to expose the crimes of the Baekbaekgyo.

historical news article about baekbaekgyo leader jeon yong-hae

Once the secrets of the Baekbaekgyo were revealed, all the executives were arrested with the exception of the leader. Each executive was responsible for the murder of about 100-200 people, therefore sentenced to death. The leader Jeon Yong-hae later died by suicide. The Baekbaekgyo was responsible for one of the worst "religion" related cases of all time. Even during a time when mass murder was not a fully defined concept, the executives and leader of this group victimized over 400 people.


dance ritual of aga dongsan of kim ki soon in gold dress

Kim Ki-soon (김기순), leader of Aga Dongsan, first became known in the 1970s. She lived a religious life at Juhyeon Church (주현교회), but it was known that many strange things occurred there. She frequently assaulted other believers, danced naked, and attempted to undress other members and hug them which cause great social controversy.

Also, she assaulted a visiting pastor which was the turning point. She was sentenced to two years and six months in prison and in 1981 Juhyeon Church was disbanded. However, this was only the beginning.

After her release, Kim Ki-soon bought about 4,000 pyeong (about 13,000m²) of land in Gyeonggi-do to build "Aga farm" which was thought to be the beginning of the religion Aga Dongsan. She was able to recruit the members of the recently disbanded Juhyeon Church.

images of dance rituals of aga dongsan in korea

At Aga Dongsan Kim Ki-soon refered to herself as "아가야," which translates to "child". If you look at the Aga Dongsan doctrine, it is similar to the Protestant doctrine, but Kim Ki-soon placed herself as baby Jesus. Since she was a 3-year old child, she was innocent and incapable of committing sin.

The above video is a segment from MBC, they captured some of the strange behaviors of this group back in 1996. As you can see, they are performing a group ritual. Kim Ki-soon is singing hymns while wearing a colorful dress on a flowery float next to other believers.

old back and white photo of entrance to aga farm in korea

On top of the odd rituals, Aga farm operated as a typical labor exploitation plantation farm. Many believers worked on the farms during the day, and in factories at night. They also lived in close quarters. Because of harsh labor conditions, many people died from exhaustion. There were also many instances of assault and murder.

news reporter in korea reporting about aga dongan religion in korea

Eventually, it was discovered that three believers were killed, this led to the fall of Aga Dongsan. In 1997, seven year old Choi was starved and beaten to death because they did not believe the words of Kim Ki-soon. 

Another case was a 21 year who was killed because they were found dating the leader's son. The third was the orchard manager, they were killed because they did not listen to the leader. Once this information was released, four key executives found responsible for the deaths were arrested.

MBC interview of Kim ki-soon leader of aga dongsan religion in Korea

In December of 1996, about 30 former believers came forth and exposed the prosecution at Aga Dongsan. But, Kim Ki-soon was only charged for tax evasion and embezzlement. She was sentenced to four years in prison and fined for 5.6 billion KRW.

There is a lot of suspicion about why Kim Ki-soon was not charged for murder and violence, despite that fact many victims spoke out about their experiences. Many have expressed anger that her punishment was too light compared to the crimes of exploiting people.

What do you think of these "religious" events? These are just a few of the many incidents that have happened in Korea, and there are still many cult groups out there today practicing their "religion". We hope you can enjoy your time! If you have any questions or concerns, please leave a comment below or send us an email at help@creatrip.com. You can follow us on InstagramTikTokTwitter, and Facebook to stay updated on all things Korea!

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