In The Shadow Of The Moons: My Life In The Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Family.
Little, Brown & Co. Boston, New York, Toronto & London, 1998
Also published in Japanese, French and German.
The ‘ghost writer’ who helped with Nansook Hong’s book was Eileen McNamara from the Boston Globe (Globe Metro columnist). Nansook needed help with her English. The story is authentically that of Nansook Hong.
Sun Myung Moon selected Nansook to be the wife of his dissolute son, Hyo Jin Moon. In 1982 the age of consent was 17 in New York state. Nansook was married at 15, pregnant at 16, and a mother at 17.
▲ I am singing at a Moon family birthday celebration at the mansion in East Garden. The Reverend Sun Myung Moon would make each of us sing at family and church gatherings, a practice I dreaded because of the poor quality of my voice.
Prologue (pages 3-12)
The bleating of my beeper snapped me awake. I realized in a panic that the sun was already up. Light, streaming through the bay windows, played on the blue striped wallpaper of my baby’s nursery. I could see the outline of the hills outside from the floor at the foot of Shin Hoon’s crib, where I must have fallen asleep just before August 8, 1995, dawned.
I knew it was Madelene trying to reach me. A quick glance at my watch confirmed that I was late for our prearranged 5:00 A.M. rendezvous. How could I have been so careless on this of all days? After months of secret meetings and cautious planning, had I jeopardized everything at the last minute?
I stole across the wide corridor to the master bedroom, my naked feet silent on the crimson carpet. I was barely breathing as I pressed my ear to the dark lacquered door. I heard only the guttural cough that always punctuated my husband’s all-night cocaine sessions.
Our only hope was that Hyo Jin’s high would render him oblivious for one more morning. For months he had barely noticed as furniture, clothing, and toys disappeared from the second floor of the brick mansion where we lived on the estate of his father, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church and self-proclaimed Lord of the Second Advent.
It was only a week ago that Hyo Jin’s bloodshot eyes had registered the absence of the IBM computer that usually occupied a corner of Shin June’s room. “Where’s the computer?” he’d asked Shin June, the oldest of our five children. At twelve, she fell all too naturally into the role of coconspirator. Living in the Moon compound — an atmosphere suffused less with spirituality than with palace intrigue — had taught all my children well how to keep secrets.
“It’s broken, Appa; it’s out being repaired,” she replied without hesitation. Her father just shrugged and returned to his room.
I say “his” room because I had long since abandoned the master suite. It was less a bedroom than my husband’s private drug den, its cream-colored carpet littered with cigarette butts and empty tequila bottles, its VCR programmed to play an endless assortment of pornographic videotapes.
I had tried to stay as far away as possible from that room since the previous fall, when I had discovered Hyo Jin snorting cocaine there after so many of his false promises to stop. I tried to flush the cocaine down the toilet. He beat me so severely I thought he would kill the baby in my womb. He made me sweep up the spilled white powder from the bathroom floor even as he continued to punch me. Later Hyo Jin would offer a religious justification for beating half senseless a woman seven months pregnant: he was teaching me to be humble in the presence of the son of the Messiah.
The eighteen-acre secluded compound where we lived in Irvington, forty minutes north of New York City, is the world headquarters of the Unification Church and the home of the founder of the religious movement the world knows as “Moonies.” The estate, called East Garden, had been my personal prison for fourteen years, since the day the Reverend Moon summoned me from Korea to be the child bride of his eldest son, the heir to Moon’s divine mission and earthly empire. Then I was only fifteen, a naive schoolgirl eager to serve her God. Now I was twenty-nine, a woman ready to reclaim her life. Today I would escape. I would take the only thing holy about this marriage, my children, and leave behind the man who beat me and the false Messiah who let him, men so flawed that I now knew that God would never have chosen Sun Myung Moon or his son to be his agents on earth.
It is easy for those outside the Unification Church to scoff at the idea that anyone would have believed such a thing in the first place. To most of the world, the name Moonies conjures up images of brainwashed young people squandering their lives hawking flowers on street corners to enrich the clever and charismatic leader of a religious cult.
There is some truth in that view, but it is much too simplistic. I was born to my faith. Just as children of more mainstream Christian religions are reared to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, sent to earth to redeem the sins of mankind, I was taught in Sunday school that the Reverend Moon had been chosen by God to complete Jesus’ mission to restore the Garden of Eden. The Reverend Moon was the Second Coming.
With his wife, the Reverend Moon would sire the first sinless True Family of God. His children, the True Children, would build on that flawless foundation. Members of the Unification Church would be grafted onto the True Family’s pure-blood lineage in wedding ceremonies arranged and blessed by the Reverend Moon, the mass nature of which has attracted so much attention around the world.
Those beliefs, isolated from the theology in which they are embedded and the culture from which they sprang, admittedly sound bizarre. But what of the miracles of Jesus? Or the parting of the Red Sea? Are Bible stories of virgin births and resurrection not equally fantastic? All belief is a matter of faith. If mine was different, it was perhaps so only in its intensity. Is there any faith more powerful, more innocent, than the faith of a child?
But all faith is tested by experience. The Reverend Moon, sinless? The Moon children, flawless? Father— who demonstrated contempt for civil law every time he accepted a paper bag full of untraceable, undeclared cash collected from true believers? Mother — who spent so much time at chic clothing emporiums that her youngest son once answered, “She shops,” when his schoolteacher asked him to describe his mother’s life-work? The eldest son — who smokes, drives drunk, abuses drugs, and engaged in premarital and extramarital sex, in violation of church doctrine? This family is the Holy Family? It is a myth that can be sustained only from a distance.
Accepting the Reverend Moon for the fraud I now know him to be was a slow and painful process. It was only possible because that realization, in the end, did not shake my faith in God. Moon had failed God, as he has failed me and all his idealistic and trusting followers. But God had not failed me. It was to God that I turned in loneliness and despair, a teenager on my knees in a strange house in a foreign land praying for succor. It was God alone who comforted me, a woman-child in the hands of a husband who treated me either as a toy for his sexual pleasure or as an outlet for his violent rages.
God was guiding me now as I surveyed my sleeping children and the suitcases we had been packing clandestinely for weeks. My belief in Sun Myung Moon had been at the center of my life for twenty-nine years, but a shattered faith is no match for a mother’s love. My children had been my sole source of joy in the cloistered, poisonous world of the True Family. I had to flee for their sake, as well as my own.
When I first told the older ones that I would be leaving, not one chose to stay behind, despite what they knew would be the end of the lavish lifestyle they had always enjoyed. There would be no mansion, no chauffeurs, no Olympic-sized swimming pool, no private bowling alley, no horseback riding lessons, no private schools, Japanese tutors, or first-class vacations where we were going.
Outside the walls of the Moon compound, they would not be worshiped as the True Children of the Messiah. There would be no adoring church members to bow down to them and compete for the chance to serve them.
“We just want to live in a little house with you, Mama,” the oldest told me, her humble fantasy mirroring my own.
And yet doubt and unanticipated sadness had kept sleep at bay for most of the night. Long after the household fell silent, I paced the halls and familiar rooms of the mansion, praying and weeping softly. Each time I had closed my eyes, my mind had filled with the questions that had haunted me for months. Was I doing the right thing? Was leaving truly a manifestation of God’s will or was it a sign of my own failure? Why had I been unable to make my husband love me? Why had I been unable to change him? Should I stay and pray that my son, once grown, might one day return the Unification Church to a righteous path?
I had even more pressing fears. Leaving the orbit of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon would render me and my children spiritual outcasts, but would it put us in physical danger, too? If I fled, would the church track me down to silence me? But if I stayed would I be any safer? How many times had Hyo Jin threatened to kill me and the children? If he was high enough on drugs or booze, I knew, he was capable of making good on those threats. He certainly had the guns to do it, a veritable arsenal purchased with church funds that he used to terrorize me and anyone else who got in his way.
I reminded myself that I was not acting hastily. I had been planning for this day since the previous winter when Hyo Jin’s latest, most blatant infidelity roused even the Reverend Moon from his usual indifference. When Father continued to insist that it was I who was to blame for my husband’s sins, that it was my failure as a wife that accounted for his son’s wayward path, I knew I had to go.
I had taken every precaution. I began to save money as soon as I made the decision to flee. I withdrew money from the bank that I had set aside for the children’s education. I held on to every dollar of the thousands in cash Mrs. Moon would periodically hand me for spending money; when she took me to a Jaeger boutique to outfit me for the church ceremony honoring the birth of my baby, I wore the thousand-dollar outfit she purchased with the price tags discreetly tucked out of sight. I returned the clothes for a cash refund the next day.
With the help of my brother and his wife, the eldest daughter of the Reverend Moon, I found a modest house in the Massachusetts town where they already lived in exile from the Moons. I had been envious when they first left the church, and now here I was, a few short years later, relying on them to lead me to the freedom they’d found. I had worried for them just as I had worried for my own parents, members of the elite group of Moon’s original Korean disciples, who had abandoned the Unification Church in disgust around the same time. My parents were waiting in Korea for word from my brother that I was free.
I was so very grateful. Too often I took my brother’s support for granted, even as a child. Even when we disagreed — and we often did — Jin was always there for me. Jin found lawyers to advise me how to protect myself and my children once we were free. Their counsel helped pinpoint the day we would leave. We would flee on a Tuesday because the family court in the Massachusetts county where we would live heard requests from battered women for restraining orders against their abusive partners on Wednesdays.
I tried, too, to protect those I would be leaving behind. Kumiko had been my baby-sitter for five years. She was a devout member of the church from Japan, as was her husband, a gardener on the East Garden estate. For weeks she had watched me pack boxes, but she said nothing. No member would be impertinent enough to question one of the True Family. But for years she had seen the pain in my life first-hand. I worried that she would be called to account when the Reverend Moon learned that we were gone.
A month before we were to flee, I asked Kumiko where she and her husband would most like to live in the world. They wanted to return to Japan, to her husband’s parents. They were aged and he was an only child. They wanted to go home to care for their elders.
I knew that no personnel changes happened in East Garden without the approval of Mrs. Moon, or Mother, as we addressed her. Twenty-three years younger than the ageing Reverend Moon, she is increasingly the power behind the throne. We had never been close, in part because she surrounded herself with influence-hungry sycophants who elevated their own standing by reporting my perceived failures as a wife or mother. Still, long years of experience had taught me how to coax small favors from Mother.
I found myself embellishing the story as I went along. Kumiko’s husband’s parents were not only old in my account, they were ailing. The couple needed to return to Japan to tend to them. I would rather do without a baby-sitter than hold them from their duty. That last point would strike a chord, I knew, with Mother. How often had Father complained that his staff was too large, too expensive to feed and house? One less baby-sitter and one less gardener would be a feather in Mother’s cap. She willingly agreed to let them go, telling me to be certain that Peter Kim, the Reverend Moon’s personal assistant, gave them money for the trip. They flew to Japan two days before we fled.
Another young woman who helped me care for the baby was due to be married soon at home in Korea to a security guard at East Garden. I told her to extend her visit home until October, time enough, I hoped, to put some distance between our flight and her return.
Ever since the Reverend Moon had built himself a separate, twenty-four-million-dollar house and conference center on the grounds, we had shared the common areas of the nineteen-room mansion in East Garden with Hyo Jin’s sister In Jin and her family. As luck — or God’s design — would have it, they had gone away the weekend before and had yet to return. Even if In Jin had been alerted that I might be planning to leave, she would never have taken it seriously. Maybe I was trying to scare Hyo Jin into behaving by taking the children away, she would think. Maybe I was trying to teach him a lesson. I would be back. Neither In Jin nor anyone else in the Moon family would have believed that I would leave for good.
The truth is that not one of them knew me well enough to know what I would do. None of them knew me at all. In fourteen years in the heart of the Moon family, no one had asked me what I thought or felt about anything. They ordered; I obeyed. Today I would turn their ignorance to my advantage.
Quietly I roused Shin Hoon. He was nine months old this very morning and such a good baby; he did not cry as I dressed him in a short-sleeved jumper and then gently shook his siblings awake. I cautioned the children to dress silently while I went to meet Madelene.
In the last year, Madelene Pretorius had become my first real friend. Now, at the other end of my beeper, she was an instrument of my escape. Madelene had been lured into the Unification Church ten years earlier during a chance meeting with a Moonie on a fish pier while vacationing in San Francisco. It is a classic church recruitment technique, befriending a young person traveling alone far from home. The conversation is soon steered from pleasantries to philosophy to the church. A successful encounter ends with the tourist agreeing to attend a lecture or meeting. Some of them never go home.
For the last three years, Madelene had worked for Hyo Jin at Manhattan Center Studios, the recording facility the church owned in New York City. She had seen my husband’s cocaine abuse and raging temper firsthand. When I confided my plan to flee, she had offered her help. It was risky. If he knew she had helped, he would turn on her, too.
Hyo Jin was already suspicious of our friendship. Only weeks ago he had come into the kitchen to find us talking quietly over cups of tea. He ordered me upstairs and Madelene out of East Garden. Upstairs, he threatened to break every one of my fingers if I dared to pursue a personal friendship with a church member. Such threats were typical of his controlling and possessive behavior.
I shivered now at that memory of my husband’s efforts to control me. I waved at the gardener and the security guards as I drove alone through the iron gates of East Garden to meet my friend. She was waiting in front of the local deli. I would spirit her back into the compound just as I had been spiriting our belongings out of the estate for weeks. Almost daily, I made my way past the omnipresent security cameras with chairs and lamps, boxes and suitcases. The guards had accepted without question that I was just rearranging furniture and storing old clothes at Belvedere, another Moon mansion down the road. Mrs. Moon did it all the time.
In truth, I had been headed into town to the storage room I had rented to hold the furnishings of a new life. Today it was time for us to go, too. My brother and Madelene were waiting.
The streets of Irvington and Tarrytown were quiet. It was high summer, when tourists in search of the spirit of Washington Irving’s Sleepy Hollow share the countryside with the locals. But it was too early for either to be stirring. I met Madelene on the designated street corner and smuggled her back into the compound under a blanket so she could help me with the children. We would return to this same corner to retrieve her car, rendezvous with my brother, and travel together to Massachusetts in a caravan.
Once we had loaded the last of the suitcases into the van, Madelene and I led five barefoot children on tiptoe past the master bedroom, down the central staircase, and out the front door. Their father never stirred.
Madelene tucked each child into any available crevice in the overloaded van and then slid into the passenger seat, careful to use blankets to conceal the children and herself from view. I eased the van slowly down the long winding driveway, lined with ancient elms, and out the front gate, smiling at a security guard who had taken his post only a few days before. I turned out of East Garden onto Sunnyside Lane. I did not look back.