Friday, August 10, 2018

Joseph S. (former USA chapter)

(Originally posted at ubfriends.org)

An Open Letter to the President of UBF

By Joe S. on Mar 2, 2015

The following is an open letter to Dr. Augustine Sohn, President of University Bible Fellowship, from Joseph L. S., dated March 2, 2015.

Dear Augustine:

Thank you for contacting me yesterday about my status in University Bible Fellowship.

For approximately two years now, the only messages I have received from your organization were requests to attend various meetings and reminders to submit annual chapter reports. I decided to ignore those requests because, for more than five years now, leaders of UBF have been unresponsive to my repeated pleas for dialogue about important matters that affect the health of the organization and the credibility of its gospel witness. My nonresponse was not retaliation. It was an indication that I had no clue how to proceed in our relationship, because my pleas went unheeded and sometimes were not even acknowledged. Perhaps you have heard the humorous saying: “Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot that I only exist when you need something.” I am sorry to say this, but that line accurately conveys my feelings toward UBF and its leaders right now.

By your message, I am once again being asked for something that UBF needs to continue its work, and nothing is being offered to me in return. We cannot continue in this fashion. The time has come to define our relationship.

You asked me to answer two questions:

1. Do you still regard yourself a member of UBF and an International Advisory Member?

2. If so, would you like to participate in voting for the next General Director?

Before I am able to answer these questions, I need you to clarify what you are asking, and I need to know the organization’s stance on several important matters. Therefore I now ask you, in your capacity as President, to answer four questions in an honest and straightforward manner. These answers may be as brief or as long as you wish, but I need to receive them in a timely fashion.

This letter to you is an open letter. I am publishing it on a public website, because I want it to be part of the public record. Many others been asking similar questions, and your answers will be of great interest to them. To promote honesty, openness and transparency, I will accept your response as an official statement by UBF and it will become part of the public record. As soon as I receive it, I will publish it in full, without editing, on the same public website.

The meaning of a question depends heavily on its context. For each of my four questions, I will explain the context so that you will know precisely what I mean.

Context for Question 1. Augustine, you asked if I regard myself as a member of UBF. The organization has a body called Members, a group of approximately 70 persons who meet annually in Chicago. I declined invitations to join that group, so I have never been a Member of UBF in that sense, and I assume you already know that. In my 30+ years of interacting with the organization, I never applied for membership or signed a membership pledge. In most organizations, the meaning of membership is explicit. It is a social contract between the individual and the group in which the person pledges to abide by certain rules and perform certain duties (for example, by paying annual dues). In return, the organization’s leaders grant him rights of membership, providing him with meaningful resources and services, representing his interests and becoming responsive to his concerns. Augustine, because you used the term member, you must have in mind some category of person or some condition of good standing with respect to the organization. I am not being coy when I say, I honestly do not know what you mean by member.

Question 1: What does it mean to be a member of UBF? If there is such a thing as being a member, please explain the duties, responsibilities, and rules of conduct expected of members, and describe what the organization and its leaders provide in return. Also explain whether leaders are obligated to make good-faith efforts to respond to members’ serious concerns in a timely fashion.

Context for Question 2. Before someone can rationally decide whether or not to join an organization, he needs to know whether the organization’s interests align with his own.  This requires the organization to state its positions on important matters within its spheres of activity. UBF presents itself as an organization dedicated to making disciples of Jesus, so the methods by which it teaches and trains disciples should be clarified. When I first became involved in UBF more that thirty years ago, I experienced the leadership of the late Samuel Lee, the organization’s founder and General Secretary. Lee was described as an exemplary disciplemaker, a role model for others to follow, and his influence on organizational culture was profound. Here are some of Lee’s activities that I observed firsthand or heard about through the testimony of credible witnesses.
  • Lee reserved the right to change the name of anyone at any time. He reserved the right to name your children.
  • Lee reserved the right to tell you to quit your job at a moment’s notice.
  • Lee reserved the right to tell you at any time to change your clothing or hairstyle.
  • No one could marry without his specific approval. He chose whom you could marry, and the wedding would be at a time and place of his choosing.
  • In some cases, the length of time between when Lee introduced people to each other and the actual wedding was less than one week.
  • When Lee married couples, he made up the wedding vows himself, frequently inserting promises that had nothing to do with marriage (e.g. promises by the couple that they would to go as missionaries to Russia). These vows were not agreed upon by the couple ahead of time.
  • If you turned down a marriage candidate that Lee chose for you, you could be severely rebuked and trained for it.
  • No one could miss a Monday night meeting or a Friday night meeting or Sunday worship service. If you missed a meeting without what Lee considered to be a valid excuse, you would get rebuked and trained.
  • Lee would impose quotas on fellowship leaders to bring a certain number of people to weekly services and to conferences. Those who failed to do so would be shamed or punished in various ways.
  • If Lee thought you did not offer enough money at the annual Christmas worship service, he might rebuke you in front of everyone.
  • Sometimes Lee told missionaries and shepherds whose families were well off to ask their parents to give large sums of money to the organization.
  • When Lee denounced or rebuked people, he often did so harshly, without warning, standing before the congregation. During these denunciations, some of the things that Lee said had little or no basis in fact.
  • No one in Chicago who was considered a shepherd or missionary could travel outside the Chicago area for any reason without Lee’s approval. If you did travel, it was understood that you needed to be back in town for the next Sunday worship service, otherwise you could be rebuked and trained.
  • If you lived outside of Chicago and you were selected to go on a “journey team” to Korea or elsewhere, you were told to buy an airline ticket to Chicago with an open return date, which could be very expensive. The reason for the open return date was that, once you were in Chicago, Lee reserved the right to keep you there indefinitely for training activities of his own choosing.
  • Lee prescribe unorthodox diets and medical treatments and, in some cases, surgical procedures, and the doctors and nurses in Chicago would carry them out.
  • If you objected to any of Lee’s practices, missionaries and shepherds would immediately counsel you to obey Lee because he was God’s servant. Failure to obey even in a small matter could result in training, monetary fines, public shaming and shunning.
  • Lee sometimes urged missionaries to send their infant children back to Korea to be cared for by relatives so that the missionaries could focus on their ministry activities. In at least one case, he told a missionary couple to give one of their children to another couple who were childless.
Augustine, you and many UBF elders lived under Lee’s leadership; you had ample opportunity to witness his activities and hear about what he was doing.  If these statements are true, I believe UBF’s credibility as a disciplemaking ministry is deeply tarnished and will remain so until (a) the organization acknowledges that they happened and (b) takes a stand on whether these activities are appropriate. If they are inappropriate, leaders must then decide whether and how the organization’s culture can be rehabilitated, making a long-term commitment to identifying and rooting out residual forms of these practices that are present in varying degrees at UBF chapters worldwide.

Question 2. Do you confirm or deny that Samuel Lee, the founder of UBF, engaged in practices similar to those I listed above? If you confirm, does UBF regard these as appropriate methods of Christian discipleship? If  UBF does not consider them appropriate, will the organization issue a mea culpa, apologizing to everyone who received this kind of treatment from Lee and from other UBF leaders who did similar things, and will UBF take publicly visible, measurable and determined steps to root these practices out from its organizational culture? If so, give a timeline for these measures.

Background for Question 3. In recent years, I have heard multiple allegations of UBF members (however that is defined), shepherds and missionaries becoming aware of or being involved in the following:  domestic violence against women and children, sexual molestation, inappropriate physical contact between staff and disciples, and regrettably (in one prominent example) incest. In cases where laws may have been broken, no one made reports to law enforcement officials even when minors were involved. Training and policies on abuse, with mandatory reporting of allegations involving minors, are commonplace in American churches and campus ministries. As far as I can tell, UBF has no policies and does not train its staff on how to handle incidents like these, and the organization appears ill equipped to develop them on their own.

Question 3. Does UBF have any official policies or training on violence and sexual abuse? If not, what will the organization plan to do about this? Do your plans involve external consultants, and when will this be carried out? Give a timeline.

Background for Question 4. Augustine, you asked whether I consider myself to be an Intenational Advisory Member (IAM) and whether I will be voting for the next General Director. In most organizations, elections are a process by which voters select leaders from a pool of multiple candidates. To help voters make rational and informed choices, candidates will state their qualifications and accomplishments, describe their beliefs and lay out a vision for what they intend to do if they are elected. However, it is my understanding that, in the election of the next General Director, IAMs will be given one preselected candidate and will be asked to vote “Yes” or “No.” I find this confusing. I do not know what “Yes” or “No” means in an election with one candidate. Does the organization want my input to help it make a choice, or does it merely want my vote to lend an appearance of choice to a decision that has already been made? And whatever it means to vote “Yes” or “No,” I have no clue how to make an informed decision without knowing what the candidate stands for, what his beliefs are, and what he plans to do if he becomes General Director. I have heard through the grapevine that the preselection committee is now deciding between two candidates. I know one of these candidates well; I understand his values and his leadership style. But I have many questions about the other candidate; although we have been acquainted for many years, I lack an overall sense of what he believes and how he leads. One week ago, on February 25, I was surprised when this man used social media (his personal blog and his Facebook timeline) to promote an article from the website of an organization named The Berean Call (http://www.thebereancall.org/). I applaud this man’s use of social media; I have no qualms about that whatsoever. But I had never heard of this organization, and so I decided to poke around their website to see what they are about. What I found was astonishing: pages and pages filled with extreme views that bear no resemblance to my beliefs or those I heard preached in my 30+ years of involvement with UBF. That organization, which claims to promote discernment, declares that the Roman Catholic Church is a cult; the theory of evolution is demonic; the field of psychology is evil; so-called Christian psychology is godless humanism; the Alpha Course is unbiblical; World Vision and Rick Warren are helping to build the kingdom of the Antichrist; and The Message paraphrase of the Bible is wicked. I am not exaggerating one iota here; if you doubt me, visit the website and see for yourself. This set off sirens of alarm. Do the views of this candidate for General Director resemble the views I read on this website? The link from his personal blog and his Facebook timeline suggest there is some agreement and tacit endorsement going on. I bring this to your attention not only because it is disturbing, but to illustrate how uncomfortable it is for me to be asked to vote in an election with no understanding of what I might be voting for or against.

Question 4: In the upcoming election for General Director, what does it mean to vote “Yes” or “No” when there is one candidate who has been preselected? And what information am I expected to use to make a rational choice in this matter?

Thank you for contacting me and asking these timely questions. I will send you my answers soon after I receive yours. If you cannot respond within one week, please explain why, and tell me when the answers will come.


Very sincerely,

Joseph L. S.


P.S. I have copied this response to members of the Ethics Committee, so that they may be aware of this open conversation.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Sigrid G. (former Washington UBF)

(posted at ubfriends.org, 2015)

Hello, Everybody, My name is Sigrid G. I used to belong to Cologne UBF in Germany, then to Washington UBF until 1996 or 1997. I don’t quite remember when exactly I left.  I would like to add another item to Brian’s list of UBF’s unlawful behavior posted on June 3, 2015 and that is, child abuse and neglect.

For example, when some parents could not find a babysitter for their three pre-school age children so that the parents could attend a mandatory UBF Bible conference, they locked the children into their apartment from Friday through Sunday afternoon after instructing them to feed themselves out of the refrigerator.

My own experiences were even worse. When I was pregnant with my twins, missionaries never encouraged me to rest or take good care of myself. Instead every missionary prayed with me “to really overcome my pregnancy.”

When I asked, I never received any clarification of what they meant by this phrase. I thought it meant to put God’s work first because that was the directive in all things without exceptions.

One hot and humid Friday afternoon, after I had just finished a 40-hour workweek, the chapter director’s wife came to my apartment to urge me to go fishing with her at the University of Maryland in College Park, our fishing ground.

Being ignorant, timid, compliant, and brainwashed, I obeyed and went with her although I was feeling exhausted and nauseated.

A few days later, I gave birth to two boys prematurely. They were not expected to live, but survived anyway. However, even now as grown men, they still have many disabilities, such as autism, cerebral palsy, mental handicaps, and blindness.

They are the product of a culture of child neglect and abuse that was common in many UBF chapters at that time according to my observations.

When confronted, the missionaries aggressively denied any wrongdoing or undue influence, but insisted that what happened was all my fault and my own decision.

I have long since forgiven those who brainwashed me and acknowledged the good things that happened to me at UBF.

I do not find it easy, however, to care for two people with disabilities. My children are also struggling. But I am holding on to God’s promise in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

God accomplished part I of his plan for my children by letting them live. I am confident that he will also accomplish part II, which is healing them completely.

Thank you and God Bless!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A letter to the El Camino UBF chapter a.k.a "Shepherd's Church"

(The following was an email sent by a former member who wanted to open a discussion.)
The response of the El Camino UBF leader to the letter was to send the following "don't listen to or talk to them" email to the recipients:


Monday, September 26, 2016

Michael H. (former California UBF)

(Posted at ubfisacult.blogspot.com in 2016)

My Testimony

Hello, my name was Shepherd X. I was born into a nominal Christian household and lived in spiritual apathy until God led me to UBF. Then, I became born again by accepting God’s true calling for my life and teaching the Bible one-to-one on my college campus to many lost sheep. However, I never had a real relationship with Jesus, only theology, so I eventually fell away back into my old life, breaking my shepherdess’ heart.

This is my story, according to the University Bible Fellowship.

Or at least, as a matter of speculation, I’d imagine that, if I’m ever mentioned at all anymore in my former chapter, those four sentences would comprise the extent of my personal biography. Of course, I cannot know for sure that this is the case. But I can infer that it is so, because those four sentences were the most I ever heard anyone speak concerning former members while I was still in the organization. In fact, I think I can list every time former members come up in UBF: about a half dozen times in Bible study, when my shepherdess talked about her now-lost sheep; maybe once or twice in a testimony; once in passing during a private conversation. Other than that, former members for the most part do not exist to those living under UBF doctrine.

Yet, ex-members do very much exist, and their stories are far more complicated than these passing simplifications. I, for one, can testify to my own experience, and I can assure you there is more to my story. Actually, now that I’ve already gotten started, I might as well start from the beginning. I’ll try to lay down everything as honestly as I can recall.

Before UBF

I was born in another city far from Los Angeles into a Christian family. Of course, that in itself means nothing; the spiritual journey of my immediate family has been bumpy at best, for sure. But, at the same time, I think my Christian origins are important to my story. My great-great-grandfather Hokvin, for instance, was a Swedish immigrant to the United States who had a habit of drinking himself to blackout every night in the local tavern. But in his forties, he attended a tent revival meeting where he had a dramatic encounter with Christ, and from that moment never touched alcohol and never missed a worship service for forty years. In fact, he helped found the Swedish Baptist church in my hometown. Many people in my family have had intense spiritual encounters and salvation experiences of this sort.

One such person, of particular relevance in this story, is my grandmother, who met Jesus when she was 26 and stuck with him through the rough seasons of life: divorce, financial problems, raising four children, caring for my aging step-grandfather (who passed away a year before I joined UBF). Her faith and wisdom had a huge influence on me in my spiritual walk. She was the one who bought me my first Bible in middle school, and I now believe it was through that that I first met Jesus myself. She even supported and encouraged me, as I was in UBF, to seek God and serve Him alone. But let me back up, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Despite my early spiritual awakening, after middle school things stagnated. Because of some major problems in the leadership of our church, my family forfeit membership, and as such I was left without a home church for most of my high school career. I still read scripture from time to time and prayed as often as the thought came to mind, but I lacked strong, Christian community and discipleship. I never developed healthy devotional habits and I did not grow much in my walk with Christ. I had no solid foundation.

At the same time, I was trying to work through my emotional deficiencies. In school I was a loner; I would spend my lunch and free times practicing music. I studied diligently (most of the time) to maintain a strong grade point average. It was only by senior year that my friends were finally starting to get me out of my shell, but by that point I was sick of school, sick of my hometown and ready to move on and start life fresh. I left home to attend college out of state, and at first it was everything of which I had dreamed. Soon, however, the realization hit me: everyone that I knew and loved was back home, and I had left them behind when I came to college. On one hand, I was not lonely—I met plenty of great people in the new setting—but on the other, I was distinctly missing a sense of community and fellowship, and for my first two months of school adjusting to that realization took a toll on me.

Incidentally, by mid-October of freshman year I had still not sought out a church community. I had looked, briefly, for a campus ministry, but was overwhelmed by all the choices. Meanwhile, I was a detached, idealistic, young college student with emotional vulnerabilities. Could somebody check the books for the risk factors of cult indoctrination?

Becoming a UBF Shepherd

While I was walking back from class one evening, I was “fished” by my shepherdess. I still vividly remember the encounter. She spotted me and asked, “Are you interested in studying the Bible?” I remarked briefly, and awkwardly, that I was already studying it on my own (I always hate turning down people who approach you on the street). She picked up on my remark and elaborated about how it would be a one-to-one Bible study, and we would go “deeper” into the Word. At this point, I felt the full weight of my weak foundation: I knew that I had not been looking for a church and that I had not been growing as a Christian, and I felt that if I turned down her offer it would just be another example of me saying no to God. So, I accepted, expecting a weekly 30 minute commitment. I did not realize that thus began the most emotionally volatile year of my life.

Our first Bible studies were in the gospel of John. In UBF doctrine, this of course meant spending a lot of time talking about the definition of “life” rather than talking about the gospel, per se. Nonetheless, I was fascinated by the new perspective presented to me by my Bible teacher (I did not yet know her as my shepherdess): living for worldly things leads to death, but Jesus offers a new, better, spiritual life. What was this “new life” that was promised? Did I have it? Over the next several weeks, she laid a foundation for the idea that “new life” meant living for God’s mission, or God’s particular calling for me. She challenged my thoughts that I would serve God through my music and presented the case that, because God had led me into her Bible studies, He was calling me to adopt her mission as well. She had me believing that, according to the scriptures, I should desire to “take up my cross” and become a shepherd, and that if I retain any desire for “the things of the world” (friends, family, entertainment, music) I was clinging to my old life and rejecting Jesus’ new life.

Some of these teachings made sense to me. Others disturbed me. Were my desires to love family and friends really worthless? Was my emotional vulnerability really a sign that I was living in darkness? Would I have to give up my music in order to love God alone? I had the feeling that this Jesus she was talking about was a different Jesus than the one I had met growing up. But I was also convinced that all of my Christian background was really just a false conversion, evidenced by my lack of “fruit” (commitment to God’s mission).

After all, so many people in my family had those incredible salvation experiences, but I had never experienced anything like that. My spiritual walk had been slow and uneventful. Then suddenly, I was thrust into this violently new scenario. She invited me to her church, which turned out to be a UBF chapter south of Los Angeles, and I immediately noticed the zealousness of the members and the commitment to “fishing” and teaching the Bible. They were also extremely nice to me, offering free food and letting me serve in the orchestra. I liked the fact that they sang traditional hymns from hymnals and I especially liked that it was a very small church that gave a closer sense of community. This was it: these were real Christians. And if I had any doubts, concerns or anxieties, they had to be evidence of my sinful nature trying to claim me back to the darkness.

After a month of Bible studies, I attended that year’s Fall Bible Conference. At the event, I was exposed pretty much ceaselessly to a stream of testimonies and sermons promoting the UBF lifestyle for two days straight. I heard testimonies about people giving up careers and passions to do UBF activities. I heard testimonies about people leaving their families to do UBF activities. The whole time, I felt a deep, unexplainable urge to stand up and run away, but I remained. The first night I almost couldn’t sleep because I was overwhelmed with anxiety and fear about what God might be calling me to do. I thought that the guilt and fear I was experiencing was conviction, because I had never been instructed about conviction growing up. By the end of the conference, I had broken down, and I made the commitment to become a shepherd. In doing so, I felt all of the pressure fly away, and from that point on I knew that if I just obeyed my shepherdess “absolutely” I wouldn’t need to experience the guilt and the fear (yes, I confused conviction with manipulation). I also started teaching my first “sheep” the same month.

That winter, my shepherdess allowed me to fly back home for Christmas even though she tried to get me to stay for “winter Genesis intensive”. I would have been more than willing to study Genesis several times a week, but I also felt an obligation to my parents, who had raised me, were paying for most of my education and had been expecting me to return home. It also would have been difficult to cancel plane tickets and find funding to live in LA over the break on such short notice, since my dormitory lease did not cover winter vacation. Regardless, I still Skyped Bible studies with her as often as possible, and even tried leading my parents in Bible study as well. Whenever my mother walked in on one of our Skype Bible studies, I could immediately detect tension in my shepherdess, and she would stop everything and become very quiet until my mother left. I didn’t dwell on that fact though, and continued with the studies. Soon it was time to return to Los Angeles.

Turning for the Worse

As spring semester began, I was excited to start serving God through Bible studies. I didn’t do much fishing in the first few months, but I did find a few “sheep” just by asking people that I knew if they wanted to study the Bible. Soon I had about five people involved with my Bible studies, plus or minus one depending on the week. I was very happy to report my progress in Friday testimony sharing meetings, which I also started attending (even though I had to cancel other commitments).

However, fairly soon I started noticing that there were some theological matters with which I didn’t fully agree. UBF doctrine covers this, of course: according to them, being too intellectual and theological means you justify your sin and compromise in your commitment to mission. I accepted this teaching, of course, so I never brought up any of my disagreements with my shepherdess and tried to play along without touching on the area of concern. It wasn’t long before conflict came up.

For instance, I never accepted the UBF interpretation of the Sabbath. I didn’t see anything in scripture that suggested God’s reason for the Sabbath was to get people to come to worship service; that assertion is not only inserted into the text, but it ignores all of the actual reasons for the Sabbath presented by scripture. Regardless, I still tried to commit to “absolute” Sunday attendance as a sign of my devotion to God, even though I disagreed with their interpretation. At the time, I was a member of a fairly prestigious choir at my school, and I had also made a commitment to accept the choir’s rigorous schedule and support my colleagues. Then, in February, it came time for a week-long trip to the American Choral Director’s Association conference in Salt Lake City, which included a Sunday.

I brought it up with my shepherdess to ask permission (because, at that point, I believed that I needed to ask her permission to do anything outside UBF practice). She rebuked me, and spent about twenty minutes trying to convince me not to go, even though it meant quitting the choir and ruining my reputation as a musician. I prayed about this subject over and over, and each time it seemed clear to me that God’s will was for me to go on the trip. I even mentioned to another shepherd at one point that I didn’t feel any conflict in my heart about missing one Sunday service; he responded, “Be careful, that might be the devil.” Regardless, my shepherdess went to the chapter director about the matter, and, to my relief, he allowed me to go for the sole reason that I had already made a commitment to the group and I shouldn’t break my promise. But next semester I would not audition for the choir again.

At this point I have to stop to praise God for His grace. I came very close to quitting that choir, and it was only the day before the trip that I received permission to go. And you know what God did for me on the trip? He put me in a room with three of the most wonderful Christian men I’ve ever met. When they found out that I was a Christian (incidentally, by noticing my Bible, my devotional My Utmost for His Highest and my hymnal, all of which my grandmother had given me…) they invited me to start attending their group Bible study, which consisted mostly of music students who met weekly both on and off campus. At these meetings, I started to grow in Christ in ways that I had not experienced in UBF. It wasn’t about external Bible study quotas, but about internal fruit of the Spirit. At each meeting, I experienced deep, overwhelming peace and security in Christ while pouring into His Word. Once, I think in March sometime, I mentioned to another shepherd that I was participating in this Bible study. They asked, “Oh, are you leading it?” to which I responded, “No, but it has been a blessing.” He gave me a concerned look and said, “Hmmm…” but never brought it up again. I decided not to tell my shepherdess about it, because I had the feeling that she would prevent me from going.

Still, I was committed to the UBF lifestyle by that point and I continued studying the Bible with my shepherdess and attending UBF activities, as well as teaching the Bible to my small group of students. About a month passed without a major incident. In April, I preached at a symposium, receiving huge amounts of praise from the chapter director and my shepherdess. I felt honored to have been allowed to serve God in that way, and I thought that I could finally rest in the peace of Christ. However, another road bump was just over the horizon.

By the end of April, I was happily doing two Bible studies a week with my shepherdess and also writing two testimonies every week, one for the Friday meeting and one to share with her privately. Then finally came the day of our final Genesis study. I was excited for it, because it marked the conclusion of a huge portion of my studies and the end of my “introduction” into UBF life. However, I soon realized that this study would not be a joyous conclusion. For the past few weeks, I had sensed my shepherdess hinting about topics related to my own decisions about summer vacation. Then, finally, for the last Genesis study—well, most of our Bible studies lasted from about an hour to about ninety minutes. This one lasted well over two hours, and most of that extra time was an extended rebuke.

My shepherdess revealed that I was potentially a candidate to deliver a message at their first Summer Bible Conference. I had made plans to travel back to my hometown for the summer, especially since I had already skipped spring break and cut short winter break before that. However, my shepherdess pressured me continually to cancel my plans and stay in Los Angeles, not just for the conference during the 4th of July but for the whole summer. She told me that I couldn’t be dedicated to God’s mission back at home, and that I had to commit to God alone, like Abraham did when he left his father’s country and gave up his son Isaac; like Rebekah did when she left her father to marry a stranger; like Jacob did when he sent his family over the river. By the end of the Bible study, I feebly told her, “I’ll pray about it” and walked back to my dorm trembling. Part of me was reviling against her instructions; I had a deep desire to return to my hometown so that I could love and encourage my family and friends spiritually. I prayed for two hours without finding any resolution to the conflict, but I sensed that I would not be relieved of the pressure to follow her directions unless I submitted. In the end, I tossed a coin five times and decided to cut short my summer and come back to Los Angeles after just a month, so that I had enough time to fulfill all of the commitments I had promised to keep up in my hometown, which meant spending about two weeks with my parents and a week at a music education job I had accepted.

The next day, I gathered my nerves and called my mother to let her know. She cried. My father was angry, and he accused me of trying to please my shepherdess rather than God. I tried to assure him that he was wrong and even tried to quote scripture to support my decision, but it felt empty. They said, “Do you know how hard this is for us?” and I responded, “Probably just as hard as it is for me.” I suppressed my emotions and tried to be as cold as possible. In the end, they relented, but told me that I’d have to pay for my own transportation, housing and food, which I did: nearly $2000, which was most of the money I had saved up by that point. On one hand, I felt relief that I had done what my shepherdess wanted, even if only in part, and that I was now “safe” from abandoning God’s will. On the other, I felt assaulted. It was only the next day that I found any kind of comfort. My grandmother called and left me a voicemail, telling me that she loved me and supported me no matter what, and that she was glad I was trying to serve God with all my heart. I cried on hearing the message, and then again when I repeated the message in my testimony the next Friday.

The end of that year and the start of that summer is a blur to me now. I know that I put most of my belongings in storage south of Los Angeles, near the church. I flew back home, did everything I needed to do, taught a few Bible studies to my parents and a couple friends, and then drove back for the conference in July. By that point, I had had time to work through my emotions, and I was no longer feeling conflicted about it. My parents had accepted it as well and sent me off with a blessing. Now that the rebukes had stopped, I once again felt that I was finally free to rest in the peace of Christ, just like I had felt back in early April. For the summer, I moved into the church’s “common life” apartment with three other shepherds, and I traveled to campus about five days out of the week to “fish” for “sheep” and so forth. Overall, I became fairly content with everything and I was as excited as I had ever been to serve God. People in the church praised me for making such a bold decision “by faith”. However, those theological concerns and negative experiences lingered in the back of my mind, covered by a thick layer of spiritual high.

The Road to Freedom

There was a brief window after the summer conference where I was almost completely submitted to UBF rule over my life. Living in the common life, it was easy to structure my entire life around UBF activities. I went “to prayer” at the church house twice a day, once when I woke up and once before sleeping. In the meantime, I was writing music, fishing on campus or doing Bible studies, and I was trying to cut down the time I spent writing music.

Shortly after driving to LA, my car broke down and was in the mechanic’s for almost a month. During this period, I would get rides to campus from the chapter director’s daughter, who was also a student there. My conversations with her (though, I will stress, never approached anything near “romantic”, nor would I have wanted them to) were the closest I think I ever came to having an equal relationship with someone in UBF. My shepherdess actually rebuked me once during this period for being too casual and not respecting the “spiritual order” of those who were in UBF longer than me; I was treating higher-ups more like brothers and sisters than commanding officers. Of course, I repented immediately, even though I didn’t really understand what I had done wrong. But I still got rides to campus with the same woman, since it was the most convenient option though my shepherdess tried to get me to take the bus instead.

At any rate, here is the point of this tangent: she would leave for campus earlier than I needed because she did most of her studying on campus rather than at home. So, every time, she would drop me off and I would go to the library before “fishing” to do morning devotions and any studying that I needed. My shepherdess had encouraged me to use the UBF devotional series, called “Daily Bread”, for my devotions, so I would normally go to Google and search “University Bible Fellowship Daily Bread” in the search bar. One day, I instead went to type “UBF Daily Bread”, but as I was typing I saw auto-filled “UBF cult”. It was like a moment of enlightenment. I had remembered my parents expressing concerns about me being in a cult, but I brushed them off. Yet, if “UBF cult” was common enough to be an auto-filled search result…?!

I did not go fishing that day. Instead, I spent about seven hours poring over testimony after testimony of Christians who left UBF. I saw confirmed in the writing all of the doctrinal concerns that I had been pushing into my subconscious. I realized that much of what I had been made to do for UBF was not due to God’s will, but due to pressure from my shepherdess. I didn’t want to believe any of it. In fact, I wanted to prove those accounts wrong. I was even comforted when I read John Abraham’s old 2007 thoughts promoting UBF (though I was unaware that he had changed his mind since then). Still, that day initiated a process that the Spirit would use to lead me out of UBF.

Very soon, I started realizing that I was not growing by following UBF doctrine. My desire to seek Jesus felt stifled. I started noticing more and more doctrinal errors; once I subtly tried to flesh out an interpretation beyond the weekly message in my Friday testimony, but my musings were met with stunned silence from the others in my fellowship. More and more, I realized that as I was remaining in UBF, I was lying to myself, my co-workers, and ultimately to God. I started realizing that in order to lure “sheep” in, I would have to hide most unique aspects of UBF doctrine, such as arranged marriage, absolute attendance and sacrificing all worldly comforts, just like my shepherdess had done with me. I started realizing that all of the rebukes and the long sessions where higher-ups pressured underlings to conform was examples of manipulation. Most of all, I realized that none of these things were present in Jesus’ ministry, and that by supporting these practices I was going against God’s will for me.

Even still, I could not make the decision to leave UBF. There were too many conflicts in my mind. Hadn’t UBF bolstered my spiritual walk? Wasn’t there evidence of good fruit in the ministry? What if by leaving I abandon God’s will? I resolved to find out once and for all what the Spirit would have me do. I started studying Galatians on my own, without telling anyone, and spent hours meditating on the word of God. My morning and evening prayer sessions became directed at searching out God’s will, and I only found peace and joy in the prospect of leaving the ministry so that I could once again be honest with God. My family had started attending church again, and I had been listening to sermons from the lead pastors that grabbed my heart. I decided to email the lead pastor with my concerns, and phrased my message in a way that made UBF look as good as possible. His response to me was, “I have one word for you ‘cult’”, and he told me to leave as soon as possible and find a healthy, Jesus-loving community. Finally, class had started again, I had moved back into the university apartments and the music school Bible study had kicked into gear again. I brought up my concerns with my brothers and sisters in Christ, and they completely supported me in leaving and finding a healthy ministry.

After everything, I have realized that God aligned everything perfectly to give me the chance to be truly free in Christ. If I had not had my grandmother, I would not have had my early love for Jesus and desire to serve him. If I had listened to my shepherdess and skipped that choir trip, I never would have known what real Christian fellowship feels like, and I never would have had a support group for leaving. If my parents hadn’t started going to a wonderful, Jesus-centered church when I left for college, I never would have gotten that pastor’s advice. And if I hadn’t had all of that free time over the summer to pray and meditate on the Word, I might never have heard the Spirit’s voice. God brought me to the brink in order to bring me to freedom.

I finished up my duties to the church, including preaching one last message, and then sent an email to the chapter director and my shepherdess explaining why I was leaving that night. The chapter director responded with a blessing; my shepherdess did not. Over the next two months, I was contacted only three times by UBF people: once by my shepherdess’ husband inviting me to a conference (which I couldn’t attend anyway because I was serving at my new church and teaching a Bible study), once by another member asking where I was (to which I explained that God had led me out of the ministry), and once by someone with an anonymous Facebook account (probably because Facebook is taboo in my former chapter). Other than that, none of my former co-workers have tried to continue a relationship with me, though I have reached out more than once, and I know from two conference messages that I am considered to have “fallen away”.

After UBF

Adjusting after UBF was not easy. I immediately sensed a lack of discipline and focus in my life; this is partly because I no longer had a system of heavy shepherding to rule my every action, and partly because I no longer had recruitment as my central focus in life (perhaps “fishing” became a bit idolatrous; after all, when it was gone I distinctly felt the lack). I had to re-learn how to make Jesus the center of who I am and I am still working on how to best grow spiritually, but one thing I know for sure: I am in a healthier relationship with Christ now that I am free from those extra-biblical burdens.

I started attended a new church where some of my Bible study friends were members. It is not perfect (no church is), but in spite of the imperfections I know that God has called me to love and to be invested in the community. I serve, do Bible studies, and participate in community groups at the church, which have been a massive blessing to my journey of faith. Meanwhile, I am now leading the music school Bible study that was such a huge source of encouragement for me while I was in UBF. I struggle every day to seek Jesus in everything that I do and to be a living witness to the wonderful inheritance he has promised.

By the grace of God, I harbor no ill feelings toward anyone still in UBF. In fact, I still love them very much, and if you can believe it, I am grateful for the time God gave for me to be in the organization! In a sense, it was a way that He jump-started my faith, since during the process I began to read God's Word more diligently and to meditate on His Truth. Surely, God can use anything to build people up spiritually; I've even heard of people who come to Christ through prosperity gospel preachers. However, my heart breaks for those who are still being hurt by UBF. I continue to hear stories of people overcome with anxiety and depression because of the intense pressure of the UBF lifestyle, and I fear for their faith since that pressure is based on these extra-biblical practices. Jesus, please show them the light!

I pray that God would use this testimony for the edification of the Body, whether to help those currently trapped in UBF or another cult-like organization. I realize that I had it fairly easy; I was only in the organization for just under a year and I had a support system to leave. Many people do not have those luxuries. If you are struggling with these issues and need a friend or a brother in Christ to talk with, or if you just want to talk about Jesus, please feel free to contact me. And remember that whatever you do, “neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

michael.the.hopkins@gmail.com

God bless you all!

MH, a.k.a. Hertoa

tl;dr: I met Jesus when I was young, but never had a strong foundation of discipleship. Therefore, I was led into UBF because I was a young, idealistic, emotionally vulnerable college student away from home who felt the need for spiritual structure and discipline. I was attracted by the zealousness of UBF and opened up to my shepherdess immediately, accepting UBF doctrine and becoming a "shepherd".

I gave up time, money and comfort freely to the organization hoping to serve God. Soon, however, I realized that the UBF system has many doctrinal errors and uses manipulative and deceptive tactics to recruit and teach "sheep". So, I spent two months praying, meditating, and seeking Christian counsel in order to determine God's will. In the end, He revealed that if I stayed in UBF I would be lying to myself, my co-workers and to Him, and my spiritual health depended on my departure.

Since leaving, I have found a healthy, Jesus-loving ministry where I serve and have been growing in my relationship with Christ every day, and I still teach the Bible on campus. In the end, I'm grateful even for all of these struggles that the Lord led me to encounter, because he truly works all things for the good of the one who believes.

Friday, June 24, 2016

search16 (former California UBF)

(Posted at ubfriends.net in 2016)

Hello, I recently left UBF after being part of the organization for a few years. I had my doubts about the organization from the beginning, but I was afraid that if I left, I would be leaving God and would no longer be a Christian. Finally, after some time of living in the common life, my eyes were opened to the critical faults of the organization, and I couldn’t be part of the church anymore.


I was part of a UBF chapter in California. One part of my specific church that I couldn’t accept is that many of the shepherds would only fish “mainstream” (white) students, and when any person of color (esp. African Americans) attended the church, they were largely ignored, while the white students received extremely special treatment.

I only taught a few Bible studies and didn’t fish nearly as often as others, yet I was asked to give a message almost every conference, participate in dramas, and I moved into common life when I was still younger in spirit (UBF’s standard) than many other members. I always thought that this was just God’s extra special grace upon me, but over time I realized that my light skin color, light hair, and light eyes had a lot to do with the attention I was getting.

I am wondering if you have heard of similar stories like this one in other UBF chapters?

I understand that this is certainly something that can be found in many non-UBF churches, but considering the multiplicity of problems with UBF, this kind of racial issue is something that shouldn’t be ignored.

Also, I am wondering if you have studied or heard stories of mental illness or psychological problems in students of UBF and UBF shepherds?

While I lived in common life, I was always under a lot of pressure to conform to UBF standards, and I never felt good enough, so I honestly remember many nights of hopping into my car after testimony sharing and wanting (sometimes trying) to crash my car into a wall. Sometimes I couldn’t smile for days at a time, even though I never had a history of such depressing feelings and thoughts. All of this started in UBF, particularly when common life training started.

I felt as if I was going crazy, and my mild anger problem kept growing and growing, when it should have been healing as I came to God more for help. I was told that these psychological problems were Satan’s attack or the result of my own doubt, but now that I have left the organization,

I am wondering if the lack of true gospel and the militaristic culture and legalism of UBF can have some correlation with psychological problems developing in people?

I am back to normal now that I do not attend the UBF church, and it is as if a heavy chain is off of my shoulders. Praise God for that, but I am hoping that others will soon come into the light and find healing through prayer and/or simply through psychological counseling, as some may really need that, even when UBF considers getting such help to be humanistic.

I guess I am contacting you because I would like to know if others have experienced similar things in UBF?

Lastly, before deciding to leave the church, I had become extremely concerned about the marriage by faith (arranged marriage) part of UBF, as I could foresee the person the pastor would want to put me with, and I knew I couldn’t trust that God was the one choosing that marriage partner for me. I wondered if arranged marriage was normal in Christian churches, so I posted this question on Reddit.

Here is a link to the post:


I received a lot of really concerned and helpful answers, and it helped to strengthen my resolve that the UBF way of marriage is not Biblically sound. I am sending you the link for your reference, since you often discuss questions about UBF issues and help troubled members, and the Reddit discussion may be useful to some who were having the same questions and doubts as I was. I appreciate any answers/info you may have!

Thank you, Search16.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Susan (former Toledo UBF)

(Posted at ubfriends.net in 2016)

My name is Susan, and this is my true story…
I was introduced to the Toledo Chapter of UBF around ’93/’94 by a guy named Jeff.  He introduced me to his Korean bible teacher, Hannah.  She was excessively persistent in calling me, showing up at my dorm, and offering me all kinds of “help” through 1:1 bible study. I finally gave in and agreed to study with her. Little did I know that this would lead to a long, harrowing 2 years of spiritual abuse and hell.

I was a weak Christian who was trying to find my way back to God and true faith. I grew up in a very difficult home, and was basically fatherless for most of my life.  What the UBF cult was great at is what I will call the “love-bombing bait and switch.”  I imagine that their greatest prey are students who feel lost, lonely, adrift, or who’ve experienced some profound loss.  At first, new bible students are lavished with false love, praise, acceptance, and inclusion. After these so-called “shepherds” get their claws deeply imbedded into the heart and mind of the student, then the switch and real manipulations begin.

Before getting ensnared in this cult, I always wondered how people could fall for such lies.  After all, I had just watched how our gov’t slaughtered Waco compound cult followers of David Koresh just months prior to joining UBF!  The way that cults operate and manipulate can be summed up in two words: Subtle Coercion. The take-over of people’s minds and lives is done through a very methodical process of love bombing them, alienating them from their former life/friends/family/activities, and then abusing them in various ways through the help of fellow cult associates. This is done through the use of “helpful suggestions” that are really just tactics of guilt, criticism, and shaming.  New adherents, after being alienated from everyone and everything they used to know and love, find themselves in a highly vulnerable position where they are desperate to keep receiving the love of this “new family” and are manipulated into a “do anything to keep the love flowing” mindset.

So here are the details of my time in the Toledo UBF cult and how I got out:

1. I began 1:1 bible study with Hannah.  As I look back on it, 1:1 was really just code for a lot of intel gathering on her part to learn all about me, my family, their places of employment, and their work schedules (very important to remember, as it directly relates to my escape from their clutches!)

2. Once I was fully immersed in their “family”, I was fast-tracked to live in Sisters’ House with 4 other girls. This house was the communal control center for keeping tabs on their unmarried female members. There was also a Brothers’ House, which operated for the same purpose.

3. I was thoroughly sleep-deprived by  the insane number of required meetings, early morning daily bread sessions, special event rehearsals, conference meetings in Canada and elsewhere, and trying to work part-time and be a full-time student. My grades plummeted, but I was told that God’s mission for my life was more important than grades.

4. Dating was strictly forbidden, since the group arranged singles to be “married by faith” by whomever the cult leaders decided to pair up. Towards the end of my time there, I felt certain that I was being groomed to marry someone who had been in love with another sister that they married off to a guy in Montreal. To add injury to insult, they made him dance a duet with me for her wedding! His heartbreak was so evident to me, and their actions were most assuredly meant to humiliate him into the dust.

5. The manipulations and machinations for behavior and mind-control, in the beginning, were always very subtle. It always started with suggestions here and there, that eventually led to overt dictates and mandates by the end of my time with them. In the beginning, you are lavished with “unconditional” love and attention. By the end, they are making every decision about every facet of your life. I remember receiving several articles of clothing from Hannah as a “gift”, because the UBF dress code was ankle length skirts and excessively modest tops. School, work, sleep, dress, whereabouts, visitations- EVERYTHING about my life became their business. After one conference in Canada, I was severely rebuked for receiving and writing back a letter to a young man from another chapter. I was told that this was strictly forbidden.

6. So, what finally woke me up? A truly God-ordained spring break trip that the UBF leaders VERY reluctantly let me go on.  I believe that God warned me in a dream the night before I left for this trip. The theme of the dream involved my mom’s house and a message that said “when you are alone is when they will attack.”

I went to the Bahamas with my mom, and while there, I met a beautiful Christian woman in the Straw Market who offered to braid my hair. She invited us to her humble, little church down the road. It was there that my eyes were once again opened to the power of the Holy Spirit, and to the awesome saving grace of the Lord, Jesus Christ. The scales fell from my eyes and I wept as I saw a young man receive the FREE GIFT of salvation: not through pressure, or coercion, or through threats, or fear, or most importantly-through his own efforts. No, I saw with my own eyes that this young man had responded to the sweet, gentle prompting of the Holy Spirit. And that moment is what set me free.

I was in a place where I could finally rest, where my mind could begin to become my own again, and where I could attend a true church where all three Persons of the Triune God were honored and given their due respect.  That Bahamian church was a place where the Word of God was held higher than the words and dictates of men, and it was good, and I felt set free.

7. The beginning of my exodus was painful and frightening. When we returned to Ohio, there were several messages on my mom’s answering machine from Hannah, demanding me to call as soon as I got back. When I called, she insisted that I return for Sunday service. My mom was very concerned at the change in my demeanor after hearing the messages, and she gently said to me “you don’t have to jump just because Hannnah says to.”  The new school term was set to begin on that Monday. I had a horrendous feeling of panic and dread, because I knew that something was terribly, terribly amiss in UBF. For the first time, I was very afraid to return, afraid that they would know that I was on to them, and afraid that they would take drastic measures to make sure that I would never be able to leave again.

8. So, I deferred my trip back to Toledo until early Sunday morning. I got back in time for Sunday service, and the moment I had feared most came crashing down on me like a tidal wave. After service, we always had a circle “debriefing” amongst our designated leaders and bible teachers, which involved regurgitating the message to make sure that we had been fully indoctrinated in whatever drivel had been espoused that week. I was the last person to speak. Instead of doing what was expected of me, I shared the story of the young man who received Christ.

Everyone stared at me in disbelief, and the alarm bells went off in my head, because the dismissive looks they gave me reinforced the cult mentality that “if it didn’t happen here, then it didn’t really happen.” I prayed for God’s strength and protection to help me not show my utter panic and fear, because I was certain that they would try to restrain me in some way. I acted as if everything were normal, but I had resolved to leave very early Monday morning to go back home and to leave UBF forever.

I wrote a letter to Hannah and left it on her door, saying that I was ill and that I needed to go home since she was expecting to meet with me at 5:30 am. I didn’t tell anyone back home about my plans because I did not want to alarm them and I was afraid that one of the Sisters I was living with might have tried to eavesdrop on my phone conversation. I only packed up a few important belongings to keep my travel light and my exit swift.

9. On Monday, the hunt began. All the months of 1:1 intel gathering paid off. Knowing that my mom was working half a day on Monday, I drove straight to my friend’s university that was nearby my hometown so I would not be alone and so I could begin to reconnect with a solid friend who knew me better than anyone else. I knew that my mom was working a half day. Hannah thought my mom would be working a full day. Hannah looked up and called both of my brothers at their places of work trying to find out where I was, which sent my brothers into a panic, because they had no idea what was going on. After spending most of the morning with my friend, I drove home to my mom’s house.

My blood ran cold when I saw a red SUV parked in the church lot behind my mom’s house. I knew it belonged to one of the guys from “Brothers’ House” and the words from the dream before our trip immediately came back to me: “they will attack when you are alone.” Even so, I felt a tremendous peace wash over me and I knew that I was supposed to confront them with truth of exactly why I left. The three UBF people involved were Hannah, my roommate Lauri, and Russell. I invited them in, knowing that my mom would be home any minute. What I experienced during that brief conversation was something other-worldly, and I believe it was a manifestation of true spiritual warfare. Some might not believe it, but I saw it with my own eyes.

While I was convinced that they might try to abduct me, I felt complete peace that God would protect me. The intense hatred and evil that I saw pouring out of Hannah and Lauri’s eyes was other-worldly. While Russell should’ve been the one for me to be afraid of since he had the ability to overpower me, I never once sensed from him a physical threat or this same intense evil that Hannah and Lauri gave off. The walls and ceiling in my mom’s house looked like they were shifting whenever Hannah or Lauri spoke, and Hannah looked as though she wanted to murder me. I told them that it is not of God for people to be controlled by other people, or to be separated from their family and friends, or to deny the Holy Spirit the work and power that only belong to Him.

As soon as I spoke my peace, the key to our back door turned, my mom walked in, the walls stopped shifting, and the three of them said it was time for them to leave.  I had my UBF friend, Jeff, call me and berate me two days after I left the group, and the wall-shifting happened again during that conversation. Then I received a hateful letter from him a week later, along with all the letters and tokens of encouragement I had sent to him during his National Guard training. It was clear that I was labeled an evil pariah. When I went to gather my things on Wednesday, I found several items missing, and the only person who could’ve fit into them was Lauri. Even so, my mom had a very strong friend of hers accompany us on the trip to gather my belongings for safety and protection.

10. The aftermath. So, it would seem that life should just go back to how it was before the cult experience, right?   Sadly, no, it doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t work that way because the mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual damage done by cults runs very, very deep. When I woke up, I experienced survivor’s guilt, because there were several people in that group that I genuinely loved and cared for. I was very close to several girls in the group, including the chapter leader’s Korean daughter, who was in Jr. High at the time.

I thought of my beautiful friend Missy, who had been whisked off to Montreal after her arranged marriage.  I thought of my roommate Franzie, who had a big heart and a beautiful smile, and I felt guilt that I had been awoken to reality while they were all like POW’s, left shackled and in chains.

I escaped at a time when the Internet didn’t even exist yet, so I very much felt alone in my experience as I tried to process the doubt, fear, and confusion that cults drum into the minds of their victims.  I am thankful that others have since awoken, left, and found true freedom in genuine Christianity that honors Father, Son, AND Holy Spirit.

My prayer is that others will be helped through the telling of my experience and story.