Parents of members of the Soul Family sect meet Irrawaddy government officials. / Salai Thant Zin / The Irrawaddy
Parents have urged the Irrawaddy regional government to abolish a Christian cult after their children who joined the group refused to return home for no apparent reason.
Parents of 14 families from the Yangon, Bago and Irrawaddy regions and Karen State and three ministers of the Irrawaddy regional government, the regional advocate-general and the chief of the regional police force met at Sakaw Karen Baptist Church in Pathein on Monday.
The Christian cult, called Soul Family, led by MahnKyawSoe, has reportedly conducted 40-day classes for “would-be” disciples, most of who are around 20.
Moreover, the leader also allegedly urged his young followers to shun their parents and relatives, and arranged marriages for them without the consent of their parents.
NawHtoo Say from Thandaunggyi Township in Karen State, who met the Irrawaddy government officials, said: “Our children refused to go back with us. After we went to take them, MahnKyawSoe moved them to other places. Some parents don’t even know where their children are.”
“I requested the regional government abolish this group, which has been sowing discord between parents and their children, and help us get back our children,” he told The Irrawaddy.
Irrawaddy Region Municipal and Religious Affairs Minister U KyawMyint promised to present the case to the regional cabinet meeting and take action against the cult on criminal and religious grounds.
“Many people have been affected by this cult, which is based in around nine places in Myanmar. It is likely that the more the cult expands, the more people may be affected. So, we’ll gather enough evidence to charge the cult for criminal and religious offences,” he said.
According to the accounts of those who have left the cult, it asked members to do unpaid jobs locally and even in Singapore on the pretext of making offerings to God, in a way that appears to be human trafficking and forced labor.
NawThayHla, a former member of Soul Family, quit after attending the 40-day induction course.
“I attended the 40-day class in Kyonpyaw because my daughter encouraged me to do so. After the training, one of the group leaders, DawNilarTun, said we had to make an offering [to God]. She chose six or seven people from each group.
“So, I asked her what the offering was, and she said we had to work. The cult sent young members to a shoe shop in Yangon’s Sanchaung Township as well as building materials shops in PaukKhaung. And they are not paid for their work,” NawThayHla told The Irrawaddy.
The cult, which has six leaders including MahnKyawSoe, has branches in Singapore, Thailand’s Mae Sot district, and the townships of Thandaunggyi in Karen State, Loikaw in Karenni State, Taungoo and PaukKhaung in Bago Region, North Dagon and Sanchung in Yangon Region and Kyonpyaw, Kyaunggon, Kangyidaunt, Myaungmya and Pathein in the Irrawaddy Region, according to the Myanmar Council of Churches.
The Myanmar Baptist Convention and Myanmar Council of Churches have also distanced themselves from the group, saying that its sermons do not conform to the teachings of the Bible.
U NyanTunKyaw, who is in charge of the Soul Family branch in HlelSeik village in Kyonpyaw Township, said the group pays homage only to God in line with the freedom of religion bestowed to citizens, and denied it was a Christian cult.
The group has not registered with the government as a religious organization and has no plan to do so, he said.
The wages earned by the members are used to buy food, which is shared among members, he added. “Members share labor and food as a community,” U NyanTunKyaw said.
Regarding the parents’ claim that their children are refusing to return home, he said, “It is nothing to do with us. It is their personal freedom.”
The Irrawaddy regional government has banned gatherings for prayers at the house of U NyanTunKyaw in HlelSeik village, and warned it would take legal action if the ban were violated.
Parents also sent letters on Monday to Union Religious Affairs Minister Thura U AungKo and Irrawaddy Region Chief Minister Mahn Johnny, urging them to outlaw the cult.