Two days after Barack Obama won reelection, I met a young Chinese woman, whom I will call Anne, in the basement café at the San Francisco Public Library. Anne worked part time and gave a large portion of her earnings to a group she called “the Community,” a Christian sect led by a charismatic Korean pastor named David Jang. After joining the group in her late teens, Anne had spent more than seven years working in its ministries—organizations and businesses run by Jang’s disciples. With short hair and large glasses, Anne was now in her late 20s but looked younger. She said she rarely had enough money for small luxuries like coffee. We chatted with a mutual friend while we waited for her husband, Caleb, who also worked for a ministry: the International Business Times, the flagship publication of an eponymous online news company that would, nine months later, become the new owner of Newsweek magazine.
Caleb was running late because he was translating Obama’s victory speech into Chinese for IBT, which publishes 11 editions in seven languages. When he arrived, he shook my hand and, without meeting my eyes, sat beside his wife. “Tell him,” she said, pushing her husband’s elbow and raising her chin in my direction. They argued under their breath in a few clipped, Chinese sentences, and then he turned to me and said, “We’re working here illegally.”