One day, a woman asked me a question while waiting for the bus. Presumably, it was a question about which bus went where. I answered to the best of my ability and then said, “한국어 잘 못해요” or “I can’t speak Korean well” and she gave me the typical “wait…..what?” look. Then it was the usual conversation: “Japan, China?” “Where are you from?” “America? But your face…” “Are your parents Korean?” (all in Korean, completely ignoring the fact that I said I can’t speak). This woman was extra nice and cheerful though. We climbed on the 7 bus and she sat next to me, continuing our conversation (still, all in Korean. Feeling proud of my language progress). Every other sentence ended with a laugh and an arm grab. She must be in her late 30s. She has four kids.
We exchanged numbers. I didn’t catch her name the first time, so I labeled her as “Lady from the Bus” in my phone. I thought we’d never meet again.
One month later, I ended up receiving a message from her. She had extra tickets to an orchestra and invited me to go that evening. Already having plans, I declined, but she inquired about the following Monday. As far as I knew, my schedule was clear that day. I agreed to meet her at the bus stop where we first interacted. I thought she was a nice lady and I’m always looking to have more interactions with Koreans.
Monday finally rolled around and it wasn’t a great day. With the cold rainy weather followed by a restless night and a day full of sitting at work (classes were canceled), I just wanted to stay home. I kept my promises and sucked it up.
I had forgotten what she looked like, but we eventually found each other and waited under our umbrellas for her friend to arrive. She was so sweet, joking around and constantly laughing. Her friend suddenly came and the Lady from the Bus departed, saying she was sorry but had to take care of her children at home. I found it a little strange that she went out of the way to invite me to an orchestra and meet at a bus stop just for me to go along with someone else. Oh well.
I went with the new woman, also kind, to the orchestra. It turned out to be a church. We arrived a bit late, but we were warmly welcomed and escorted to our seats. I’m pretty sure that they were expecting me, the foreigner, to come. The girls in front of me turned around, shyly giggled, and said hello. There must have been 500 people packed into this church.
The lights went out and on came a 30-minute long video about the church. It was all in Korean, but I still got a creepy vibe. There are 2,200 churches all around the world. The Lady from the Bus didn’t mention anything about a church in her invitation.
The orchestra finally started and while the music was lovely, I felt hot and uncomfortable squished in the middle of so many people. I managed to escape to go to the restroom, only to be followed by the woman. I told her I had a headache and I should go. She felt sorry and told me to wait. A few moments later, she came out with a gang of her friends and they all worriedly looked at me and escorted me outside. We all scrambled into a car, me stuck in the middle, and they drove me to my neighborhood. Why they all left just to drive me home is a mystery. The women were all lovely and kind though. I was worried to have them know where I live, so I asked them to drop me off on the street not near my apartment. I’ve had religious people knock on my door before and a friend even came home to people sitting on her couch, waiting for her arrival so they could preach.
I did some more research about this church and read about the claims of it being a cult.
Well, that was certainly an experince. And it made for a story, right?