YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — U.S. troops yelled "We love you!" enthusiastically Thursday from the bleachers of Yongsan Garrison’s Collier Field House as they received 1,000 brightly wrapped gift boxes.
The gifts — many with "Happy New Year" written on the wrapping in honor of the Korean Lunar New Year — were donated by members of the International We Love U Foundation, which engages in activities ranging from child and senior citizen welfare aid to international aid and disaster relief, officials said.
Foundation chairwoman Zahng Gil-jah is no stranger to the enthusiastic reception she received as she passed out scarves, gloves, hats and other gifts.
Zahng also heads the World Mission Society Church of God, a group believed by some to be a Christian cult in which followers believe Zahng’s late husband, Ahn Sang-hong, was the second coming of Christ. Zahng, according the church’s Web site, is the "Heavenly Mother," the female incarnation of God.
Members of both the church and the foundation refer to Zahng as "Mother," and signs at Thursday’s presentation ceremony proclaimed: "We convey love with Mother’s heart."
Garrison spokesman Dave McNally said the foundation is a reputable organization that came recommended by the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. He also said the group was screened for appropriateness before being allowed to participate in an official function at the garrison, and that the foundation is a civic organization, not a religious one.
"One thousand soldiers are happy now because they got gifts they didn’t have the day before," McNally said. "We’re OK with the event."
Zahng, who made no overt religious references or solicitations during the event, said the gifts were a show of appreciation for the work U.S. servicemembers do in the defense of South Korea.
"I felt sorry for them living so far apart from their families," Zahng said Thursday. "So I wanted to share this warmth with them."
Giving gifts to servicemembers has been an annual tradition for the organization for the past eight years, but until this year, Zahng said, the gifts have been given only to South Korean soldiers.
"This is a fine group of activists who are out to change the world through sharing hope and happiness, and there can be no higher aspiration than that," U.S. Army Garrison-Yongsan commander Col. Dave Hall said during the presentation ceremony.