Monday, May 14, 2007

More German UBF recruits' experiences

[From a translation of a report published in the book “Sekten – Die neuen Heilsbringer” (“Cults – the New Bringers of Salvation”), A Handbook,
by Heide-Marie Cammans, Düsseldorf 1998, p. 97-111

(See also

Jutta is sitting in the consultation room with me. Her brother, a senior student, is a member of the UBF. The young woman asks for help: “My brother isn’t himself any more ... He has changed completely, a wall is standing between us. We cannot have any sensible conversation any more. He has abandoned all hobbies, his friends don’t understand him any more either. He hardly comes home and is constantly speaking in verses from the Bible. He makes an exhausted, anxious and afflicted impression...” Jutta asks whether UBF is a cult.

S. has been visited and evangelized by a missionary in his room in the student dormitory. He became a member of the movement. However, after years of the membership he managed to leave, supported by his relatives. After his leaving the cult, his mother wrote the following “record of sorrow,” as she calls it:

“Although I, as a mother of an affected person, collecting my thoughts for this report, do clearly feel how everything touches and burdens me very much even in retrospect, I still would like to help in bringing light into the ‘darkness,’ because it was this ‘darkness’ that actually made it possible that our son fell into the hands of UBF.

Perhaps I should mention the following before I start to report:

Our son is a highly sensitive, intelligent boy, equipped with all advantages that parents can be proud of, always wanting to do the best and trying to make this come true with perseverance and engagement, and who perhaps possesses an excess of readiness to suffer and sacrifice, with high moral and ethical standards and aspiration level, always searching for trueness and genuineness.

This introduction isn’t meant to praise our son, but to call attention to similar cases!

He also requires the aspiration level he has set to himself from others, for instance when searching for friends. Therefore it is a matter of course that he does not find too many friends. Because of his strongly introverted way it also isn’t easy for him to approach other people by himself; however, already in his school time he has strictly and instinctively sorted among those who approached him.

Maybe the following should also be mentioned:

We are and originate from a family that is – as I believe – living faith, hardly making words about it, we are feeling comfort and security in God, perceiving this as a rock on which we stand, as a shield and as a signpost in times of decisions. We have trusting, loving relationships with each other, and are able to talk with each other quite well. Everyone is helping the other. Caused by frequent moves to always different towns, we have never settled down in any particular ‘church.’ But this was not the only reason: Searching for ‘contents,’ for refreshment and reinforcement, we have ‘forced us’ to listen to a wide variety of sermons time and again – these were without exception disappointments again and again, so that you can get sad of it. Only a pale taste, a hollow feeling, remained. You may understand this as an accusation against our churches as well.

Such a young person then starts with his university studies in a foreign town, being there without contact persons, everything being new. Living in the dormitory can make it even more clear that you are alone: Although there are many contacts and you talk much, you don’t really speak with each other, most of all you smoke and drink much, consideration for others is a foreign word for many. You feel an increasing disappointment about our ‘elite,’ that does not abound here as much as some may believe. So in this situation my son was looking for ‘his people.’ His way led him through the official Protestant and Roman Catholic student church, through various evangelical churches in the town; he took a look at church split-offs, yes, he even did not miss informative evenings of student fraternities – always open to everything –, being also encouraged by me to not give up the search for suitable people. Besides, he had to get along with the course of his university studies, driven by the ambition not to waste too much time: Difficult times for every freshman, certainly accompanied by spiritual depressions.

What could be more suitable in such a mood than a ‘senior student’ knocking at the room door, smiling friendly (this friendly smile later turned out to be a stereotypical permanent grin), offering help and inspiring confidence, at the same time subtly checking the ‘situation’ in respect of faith and Bible. The kind invitation for supper then feels like an additional warm rain on the soul. Hereupon the offer follows to make one-to-one Bible study. You feel amazed by this engagement and flattered at the same time, being taken seriously and important hereby. Who would suspect at this time already that this wasn’t the expression of the duty of a Christian human being, but the first step of a of a relentlessly pursued strategy that is used everywhere UBF is operating, actually aiming on nothing else than the glorification and exercising of human power, a fundamentalist principle.

My son spoke about that at home, without mentioning a name of the organization in the beginning, which would have meant nothing to me anyway. He told about this ‘international student church,’ and that it was part of the ‘Evangelical Alliance.’ And here the problem starts showing up where I almost start to be ashamed! I was not cautious because the word ‘international’ fitted in our open-minded world view anyway, and hearing ‘Evangelical Alliance’ I calmly thought of ‘harmless’ and ‘being well taken care of,’ more hearing ‘evangelical’ than ‘alliance.’ I so to speak leant back inwardly, calmed down, though again and again somewhat startled about the colossal engagement of these people, who mainly consisted of Koreans as I learned only in the course of time. But being a tolerant person, not even the slightest ‘alert-light’ flashed up in me. On the contrary, I heard of the kindness of these people again and again. The meetings then very quickly became regular, mostly in the already existing family of the ‘shepherd,’ who has the task of searching new ‘sheep’ – and moreover to take control of them, the course of all these activities being strictly supervised by Mr. Abraham Lee, the head of this organization in Germany. Granted, so far you might still say: ‘So what?’

The meetings were on Sunday afternoons at 3 p.m., and this always was a time problem for a student living away from home and being torn between family, friends, and these new obligations on the weekends. Yes, for a reliable person, these were obligations! However, this was only the beginning of a terrible inner turmoil. Because the meetings became more and more frequent, slowly of course, but in the end daily, then several times daily, the first early in the morning at 6 a.m.!! Excuses because of exam, study, family or illness weren’t valid and interpreted in a so tremendously skillful way as having no proper faith and that Satan being at work, so that you needed to intensify your engagement even more. They tried to ‘check’ the family, whether we could be made suitable sheep as well: However, our two year younger daughter came back from such an event, where several chapters from different towns had met – being completely ignorant I had even asked her to go with them, and she also did it for the sake of her brother –, completely disconcerted and conjuring me with tears to never wanting to be confronted with that again. This was in the very early stage, so that I dismissed it as resulting from the anyway different temper of our children.

Many of all these things our son spoke about caused something like an inner objection in me. Much of it seemed to me exaggerated, one-sided, so much taken out of context without seeing the whole. I just had a bad gut feeling without really being able to put it in concrete terms. I have always let him know, always told him what I feel and think about this. However, I wanted to break nothing, seeing how seriously he was doing all these things, so I did it in a restrained, yet clear way. What worried me the most was to see that he couldn’t laugh any more, didn’t feel joy any more, showed no emotions. For me the concept of being a Christian has always been connected with a kind of calmness leading to inner joy and cheerfulness, freeing people of guilt and giving strength to tackle the things of life, so to speak as a shield against human threats. But this idea doesn't fit into the UBF concept of increasing their power! I shortly met the Korean missionary, later also his wife. The danger is increased by dismissing much of the things you don't understand by explaining it as caused by the strange Asian way and also a result of language problems, which are indeed substantial. You easily get impressed by the demonstrated ‘selflessness.’ Actually, even a feeling arises of wanting to help them. On the other hand I felt such a strong inner resistance at this encounter, even today I feel a total inner antagonism. Particularly I remember the encounter with the wife of the missionary as an event never experienced before: Afterwards I felt as if somebody had tried to subdue me with a negative suggestion, a feeling of threat, like having been put under a spell. I had to work hard on it mentally for more than three weeks in order to get rid of it. However, I had the chance to put everything into perspective, because I wasn’t exposed to her permanent influence every day. I also told my son about this outwardly not visible event, that it was difficult for me to cope with it, and that I only had the urgent wish to shut myself off thoroughly from these people and to refuse every influence. He knew these feelings from his own experiences, and through our dialog taking place anyway time to time, he has been confirmed and gained clarity about his inner feelings and his own ability to criticize.

Since our family now was considered ‘unsuitable’ as a mission target, the separation was preprogrammed. But UBF overlooked the fact that they had not been able to dispel a rest of doubt in their ‘sheep’ (which had even become a ‘shepherd’ meanwhile), partially also due to the continuing dialog with the family at home, which UBF of course would have liked to completely cut off. Nevertheless my son had already come to a point where he had adopted the typical monotonous UBF way of expression and increasingly wasn’t expressing himself in his own words any more, but mostly answering with verses from the Bible. The UBF time schedule was set up so tightly that fellowshipping with other people or in other circles outside of UBF was impossible. Furthermore, a kind of surveillance was employed, and his physical strength was dwindling. Every objection was countered in the way described above, counteracted with enormous feelings of guilt. Our son more and more rarely came home, something that we of course – suspecting nothing dangerous – attributed to a normal development and his increasing engagement in his university studies. I hardly noticed how the time passed by, even more since I was working myself. Our son, who had always been a healthy ‘Hercules,’ became more and more pale and skinny, made an almost sick impression, was completely overtired and exhausted, and ate without appetite. He poked at the most beautiful favorite food, unenthusiastically. His formerly excellent grades became worse and worse – no wonder! It is amazing that he still was able to pass everything without problems. Only today I know that UBF people hardly graduate, because they think they have a higher calling, namely evangelizing in all the world.

I am grateful to another mother from the deepest soul, who added the icing on the cake of my diffuse gut feeling and woke me up from my dozing sleep. She is the mother of a friend of my son. Because of another personal problem, she came across an article representation about UBF, this Korean organization. Reading the word ‘Korean,’ she remembered stories about a student group and my son. I have to add that my son as well as I had already unavailingly tried to somewhere obtain articles about cults and the content of their teachings, UBF themselves obstinately denying that they are a cult. After some hesitation, one day the woman called me, asking me whether she shall send this information to me. She did it. I can hardly express with words here, how with a clap of thunder my diffuse feelings suddenly assume a definite form, how this so far inconceivable now was confirmed. I could see the gruesome personality change of my son so clearly now and asked God to free him from this bondage, this error. I was only rarely seeing my son, and then always spinning around between cooking pot and washing machine, since the time of his visit was so extremely restricted. I tried to find out the actual state on the telephone in order not to clumsily destroy anything, because it was crystal clear to me that trying to help him out was like engaging in a tightrope walk. It was just as crystal clear for me that I would do my utmost to help my son. I suddenly felt like a carnivore mother defending her young against attack from the outside, releasing all available energy. I collected as much information as I could find about the whole area of cults, read for weeks and whole nights, and traveled to the student pastor of my son’s university in order to find out about possible alternatives. In order to take some of the tenseness of these things away, I imagined that I was the seeker, trying to also see it as a chance for me. Through all these efforts I was more and more reassures what needed to be done. This manipulation with the means of fear and guilt sooner or later turns every human being into a compliant instrument.

Only after I had become completely clear about all consequences, I opened myself with all knowledge and all connected feelings to my son, who still had a rest of doubt that was his rescue. He so urgently needed this impetus from outside! As he said, inwardly he had been on the leave already so often, but UBF had made it actually impossible. Here, the question arises again how this can be biblical and Christian. He then very soon underwent the corresponding talk there and was able to dissociate from UBF. He deliberated a long time about the right diplomacy in order to keep the evil as small as possible for everyone. After this, for a long time he was visited and invited again and again, and confronted again and again, despite his absolute clarification of his position. Even the gift tactics was continued for a while, as if they had not heard anything. For instance, they liked to put cooked meal in the refrigerator as a surprise, when you are coming home. Being a decent guy you don’t want to offend such ‘nice’ people, you don’t want to hurt them. You almost have to use a dose of impudence in order to escape the spider web woven again and again, and you urgently need people who are supporting you. We got such support from the cult information in Essen. Today I can say in conclusion that our son has survived this time without harm and that he has found a good alternative that is applicable in life in a quite normal Protestant church that doesn’t manipulate and doesn’t use coercion. I still could say so much about this, however I think that meanwhile sufficient informative material on UBF is available. I hereby primarily wanted to make clear how it is actually possible to get caught in such claws, and that the best prevention is good information. Based on good information, you can interpret indications much faster and better than based on bad gut feelings. And should it already have ‘happened,’ I hereby would like to encourage you insistently to use all strength to dissociate from UBF and to help doing so. It is worthwhile to be a free person again with free decision and your own conscience. It is unbiblical and surely not wanted by God that people have power over us. What else is going on in UBF?”


In the meantime, Thomas, the brother of Jutta (see above), has dissociated himself from UBF, too. He writes:

“I have experienced many beautiful things, but also terrible things that caused me to leave the UBF.

My university studies slowly but surely came close to their end, and I had to prepare for the final examinations. In this time I was faced with many changes: My best friend, with whom I could discuss almost everything confidentially, had moved to another town a while ago, so that our contact was restricted to the writing of letters. I myself lived in new surroundings for a short time only, in which I had to find connection to others at first. At this time I was missing sound social contacts, and so I was open for something new in my life. In this situation, one day two UBF members, a Korean man and a German woman, paid me a visit. Both were very friendly towards me and invited me cordially and also very firmly to study the Bible together with them. I was impressed by the obstinacy with which particularly the Korean invited me because of my initial reluctance. So I made an appointment for the Bible study together with him. I began to study John’s gospel. For this purpose, a predefined questionnaire had to be worked through in writing every time. I initially answered only the questions in writing and didn’t write the so-called personal testimonies [‘sogams’] yet. Because my ‘Bible teacher’ (or ‘shepherd’) explicitly asked me to write these statements again and again, I began to write these as well. Besides the weekly Bible study, I now attended the UBF Sunday services as well and additionally took part in a conference. Through this I got the opportunity to hear many ‘personal testimonies,’ and learned to write these testimonies myself better and better. I was impressed by the preaching of the word of God and of the faith of many students with whom I became acquainted there. I felt the desire to get to know God better and to become a disciple and follower of Jesus. I have had this wish already since around my sixteenth year of life, but until then I hadn’t got any concrete instructions regarding a life of faith. I received these instructions now to a strong extent, through which my life changed completely. I noticed how God dragged me to himself, and accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. At the same time, I very strongly became depending on the security and the recognition of the others in the UBF. I was ready to correspond to the demands for self denial and obedience, and more and more cut off my old, still existing contacts. The relationship with my family became more and more strained, since I now started to divide the world into a ‘black’ (not redeemed) and a ‘white’ (redeemed) realm. I tried to keep away from the black one if possible. About one year after I had started with the Bible study, I was ‘raised as a co-worker,’ i.e., I became a ‘shepherd’ and was addressed as such, too. In UBF you are ‘raised as a co-worker,’ which means that you don’t actively decide to co-work yourself, but that one meets an expectation of the group, permanently expressed in loud spoken ‘prayers.’ The group decides when a Bible student has the spiritual maturity to become a ‘Bible teacher’ and ‘shepherd’ himself.

After I had been incorporated to the circle of co-workers, my date book became filled with UBF events more and more: Early morning prayer, invitation hour, 1:1 Bible study, meetings, group Bible study, Sunday service, staff meeting, choir rehearsal, conferences, Bible academies and much more. Of course all other things had to come short. I noticed some unusual features of the UBF: Though claiming to obey the word of God in all things, still e.g. no Holy Communion was celebrated. The concept of marriage also seemed somewhat strange to me. Everybody assumed that the leader of the group has to show your partner to you. This would mean that people in all other churches don’t marry according to Christian standards or the partners would not have found each other according to the way of God. I also thought by myself, if UBF was really such an exemplary group, you should be able to read something positive about UBF sometimes. However, I had to realize that almost only negative things were written about the group, these of course being called slanderous representations in UBF circles. The demands of my ‘shepherd’ towards me got harder and harder and many a decision taken by me independently wasn’t accepted. Sometimes I felt like in a prison and experienced a tremendously heavy mental pressure. Again and again, I then tried to seek the fault with me and blamed e.g. lacking obedience or missing self denial of my part for this. I got stronger and stronger doubts whether it really was the calling of God to remain in this group, despite all appearing difficulties. It became clear to me that I had to take a decision in accordance with my conscience in front of God. So I announced my decision that I wouldn’t co-work in UBF any longer, although I knew I would fall into a great emptiness now. After I had made my decision, some UBF co-workers tried to win me back for the group. My decision not longer to stay in the UBF was equated with a loss of the right faith in God.

In retrospect, I consider the intensive Bible study in UBF as meaningful. Even the writing of personal statements may be helpful, as long as it is done with the right motive and voluntarily. I consider raising this to a legalistic demand unfounded and extremely questionable regarding spiritual welfare. It has to be stated that the same books of the Bible are treated again and again and this is done in a very one-sided way. I consider the UBF an eccentric Christian fellowship applying practices that aren’t compatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Cammans comments:

I have got exactly this same impression – as expressed in the reports by the mother of S. and also by Thomas – when I visited the Sunday service of the UBF in Cologne. Although the passages were quoted verbatim from the Bible, the interpretation and application seemed to be very controlled to me, i.e. suited to create anxious and submissive believers.

Thomas hits the nail on the head by saying that the methods of the UBF aren’t compatible with the Gospel. The young people in the service seemed to be very compliant to me, they made a well-behaved impression, sometimes showing very childlike reactions, their facial expression, their posture were similar, their clothing really conservative, giving a standardized impression. I have learned to assess the quality of a movement by also evaluating whether the individuality of the members is developed. In UBF the development of the personality of the members seemed to be restricted to me, if not even declining.

The two listed examples speak a clear language in this respect.

I myself clearly perceived the authority of the German leader, Mr. Lee. Although I behaved completely adequately to the situation of a Sunday service, simply sitting there and attentively watching the event, trying to join in the singing where possible, very modestly participating in the following Bible conversation in smaller groups, much more wanting to hear and to feel instead of saying something, and not at all something critical, he separated me after the official service and made me unmistakably understand that I was not welcome here. The reason given by Mr. Lee: I had behaved improperly, since you are not allowed to ask any questions at your first visit in a movement. He dismissed my motive of wanting to form my own opinion on the movement by the visit as being false. He didn’t enter into any conversation with me and refused the desired information (verbally and written) about UBF.

Dangers of UBF (summary)

* Persuasive – partially psychologically aggressive – recruiting;
* through one-to-one Bible study (“shepherd/sheep”-relationship) sheep can develop a dependency of UBF very easily;
* UBF’s goal of involving members radically in terms of religion, time and social relations, causes a high pressure. As a result, necessarily, e.g. the university study is neglected, the contacts to the former social environment, parents, friends are cut off or strongly reduced;
* the determination of marriage partners by UBF;
* the expectance of complete readiness to be used by UBF in other countries and towns;
* hindrance of the development of the personality;
* persons willing to leave have to reckon with being hindered to do so by mental pressure.