Grace Road Church

A controversial South Korean church entangled in allegations of abuse and deception, with a striking presence in Fiji.

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: Other
Founder: Shin Ok-ju
Founded: 2002
Location: South Korea
Size: 1,000
Other Names: Grace Road Church of Jesus, Grace Road Movement

The Grace Road Church, founded in South Korea in 2002 by Pastor Shin Ok-ju, is a new religious movement that has garnered significant attention and controversy due to its quasi-Christian beliefs, allegations of abuse, and a massive relocation project to Fiji. The church, which members describe as a community rather than a cult, originated with the promise of salvation and protection from prophesied disasters. Shin convinced her followers that South Korea would face imminent doom through famine and disaster, leading to the migration of hundreds to Fiji in 2014 under the guise of seeking a safe haven.

Upon arrival in Fiji, the church’s transformation was swift, leveraging the country’s economic downturn to establish a diverse range of businesses. From agriculture to retail, Grace Road Church’s economic footprint expanded, owning large swathes of land for organic farming, alongside operating restaurants, supermarkets, beauty parlors, and even a dental clinic. This business empire has had a notable impact on Fiji’s economy, employing hundreds of Koreans and Fijians across dozens of establishments.

Despite these contributions, the church and its business arm have faced intense scrutiny and allegations of exploiting its members through forced labor, physical abuse, and other forms of control, including the confiscation of passports. Initial requests for Interpol to arrest the leaders were largely ignored by the Fiji government under Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama. However, after the election of Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka, the Fijian government began to address the situation more aggressively, declaring key members of the church as “prohibited immigrants” and signaling a crackdown on the organization’s activities.

Shin Ok-ju was arrested in 2018 and sentenced in 2019 to six years in prison for detaining followers and subjecting them to violence and inhumane treatment. The court found her responsible for detaining up to 400 followers, who were subjected to violent beatings, barbaric rituals, and forced labor either on a church-owned plantation or within a network of businesses around the country. Shin asserted “absolute authority” over her followers, according to the court’s statement. In addition to Shin’s conviction, five other church officials were sentenced to shorter prison terms or received suspended sentences​​​​​​.

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