My Confession, Part II

In My Confession, Brian confessed how in 1990 he illegally broke into the home of James and Rebekah Kim, the very fruitful Director of Toledo UBF for over a decade ever since the 1970s, to supposedly help them move to Houston. But this was done without their permission or foreknowledge. This is my post, a sequel to Brian’s confession.

As Brian said, this was breaking and entering. It was a sad and unfortunate event. When I read the personal account of James Kim online, I felt heart broken and stunned, because of the rude, cruel, and ungracious way that he and his wife were treated. On a personal note, they had both taught the Bible to and loved my fiesty wife Christy for 3-4 years until she moved to Chicago to marry me in 1981. Furthermore, James Kim had given all of his youth not to pursuing his own ambition, but to sacrificially serving college students in UBF for 2 decades, both in Korea and in the U.S. Perhaps because of this event, apparently out of nowhere I suddenly remembered a somewhat similar event that happened about 25 years ago in Chicago UBF involving myself and a senior missionary. It is far less serious and dramatic. This is what happened.

In the mid-1980s Chicago UBF bought what has since been known as the UIC Bible House. After we bought it, a missionary couple was living on the 2nd floor as the steward of the Bible house, similar to David and Kristen Weed today. One day, my shepherd Dr. Samuel Lee told me to move into the Bible house, and to go and tell the missionary couple to move out. I was shocked at his directive. But I thought I was being tested. I also thought that perhaps I might be “more worthy” of living in the Bible house, because I had “more sheep and more growing disciples” than he did. (It is painful to confess my shameful way of thinking.) So I obeyed. I went and knocked on his door. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I told him that he and his wife had to move out right away, because Dr. Lee told me and my wife to move in. I can never forget the look of shock and surprise on his face. But he and his wife quietly and obediently moved out almost immediately without a single question or objection or complaint or display of anger. Then my wife and I moved in.

When I recalled this event, I immediately called up this missionary and met with him on Fri July 22, and I apologized to him personally for what I did a quarter of a century ago. He was very gracious. We laughed as we talked. We expressed how Dr. Lee would “do such things,” and that no one dared to question him. We acknowledged that Dr. Lee loved God and students, yet he too was a sinner who needed the grace of Jesus. But we both also acknowledged that such unchecked authoritarian practices and unilateral decisions should not be emulated. Especially, we both agreed that Dr. Lee’s authoritarian style of leadership is not healthy for UBF and that our past sins of doing so should be acknowledged, addressed and repented of. After our half an hour conversation, we prayed and thanked God for his mercy and grace to us in spite of all our sins.

Without question, Dr. Lee served God’s purpose in his own generation (Acts 13:36). God used him for 40 years as God’s instrument to make disciples in UBF of all nations (Matt 28:19) from 1961 to 2002. His life tremendously influenced countless leaders in UBF through out the world, including me, to love Jesus and to serve God. But some of his methods of leadership and discipleship, which were influenced by his times and culture, were abusive and exploitative. I fear that such a precedent might have been inadvertently set, since “Dr. Lee did it.” Clearly, what I did was wrong, regardless of what he told me to do, and I take full responsibility for it. In the past it was simply overlooked and unquestioned, and it may even have been regarded as being commendable and praiseworthy of “obedience.” Today, it would not be condoned.

I decided to post my confession, hoping that others who experienced or did similar things, might begin to say so openly, as our repentance and prayer that such unhealthy authoritarian practices and unilateral decisions by leaders may no longer be practiced in our church. Instead, we may prayerfully and humbly be continually transparent and accountable to each other in the Lord.


  1. Since I wrote this, I read Joe’s published article, entitled: University Bible Fellowship: What Happens when Missionaries from Korea Descend on North American Campuses. In light of this, I can somewhat understand why authoritarian practices by the leader have happened repeatedly in UBF over the last 50 years, perhaps even to this day.
    Scott Moreau, Professor of Missions and Intercultural Studies at Wheaton College, identified 3 major differences between Korean culture (hierarchical) and American culture (egalitarian). These 3 differences have kept the hierarchy or “pecking order” in our relationships in UBF between the older and the younger, the senior and the junior, the leader and the member. They are:
    1. Collectivism.
    2. Power Distance.
    3. Honor or Face.
    In light of this, the leader in UBF from the fellowship leader to the chapter director, to the regional director, to the national director, to the international leader, has tended to keep some “power distance” between himself and his subordinates over the last 50 years of UBF history. I believe that this has been a major reason that has caused many of the problems in our ministry, especially that of indigenous leaders leaving.
    My firm conviction is that this needs to be seriously and practically addressed at every level. If not this “power distance” will continue to be communicated implicitly, which is surely unhealthy for the welfare of the church.
    Jesus always always narrowed the distance between his holy perfection and our unholy imperfection at great cost to himself. He even calls his sinner disciples his friends (John 15:15). He also calls sinner Abraham the friend of God (2 Chron 20:7; Isa 41:8; James 2:23). Whenever there is any “power distance” in any relationship, no deep friendship can result.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this, Ben. This is groundbreaking stuff. I think you summarized a key issue, if not THE issue. It is rather shocking to me to find that I have had only one email (which was most likely by accident since I was on the mailing list) and no phone calls from my old UBF chapter after leaving. Once it was clear to them that I have gone to another church, they closed the door. I am now “poison” to them because I ask difficult questions. 

    It is also clear that the top UBF leaders view websites like this one as “poison” when people like you speak out too much (see

    Thank God my family found a Christian church where people submit to the Holy Spirit, to Scriptures and to one another in open, honest love. I’m starting to make real friendships now. The head pastor invited us over for pizza even. In one Bible study here I learned more about healthy Christian doctrine than I did in 24 years of weekly one-to-one Bible study.

    On a personal note, Ben, I think what you’ve done at Westloop UBF is simply amazing. I hope UBF will continue to allow you to be part of their ministry. UBF needs more leaders who can speak like you and Joe S. 

    • Note: I did receive numerous requests for private meetings with a few people in my former UBF chapter. I refused those requests because I know how the drill goes when you leave UBF…a final meeting to agree to disagree and move on in silence. I didn’t see evidence of godly sorrow or sincere friendship or any interest in something more than a quick appeasement in the name of reconciliation. If there had been a ministry-wide meeting that I was invited to, open to students or anyone interested, I would have gladly driven the 70 miles to attend.

      I fail to see how closed door meetings with a few people and silent obedience can bring about God’s healing and move us all to a greater unity in our Lord.

    • I wonder, has there been  a situation where a person has left amicably? I’ve never seen someone announce that they are leaving, blessed/prayed for, and sent on their way. I was told that if I had to leave then that would be the case, but I have never seen it before; people just disappear and are never spoken of again.

    • Darren Gruett

      I read your blurb on your blog about removing that article from Urban Dictionary. That really sounds ridiculous. Is UBF going to try to remove any and every article on the Internet that has any shade of negativity attached to it? This is not Communist China. People have more access to information today than at any time in history, and shutting down one thing is not going to make much of a difference.
      Yet, it also reflects borderline paranoia, that if students read something negative about the church that they will want nothing to do with it. That is just not true. In fact, if I never heard anything negative about some church I would question the truthfulness of it, because we all know that every church has both positive and negative things about it.
      And I am sorry to say, but the people in the church already know what is negative about it; they do not need Urban Dictionary to tell them that.

    • Oscar, yes there have been some who left amicably, but not many. One of my wife’s “sheep” left peacefully. Our fellowship had a final dinner. Looking back, I remember her raising quite a few psychological and unhealthy sociological issues with UBF, so she could not commit to the ministry. At the time, I couldn’t give any good answers to her questions, so I simply denied the issues. She left on good, friendly terms.

      Perhaps this amicable leaving was just our influence though. This kind of leaving is not common, especially if someone raises any kind of issue with UBF. When I was a fellowship leader, I remember only one time demanding a Bible student to stay. My wife and I went to his house and used the Bible to demand that he remain part of UBF. That failed miserably, so I never tried that again. For the most part, I sincerely tried to let people come and go, fighting against the pressure I received from above to make them stay. Oddly, my fellowship was almost always the largest!

    • Darren,

      Your comment matches what I was thinking: “Yet, it also reflects borderline paranoia, that if students read something negative about the church that they will want nothing to do with it.”

      Removing an article from 2008 on a website known for misinformation and vulgar postings is not an action taken by a Christian ministry in submission to the Holy Spirit.

      This paranoia is what sparked my rant the other day. (

  3. Darren Gruett

    Ben, thanks for your open and honest confession. What I really appreciate about it is that you were able to be reconciled with this person you had wronged. That is what it means to be a Christian (Mt 18:21,22).
    And your appraisal of Dr. Lee is both truthful and gracious. You are one of the few people who is able to present such a balanced point of view of him. For most people, it seems to be always slanted one way or the other.

  4. Wow, UBF has an internet committee? I’m surprised, but I know I shouldn’t be.

    • Yes, there is a LOT going on in UBF at a high level, behind the scenes, that people need to know about (not necessarily bad things going on, just unknown activity not directly related to Christian ministry).  

      Some of these include medical mission, professional orchestra business, PhD networking for journal publishing, internet promotion/cleansing, doctrine education, etc. Some have official committees, others are run by chapter directors. Some of this includes employment of younger UBF members. All of the “doctrine education” so far has been in Korean, so I don’t know what the education actually is.

    • I am also researching this company: Co-World GmbH, which is a German Ximeta technology partner (Ximeta Partners) with massive ties to UBF.

    • Darren Gruett

      Yes, I have known about the Internet committee for a while. In fact, I proofread some of the articles/reports that get posted on the UBF web site once they have been translated from Korean into English.

    • That’s interesting……..

  5. When I read the article in Urban Dictionary, it was clearly slanted against UBF, though what is written does have elements of truth about the way we do things, such as the way we “marry by faith,” which is often a highly emotionally charged or oft misunderstood term, which we perhaps might need to revisit.
    My thought was that anyone who read the article, would not likely come and study the Bible. Yet, studying the Bible is always good, even if we might have some unhealthy church practices or even unbalanced doctrine, unless the church is downright liberal and relative, (such as denying the inerrency of Scripture or the deity of Christ, etc), which UBF is not and does not do.
    After weighing both thoughts I voted against the article.

    • I tried looking for “UBF” on Urban Dictionary and couldn’t find it, am I searching incorrectly or has it actually been taken down?

    • Oscar, the articles are gone.

    • Oscar, I should have copied the articles when I found them, for reference. Google has a partial cache, but perhaps the an internet history site, like Way Back would have it. I don’t agree with some of the article, but I just think people should be able to decide things for themselves. Here are excerpts I could extract from the Google cache:

      “University Bible Fellowship. Evangelical Korean-American church, headquartered in Chicago and Seoul with chapters in all major cities around the wo…”

      UBF targets “lost” undergraduates to turn them into future UBF-proselytizers. College students who are lonely, depressed or in trouble may be attracted by … A new-comer to UBF is called “sheep” who is usually at a troubled period of their  

      Actually, I just found a cache of most of the article. I’ll be posting it on my blog.

    • Yes, I’d like to read those. I appreciate it, thanks.

    • Google’s cache has the articles. I saved one of them here:

  6. Things done and decided by our leaders are often not known by others in UBF, mainly because of the influence of Korean culture on the governance of UBF, which I briefly mentioned in the 1st comment of this article.
    For instance, a reason most of the older UBF people who do not like UBFriends is primarily because it “narrows the power distance” between the leaders and the members. Since Korea has a “large power distance” culture, this is quite uncomfortable, maybe even offensive, to them. But to a “small power distance” culture like the US, this is entirely normal and very comfortable.
    As I had mentioned I think that most of the problems that we have encountered in UBF is because the leader, usually Korean, tries to keep some “power distance” between himself and his “sheep” or subordinate or member in his chapter. Then, this can quite easily be perceived as being dishonest and not transparent, or not trusting and open, especially if one did not grow up in Korea, which would be the case of most indigenous leaders where we have Korean missionaries.

    • Ben, You make a good point: “I think that most of the problems that we have encountered in UBF is because the leader, usually Korean, tries to keep some “power distance” between himself and his “sheep” or subordinate or member in his chapter.”

      However, I cannot accept that Bible students are just supposed to “live with it” or “deal with it”. When they do that, they begin imitating the power distance and even worse, promoting the power distance as Christian truth.

      Jesus bridged that power distance. It is unacceptable to me to submit to a Korean Bible teacher and allow them to keep this distance. The Korean Bible teacher must submit to the Holy Spirit and bridge the gap. My personal mission is to “stand in the gap”. 

  7. I agree with you Brian, that it is quite unacceptable for anyone who call themselves a Christian to “keep some power distance” from another, especially from a fellow Christian. But since our missionaries grew up in such a “large power distance” culture, I honestly think that they can’t “see it.” To them, “keeping the power distance” is normal, and “business as usual.”  So when you or anyone else attempts to “narrow that power distance,” you get blow ups, losing tempers, “none of your business,” and “take me off your email list.” :-)
    But I believe that gradually our ministry leaders are now “trying to see the problem of ‘power distance'” because the main thing that bothers a church is when an exodus of people start leaving, and then voicing their displeasure on the internet.
    An unrelated personal example of “power distance,” and/or hierarchy is when some missionaries are upset with me, because I did not ask the “blessing or permission” when I decided to spend several months in our UBF chapter in Philippines. It never really crossed my mind to do so. But to a Korean, it is simply rude, disrespectful, divisive, proud, and you can just continue to pile up the adjectives.

    • Darren Gruett

      Ben, I think you are right that they are not always aware of it. Because of that, I am trying to be patient and understanding, and accept them for who they are as much as I want them to accept me for who I am.

    • Ben, perhaps I am just further making your point, but it is just astounding to me that the Americans in my former chapter are very bothered by the mass exodus, and not so much by the internet voicing, while the Korean leaders/elders seem not concerned about the mass exodus and are very concerned about the internet voicing.

      You mention that gradually ministry leaders are trying to see the problem… someone else mentioned they hope for a trickle-down effect now that there is a new general director. Personally I’ve heard all this before (though now the internet is a new twist). I don’t want to wait for a gradual change or for a drop of living water trickling down. Some things can be (and need to be) addressed NOW! 

    • Ben, just a note on your personal example. I found that one way to deal with the “power distance” issue is to get a lot of “physical distance” from the source of the problem. That is partly why I left Toledo and went to Detroit in 2003. But I now admit that this is just ignoring the problem, like an ostrich with its head in the sand.

    • David Bychkov

      Yeah, I also tried to do it. And this does not really work.

  8. After 50 years since the inception of UBF in Korea, and almost 35 years since UBF USA began, the dynamic and “conflicts” between American and Korean culture is perhaps getting more pronounced in inter-personal differences and preferences. This may be partly because of the internet, which permits everyone and anyone to voice their opinions. Perhaps only some of the older traditional ubf people might still be generally suspicious of technology, such as the internet, for to them it encourages “too much” transparency and openness.
    This might explain why many or some missionaries are quite bothered by internet commenting, especially if it is not glowing or favorable. I can think of a few reasons:
    1) The “large power distance” they are used to and quite comfortable with, which the internet is inadvertently “forcing” the narrowing of this large power distance that we have gotten accustomed to for half a century.
    2) since Korean society is very strongly hierarchical (while Americans are more egalitarian), internet commenting “equalizes” everyone, from the senior leader or chapter director to the young new member. This has been problematic for older leaders for the longest time. Because of the strong culture of hierarchy, it almost seems and feels like “all ubf people are not equal” and that a “kingdom of priests” may often just be a theory and prayer topic. But in practical reality, there seem to be a few “kings” while the rest are the proletariat. But now the proletariat has a voice on the internet!
    3) because of strong honor and face culture (expressed by “nunchi” and “kibun”), internet commenting is regarded as “disrespecting” of the “pecking order” or “power ranking.” Nothing bothers someone in such a culture more than commenting that is not done, in the most complementary of terms. So, if someone says, “I don’t agree,” or “I don’t like the message,” or “I don’t want to write testimony,” it is just viewed and felt negatively in so many ways: they are not humble, they are rebellious, disobedient, “breaking spiritual order,” they don’t want to struggle, they don’t want to repent, they are proud, they want to hide their sins, and the list can just go on and on.

  9. Darren Gruett

    Ben, your comment above is something I have thought about for a long time. The Internet and technology have been an equalizer in so many ways. Look at the uprisings going on in the Middle East, much of which was facilitated through things like Twitter and Facebook.
    I remember in the past when some of the older missionaries would try to prevent interactions between men and women, afraid that it would lead to “something else.” But now with social media and smart phones, ideas of such controls are ridiculous at best and totalitarian at worst. It just does not work.
    Furthermore, giving everyone a voice or a place to say what they feel is good. I love this site because I am able to share openly and honestly about things that other leaders within my fellowship do not want to hear. And as I have said before, just because there are things I do not like does not mean that I hate the church or the people there. I just want to be an agent of change to makes things better.

  10. Yes, Darren, This site has become perhaps the most popular UBF website in the world, probably because everyone’s voice can be heard, which may not have been heard before.
    Our God is a God who hears our prayers, even our bitter complaints without prejudice. Surely, God gave us the church of the Living God, so that anyone can come freely and find a willing ear to hear, even painful things.

  11. Some comments were made about marriage key verses. In the past, the marriage key verse was chosen by the one who officiated the wedding in Chicago, usually Dr. Lee (the founder of UBF). Of late, the couples, I think, are choosing their own wedding key verse.
    A sad and unfortunate ongoing practice (not in all cases) is when the shepherd or so-called trainer “threatens” the bridegroom or the bride before their marriage to CANCEL the wedding if certain conditions were not being met, according to the expectation of the so-called trainer. I don’t know about you, but I pray that such threats and such practices end permanently. It really does make ubf seem cultish and ugly, if we continue such behavior. More than anything else, it draws all the attention to a man, instead of God, as the one who blesses or curses the wedding.