By Shelby Horton
Steve Dunmire, head of security at Hutchinson Community College, received complaints from students on Sept. 29 about aggressive religious group members approaching them on campus.
The group members, who referred to themselves as the “Church of God,” arrived on campus to meet, recruit and baptize students into what they called the “true religion.” The recruiters seemed to target younger students on campus.
Some students found them to be overly aggressive and secretive. They worked in pairs and would hem students in and preach to them, asking them to leave campus with them.
“They approached me while I was on my way to grab lunch, before heading to my next class,” said one HCC student, who asked not to be named.
“They refused to let me go until I listened to their message. When I tried to leave in order to grab lunch, they surrounded me and began to bully me into staying. I wasn’t able to eat, and I was severely late for class.”
When preaching their message, which consisted only of the book of Revelations, they would insist that anything that the student had previously believed about religion was false, and that they had been deceived their entire lives.
They said they were the only people to keep the sacred tradition of Passover — and that the second coming of Christ had already occurred, in 1948.
They directed students to reject the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and to cast away the cross, for it is a “pagan symbol.”
Their beliefs sounded similar to the “World Mission Society Church of God,” a group based in Gyeonggi-do, South Korea, that is expanding into other nations, including the U.S.
On the HCC campus, after preaching to a student, members of the Church of God would insist that their potential recruit should be baptized in the back of the group’s bus, an unmarked, white bus parked off campus on 14th Avenue, just west of Plum Street.
After being baptized, the new recruit reportedly would take vows to be obedient, keep the Passover, and forsake all sinful family and friends who would not accept the new religion.
If HCC students accepted the offer, they were directed to follow their recruiters to the bus.
The vehicle, with Colorado plates and dark-tinted windows, was moved to different locations during the day. Whenever an HCC security official located the bus, the church members promptly moved before it drew too much attention.
One HCC student agreed to be baptized on the bus, but was instead driven to Grandview Park, on East 4th Avenue, for his baptism.
When they arrived at the park, he reportedly was baptized with ice water from an ice chest. After the chilly baptism, the student found it difficult to be “allowed” to leave by the church members. Later, a fellow HCC student noticed his situation and was able to lead him away from the group.
Some students were uncomfortable with the group’s presence on campus. Several shared stories of having their religions mocked and dismissed by recruiters, while also feeling threatened by the intimidating, group mentality.
When asked about their unorthodox ways of recruiting, two female members said they do not talk to news media. They covered their faces and hurried away.
Kathy Marquez, resident life secretary at HCC, began to see group members in the residence halls, approaching students. Marquez reported seeing a group of them in the Kent lobby with Bibles out, talking to students.
“The man walked outside to a group of about eight students, and they all went with him on the bus,” Marquez said. “They (the recruiters) were dressed like normal students, like you and me.”
Dr. Carter File, president of HCC, said that even though HCC is a government-owned campus and must allow visitors to practice free speech, there is a specified location for that, which is the Student Union Courtyard.
It has hosted other religious groups on campus, some of whom had handed out doughnuts to HCC students. However these groups should not be attempting to recruit students at the residence halls.
When Dunmire discovered the evangelists were attempting to recruit in the dorms, he decided to confront them with the offer to meet with the college president and resolve some of the issues that were occurring between the campus and the religious group.
However, when approaching a Church of God member, the young follower stated he was a student attending HCC. This was later to be proven false by HCC staff. When approached by Dunmire about his lies, the church member ran away, prompting Dunmire to call Hutchinson police. It was later discovered this wasn’t the first run-in with authorities the Church of God members had experienced.
Dunmire discovered that this same church group had recently been on Butler Community College campus and Butler students were complaining of the members’ aggressive behavior.
“Butler was successful at kicking this group off their campus because they have a campus police force,” Dunmire said. “One of their members got sideways with the campus police, ended up going to jail, and that’s how they were able to get them off campus.”
Students from other schools such as Friends University, Wichita State University, and Sterling College all had issues with this group.
“They came to our school a few weeks ago,” said My Nguyen, student from Wichita State University.
“They kept trying to get people involved and if we refused they would get very upset. They preyed on students and would park near Walmart.”
The student said she was surprised to hear the group had been to Hutch-inson and Sterling.
“I didn’t expect them to travel so far,” she said
While on the HCC campus, two members of the group were stopped by Hutchinson police after a third member had made a run for it into a residential area north of campus.
No charges were pressed but they were given warnings about how to behave on campus: Stay in the courtyard, stay out of buildings and do not run away from the HCC security officer.
After touching base with the police, Dunmire was able to confirm that if the college president no longer wanted this group on campus, it could be raised to a criminal trespass issue.
Two male members of the church who were interviewed by police were later approached and asked if they consi-dered themselves a cult.
One said, “Yes.” But he then retracted it when he saw two Hutchinson police cars approaching.
Two female recruiters led two HCC students, both female, to the bus at about 3 p.m. on Sept. 29.
Two members of the Collegian staff were trying to talk to eight or nine group members standing in a private yard there.
A man got off the bus and said the group members would not talk to the journalists and the reporters were not allowed to take photos.
Collegian adviser Alan Montgomery, who was there, told the man we have First Amendment rights in the U.S. to talk to people and take photos in public places — like the sidewalk upon which they were standing, the street where the bus was parked, and anything viewable from those public places.
When asked about the group, the man from the bus quickly asked if Montgomery was a police officer.
The adviser said no. The man, looking agitated, said in that case, he didn’t have to talk to him.
“So this is a secret group?” the adviser asked.
“No!” the man said.
“Good. Tell me about your group.”
“So it is a secret group,” the adviser said.
“No, it is not!” the man said.
Later, when two female HCC students were led to the bus, the adviser tried to talk to them.
“Don’t talk to him!” several group members shouted.
The girls, looking confused, remained silent and submissive. They were taken onto the bus.
Later, they got off and, with group members surrounding them, were taken back towards the residence halls.
Approached again by Montgomery, the girls were loudly told by their escorts not to talk.