Report on the Reform Movement in UBF 1989-1993, by Jacob K (former Chicago UBF)
“Malice toward none. Reform for all people.”
“Those who sow in tears will reap with joy.” (Psalm 126:5)
It is a painful thing to remember and write about a painful event of the past. This is especially true of an event that took place in connection with Samuel Lee and Chicago UBF because the pain is like that of a person with a fractured hip. If one just lies still and forgets about it, it is ok, but the moment he moves a bit, the pain returns. For this reason, many people have been reluctant to speak about their painful experiences in Chicago UBF. I myself have been reluctant to talk about the First American Reform Movement (F.A.R.M.) of 1989-1993, even though I saw and heard many things as a mediator between the reform camp and the anti-reform camp, because it was too painful to think about. Yet I know in my heart that I cannot avoid writing about it, for history must be retold and reflected upon so that it may bear fruit.
What is the root cause of UBF’s current worldwide reform movement? Was it inherent in UBF from the beginning or did it emerge somewhere along the way? Some theorize that it was inherent with Samuel Lee’s own character. Many Korean senior staff shepherds, however, remember that Samuel Lee suddenly became harsh toward staff members after attending a Billy Graham-led international Christian leaders’ conference in the early 1970s. Before that, he was not harsh, they witness. Some people note that suspicions about Samuel Lee’s financial irregularities rose to an alarming level in the early 1970s when large sums from the offerings of the women missionaries in West Germany began coming into the UBF treasury.
My personal experience is that something changed in Samuel Lee and in UBF in the early to mid 1970s. I began to study the Bible in UBF in 1972, and was very happy in UBF until February 1976, several months before the 1976 Korean reform movement began. To me, Samuel Lee appeared to be the greatest spiritual leader since the Apostle Paul and the true leader for Korea. I was excited to be a member of UBF’s Small Prayer Committee. When my brother cautioned me about UBF, I retorted without hesitation, “UBF will be more important than President Park Chung Hee’s Democratic Republican Party in the future!” But from March 1976, UBF life became difficult and often left a bad taste.
For this reason I feel sorry whenever I think about Samuel Lee and UBF ministry. They seemed to be genuine for a long time. But they changed somewhere along the way. They were so promising, but because they refused to hear God’s warnings and people’s aspirations for reform, they are heading toward destruction, like the Titanic heading toward an iceberg. Were the problems inherent in UBF from the beginning, or did they occur somewhere along the way? The debate is still going on.
One thing seems to be clear, however: All three UBF reform movements so far – the 1976 Korean reform movement, the F.A.R.M. of 1989-1993 and the current worldwide reform movement – have occurred chiefly as reactions to Samuel Lee’s problematic practices and implied theology. Under John Jun’s leadership since 1977, there were no serious divisions or reform movements in Korea. Ironically, many people attribute the event that sparked the current worldwide reform movement, which began last year, to Samuel Lee’s letter, “Yearning for the unification of my grandfather’s country,” written in Korean and posted on the Internet. In this letter Samuel Lee severely criticized many Korean staff shepherds without basis and then posted the letter for Korean coworkers, missionaries and thousands of young Bible students to read. Before writing this letter, Samuel Lee had been orchestrating his decade-long plan to handpick his relatively young and inexperienced son as his successor in various ways – both subtle and overt. Many UBF staff shepherds, directors, and coworkers greatly feared such a move because it would perpetuate many corrupt practices and turn UBF into a mere possession of the Lee family (or “LeeBF,” as it is called by some).
As a result, sizable numbers of Korean staff shepherds, backed by their chapter coworkers, began to call for reform. Their reform movement spread like wildfire, aided by various websites on the Internet. This reform movement hit the USA, too, in November 2000. Seven USA reform chapters (the “Reform 7”) have spearheaded this movement. Around the same time, a network of American coworkers, most of whom had left UBF, established a website named RSQUBF (“Rescue UBF”) to support wounded brothers and sisters both inside and outside of UBF. The original reformers of the F.A.R.M. were officially invited by the “Reform 7” to join the current worldwide reform movement in January 2001. Also in January, representatives of the Reform 7, the “reform rangers” of F.A.R.M., and representatives of both the Korean and German reform movements met together in a small prayer house near a Wisconsin farm. Out of their meeting the World UBF Reform Council (WURC) was born.
Before this birth of an international reform movement umbrella organization, however, USA reformers had been blamed by anti-reformers and forgotten by many conscientious people, too. The reform movement seemed to be buried in history in a prolonged drought as a rotten corn seed. But by God’s grace, the F.A.R.M. is now sprouting with wonderful crops of new generation of reformers – reform missionaries as well as many promising American reform leaders. When and where did the first American reform movement begin? How did it begin? First of all, what was the aspiration of reformers?
One day during June 1989, while UBF World Mission Report was in progress in Seoul, Korea, Missionary David Baik, briefly and a bit sarcastically, mentioned during a fellowship leaders’ prayer meeting or after, that some Chicago missionaries attended a Korean American revival meeting. Some of those revival meeting attendants, including Missionary Esther Shin, (who was the first revival meeting attendant) had been suffering from many types of sicknesses partly caused by spiritual depression after long and difficult missionary life in Chicago UBF. Nearly all of them had been suffering from spiritual thirst and had been yearning for spiritual refreshment. It was not uncommon in those days, (it is said that the situation is the same if not worse), that many missionaries were spiritually thirsty and hungry, listening to nearly the same recycled messages over a dozen times and sitting in long hours of “Sogam” (UBF style testimony) meetings. Often their only comfort was to listen to American brothers’ and sisters’ testimonies which they often spontaneously wrote after receiving the words of God through 1:1 Bible studies. American sisters’/brothers’ response to God’s words was like rare rain in a long drought to them. However, many missionaries themselves were spiritually suffocating so much so that they could not hold any longer.
Here it should be understood that many missionaries had heavy hearts due to many unethical, unbiblical and even some criminal practices in UBF. Many missionaries came to USA only because of God’s calling and grace, leaving their personal dreams and their families’ aspiration. I remember what my grandmother said to me when I told her that I would go to USA as a missionary: “I have gone through some rather severe famines. But in my dream last night I saw the worst famine…” Many missionaries had tears in their hearts and yet came to USA only for sharing the gospel with American students so that they might have life, truly abundant and eternal life in Jesus Christ’s kingdom of God. But their heartfelt hopes for American brothers/sisters had been eroding steadily because of many terrible wrongs in UBF top leadership. Their hearts ached and their strength was failing after many years’ missionary life.
It should also be pointed out that many missionaries and American brothers/sisters had different perception toward Missionary Samuel Lee’s messages. To American brothers/sisters, especially to those who had not spent many years in UBF, M. Samuel Lee’s messages had many fresh elements because they had not listened to his same messages many times or his style of messages was fresh to them, compared to many other traditional preachers’ messages. But to Korean missionaries, his messages were nearly same year after year and his jokes were often artificial with bad taste. When his message was good, it lacked freshness and spontaneity. When it was not good, it lacked both inspiration and even freshness. This tendency became worse because his message, therefore UBF messages, were fundamentally written messages for reading rather than spoken messages. A written message can have the merit of thoughtfulness and carefully chosen vocabulary. But it can lack spontaneous character and be poor in communication. A spoken message can have the merit of spontaneous character and good communicability. But it can lack content if it is not prepared well. So in a seminary, students are told to write a message thoughtfully in the first stage, and then make an one page outline and then deliver the message, just using the outline. So the message can retain both contents and spontaneous character and freshness. But because of UBF’s heavy written message dependence, when a message was not good, listeners could have difficult time. In order to compensate this difficulty, many missionaries had to listen to taped messages of Korean pastors and American preachers or read many inspirational books. They did this secretly because M. Samuel Lee often hated his chapter people to listen to other preachers’ messages. But he was in Korea now, attending a world mission report. So about 20 to 30 missionaries went to a revival meeting publicly in order to be refreshed. Where else could they turn to? Before blaming them, Chicago UBF top leadership should have felt responsible and sorry.
After all, the bucks stop there. However, that was not meant to be in Chicago UBF.
After attending the revival meeting, most of these missionaries prayed more fervently and participated in world mission work as usual though some became overly excited and thought that they knew better than Samuel Lee. But most of them had attended revival meetings and had gone to Rev. David Yonggi Cho’s Full Gospel Church in Seoul many times. They had had experiences of the work of the Holy Spirit since long before. They respected their leaders. Their chapter directors in Korea did neither feel threatened nor stopped them from going to such meetings. In reality, such meetings were helpful to UBF ministry, too.
However, Samuel Lee was very intolerant toward missionaries who went to such meetings. He told Dr. Daniel Shin, one of the revival meeting attendants, to move out of UBF with 30 missionaries. Sometimes, he tried to persuade him to follow his way by appointing him to be a Sunday evening messenger. I encouraged M. Samuel Lee when he tried to embrace and respect such missionaries. To me, the right way seemed to be the way of Apostle Paul. What was Paul’s attitude toward Corinthian Christians when they became difficult to control because of their new experiences of the powerful work of the Holy Spirit?
However, Missionary Samuel Lee’s excessive accusation of missionaries who attended the revival meeting alarmed me. He constantly criticized them, blamed them and made fun of them publicly. He called the woman minister “a witch,” “a magic artist,” etc. I felt that Missionary Samuel Lee was in danger of calling the work of the Holy Spirit the work of the devil. Another thing that struck me was that many missionaries had been ignorant about the work of the Holy Spirit. Some who did not attend the revival meeting were not sure whether they had been born again or not by the work of the Holy Spirit. Some who attended the revival meeting were said to have said that they experienced the work of the Holy Spirit for the first time.
What was clear to was me that Missionary Samuel Lee and UBF leadership had been either reluctant or ignorant about deeper truths about the work of the Holy Spirit even though they taught elementary things about the Holy Spirit. For example, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, being led by the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit as the deposit and guarantee of our salvation, not grieving the Holy Spirit etc. were hardly mentioned or taught if ever in my 16 years of UBF life up to that point. I myself learned about these spiritual truths by reading non-UBF spiritual books. I also learned deeper teachings of Romans by reading Moody Institute’s famous pastor Ironside who has become my mentor. It was all too natural that the missionaries who only knew UBF teachings were excited about experiencing the work of the Holy Spirit. They were refreshed like those who breathed after long period of suffocation. They were excited. They talked about their new experiences and wondered why UBF did not teach those spiritual realities. Some of them, who thought that they experienced the work of the Holy Spirit for the first time, possibly uttered critical remarks about UBF. Missionary Samuel Lee denounced them publicly. I wish he had treated them as Paul treated Corinthians, teaching them about the Holy Spirit deeply instead of denouncing them as magic artists, etc.
However, Samuel Lee’s irritation over some revival meeting attendants was not the major reason for his expelling many missionaries in such short time though it was one of reasons. He can be very patient, flexible and tolerant if he thinks it is necessary. The real reason was somewhere else. It was the issue of forced/coerced abortion of one woman missionary.
Was that woman missionary indeed coerced or forced to have an abortion in Chicago UBF? To many people, the answer is unswervingly yes! There are at least 2 or 3 witnesses. They publicly testified through the ReformUBF website and RSQUBF web site in late 2000.
The first witness is Pastor Jimmy Rhee who was a UBF missionary and a member of the Board of Directors in 1989 in Chicago UBF. Listen to his testimony:
“… I want to answer to the question: Is there anybody who can and will testify to this? Yes! Ask missionary Mark Yoon how he took a helpless woman to an abortion clinic to obey Samuel Lee! If he does not admit, then read the following to the end.
When James contacted me and asked about the abortion, I refused either to confirm or deny. Instead I told him to ask others in UBF, especially UBF USA board of directors. The reason I wanted to be quiet was because Samuel Lee privately confirmed to me and showed (pretended?) his repentance when he was confronted, and though I wanted to keep it confidential because he put himself under my pastoral care at his confession, I failed to do so during a wrangle at a board of directors’ meeting, and I felt sorry for my failure.
Now here is the whole story I can share, more than just abortion issue! It was the Monday leaders’ meeting night after 1989 Easter Geneva conference. While Samuel Lee was making some lengthy closing statements, he suddenly shouted, ‘I can do everything for the glory of God,’ and I could hear many just responding, ‘Amen!’ At that moment I felt something very terrible happening. As you know, ‘I can do everything for the glory of God’ sounds pretty good, but how unbiblical and dangerous it is! How many horrible things have been with the same motto throughout the church history! How can the Lord who is holy and righteous be glorified by any unsanctified and only with unsanctified zeal!
That night I couldn’t sleep. I asked the Lord what might have been wrong. Then I realized there was only one person related to it. (I don’t want to use the name even though it has been publicized; I ask everyone to protect individuals involved; even the media knows when to hide people’s names); let’s be more sensitive, and not mean as such.) I visited her and had her confirm it. I saw her just crying with tears, so distressed and helpless. She had to let her own son taken away apart from her own desire, now abandoned by her husband just before the Easter Conference. Yet she had to serve the conference. When she came home, she was almost out of her mind. There Mark Yoon appeared to carry Samuel Lee’s command. …”
The second testimony is from Joseph Park the very son of the victimized woman missionary. He stated that his mother approved what he testified as truthful. Excerpts from his testimony in RSQUBF late 2000:
“… I am the son of a mother who was forced to marry my father, whose name will not be mentioned for his own sake. My father was abusive to my mother before and during her pregnancy and was forced by Samuel Lee and members of the Church to leave the church by force. They were physically involved in the matter because he was abusive to my mother. The church also forced them to have a divorce, which is more than reasonable and should’ve happened. He ran away from the church and my mother and is currently living out of state. …
My mom was allowed to raise me for the first eight months of my life before Dr. Sam Lee forcefully took me and gave me to Mr. and Mrs. James Joung. They took care of me for 9 months before they gracefully returned me to my mother. During my absence, my mother was forced into a second marriage with the promise of me being returned to my mother upon marriage. My mother would not subject herself to a second marriage but decided that having her only son back was worth a second marriage. I was not returned upon the marriage because she was just recently married. She was married for 3 months and pregnant for 2 months before her new husband could not take the UBF church. He ran away in the middle of the night and disappeared without a trace. My mother was then forced to have an abortion by Dr. Samuel Lee. Her only consolation for losing her second child was the return of her first son.
Dr. Samuel Lee’s motive here was to make sure my mom didn’t leave the church at the time, or so she believes. He had no intention before to return me and even lied to her at another point in time before my second Christmas. …”
Dear readers, do you think that there was indeed a forced abortion? As for me, I have no doubt about it. I am familiar with how UBF corrupt system works. Several years later, sometime in 1994 or so, Samuel Lee said to me all of sudden that he now didn’t have to worry about going to jail because 5 years had passed since the abortion issue came out. He was glad that he was now free from a legal problem surrounding the above mentioned abortion due to the statute of limitations. I was deeply disappointed about the man Samuel Lee. If he is really innocent, shouldn’t he be rather heart-broken about his accusers? In my heart, I was convinced that he was guilty, but I could not prove it because above two or three witnesses had not come out publicly. The truth was buried deep in UBF’s controlled culture.
(1) Russian Doll culture of controlled information – the culture of cut-off information and thriving misinformation
While there was a wrangle in the Board of Directors’ meeting between Samuel Lee and Jimmy Rhee (dear readers, I will drop all titles such as missionaries, MDs, pastors, shepherds, shepherdesses etc. in the following) all I could hear was a faint rumor that a chair was thrown by Samuel Lee at someone in a Board of Directors’ meeting. People could not know what was really going on. And Samuel Lee had UBF media under his control. UBF news letters or all types of announcements were controlled by him while victims could not have an opportunity to speak out the truth or tell their grievances. Real information was confined to a small number of eye-witnesses. Others were totally cut off. And the information could not come out because eyewitnesses were often intimidated in various ways – directly or indirectly.
It is like a Russian doll. There is the second smaller doll inside a doll. If you open the second smaller doll, there appears a still smaller third doll inside it. The list goes on. And what is contained in a small doll is not known to the larger doll that contains it.
UBF culture is like this. And among these tiers, there is powerful distrust and competition and watching over. Even inside the same tier doll, powerful mistrust and competition for human recognition gets rid of any room for a genuine friendship. This is a tragedy. It is a religious ghetto. UBF informers are among various groups of people. They report to Samuel Lee or their superiors, who in turn report to Samuel Lee or other superiors.
These informers are rewarded by Samuel Lee in various ways: They are praised in Sunday messages or in announcements. They are given chances to share testimonies or “sogams” and get human recognition or applause from people. They are given chances to dance on a stage or perform musical instruments or deliver messages in a public meeting. Or their children get chances to marry humanly excellent people. The renowned behaviorist B.F. Skinner once said that he could even make doves play table tennis by rewarding them with food when they obey him.
When cumulated year after year, UBF reward and punishment system can alter many people’s behaviors as well as their characters. So often nice people turn into strange people. Friends turn into informers. Many say that there is no friendship or a genuine relationship in UBF. Institutional relationships often replace genuine human relationships. Even marriages are often institutional marriages dependent upon one man Samuel Lee though they are promoted as so-called “marriage by faith.” They are often, not always, marriages by faith in Samuel Lee and the UBF system rather than marriages by faith in God. So as long as a couple are politically correct with UBF leadership, they are helped or more often helped in wrong ways to the point of becoming a dysfunctional family. As soon as they are politically incorrect, they may be wrecked. To many, UBF culture is frightening. As long as one pleases one’s leaders, one seems to be in the center of the world, but the moment one is politically incorrect, nearly no one visits him/her. Since a UBF member has not had any other support system other than UBF, the moment one is excommunicated from UBF, one often feels that one is abandoned alone in a cold universe. The truth is that there are many support systems for one outside of UBF and that God will send many true friends among good people of God to him/her. But people often live by perception rather than by fact. And inside UBF, one’s perception has been greatly altered in UBF’s powerful electric-magnetic fields. I mean in a spiritual sense.
Going back to our story, after a wrangle between Samuel Lee and Jimmy Rhee in the Board of Directors’ meeting, there soon followed Samuel Lee’s cynically humorous and critical comments on Jimmy Rhee on various occasions such as in announcement time after student meetings or Sunday worship services. People laughed because of his cynically humorous remarks without knowing what was really going on. What often took place in communist countries was occurring in Chicago UBF. An uninformed or misinformed crowd laughed according to the well planned propaganda performances of controlling leaders.
When people laughed and bought his distorted explanations of the state of things, Samuel Lee burst into uttering angry and accusing remarks on Jimmy Rhee and other missionaries who had attended a revival meeting. If my memory is correct, Samuel Lee accused them of being magic artists. He accused a revival meeting minister of being a witch. Sometimes he appealed to people’s sympathy, making them believe that as a leader he did not have any other choice but to order a terrible thing mentioned above (Let the reader understand). He sometimes sounded as if he had really repented. His remarks sometimes gave the impression that he really repented before God but could not confess publicly. When people were buying his propaganda and sympathy-yielding remarks, he cleverly took out a dove from a hat and denied publicly that he had ordered an abortion. He sometimes was close to admitting it only in order to achieve his political goal, i.e., maintaining his authority and power among UBF people. In my memory, he sometimes quoted King David’s psalm publicly, “Against you, you alone, I have sinned.” In this way, he gave the impression that he admitted his wrongs before God but could not admit them publicly.
His clever plan worked for a long moment. It was masterful like a large snake climbing a wall. When a large snake climbs a wall, it is not easy to notice what that creature is really doing. Is it just resting on a wall? Or is it climbing the wall in order to invade a house? Is it really dangerous? Or is it just playing around? Is it a part of a wall? Or is it a dangerous carnivore? While a hen is hesitating and forgetting, the large snake moves on and devours her. In a Korean proverb, when a person behaves sneakily in this manner, they say, “He does things in an unclear way as a large snake climbs a wall.” In my view, Samuel Lee disarmed people by clever humors and moved on silently, fooled them and achieved his political goals. He was a demon in this art. It seemed to work for a long time. Some, who were aware of his mastery of the art, chuckled and were impressed by him again. Some idea of his invincibility settled in their hearts with reinforcement.
Did Samuel Lee really repent or merely pretend to repent? This is not an easy question to answer. I myself was often confused. I even felt guilty for a moment, thinking that I might be too harsh toward Samuel Lee if I conclude that he did not repent but only pretend in order to bring about desired political effects. This is not an easy question. It seems that even Jimmy Rhee was not certain about this when he testified against Samuel Lee late in 2000 in the ReformUBF web site.
Here a question naturally arises in our minds. What is repentance? What is the boundary between repentance and pretense? Shouldn’t we give the benefits of doubt when we do not know for sure whether some one is really repenting or not? When these things come into our minds, we become even more confused. But things become clear when we ask the following: When a person confesses a sin in front of another Christian and then later denies it publicly and condemns that Christian, can this be called repentance? The answer seems to be clearly, “No” because the moment a person denies his confessed sin publicly, he nullifies his former confession. By publicly denying his sin in the matter of forced/coerced abortion, Samuel seems to have nullified his privately confessed sin. Furthermore, he even blamed and accused Jimmy Rhee in the eyes of many people. Did those who repented publicly before John the Baptist confess their sins only to deny them? Did King David deny his sin with Bathsheba publicly after he admitted it to the Prophet Nathan? Did he accuse and condemn Nathan? The answers are all “No.” A denied confession does not seem to be a confession. It is a political ploy, clever politically but foolish spiritually. Foolish spiritually because one nullifies his earlier confession by denying it. He lives before human beings rather than before God. He does not trust God who stands by a sinner.
There is another point that makes it difficult to conclude that he repented rather than pretended. According to Jimmy Rhee’s testimony, Samuel Lee seems to have claimed that his sin was an isolated and incidental one. But if we look at the full story by Joseph Park, the abuses against his mother lasted for a long time, were various in kinds and rather systematic. [In addition, allegedly there were even several more cases in which he had forced an abortion. By the way, recently a similar incident in Korea UBF has been reported.] So the tragedy of the abortion was a part of these long and systematic abuses planned to make her stay in Chicago UBF. Jimmy Rhee does not seem to have to regret about his responses to Samuel Lee.
It is a tragedy of tremendous magnitude that an opportunity for a genuine repentance was missed when the wrong was so obvious. This missed opportunity is not incidental but due to the fundamental, structural weakness of UBF, namely lack of accountability and rehabilitation process in UBF.
In a normal church or ministry, when a leader significantly errs against a member of the church or ministry, a fair investigation and hearing process click in. This process is carried out by an independent board such as the Board of Ministry which often consists of elected, credible, independent leaders of church or ministry, respected and independent outside servants of God, a seminary president, etc. The independence of this board is guarded with special care so that the Board’s decision may not be influenced by the investigated leader. When the investigated leader is a member of the Board, he/she is exempted from a decision-making process of the board. The investigated leader is given fair chances to explain his position in front of the board.
When he/she is found to be guilty or responsible, he/she is given leave of absence from the ministry for rehabilitation like for 2 or 3 years for not so serious case. He/she is given a sufficient period of spiritual rehabilitation such as spending time with the Lord and reading the Bible and praying in good and quiet environment such as ministry’s retreat center. When his/her wrong is found to be indeed serious, he/she can be dismissed from leadership position. This is accountability system. Many people will agree with that, no matter how much benefit of the doubt one wants to give to Samuel Lee about the abortion case, Samuel Lee needed to have leave of absence from the ministry for a considerable amount of time and go through rehabilitation process.
Unfortunately UBF does not have anything remotely resembling the independent Board of Ministry. So there is no accountability. One man Samuel Lee exercises the power of the board of ministry often without any fair investigation process. The problem becomes really acute when he himself needs to be subjected to an investigation. He exempts himself from any investigation or accountability. Thus, he can be free wheeling and bear no responsibility whatsoever. If some people bring about a legitimate case against him, he can simply label them as rebels or disobedient people and discredit them cleverly and manipulates UBF’s public opinion.
It seems that this sort of things happened in the abortion case. Only Jimmy Rhee courageously spoke out against Samuel Lee with a clear religious conscience. So Samuel Lee decided to kick him out. Since Jimmy Rhee was one of many missionaries who attended a revival meeting, and also since they were not succumbing to him, it was decided that all of them, including Jimmy Rhee, be kicked out of UBF. But since kicking out a member forcibly is illegal, a clever psychological method was used. It was dropping their names from a Christmas service registration chart. One day before the Christmas worship service in 1989, these missionaries saw their names were gone from the registration chart of Christmas 1989. It was an ultimate insult to them who had left everything in Korea and had come to the USA as lay missionaries and had served God for many years undergoing many kinds of suffering and trouble. So they did not participate in Chicago UBF ministry any longer. Like autumn leaves hit by frost in one morning, they were mistreated terribly and were gone. About 20 or so missionaries were massively expelled from the ministry in this way without having any fair chance of stating their cases. They were ridiculed and labeled as divisionists and magic artists. Should God’s servants, who were anointed by God as lay missionaries, be ill treated this way by one man? How on earth can such a ministry be blessed by God? To me, it seems that, from this incident, UBF reached a plateau and stopped growing. This tragic Christmas massacre of missionaries showed to the whole world that UBF missionaries were treated like flies without respect. [And “ordinary” native coworkers are treated often worse, like dirt.] It became clear that UBF USA needed a reform, a fundamental reform. Together with several other compelling issues, the issue of abortion and the issue of the Christmas massacre intensified the reform discussions of several UBF chapter directors and leaders, including Peter Chang, James J. Kim, Augustine Park, Paul Hong, John Shin, Jacob Lee and other leaders.
Their reform discussions, though, were unknown to most of people, even to most people of their own chapters. On the surface, Samuel Lee seemed to be in firm control. There was no protest among Chicago people over the abortion issue or the Christmas massacre. It is hard to expect any protest in a tightly controlled culture. I felt so sorry for the Christmas massacre that I went to Samuel Lee and suggested that the expelled missionaries be visited. He told me to visit them. I visited several of them, including Jacob Park in his apartment, his wife Faith Park in a hospital, Daniel Shin and Jimmy Rhee.
Faith Park had been hospitalized due to a massive car accident. When I visited her, I saw the sympathy card signed by Grace A. Lee, the wife of Samuel Lee. Through this, I learned that Grace A. Lee had visited her. I was a bit surprised and was glad. But that gladness turned into painful disappointment several years later when I learned that Samuel Lee used the descriptive information of Faith Park’s physical condition in the time of hospitalization and sarcastically mentioned her tragic car accident [in a Sunday message]. The last missionary I visited was Jimmy Rhee. It remains as an unforgettable moment to me to this day. Receiving me, Jimmy Rhee sighed and lamented, “Last several days I have been praying and hoping that Samuel Lee visits me. But instead he sent you to me. That means that he does not want to see me.” He grieved over Samuel Lee. He was not bitter toward him. Instead, he prayed for him.
One winter morning in January 1990 I was looking around in the parking lot of the Chicago UBF Center. I had been a UBF staff member for many years. As soon as Samuel Lee saw me, he said to me all of sudden, “James Kim stabbed me from behind my back.” I was so surprised and could not believe what I heard from him, So I asked him in order to clarify what I just heard, “Being stabbed from behind of your back? By James Kim?” “That’s right. He stabbed me from behind my back by sending secret letters to some people and accused me falsely.” I cannot remember everything he said to me but what I remember is that he was visibly upset and that Sam Zun reported to him about James Kim’s letter. It seemed that he had already received a copy of the letter from Sam Zun. I could not believe that James Kim would do any thing like stabbing a person in the back. I had known him for many years since my Seoul High School days. As a Korean born in 1952, he was unusually funny and had charming ways of relating with people. In Korean expression, he was a tasty man like soy bean paste soup. As a Tae-Kwon-Do master of high degree black belt, he was powerful, upright and straightforward. While I was serving world mission as a coworker for three years and three months in Toledo UBF from 1978 till 1981, I saw his ways very closely. He often slept as little as two hours a day and served God. He fought against five guys at night and protected a woman from them, while sustaining a deep cut in his face from a guy with a knife. He was very bright. Many people often failed to note about him but he was a great final round sputter and a man of great self-control. A quick learner and a man of powerful endurance. Such a man does not depend on a sly method because he does not have to. Stabbing a person in the back? As far as I knew the man James Kim, he was not such type of a person at all. Before I saw what was in the alleged letter, I could not believe that he had stabbed Samuel Lee from behind his back. So I said to Samuel Lee, “What is written in the letter? James Kim is not that type of a person at all. There must be some misunderstanding. Do you want me to go down to Toledo and find what is really going on?” Samuel Lee replied, “No.” My defense of James Kim would ordinarily enrage him. But he was not angry with me this time because he could know that I had not received James Kim’s letter.
Some time later, Samuel Lee suddenly reversed his earlier position and told me to go down to Toledo, saying, “James Kim is very angry now. You are a peace maker. So stay with James Kim as long as necessary and do the task of an official peacemaker between me and him.” Later I came to understand why Samuel Lee suddenly reversed his mind and sent me to Toledo. According to what I heard, after he received a report from Sam Zun about James Kim’s letter, Samuel Lee soothingly spoke to James Kim and persuaded him to come to Chicago. Accepting Samuel Lee’s words at face value, James Kim came to Chicago and stayed in a room without a phone in a guest house. He could not call his wife Rebekah B. Kim in Toledo from his room. He did not know what was going on in Toledo. Unsuspecting Samuel Lee’s intention, he was spending time in Chicago. When he finally called his wife through public phone, she told him an unthinkable news – that Paul Hong claimed that he would direct Toledo ministry from then on under the approval of Samuel Lee. In great fury, James Kim sought to meet Samuel Lee but could not see him. He stormed out of Chicago and returned to Toledo. Now Toledo ministry was in danger of being taken away by James Kim. That prospect of schism would increase if Paul Hong, who had certain measure of respect among some people in Toledo, supported James Kim. It was at this point that Samuel Lee appointed me as an official peace maker.
However, Samuel Lee’s intention was not in making peace with James Kim but in disarming him and nullifying him. I did not know this in 1990. This point would be understood only slowly by me many years later. In 1990 January, I just did not want to lose such a great man of God as James Kim. I thought losing him would be a great loss for UBF ministry which I greatly wanted to see prosper. Perhaps I also hated losing such a good friend and a fellow missionary.
Before sending me to Toledo, Samuel Lee indicated me that I might become a new director of Toledo UBF and asked me, “Some one from Chicago like you should become Toledo’s director. What do you think?” I declined. I felt it was neither fair nor wise. I myself suffered from Samuel Lee’s back stabbing in MSU [Michigan State University] UBF. He secretly told a man missionary to oust me from directorship. I was incredulous when I was informed of Samuel Lee’s plot to oust me politically. I became greatly disillusioned about the position of a UBF director. Until that time, the position and honor of a UBF director had been viewed by me as something priceless. That was how I had been taught in UBF. But when I heard of Samuel Lee’s conspiracy, I realized that the position of a UBF directorship was something that had been blown by the wind. From that time on, my loyalty to Samuel Lee was turned to the loyalty to UBF. I could not trust the man deep down in my heart. My lofty view of Samuel Lee began to fade fast. And arriving in Chicago from Michigan in 1989, I discovered with more convincing evidence that the awe and respected ascribed to Samuel Lee was a fake one and far worse than that of the Wizard of Oz.
Samuel Lee told Paul Hong to direct Toledo’s ministry but he could not trust him. So if Paul Hong did not follow his order, he wanted to replace him with some one else from Chicago. It is known that Samuel Lee often makes use of people’s selfish ambition and stimulate it in order to control people. The Apostle Paul clearly tells people not to pursue selfish ambition But Samuel Lee often uses this unbiblical method and many chase after their selfish ambition and fight each other. Samuel Lee especially makes use of people’s desire to become his successor. Many naive people are aroused by him to chase after the rainbow of being his successor, work hard, fight hard and are ruined.
When I arrived in Toledo in January in 1990, Paul Hong received me to his home with his trademark smile and with searching eyes. As I entered his small, cozy two story house, the words on its door post surprised me – Home, Sweet Home. What nice words they are! But to me, then, they looked surreal because those words were unspoken taboos in Chicago UBF as family-centered words of worldly people. Home, Sweet Home! What a pleasant surprise! However, those words, I came to understood later, not only meant Hong Family’s inclination for a sweet home life but also indicated that Sarah Hong had deciding influence in Hong Family. Unlike many Chicago UBF people’s homes, Hong Family was more like a sweet home. New biblical books in the book shelf caught my eyes. Paul Hong said to me, “I did not ask Toledo coworkers to pay me salary since I have a professor job in the University of Toledo. I only asked them to pay me small amount of money for my book purchase.” (I think the sum of money he mentioned was about one hundred dollars a month.)
Paul Hong and I talked about many things and laughed together. I had had a certain liking toward him because he was my senior in high school by one year and also because he was also one of few persons in UBF, who was willing to know and talk about the needs for change in UBF. After all, James Kim had helped him a lot. While he was stuck in Atlanta without much hope in his ministry, James Kim brought him to Bowling Green and helped him to start a new ministry. After Toledo and Bowling Green were combined by the direction from Samuel Lee, James Kim had treated him nicely. I thought that he would conduct himself objectively and fairly.
But he would not talk freely about really important things in resolving the conflict between Samuel Lee and James Kim. Only after I said to him that I had declined Samuel Lee’s suggestion about Toledo’s directorship, he began to speak out his heart. He jokingly said to me that he had been wondering whether I was Samuel Lee’s spy. He and I cracked some jokes and he explained what’s happening in Toledo. He was careful not to overly criticize James Kim but lamented, saying, “James Kim is like General Jahng Bee. Without considering the consequences of his actions and without making plans carefully, he acted.” (General Jahng Bee is a hero in China’s Three Kingdom Period of approximately the third century AD.) At the time of my conversation with him, I did not understand the meaning of his words fully. I thought that he was just pointing to James Kim’s certain weakness as he saw it. But later I learned that he had originally been a participating member of reform-minded leaders’ circle and that James Kim had designated him as his successor in Toledo after James Kim’s moving to Houston, Texas. Lamenting over James Kim, he often called Chicago and received instructions from Samuel Lee about how to deal with James Kim and also Toledo congregation, who was in the state of a shock. Now because he had been given Toledo directorship by Samuel Lee albeit tacitly and James Kim appeared to be overpowered by Samuel Lee, Paul Hong lamented over James Kim and then began to undo his involvement in reform movement. To this day, he (together with his younger brother Daniel Hong) harshly criticizes reformers in exaggerated fashion in order to deny his involvement in the reform movement of 1990 though he knows the dire needs of reform in UBF. From him, I heard that James Kim and Rebekah B. Kim had been quarantined to their home and had been told by Samuel Lee not to come to worship service but to humble themselves by staying at home.
Paul Hong showed me Toledo center. I was impressed with its spacious and well-built multi-rooms. It even had a lot of room to expand in the second story. New buildings of University of Toledo were being built nearby. Someone told me that James Kim worked hard with coworkers, including many American shepherds/shepherdesses like Steve R. and Jack W., the American husband of Rebekah W., a Korean woman missionary. When I was in Toledo in 1978-1981, Toledo coworkers had to move often from an apartment to houses for worship service. But now Toledo ministry was growing leaps and bounds. I heard that about 70 or so people were attending Sunday worship service. In my mind’s eyes was passing the memory of James Kim’s visiting Tony C. with Mark G. and others to Pamberville, Ohio around 11 PM. God had done indeed great works in Toledo.
Toledo occupies a special place in USA UBF history: Toledo was the first chapter which made a breakthrough in pioneering USA. While other chapters were searching for a way to teach the Bible to American brothers/sisters, James Kim and Toledo coworkers raised up growing American shepherds/shepherdesses. God greatly encouraged Korean missionaries in USA through Toledo ministry, planting in their hearts the faith “We can indeed raise up American leaders through 1:1 Bible study.” People in Ohio jokingly say about the city of Toledo, “Holy Toledo!” But in the true sense of the word, Toledo is a holy place in UBF USA history.
Now a certain man named Isaac Kim (now in Akron, Ohio, I believe) was vocal in criticizing James Kim. On the other hand, most of coworkers were just stunned by the sudden turn of events in Toledo and expressed their sorrow and sympathy toward James Kim albeit carefully. “We had such a great Christmas worship service with a really beautiful Christmas play written by James Kim himself and with over 200 attendants. Then suddenly James Kim began to visit Texas and talk about pioneering Houston. Then all of sudden these things happened. We do not know what’s going on.” Isaac Kim charged publicly that James Kim had been puffed up after seeing great works of God in Toledo.
As a peace maker, I officially visited James Kim, his wife Rebekah B. Kim and their children. I was struck by his plight: He was groaning in pain. His face was flushed like a man with fever. His voice was full of pain and of slow, low tone. I had never seen him in such a painful and depressed state except when he cried over his first son’s illness and death. He looked like a wounded lion, licking its wounds with its tongue in early morning sunlight in African grass land nearby a dried-up tree. Steve Ricker came to him and taunted him with many critical words. But James Kim calmly corrected him without losing temper. It was amazing to me that he was enduring Steve Ricker so gracefully. In the midst of havoc, his wife Rebekah B. Kim remained calm and strong. James Kim struggled to receive me as warmly as possible. After bringing me down to his study in basement with a big book shelf which had Chinese classic book named Goh Moon Jin Bo, he handed me a copy of his letter which he had first sent to Peter Chang, Sam Zun, Jacob Lee of Washington UBF, etc and then to Samuel Lee later. He said to me that Hannah C. typed for him and Randy W. proofread his letter.
Dear readers, if you can get it through ReformUBF web site or RSQUBF web site [you can find a copy here, as well], please read through James Kim’s open letter to Samuel Lee written end of 1989. It is a significant and quite unusual letter in many ways:
It was a voluminous letter of some 19 pages. Reading it, I was stunned by its tone as well as its content. I felt that its tone was daring, straight and fearless. I had never seen anyone speak to Samuel Lee as daringly and fearlessly as he did in the letter. I did not know what to make of it. So I called my wife Mary and asked her, “I think the content of the letter is, if not all, mostly true. But as a man born in Korea, I feel that he might have spoken too strongly to Samuel Lee without considering his position as a much younger man or a man under Samuel Lee. As an American, what do you think?” Then my wife surprised me by saying, “The issue is whether the content of the letter is true or not. Why should tone matter at all?” To this day, some Korean missionaries may think that the tone of James Kim’s letter is inappropriate regardless of its content. This is also one of the contentions of Samuel Lee and his underlings. However, it should be noted that the letter is written in English. In American culture, the tone of his letter seems to be appropriate. Even to people in Korea, it can be translated in quite an appropriate tone. So it seems to me that there is no tone problem in James Kim’s letter. The real issue is whether its content is true or not. What then is the content of the letter? And is it true?
To be continued, hopefully soon..