Controversial Korean: Preacher Courts Latinos and Other Immigrants

WNYC Newsroom, New York City/July 29, 2006

Tonight concludes a three-day church revival at Madison Square Garden, led by a charismatic South Korean preacher. He's controversial back home, but here, he's attracting immigrant groups in droves.

REPORTER: No one seems to be speaking in tongues, but they are speaking a lot of different languages at the "Miracles, Salvation, Revival Crusade" led by the Reverend Jaerock Lee. The opening invocation is given by a local Russian preacher: Sivodnia, iz Nyu Yorka... followed by blessings in English: We bless your great name as your glory is poured forth in this place... and much of the evening is emceed in espagnol: Bienvenidos...Igor Ruby! On the first night of the crusade, the Garden is only about a third full, though organizers expect attendance to increase in nights two and three. Most of the crowd is Latino, though there are many blacks, Asians and some whites. Yirzavit Castillo, whose father runs a church in the Bronx, is here, because he saw one of the many Spanish-language TV ads, complete with celebrity endorsements.

CASTILLO: The Spanish channel had the baseball players telling us to go and support this event, and, you know, it's the Bronx, there's Queens, there's a lot of Hispanic people there.

REPORTER: Castillo was moved by both the preaching and the music. A 90-minute concert that kicked-off the three-hour revival got him in the mood, with acts like Vladimir Limarenko, Jocelyn Arias and Castillo's personal favorite, Doña Carmen Senabria. Jaerock Lee has used the internet, DVD's, radio, satellite and cable TV to reach a global audience, and has reached out personally to both secular and religious leaders around the world. At the Garden, he was joined on stage by New York State Senator Rev. Ruben Diaz and by the head of the National Religious Broadcasters, one of the country's most influential evangelical groups. Professor Tim Lee, from Texas Christian University, says Jaerock Lee is taking a page from the Unification Church of Myung-Sun Moon to build an international following.

PROF. TIM LEE: He curries favor with the established religious personalities outside of Korea, thereby legitimating himself.

REPORTER: Like Reverend Moon, Jaerock Lee has been disowned by the Korean evangelical establishment. He was kicked out of his denomination for teachings his critics say are heresy. One website says he has claimed to sit at the throne of God, command angels and performed every miracle in the Bible except walking on water. Outside the Garden, Korean immigrants protested his appearance, holding up signs and denouncing him over loudspeakers... "Jaerock Lee is a self-deifying cult leader..." Rev. Hy Sun Lee of the Council of Korean Churches of Greater New York says unwitting Christians should not be duped.

HY SUN LEE: He is teaching wrong things to the people, and we want to protect the people, normal Christians, we want them to be guided by sound Biblical teaching, not the heretical ones.

REPORTER: In 1999, Jaerock Lee made headlines when his followers stormed a television station in Seoul and took over the control room, as it was preparing to broadcast a documentary about him. But at the Garden, few of those attending knew or cared about Lee's clashes back home or his alleged blasphemy. They came because they had seen the ads, or because their preachers had told them to come witness Lee's teaching. Indeed, his preaching was pretty straightforward - though difficult to understand even with English translation...

JAEROCK LEE: Korean, then a few words of English

REPORTER: That's Jaerock Lee explaining how only Jesus can save souls, because he alone was born without sin, while the rest of mankind is descended from Adam and Eve. The climax of the evening, though, was the healing session. Korean, English and Spanish all converged, as Lee and his translators called on worshippers to cling to Christ, cast aside their crutches, and let go of their demons. So, up they limped, onto the stage, triumphantly holding crutches and walkers above them in one hand and holding onto Lee's acolytes with the other. Little noticed by the crowd were those who were turned away - those who couldn't get out of their wheelchairs, including one man wearing a yarmulke. In the meantime, Jaerock Lee kept chanting, while on the stage below him Juan Sanchez kept tossing his cane in the air and catching it. The semi-paralyzed gunshot victim was one of more than a dozen people exuberantly shuffling back and forth, smiling, shouting and blowing kisses to the crowd. Afterward, Sanchez explained what happened.

SANCHEZ: Today, when the pastor prayed, I felt my leg becoming straight. And my lower back - the pain is gone. I can walk normally. Now I've got more faith in my heart and my body and my soul, too.

REPORTER: Sanchez said that he trusts God will help him continue to improve, and he'll pray every day, just like he always does. Then he leaned on his wife, limped toward the subway and returned to Queens.

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