The Strength of UBF: Doggedness

UBF bashing? Some say that UBFriends promotes UBF bashing. Perhaps, there is a fine line between being transparent with full disclosure, and being discreet and wise with some things undisclosed. There is surely wisdom and prudence on both sides of the line. Nonetheless, if one inclines toward the former (such as myself), I suppose that one could be accused of UBF bashing. But if one inclines toward the latter (some “senior” UBF leaders), one could be accused of being clandestine and dishonest even if the motivation and intention may be good, noble and protective. Nonetheless, despite being dysfunctional (as every church is to a greater or lesser degree), UBF surely has strengths and commendable virtues. What are they?

UBF’s strengths. A reason that UBF has prevailed for 50 years (despite problems and unresolved issues) is that UBF people do have some clear commendable prominent strengths. They are perseverance, endurance, faithfulness, doggedness, loyalty and commitment to Christ and to UBF.

Being miserable now is OK. Recently, a friend shared how miserable he was because of gut wrenching problems with his wife and kids and his own UBF chapter. He felt that his marriage, family and chapter were literally falling apart. Then he said something that I thought clearly showed the power and strength of many UBF people. He said (and I am paraphrasing), “Divorce is not an option. Therefore, even if I am condemned to a miserable unhappy life for the rest of my life, it’s OK, because when I see Jesus in heaven, I will be happy forever.” When I heard this, I could not stop laughing. He is indeed a good man, a good Christian, a good husband and a good father who wants to do the right thing before God and man, even if he is miserable, joyless, stuck, and unhappy for the rest of his life. But because of such an “absolute” attitude, his entire life and marriage turned around rather quickly. Now he is experiencing a second honeymoon with a fresh new leash on life. He personally experienced a death and resurrection that is refreshing to me and all who heard him.

Power Bible verses. Be loyal to Christ (2 Tim 2:4). Fight the good fight (2 Tim 4:7). Be faithful unto death (Rev 2:10b). Rejoice in suffering (1 Pet 4:13). Stand firm (1 Cor 15:58). Stand firm to the end (Mt 24:13). Such verses and many more may be the strength, power source and the bane of UBF’s existence. Personally, I like what Thomas said to Jesus when he thought that following Jesus would surely lead to his demise: “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (Jn 11:16). No one can stand against someone who is not afraid of losing anything, or facing anything thrown at him, not even death. That, I believe, is what has enabled UBF to have survived, and even thrived, despite many who have left throughout our 50 year history.

UBF’s strength can also be UBF’s weakness. Many who left UBF have “fight” in them. Many who have issues with UBF often do not give up the fight. Surely, this is the work of God. It is also the influence of UBF. I can never forget how Samuel Lee never slowed down throughout the 2 decades that I knew him. He was unwavering, no matter how weak, sick or discouraged he was. Those who were hurt by him, or by others like him, will not be comforted by this. But that was Lee’s strength. However, as sinners, our strength is also our weakness.

Being conciliatory and apologetic. The opposite of being resilient and unwavering may be being non-conciliatory or unapologetic. We may fight unto death for a good cause. We may also fight for some lost causes. We may fight firmly and faithfully for the church. But we may also never concede over nonessentials or apologize for mistakes. Perhaps, UBF’s weakness is the inability to sincerely apologize or concede with contriteness.

Are UBF’s strengths (doggedness) and weakness (non-conciliatory) fairly described?


  1. I think that the strength and weakness of UBF are not fairly described. Doggedness may be a good quality but the purpose is more important. I agree with Chris that UBF has prevailed because though many leave, dogged fishing of young students has been going on and the 2 gens add the number. (The same kind of doggedness you can find in any cult and e.g. in Pharisees). But now internet gives a lot of information about UBF especially to young people. So the silence of UBF leaders and the confucian inability to repent and to change have led to the stagnation of UBF movement (not of the western churches as Abraham Lee reports). I don’t think that even an apologize now can change anything in the future of UBF. And what is more important the missiology of UBF is not based on the Bible (it is clear thanks to many good articles here on ubfriends), (it is based on the leaders’ mistakes and invented ideas) so UBF people especially missionaries doggedly kick against the goats. They don’t understand God’s will and they don’t know what they are doing though in their doing they express that doggedness. And I think that former UBF members keep criticizing UBF not because of the “fight” in them, but because they are not confusian christians anymore and as normal christians they can not be silent and leave silently as many did before. But I agree that former UBF people may have some UBF qualities e.g. “shepherd heart” for those who are still inside UBF. I believe that this “shepherd heart” helps them keep the dialogue.

  2. Maria Peace
    Maria Peace

    Hi Vitaly, l admire people who loves Jesus and dedicate their lives for his service whether they are in UBF or not. I think the focus should not be about UBF. What is UBF anyway? It is only a human organization. It can not save or condemn any one to hell. Only God can do that. I am in UBF does that mean I am a spineless and mindless person who just obeys the higher rank leaders. I obey Jesus. I met him while studying the Bible in this ministry. I teach and share the gospel not to make my church have more people it is to introduce others to Jesus because he only can forgive us our sins. Right now John and I have four young people living in our home. Two of them are college students. We share our home, our food, our time with them. We consider them as our children. We do it because of Jesus. Vitaly I consider you as a brother because we have the same heavenly Father and Savior. I consider any Christian my brother or sister.:)

    • And Maria, I wanted to ask you a question. You are missionaries, you introduce students to Jesus. When are you going “to give the local leaders lead”? I mean, are you going to follow the UBF standard and “bury your bones in your mission field”? Or you have in mind that once you will step aside and set Jesus free in the hearts of local believers and in your church/chapter? What is your mission as a missionary? Will you follow the example of Paul or of UBF? What do you think about e1 evangelism? Thank you.

  3. Hi, Maria! I also “admire people who loves Jesus and dedicate their lives for his service”. And I heard such an opinion, “What is UBF anyway? It is only a human organization” from many UBF people. But I believe that a person should be responsible for his choice to be in UBF. For me if someone is a member of UBF it means that he/she agrees with shepherd/sheep relationships, marriage arrangements, prayer for 100000 UBF missionaries, church hierarchy, korean confucian leadership and other “strange” things (as Eric Ludy calls them). For me it means that a person mindedly chooses to be in the “human organization” where there are spiritual abuses and there were orders to make abortions, leaders’ adulteries, suicides, divorces, etc. For me it means that you are one of those who has made your choice and decision though you know that thousands christians made their choice before God to leave UBF. For me it means also that you agree with the information on the UBF site and the opinion of UBF leaders as your organization representatives and actually your leaders. Peter wrote, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”. I know that your hope is in Christ. I also consider you my sister in Christ, but I want to ask you: why do you hold on to this “strange” “human organization” called UBF? What do you think of those “who loves Jesus and dedicate their lives for his service” outside UBF? And what is more important, what do you think the Lord considers UBF and your choice for UBF?

  4. Hi Ben, thanks for your article. Outside of UBF, I’ve never met such dogged, determined, persevering, and try-hard people. It certainly can be a great strength, and has great potential to bring glory to God. Surely, the devotion and determined attitude of many has already accomplished many good things.

    I think that you are certainly correct that anyone’s greatest strength can also be (and probably is) their greatest weakness. The same is true for a UBFer’s determination, devotion, doggedness, and do-not-give-up spirit (I know, Ben, that you love alliteration!). Ben, you mention the flip side of doggedness as being unapologetic. I agree with that, but I would add another: being so dogged and determined and focused on a task that they lose focus of the pure worship of God. The primary goal of a Christian and the church is worship. Evangelism, preaching, raising disciples–these are all temporary necessities for this present age that will fade away when our hope is revealed in Jesus’ coming and the eternal kingdom of Christ. I think when a UBFer is so dogged and determined to keep to the task and be a good soldier and fight the good fight, they risk ignoring the higher calling of worshipping God and simply enjoying His freedom and grace in Christ.

  5. Thanks, Josh. I agree. Besides alliteration, I also love contrasts (below). UBF’s doggedness which is unquestionably our great strength often lacks nuance and balance. It’s like an overly aggressive over-pursuing defense getting burned by a counter play in the NFL.

    In UBF our overemphasis on what we must dutifully do as good Christians sometimes clouds the beauty of the gospel of what God has done for us, so that we indeed worship and rest from our souls. Our UBF “religion” sometimes obscures the gospel of grace (Acts 20:24).

    Here’s my recently coined contrast from my sermon yesterday:

    Religion (wrongly understood and poorly communicated) says, “Live like this.” The Gospel says, “You can’t!” Religion says, “Obey.” The Gospel says, “Believe.” Religion says, “Conform.” The Gospel says, “Be transformed.” Religion says, “Work.” The Gospel says, “Rest.” Religion says, “Do.” The Gospel says, “Be.” Religion says, “Change.” The Gospel says, “Respond.” Religion says, “Disgrace.” The Gospel says, “Grace.” Religion is about rules. The Gospel is about Jesus.

  6. Thanks, Vitaly, for sharing your concerns, many of which are quite legitimate. I have shared this before, but here are my reasons for staying in UBF:

    1) God put me here. I did not ultimately choose to be here.

    2) Christ is the head of UBF and I worship Him in this body of Christ.

    3) Some of my children are in UBF. My grand-children will likely also grow up in UBF. I want to work for a better UBF for my own family.

    4) Many of my closest intimate friends are in UBF. They will be affected in some way if I leave. It may be discouraging to some.

    5) I have an audience in UBF who will hear me share what I believe. If I leave, I will perhaps be heard less well. I want to be invested for the future good of UBF, which is the bride of Christ.

    6) Though this is subjective, my conviction and submission and acquiescence and worship is ultimately to God by staying in UBF.

    • Ben, I think it’s a blessing for UBF that you are staying there and I appreciate it, and I believe you have sound reasons for that. Generally I respect people who want to stay in an organization, believing that’s the way they can change something or make an impact, and who not only believe so, but act accordingly, i.e. speak boldly do not compromise. In that regard, I think you’re doing well. I have seen quite a lot who secretly admit all the deficits, but never dare to speak about them publicly, and even criticize those who do so. I think that’s wrong. I would also agree that UBF that there are many good things and ideas in UBF. So there are things which would be worth to preserve, if it would be possible to detach them from the bad things (I’m not sure about that). I also agree that there are many nice people in UBF, and that being together with people from another culture is enriching. I love many of the character traits of Koreans and could learn a lot of them. So that would be other reasons to stay.

      People must decide for themselves whether it makes sense to stay, and also whether or how long they can do so without making companionship with evil or becoming corrupt themselves. As Vitaly says, there is a point where your conscience will not allow you to stick together with corrupt people or organizations any longer and associate with them, and the Bible also says that this is not a good idea (Rom 16:17, 1Cor 5:11, 2Cor 6:14, 2Thess 3:6 etc.). But everybody must decide on his or her own whether that point has been reached or not. A general measure stick and a hallmark of a Christian is whether somebody is open to talk frankly, to admit mistakes and principally willing to repent. In that regard I have little hope for the old time top UBF leaders. I can have more hope for the next generation, but I think they should make a clear cut and not compromise or cover up the past.

      One last remark regarding your point number 1: “God put me there.” For you, this may be clear, but what do you really mean with this? UBFers often talk like “God did this and God this that”. For instance, the official UBF sites wrote last year “God chose Dr. Abraham T. Kim as the new UBF General Director”. How do they always know whether God did this or that? I think UBFers should really abandon such language. Everybody knows that in reality, some behind-the-scenes committee of top UBF leaders (that is not even mentioned in the report) chose Abraham Kim. Why do they know God chose him? Probably the same people who chose Abraham Kim wrote titled their report “God chose Abraham Kim”. How hubristic is that? Of course, you can interpret everything that happens as “God did”. But then, why always mention this? And why only mention this for particular things? If everything that happens is done by God, then the criticism of UBF is also done by UBF. There is another issue with believing “God put me here”, which was also my belief for 10 years. You feel that it’s a miracle that some Korean missionary knocked on your door and invited you, and interpret it as a sign of God. But on the other hand, you know they knock on everybody’s door. It was just a time where you had been particularly susceptible. For “pushy” organizations it’s easy to make people believe that God had led people into their arms. This also continues. When your shepherd or director gives you “orientation” or “direction” you again interpret it as God is doing this, and are expected to write “God told me to…” or “God showed me to…” in your sogam. Really? People should grow up and make their own decisions about their own lives, based on their own conscience and let the Holy Spirit talk to them directly. It would be better if people said “I feel like God put me there” instead of just “God put me there.” But even then, you may just as well feel that God will put you out there again.

    • Phil 2 Five

      Chris, I do agree that the phrase “God did this, did that, said this, said that, …” should not be used presumptuously! God himself said in Isaiah 55:8-9 that His thoughts and ways are NOT our thoughts and our ways. I also do believe that God does reveal and reaffirm where we are called to serve and how we are to serve Him. Like you have said Chris, we should NEVER presumptuously claim that something is God’s will. I agree that we should say I ‘believe’ or ‘feel’ or ‘think’ that God has put me here and wants me to do this…Again, I do believe firmly that God does, through His words and Holy Spirit and circumstances, affirm the path that we are on. And if the path that we are on turns out to be the wrong path, God will intervene, show us the right path, and guide us as we walk that path.

    • Phil2Five, I also believe that God will intervene and show you the right path and guide you… as long as you stay open and listen to Him, contrary to becoming more and more obsessed with your own fixed ideas of how your path should look like. I fear the latter happened with some of the top UBF leaders. God already intervened so many times in UBF, but they just didn’t care and didn’t listen. Neither to God not to their fellow Christians. You must keep sensitive towards God and other people and be able to repent every day. The doggedness of Koreans of going their own way is sometimes good and admirable, but sometimes its also disastrous.

    • Phil 2 Five

      You have a point there Chris!

  7. Darren Gruett

    Good article, Ben. I appreciate your balanced approach to this subject. Even as a leader in UBF myself, I find it very easy to criticize and complain about the things that are not right in UBF, while failing to acknowledge all that is good in it. Thanks for bringing some light to this.

    • Thanks, Darren. UBF has several other wonderful strengths, such as generosity, hospitality, a spirit of sacrifice, that are lovely Christ-like attributes, which I am personally quite deficient in!

    • Darren, I find it high-time for UBF leaders to come clean, both publicly and internally. Until they do, we have no right to talk about any strengths. Any such “good things” done by UBF are overshadowed by a dark cloud of abuse which has been brewing for decades.

  8. Ben mentioned: “perseverance, endurance, faithfulness, doggedness, loyalty and commitment to Christ and to UBF” as strengths.

    As I look back on my 24 years of UBF life and experience more and more of orthodox Christianity, I would strongly contend that your list is a list of han-syndrome shortcomings.

    I would contend that most UBF members are not committed to Christ but are committed to UBF heritage and to specific people in UBF. The UBF machine doggedly rolls on, connecting to other Korean/Asian groups and presenting a better and better public face, all the while ignoring the pain of hearts, minds and lives shredded by their teachings. Such doggedness is a horrible sin, not a strength.

    • Brian, I feel deep pain when I consider some of the situations you and others have been through. For my part, I remember Jesus who said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” The question for me is, do they know what they are doing? Then if not, how does the church need to educate and equip old/new leaders to carry out ministry in a way that earns God’s approval? In most cases (though not all) I believe the greater part of believers in UBF I know personally are dedicated to Christ and carrying the cross of reconciliation/restoration at this time. I recently spoke at a meeting at the national level about how critical it is to carry out the ministry of the word with God’s view, to help others grow, and how damaging it can be otherwise. I asked the Lord if he really wanted them to hear it, and I think that’s why he led me there, for that reason. God give you peace, ~M

    • Thanks Matt, and btw welcome to ubfriends. I do have peace, and in my opinion you are asking all the right questions.

    • MattC:

      In case you or anyone else is interested, this song has lyrics that describe very well what I went through as I left UBF. I had built a glass cathedral with others in Toledo UBF, and it crashed to the ground:

      Glass Houses

  9. Yes, Brian, as you and others have experienced, doggedness, if not nuanced, balanced and semper reformanda (always reforming), will, can and does lead to “horrible sin.”

  10. Thanks, Chris, I agree with you about simply saying “God did this,” or “God did that.” It can certainly be used as justification for being doggedly stubborn, inflexible and hubristic!

    In my case, no UBF person “fished me.” God was working in my heart, and in 1980 I personally approached a Korean Christian at my hospital who happened to be a UBF missionary. In my case, clearly God led me to approach this man, who taught me the Bible and brought me to UBF. While preparing to study the Bible with him, I became a Christian in 2 weeks at age 25. I have little doubt or question that it was God’s guidance and leading that led me to this man, to Bible study, and to UBF.

  11. Ben, I had a similar experience as the man in your post. When I brought my problems to the Lord with a decision to do his will no matter what, he filled me with greater and greater love and understanding. I was born again through UBF’s ministry of Bible teaching, and this “doggedness” is such a blessing, though, as you say, being “dogged” in sinning can result. What matters in anyone’s life, whatever church we are in, is coming back to our decision to obey the Lord in whatever way he might ask us. Then he builds up his work.

  12. Just for the record, yes I do believe there is something good about “doggedness”. The problem comes when “doggedness” degrades into “dead-dog training” like it has far too often in UBF.

  13. Thanks, Matt, Brian. Yeah, any “positive” virtue, without nuance and balance, WILL have a negative counterpart, which may be even worse.

    For instance, if we teach from the Bible that “immorality is bad,” without proper nuance and biblical balance and gospel focus, we will inadvertently communicate that “morality is good,” or that morality is better than immorality. But is this really true??? Are the nice looking moral Pharisees “better” than the disgustingly immoral prostitutes?

    Similarly, being faithful, committed and unwaveringly doggeded could be good. But without nuance and balance, it can just as easily communicate pride, stubbornness, sanctimony, and self-righteousness.

  14. Maria Peace
    Maria Peace

    No Korean person invited me to UBF as well. My brother came to UBF and no one invited him also. He saw Christy T. reading the Bible at the UIC cafeteria and my brother approached her and asked if she was a Christian. They began Bible study and later he began to study the Bible with me and introduced me to Christy and Ben. It was truly God’s leading through the Holy Spirit. At that time I was a depressed 17 year old girl. But I remember every Bible study I had with Christy brought joy and peace in my heart. I felt God talking to me through Bible study. It was in the spring of 1982 that I began Genesis Bible study. I couldn’t get enough of the Bible. After 3 lessons I also began to teach Genesis to my friends in High School. And in that summer I read the whole Bible in three months.

  15. Maria Peace
    Maria Peace

    Dear Vitaly,

    I’m sorry I didn’t respond earlier to your questions that you posted to me. Many things occupied my time and also I had internet problems at home.
    You asked, “When are you going “to give the local leaders lead”? I mean, are you going to follow the UBF standard and “bury your bones in your mission field”? Or you have in mind that once you will step aside and set Jesus free in the hearts of local believers and in your church/chapter?”

    When John and I became missionaries in Ukraine, I wanted to change our citizen ships permanently and live in our mission field but M.Sarah Barry told us not to do so because we don’t know God’s will in this matter for the future. She also wanted to bury her bones in Korea but God lead her back to the States. She said when she went to Korea as a missionary she gave the leadership to the natives and left. Also Vitaly my brother went as a missionary to the Philippines and began Philippine UBF. Then he left and let the native leader have leadership and the result now is amazing as Dr. Ben reports many times. Personally I will be happy and contented if a native leader will take over our ministry. John and I have poor health and the climate here is not good for us to live. John had TB as a child and he is often sick in the winter. Once he was hospitalized for 2 weeks for pneumonia. We are just bearing to live here until God raises a leader to take over our ministry. We are following the leading of the Holy Spirit. He will let us know in his time when he wants us to go.

    Your other questions, “why do you hold on to this “strange” “human organization” called UBF? What do you think of those “who loves Jesus and dedicate their lives for his service” outside UBF? And what is more important, what do you think the Lord considers UBF and your choice for UBF?”

    Vitaly as I said many times I met God through this ministry. You mentions that this organization makes people do many strange and crazy things. Each person has a choice to do what is right before God. If my UBF leader tells me to have an abortion I’ll tell them no way. While working with Samuel C. Lee, he asked me to do things that I didn’t agree with and I told him it was not right and I’m not going to do it. Later he realized I was right. These happened several times. If your UBF leader tells you to do something which you believe is not right before God. You have a choice. Don’t do it.

    My brother left UBF and Philippines UBF after pioneering it. I respect my brother a lot. God used him. I have many Christian friends from other ministries. I love them and respect them tremendously. Now our ministry is working with Parish Nurshing in Ukraine. It is headed by an Orthodox priest, whom I highly respect. In my former response I said that God led me to this ministry. Before this ministry I was a Catholic and later a Charismatic. I’ve studied Bible with the Baptist ministry and even Seventh day Adventist. I’ved attended, church services in a Reform church and Assembly of God. But my heart and home is in UBF.