People claiming to be from a church say they’re in Sioux Falls to spread God’s word, but one woman says they made her feel uneasy, and became aggressive toward her when she tried to walk away from them. Sioux Falls Police say at least three people have reported similar incidents to Crime Stoppers. The reports are about a group called the World Mission Society Church of God.
Its website lists it as an international church, founded in South Korea. The site also claims three million members make up 7,500 of its churches in 175 countries all over the world, including locations in the United States.
Viewers have messaged KELOLAND News about World Mission all day Tuesday, concerned it’s not what it says it is and a local group that fights human trafficking is keeping an eye on it.
We’ve done some digging, and we spoke with a woman who posted a warning about the church on Facebook. We also found a member of the group, who says it’s not doing anything harmful.
“Me and my friend were walking that way,” Abby said.
Abby, who didn’t want us to use her last name, says a man and woman approached her, her friend, and her friend’s little girl near 11th and Spring Avenue Tuesday at noon. They had a pamphlet, and said they wanted to tell Abby and her friend about the World Mission Society Church of God.
“She just like was like, there’s like God the mother, and God the father. It’s not like the three in one. Then she was reading a scripture about the wind,” Abby said.
Abby says the pair invited them to a bible study at an address Abby later found was for a local hotel. The interaction made Abby uneasy. After Abby and her friend declined, she says the man addressed the little girl.
“The guy opened up his backpack and said I have snacks for her. Her mom said, no she’s fine,” Abby said.
The three tried to leave.
“They just got more aggressive. Like in our face,” Abby said. “Finally we pushed past them.”
Abby later Googled World Mission, and other words came up during her search.
“It was like, ‘human trafficking, sex trafficking, cult,” Abby said.
Others have contacted KELOLAND News about this group approaching them or going door to door in neighborhoods, including the All Saints neighborhood. That’s where we found a man and woman. Though they two confirmed they’re with the World Mission, they said they couldn’t give interviews.
KELOLAND News tracked down the group and got in touch with someone who said her name was Dakota. She declined an on-camera interview. We asked her if her group is involved in sex trafficking or if it’s a cult. She said no to both of those claims.
On the phone, Dakota said World Mission is a church group, and denied any members getting aggressive with people. She said it’s spreading the word of God, and inviting people to a bible study. She also said World Mission has won service awards. Its website says the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation awarded World Mission a President’s Volunteer Service Award in 2011. We checked that claim with the Corporation of National and Community Service, the federal agency that oversees the award.
“The President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation was a presidential council during the George W. Bush administration. So I think it would be inaccurate to say it existed in 2011,” Samantha Warfield, spokesperson for the Corporation of National and Community Service, said.
Warfield says the President’s Volunteer Service Award exists, but is given to individuals and not organizations.
Becky Rasmussen, executive director with Call to Freedom, a group that fights human trafficking, says her organization hasn’t identified World Mission as a trafficking group. However, she says multiple people have called her about about the group in the last few days. She says she’s worried about what she calls the group’s recruitment tactics.
“It does have some definite red flags that could potentially be a corrupt situation,” Rasmussen said.
As for Abby, she says she posted her experience on Facebook to try to help others be alert when strangers approach them.
“I would say just be careful. Tell them, no thank you. Don’t walk alone,” Abby said.
This story continues to develop. Shortly after 5 p.m. on Tuesday, someone with World Mission Society Church of God called KELOLAND News. KELOLAND’s Dan Santella is working on interviewing that person, and learning more about the event. He will bring us that report on KELOLAND News at 10 p.m. and on KELOLAND.com.