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Young Woman’s Journey from Skepticism to Leader in Controversial Church

If you asked a younger Mahinarangi Stender (tribe) what she envisioned for her future, being a Christian would have never been on the cards.   

“I never factored in religion at all because I thought churchgoers were such hypocrites to be honest- they were one person on a Sunday and someone different every other day”, she says.

“And I didn’t want to be restricted by so many rules”.

Now, at 23 years-old, Mahinarangi, known as Mah, is a youth leader at the Auckland branch of one of the world’s most rapidly growing churches.

“I realised actually that I had so many misconceptions about what being a Christian means. All the questions I’ve ever had about who I am, all those deep questions about purpose and value on this earth have been answered, and it’s because I found a place that isn’t superficial but really has God’s word as the standard. And actually practises what it preaches!”.    

But the place that Mah is referring to has been at the centre of some negative attention in Aotearoa recently, labelled by the mainstream media outlets as a cult.

“When you hear that word immediately you’re thinkng this must be a bunch of crazy people”, she says.

“But it’s a claim that is so misplaced. It’s been really sad for me to hear what has been spread to sell a dramatic headline at our expense. I just think if people could take the time to hear us out and understand what our message is, they would realise that we are not like that at all.”

Who is Shincheonji (New Heaven, New Earth)?

Shincheonji New Heaven and New Earth Church was established in 1984 in South Korea and has since grown exponentially with branch churches in more than 120 countries internationally and a congregation of more than 300,000 members worldwide.

New Heaven New Earth Church was opened in New Zealand in 2015 and its growth is also following a similar trajectory, with substantial outreach now into the Pacific regions as well.

The Chairman of the New Heaven and New Earth, Man-Hee Lee is a founder and has been leading the church.

‘I was skeptical of Shincheonji at first’, says Mah.

‘’I thought they were a cult; I had read many things online that were unsettling. But I was so curious about why so many thousands of people all over the world were flocking to come and learn about God from this one place. It had to mean something.”

“I don’t believe any of those claims about the church being a cult anymore. It just goes to show that you can’t always believe what the media says. It pays to find out about an organization from the organization themself.”

Mah has also completed Shincheonji’s free bible course through its theology school, the Zion Mission Christian Center. Internationally, the church keeps breaking its own record year upon year for the most students graduated from a single theology course. In 2019 103,764 people graduated from the course, 106,186 people in 2022, and last year saw 108,084 graduates, with this year’s graduation expected to be even more. 

‘The Chairman always emphasizes that the Bible should be the standard of faith that any Christian believer should follow, or any pastor should preach, and this is why there is such an emphasise to make sure that what we know about God is from his word itself”, Mah says.

“The Shincheonji Bible course is no ordinary bible study. For me, going through this course was like the difference between life and death. It truly changed me on the inside and the out, and I know that sounds like a cliché, but what I’ve learned is so priceless! I feel like learning the Bible in it’s true context has been a healing experience for me, like, it has sparked something inside me and I want to be a better person now because of it.”

“The Chairman and New Heaven and New Earth Church have been portrayed negatively in the past, however our reputation is changing now that people are becoming more open to hearing about us. I’m grateful to have an opportunity like this to share. It’s cool how our courses are so popular now too!”, Mah says.

2024 The Word Seminar by Contenent

At 93-years-old, Chairman Lee, among his many religious and peace initiatives, has begun the “2024 Shincheonji Word Seminars by Continent” tour in the Asian continent of the Philippines. It is set to come to Oceania in the second half of the year.

The seminar covers the 22 chapters of Revelation, and Chairman Lee explains how the book of Revelation is fulfilling.

“I’m so passionate about telling everyone about this seminar, because you have to hear it first to literally believe it”.

“I want to ask everyone, especially Christians, haven’t you ever wondered what is supposed to happen in the end times? Don’t you want to know the answers? Shouldn’t we know? What is the result if we do, or do not, know these things at this time? This is what the Chairman is sharing”.

At the Philippines seminar on the 20th of April Chairman Lee declared, "The world is in deep sleep, not knowing whether the book of Revelation from God is being fulfilled or not," and asserted, "more than half of Revelation has already been fulfilled."

Chairman Lee declares about himself, “It is the mission of this person (the Chairman) to convey what has been seen and heard (of the events of Revelation chapters 1 to 22). What I have seen and heard, what I have touched and what exists in reality, that is what I am here to share with you. Now is not the time to say anything and simply agree with 'Amen'. You need to know the times. This is the era in which the promises have been fulfilled." 

Due to the explosive response and earnest requests from numerous pastors and believers worldwide, Chairman Lee will travel the 5 continents throughout the year beginning in Asia, then touring to Europe, Africa, America, Oceania, and completing the full circle tour by ending back in Asia. The seminars will be attended by thousands in-person each time and will also be live streamed in multiple languages on YouTube for anyone around the world to watch too.

Mah concludes, “Whanau, I’m not here doing this for no reason! I hope you see and hear for yourself, and sign up for the Bible course so you can learn and be changed for free!”

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