Friday, December 7, 2007

Holly L. (former Chicago & Penn State UBF)

(Originally posted at

(Also see and

January 21, 2007

Last week I accidentally ran across a discussion about myself on the web, regarding University Bible Fellowship (UBF). I have to admit, I was surprised to see that I was not only remembered but also being discussed more than ten years after I had left the organization. People in UBF would have known me as Holly Lord. I was involved with UBF for about five and a half years, from 1988 until 1993.

Instead of exclusively addressing specific points mentioned in other posts, I think the best thing is for me to simply give my perspective of my involvement in UBF:

I began to study the Bible with Jim Rabchuk during the spring semester of my sophomore year in high school. Except when I was very young, my family did not attend church. It was in UBF and through Bible study that I came to know Christ and be saved. I do believe that the people who I studied the Bible with in those early years along with many others in UBF have genuine faith, and I remember studying how almost every Bible passage points to Christ in some way. As a teenager and a young adult, I was having something of an identity crisis, and UBF provided both structure and basic training in life skills. At the same time, there was a strong, unhealthy bond of control. For example, it was a relief to me to be funneled into a college near a UBF, because I had no idea where I wanted to study, and to be funneled into a technical profession by UBF, because I had no idea what I wanted to do. On the other hand, it was a great anxiety to think that I could lose my salvation, which was a conviction that became more and more strong in me, although I knew that the Bible says that salvation is by faith, not by works. But I will get back to these topics later. For now I'll return to my narrative.

Julia Higgins (now Henkins) was a schoolmate at Prospect High School in Mount Prospect, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Julia was a year ahead of me. She and I became very enthusiastic about our one-to-one Bible studies with Jim Rabchuk. We both took the title of "shepherdess" and began to teach the Bible to fellow high school students. I was living with my parents, of course. I attended Sunday worship service but almost never attended the Friday meeting. When I graduated in June of 1990, I was not accepted at Northwestern University near Chicago. This was a great disappointment at the time, but I can see now that it was by the grace of God. I was accepted at the University of Wisconsin, and Samuel Lee thought I should go there. I chose to go to Boston University, however, where I had also been admitted, because there was a UBF in Boston, and because it was far from home. I wanted to escape the strain of the relationship with my parents, who strongly objected to my involvement in UBF.

Joe and Sharon Schafer married in the summer of 1990 and lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts in a one bedroom apartment near (on?) Harvard's campus. I attended Boston University from August 1990 through December of 1991. I studied the Bible with Joe Schafer, who was working on his doctorate in statistics from Harvard University. Joe wrote and delivered the message every week at the Boston UBF Sunday worship service, which met in the home of David and Susanna Min. Joe did not just read Samuel Lee's message; he wrote his own every week.

My father died unexpectedly in August of 1991. This was an event that threw me into turmoil spiritually, because the only conclusion I could come up with was that my dad had gone to hell--not a comforting thought. I thought a lot about salvation at that time, but from the UBF point of view. Although I had read that salvation was by faith, not by works, in UBF we constantly prayed for the Holy Spirit to come to us, and there was no mistaking the undercurrent that salvation was not stable without attendance, etc. One of the end results of all of my musings was a belief that I could lose the Holy Spirit and can therefore I could lose my salvation.

Joe Schafer graduated with his doctorate in December of 1991, and he got a job at Penn State University as a professor. I was encouraged to follow Joe and Sharon to State College. Or, to be more specific, people from both Boston and Chicago UBF tried to pressure me to go. My mom was adamantly against it. I remember Terese (Tessie) Bird telling me that she would trust Samuel Lee's direction in anything. She said she'd believe Samuel Lee, even if he told her that God had told him the end of the world was here, because she believed that God revealed things to Samuel Lee. However, she advised that I should pray about it and ask God if I wasn't sure.

I prayed about what I should do, truly seeking God's will, and God gave me a peace about going to Penn State. I believe that God himself led me to transfer to PSU, even though I had never been to Pennsylvania before and I knew nothing about the school. Because of this peace in knowing that I was following God's plan for my life, I was able to stand up to my mother's objections and transfer, arriving there just before the last day to register for classes. I recall testifying later that I was not able to go to Penn State when people told me to go, but I went because God himself led me there. I recall hearing that Samuel Lee wasn't happy that I had said that I had gone to PSU because God told me to go rather than because UBF told me to go. At the time, I brushed this off and didn’t worry about it, because I knew I was where God wanted me to be. It's interesting that Samuel Lee's later take on it was that he had "given" Joe Schafer a sheep (me), even though he had not even wanted me to enroll at Boston University in the first place, in addition to the fact that he knew it was God who led me to Pennsylvania.

At Penn State, I lived with Joe and Sharon and their daughter, Ruth, (later also their son, Joey,) in a three bedroom house on Barnard Street, just off of campus. There was no such thing as a "professors' compound," which Samuel Lee mentions in his sermon, so living off campus was the only option for faculty. I continued studying the Bible with Joe, going "fishing" (inviting students to Bible study) with Sharon and by myself, writing testimonies ("sogams"), and the like. Dave Barro was in my computer science classes, and was someone who I strongly encouraged in studying the Bible with Joe. I remember when Jennifer Webber (now Lemmon) came. She used to study with Sharon.

I lost about 40-45 pounds while I lived with Joe and Sharon, the methodology of which was a standard 1500 calorie diet along with very regular exercise, particularly swimming and jogging. That is to say, no one beat me with a baseball bat or anything, as was said to have happened to someone named Jonathan in Chicago. I remember Sharon in particular used to nag me a lot, but I also recall at times having a only a certain amount of personal commitment to the dieting/exercise itself--although I enjoyed the result when I lost weight.

The Schafers treated me like a family member. I lived in their house and had my own room, across the hall from Ruth's. Joe and Sharon helped me out quite a bit with basic life skills, like how to cook, how to clean a bathroom, and other such duties, which I had not learned as I grew up. I shared all their meals and housekeeping duties. I was invited out to dinner when they went out. I did quite a bit of babysitting for Sharon, and Ruthie became like a daughter to me. Joe sometimes even tutored me in statistics and calculus. All in all, I enjoyed my Bible studies and UBF activities, worked hard in my classes, learned how to keep a household, and learned some skills for raising and taking care of a family. For the most part, I was happy, and I thought my situation was ideal.

There were some things that happened, however, that broke the trust and strained the relationship between us. I remember Sharon telling me that my appearance was a burden to others. I remember Joe telling me that I needed to lose 15 more pounds when I had gotten down to 130 and was feeling quite happy with myself, thank-you-very-much. We all used to write a year-end testimony, and I remember Joe's at the end of 1992/early 1993 had some insinuation that I was trying to break up his and Sharon's marriage. Not only was this not true (anything along those lines had never entered my mind), but no one had ever discussed or even mentioned any such problem. It was just put out there for anyone in the world to read, and I was blindsided. It seemed to me that my presence in their house was a problem, and I rented an apartment down the street. Some time later Jennifer Webber (now Lemmon) moved into the room I had vacated in the Schafer's house.

Up until this point, I had attended UBF events with strong enthusiasm, even packing my clothes a week or two in advance of conferences, because I was so excited about them. Since I was not in the center of things in Chicago, I was sheltered from most of the abuses to which others have testified. When I was in UBF, I didn’t know about most of these abuses--such as forced abortions, "Skokie training," forcing people to give up children, beating people with baseball bats, financial impropriety, and so forth--until this month (January 2007) when I read the statements online. I do remember in the late '80s my parents made me watch a piece on "20/20" or some such show about UBF's medical quackery in relation to skin treatments. The show seemed so sensationalized to me, I dismissed it at the time as slander. I thought that "marriage by faith" was a romantic idea, and I had a sense of trust that God would provide the right person for me. (He later did, but that man was not in UBF.) I really believed that UBF had the best way to study the Bible and the best church. There was pressure to attend, of course, and to bring people, but I saw it more as a friendly rivalry like a sports team rather than as a negative pressure. Generally, I was not coerced into obeying UBF, because I obeyed freely, either as a matter of trust or--in the case of going to Penn State--at the leading of God. In 1993, however, my enthusiasm began to wane. There were some interpersonal problems, as I already mentioned, but I also began to see theological problems. I felt both an internal and an external sense of pressure and guilt which made me continue to attend even though I began to not want to go anymore.

I had a part-time job at the computer help desk for the university. One of my coworkers had a roommate named Steve. Steve was a Christian, and in the spring of 1993 he and I began to study the Bible together--except he did some of the leading. I remember reading passages in Galatians, such as Galatians 3:1-3, "You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?" and Galatians 5:1, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." (NIV). I began to see how I was putting my works (attending Bible study and meetings) ahead of faith when it came to my hope for salvation. I saw how legalism had invaded much of my life and had been choking out the leading of God.

When I saw everyone from Chicago UBF that summer, I remember asking Jim Rabchuk whether or not a person could lose their salvation. He said that it was possible to lose your salvation. I asked John Bird the same question, and he said that you could not. I asked several other people, and received different answers, mostly hearing that you could lose your salvation. I began to verify for myself that UBF did not have a clear teaching on salvation, one of the most central topics in Christianity. My personal opinion was that there was lip service to salvation by grace, but that I had also been taught that you could lose your salvation if you did not "do enough." That is, UBF teaches salvation is by grace but is kept by works.

In the fall of 1993, I continued studying the Bible with Joe Schafer, but with decreasing enthusiasm. Through my friend Steve, I met a friend of his named Matthew. Steve and Matthew and I were all friends and studied the Bible together. Joe became very angry with me for studying the Bible with them, and it bothered me that my Bible study outside of UBF would upset him so much, particularly when I knew I was growing in God. Finally, in the fall of 1993, Joe basically gave me an ultimatum to quit studying the Bible with Steve and Matthew or leave UBF. I weighed it out and prayed about it and realized that God was leading me away. This was not an easy decision, as I knew that UBF would try to pressure me into coming back. I felt that any future contact with UBF members would only be seen as though I had openness to returning, so I felt it was unlikely that I would be able to retain any of my friendships. UBF is not the kind of group to take no for an answer. I knew what God's leading was for me, so there was no point in debate with Joe and Sharon. I sent Joe a simple email stating, "I am leaving UBF." I did not take anyone with me.

I had made arrangements to stay with a friend for a while, to be sure I was not at home if any UBF members came to try to talk me into coming back, that is to say, to guilt me into coming back. I had a strong conviction that I should not allow myself to be alone with them. I had some fear that they might kidnap me and try to force me to come back. After I left UBF, I remember John Bird calling me on the phone at work when I was working. He said he was going to drive from Chicago to Pennsylvania to talk with me. I told him I would prefer it if he did not. I don't think he actually drove out to see me, but it wasn't an implausible thing for a UBF member to do. The idea, I am sure, would be to make a move that was complete overkill (driving 550 miles) to make me feel obligated to talk with them. Then they would lay it on about how much everyone had done for me, and how I would be showing ingratitude if I really left, etc., etc. Maybe they would have offered marriage to someone, since they seemed to think that was my motivation for leaving. I don't know, and I didn't leave myself open to finding out!

In my recent reading, I saw some discussion on the message board about whether or not Joe and Sharon caused me to "run away." First, I left UBF, but I did not "run away" from God--I was following God's leading, and I continue to be a faithful Christian to this day. Jesus Christ is my savior, and he is the one who leads me. Second, Joe and Sharon did a lot for me, and you could say that on a certain level we had neither more nor fewer interpersonal conflicts than most relationships have. I am grateful to them for opening their home to me and treating me like a family member. I believe that God wanted me in UBF during the time I was there. I also believe God led me out of UBF when it was time to leave. So, no, I would not say it was Joe's and/or Sharon's "fault" that I left. Unfortunately, I don't think that there was any way of "working through the problems," since my main problems with UBF had to do with incorrect/inconsistent theological teachings and legalism. I do not think that either issue has been resolved even to this day.

After leaving UBF, I began to attend Faith Baptist Church with Steve and Matthew, a church that had about 100 attendees on Sundays. Yes, I would say it was a community-centered church, and the university was a part of that community. They had a student group, and a number of students attended in addition to the "townies" (permanent residents of State College). As I stated before, I did not take anyone from UBF away with me when I left. There was no "promising shepherd candidate" involved, nor did I leave UBF in order to date anyone or to look for romance. I don't think either Matthew or Steve ever came around UBF, though Steve might have been counted in my Bible studies; I can’t recall. The three of us simply studied the Bible together, and with everything going on with me, the last thing I was thinking about was romance.

It was months after I left UBF, after Steve had graduated, that Matthew and I prayerfully considered dating. Through prayer and God's leading, we later became engaged, and we were married in 1995, after I graduated from Penn State. We've been married for nearly twelve years now, and we are happy to each know that we are with the right person. I have worked professionally as a technical writer and a computer programmer/web developer. My husband earned his master's degree and later his doctorate and is working professionally in the field of music. Although we have moved several times, we've found wonderful church homes everywhere we've lived. We attend church in addition to studying the Bible at home as a family, and we continue to follow God's leading. We remain in touch with Steve, who is now married and also has a family.

Overall, I am thankful to UBF for leading me to Christ and providing structure in a time when I needed it. When I had grown to the point where I could see some of the fundamental flaws in the organization and didn’t need the structure as much, I prayed about it and left from God's leading and my own free will. Looking back on it now, I can see through my own experience many of the cult-like aspects of UBF, including life control, arranged marriages, legalism, a lack of trained ordained ministers, a lack of accountability, a top-down authority in the organizational structure, financial impropriety, and a focus on the organization itself and salvation by works rather than a focus on each person's relationship with Christ.

Oh, and just to correct one more inaccuracy for the record: I do not and never have resembled either a globe or a polar bear! :-)