What I Feel Right Now

A few days ago, Wesley posted this comment which was addressed to Brian.


I apologize I haven’t read all your postings here. Help me out. What do you feel toward those who have hurt you?

AloneWesley, this is such a good question. Brian has given you his response. I want to respond as well and explain to you how I feel. My answer has gotten too long to comfortably fit in the comment section, so I have decided to post it as an article.

Some people who come to this website perceive a lot of “bitterness.” They assume that this “bitterness” is unhealthy and dangerous and lies at the root of the broken relationships between our members and former members. They see the “bitterness” as our moral failure.

I don’t accept that point of view. I have thought long and hard about this. I have searched the Bible for answers. I have prayed and cried out to God. I have studied theology, missiology and cross-cultural understanding. I have searched my heart and delved into my own darkness. I have gone to Christian therapy to see my way through the emotions of the past few years, emotions that may appear to be surfacing now but have been with me for a very long time. And I am now convinced that this “bitterness”  is not our moral failure.

StrangeVirtuesOne book that has helped me to make sense of this is Strange Virtues: Ethics in a Multicultural World by Bernard Adeney. This was one of the recommended readings prior to the February 2010 North American UBF staff conference. We never discussed the book. I suspect that very few of our missionaries read it. But I have read the book very carefully and have returned to it many times since then.

I read this book from an unusual perspective: not as a Western missionary, but as a recipient of efforts by missionaries from the East. I find that I do not identify with the missionary, the stranger who enters the foreign mission field. I identify with the natives.

Let me explain.

Adeney was born in Shaghai, China and raised in a missionary family. He has lifelong calling  has been to study, from Asian and American perspectives, the difficulties and misunderstandings that arise in cross-cultural missionary activity. The historic failures of Western missionaries have brought deep clarity and insight to Adeney and other scholars of mission. This hard-won insight is that the goal of the missionary, a stranger in a foreign land, is above all to build friendships of mutual trust and long-term commitment in which the gospel brings new life to both parties.

Adeney writes (p. 29):

When we enter another culture, whether across town or across the ocean, we enter as strangers… Even after many years of  living in another culture we remain as strangers.

The first role of the stranger is not to teach, give and to serve. It is to learn, to receive, and to be served by the host. Only when these first tasks are mastered to the host’s satisfaction does the stranger earn the privilege of being allowed to criticize and exert influence over the host’s culture.

Missionary work is not the act of one person giving the gospel to another. Missonary work happens as a mutual  cross-cultural relationship develops where the rules of hospitality between stranger and host are not violated. Over time, new understanding of the gospel emerges and transforms all parties.

Adeney calls this process incorporation. Incorporation is a level of unity in which the stranger and the host never change roles, but operate in mutual edification. He writes  (p. 136):

An ideal goal… is incorporation.  A stranger is incorporated when she or he is fully accepted and integrated into the culture. Both sides have made a long-term commitment to the other which will not be terminated even if the stranger leaves. When you are incorporated, you have internalized the culture to the extent that it has become part of you. Incorporation does not occur at the initiative of the stranger. It is an act of the host to make the stranger a real part of the family.  The closest analogy may be adoption. But it is also like marriage in that both parties make a commitment to each other.

Adney also warns that the stranger must always remember that it is the natives who must adopt him into their family, not the other way around.. In the passage below, Adeney refers to Anthony Gittens, another favorite author of mine (p. 136):

As in adoption, a person who has been welcomed into a new family does not ever become structurally equal with his new “parents.”  The new culture may become family, but it will also remain your host, at least for a very long time. As an incorporated foreigner, you remain a quest, structurally subordinate to your hosts. Gittens  suggests that if strangers are unwilling to accept this and how it in their attitudes, they are unlikely to be incorporated into the culture.

And then Adney includes this quote from Gittens (p. 136):

Acceptance by the host is no carte blanch for the stranger to forget the precedence due to the other….If the stranger wishes to remain “free” and not be beholden to the host, then incorporation is not desirable; but where incorporation does take place, then noblesse oblige [requires] the guest to defer to the host and be loyal rather than critical…  If we sense that we are incorporated into a group, do we thereby acknowledge our responsibility to support and be loyal to our hosts?  Or do we retain the “right” to criticize and judge others, thus effectively making it undesirable for us to seek incorporation?  And what of our hosts; do we appreciate the relative slowness in accepting us fully?  Do we understand how seriously they take the duties of hospitality?   Can we accept that they remain superordinate, since we are on their turf and not our own?  And do we nevertheless aspire to learning how to be appropriate strangers, or do we with to repudiate the conventions and seize intitiative and control?”

The stranger must always tread carefully, never forgetting that he is the stranger (p. 132):

Gittens asks “Do we show adequate and genuine  deference to our hosts?  Do we willingly acknowledge their authority in the situation, and their rights and duties as hosts?  Do we allow ourselves to be adequately positioned as strangers , according to the legitimate needs of the hosts?   Or do we try to seize initiatives, show them clearly what our expectations are, make demands on them, and  thus  effectively refuse the role of stranger, thereby impeding them  from being adequate hosts?”

Adeney believes that this strangeness, when properly embraced and understood, is a gift. This gift will be missed, however, if the missionaries refuse to submit to their hosts and continually turn to one another for validation and insight. The result of this can only be a reinforcement of cultural bias that will sabotage the whole enterprise. If the missionary doesn’t fully embrace the role of a stranger, it will reap profound, unintended, negative consequences. The missionary must guard the autonomy and uniqueness of the host and give him precedence. If he does, miracles happen (p. 141):

This may be one of the highest aims for which we were created.  Each person, and each culture, has a unique secret.  Each is capable of knowing something of God which no one else knows.  In the meeting of strangers we have the opportunity to share that treasure with each other.

For years, I tried to become part of the UBF family, but have never really succeeded. I have always felt like the stranger trying to learn and adapt to a foreign family. I have rarely, if ever, been allowed to serve as the host. For years, I thought that my inability to fit in was a personal failure I needed to own. But now I am realizing that this has been the failure of the entire UBF paradigm from the start.

In fact, I am now convinced that it was really not necessary for me to be made part of this family at all.  Rather, it was the missionaries who should have become part of my family. 

Without a doubt, we Westerners in UBF have been blessed by the “strangeness” of our Korean missionaries. I don’t deny this and I remain thankful for their efforts to serve. But there is something going on in me and in many others that makes it impossible for us to be content and silent right now. We feel compelled, Wesley, to express other emotions which under the present circumstances are appropriate and valid.

As a young and troubled college student, I didn’t know any of this. I had problems in my birth family which made me vulnerable to the influence of others. However, as time went on and as I matured, I have come to love and respect my parents and siblings. I have seen their genuine faith and soul searching. I now deeply regret that I had unnecessarily cut my relationship with my Christian family for so many years, because I was expected to put my UBF “family” first.

I have also struggled with my identity. The chaos of American culture in the past few decades had affected me deeply. Rather than learning to navigate the tidal waves of change, I was encouraged to remove myself and adopt a new and strange identity in UBF. The influence and pressure was profound and affected every area of my life: my hairstyle, my clothing, how I married, how I raised my children, and so on.

I tried to suppress my true identity as an American. But that identity was real and it resurfaced. Jesus wants me to be authentic.

How does it feel now to realize all of this?

Well, it is very painful. At times, I feel angry for having unnecessarily given up so much of myself. But I also feel liberated and more alive in Christ than ever.

For so many years, I was told to be “mission-centered” and to not get involved in “civilian affairs.” Those civilian affairs were broadly and unwisely defined as almost any activity outside of UBF. As a result, I lived as an alien and stranger in my own Christian community. I had no time for my neighbors unless they wanted Bible study.  My UBF “family” was extremely demanding of my time and energy and  it is because of them that I became unnecessarily isolated.

Now that I am realizing all that I have missed, how do you think I feel?

As I began to mature and recover my own identity, I experienced the life-giving work of Jesus in my heart, and I felt compelled to share it with others. My husband and I were allowed the chance to organize several UBF conferences and to explore our new understanding of gospel and mission. But our identity, our American strangeness, was not welcomed by the UBF “family.” In fact, we were removed from positions of influence and leadership. Our friendships were damaged through gossip and rude behavior, by manipulation and control (often in the name of “spiritual authority”). As we tried to speak of truthful things, we have been met almost entirely with silence, platitudes, warnings, and rebukes. Efforts at real conversation have been extremely limited and unsatisfactory.

So how do I feel about this?  I think you can guess.

Rules of intercultural hospitality cannot be broken without consequence. The host cannot be disrespected from the start without consequence. When people are pushed down for too long, they will eventually rebel and assert themselves.

I know that I have failed to express myself with the utmost kind of respect that would please the power structures of our Korean-led ministry. I have also broken some rules of hospitality. But I cannot take full responsibility for the state we are in.

I believe the onus is now on the real stranger, the missionary, to admit failure, to lay down control,  and restore the relationship.

Perhaps there are other Americans whose stories are different. But I know that there are many whose stories are similar to mine. After many years trying unsuccessfully to fit into this UBF “family,” they are now moving on. They will understand what I mean when I say that I have not been given the respect that a host deserves. They will know the intensity of the emotions of disillusionment and bitterness which must no longer be suppressed but addressed with painful openness and honesty. They will know the strength of my feelings when the guests in our midst still can’t acknowledge and address our experience and our desire to be heard.

Some of us won’t stop speaking about these issues because of an undying hope that a miracle of grace may yet occur. But the miracle won’t happen without real dialogue which will be very uncomfortable, messy and  intentional.


  1. Joe Schafer


  2. Wow. Ditto the “excellent”.

    If there was ever a way to sum up the past 2 years for me, this is it:

    “In fact, I am now convinced that it was really not necessary for me to be made part of this family at all. Rather, it was the missionaries who should have become part of my family.”

  3. Thank you very much, Sharon. I am not an American, but the ubf missionaries are the same strangers to me they are to you. Yes, this is a thing I wanted to say also: the missionries don’t understand that they are strangers and not the hosts here, in Russia. This is my land. For so many years I protected them and covered them in many ways. But they think they were in control. They think we are unthankful, but unthankfulness and pride are their qualities. I also tried to become a part of their “family”. But now I understand that I don’t need this “family” and have never needed it. Now I see that it is not a family at all but just a typical cult with too many problems. I don’t quite understand why seek a dialogue with these strangers. They don’t want it, I don’t need it. And I don’t want it. I want them to leave Russia and hope that no Russian would come to know what ubf cult is. During my summer vacation I want to go hiking to the North of Urals where Russian Indians live. And yes I have a big desire to learn from them many thing how they live and survive in wild north nature. (And I hope to share the gospel with them.) They are the hosts there and very wise hosts. I am going to be a guest, and maybe a short-term missionary ))

  4. formershep

    Wow. Thanks for honestly sharing your real feelings and struggle. You synthesized what I have been wanting to share on this blog for a long time:

    “I have also struggled with my identity. The chaos of American culture in the past few decades had affected me deeply. Rather than learning to navigate the tidal waves of change, I was encouraged to remove myself and adopt a new and strange identity in UBF. The influence and pressure was profound and affected every area of my life: my hairstyle, my clothing, how I married, how I raised my children, and so on.

    I tried to suppress my true identity as an American. But that identity was real and it resurfaced. Jesus wants me to be authentic.

    How does it feel now to realize all of this?

    Well, it is very painful. At times, I feel angry for having unnecessarily given up so much of myself. But I also feel liberated and more alive in Christ than ever.”

    When I joined UBF I was just 18 and hadn’t yet formed my adult identity. In UBF I lost my true identity. I too conformed to short hair styles, no make-up, fashionable clothing, etc, etc. I didn’t have any time to explore my own interests. This may sound superficial to come reading, but it’s not! We are human beings living in this world that God created. He created us to live a full life: spiritually and humanly by enjoying the world and the talents and interests he has given us.
    But in UBF your identity comes from the group and your “mission.” And when I left, I felt like I had nothing left. I was also told that basically there is nothing for me outside of UBF, so I should just stay. But this idea that you are what you do: ie, the mission you do makes your life meaningful and makes you special in some way is a lie. That’s why some people in UBF will fight to the death defending themselves and their “mission” because they have believe that lie that the “mission” is everything. And if they deny part of the mission or admit a failure, then there will be nothing left for them. That is truly sad and only an honest heart and conscious can admit that.

    While in UBF, though there were many good times, I can say I was not living my life to the full as God intends for it. Now, though I too am getting professional Christian therapy for depression, I am living more fully now. Because I am being true to myself, to those around me and to my Lord. I feel like a young child exploring the world with my Daddy looking on. And I feel very spiritually safe in that place.

    • Thank you formershep. Your courage has also been a blessing to me.

  5. Thanks formershep for you comments. It is refreshing to know that we are made in the image of God, not in the image of a ministry. God ultimately is the One who roots our lives and gives us meaning and purpose, who forms our identities and empowers each one of us to reveal His glory in the special way that only you can.

  6. David Bychkov

    Thanks Sharon and all.
    yeah, when a young and disappointed person meets the dream-group like ubf with all its cool “absolute”, “great”, “mission”, “vision” slogans all kind of things can happen. he/she can enthusiastically join the group b/c he is young and dreaming and diappointed himself and just give the control to the group, letting it become his family, forming his identity etc. And yes, the great disappointement can come once, b/c those ideas are as enthusiastic as rough and unballanced.
    but would he or she enter the group if it would not be so “great”, “mission-centered” and “absolute”? Don’t this ideas just fall into his heart as into the good ground, which is really looking for this very great ideas?
    My point is that UBF does really suggest the way of faith and life which can be anything but wormless, it seems to be very real and genious, wholehearted. If UBF will give up this “spirit” would it be still attractive to people who do really want to change the world? OK. Qustion which came to my head is this. can UBF or any other organisetion still suggest to a “recruit” (very sorry for these word) the way to love and serve God wholeheartedly, so he would really feel like fullfilling Lord’s strong words (e.g. Matthew 10:37-39) without those bitterness and disillusionment at the end?

    • This is such a good question and I know I can’t do it justice right now. Let me just say that you are bringing to mind C S Lewis Screwtape Letters, Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, and Anthony Gittens, Eugene Peterson, and countless others who warn against subsituting human zeal, vision for the actual presence of the Trinity, and who warn against using “God talk” and Scripture to guilt people into submission and obedience that does not come from faith. It may be normal to make all these mistakes. It is tragic to not allow God to correct us.

    • The “Spirit” that will really attract must be God’s own Spirit, don’t you think?

    • “The “Spirit” that will really attract must be God’s own Spirit, don’t you think?”

      I think so. We should not be so foolish to belive we somehow could “create” that Spirit on our own. Jesus said about the Spirit: “The wind blows wherever it pleases.” If we try to create a spirit on our own, it will be a fake spirit that can do more harm than good.

  7. Thanks a lot, Sharon, for writing these thoughts and feeligns down. The words “disillusionment” and “disappointment” are also my main feelings concerning my time in UBF. I believed to be part of a “spiritual family” of “kindred spirits”, people who had the same wish to live according to the truth without compromize, to do good, to love each other, to love the people outside etc. Until I found most of my “combatants”, particularly my leaders, had a very different spirit, a very different understanding of what is good, what is ethical, what is just etc. We shared testimonies, listened to sermons, had 1:1 sessions for years and years, yet I was unable to see how really different their mindset was. Obviously all these sogam sharing and 1:1 sessions were so superficial, we never really in the very deepest sense spoke with each other as persons, as human beings, as brothers in Christ, we only spoke with each other as “sheep to shepherds” or rather “disciples to masters”. It is the whole UBF system that tought us this in-humane way of talking with each other, always creating unnatural settings whenever we talked. There was a stage, a microphone with speakers, a “presider”, or a teacher:student setting, weating suit&tie, using formal titles like “shepherd X” or “missionary Y”, all these things that prevented us from seeing each other us brothers on the same level and talk freely and frankly with each other.

    One point I never fail to point out, though, is that this whole problem of UBF is much deeper and more fundamental than a problem of bad missiology or intercultural problems. The 1976 letter shows that these same problems happened inside Korea, among people of the same culture. The problem of Koreans pushing their culture and mindset on others comes on top of that, what has been written by these people, but what the grievances they observed and reported were already worse enough. That’s why I think the 1976 letter is such an important document for us today, even though it seems so long ago. Every UBF member should read it and imagine how these people must have felt at the time.

  8. Love, love, love, love this. I guess I can be choleric and polemic even with love, and not just critique.

    Just thinking how my former self with my tradinionalist mind set would have responded: “Don’t trust your feelings! Don’t live by your feelings! Live by faith! Deny yourself and your feelings! Write a repentant testimony and share it at tonight’s meeting! Take up your cross of mission and go fishing! Otherwise God will never bless you.”

    Either you cringe reading the above. Or you take a deep sigh and say, “Thank God.”

    • For those who are cringing…”But if dialogue really takes place he will soon be surprised to find that you are stranger than you seem. And the shock in his eyes may be God’s gift, through you, to him…..when such opening of the heart occurs between people from radically different cultures, it is a miracle of grace.” (Adeney, pg 140)

    • Thanks Sharon, And it seems like a good time to remind everyone here of part of our purpose statement for this blog:

      “As the gospel welcomes people of every tribe and tongue and nation, it also challenges us to stretch ourselves beyond what is comfortable. The degree to which we imitate Christ is not measured by how much we love those who are similar to us, but by how much we embrace those who are different.”

      At the root of how and when we “cringe” is our idea of the gospel. Deepening and strengthening that understanding of the gospel via dialogue (however cringe-worthy it may be) is the way forward.

  9. Adeney writes, “As an incorporated foreigner (missionary), you remain a guest, structurally subordinate to your hosts.” Some questions:

    * Do UBF missionaries–who have expected natives/indigenous people to be subordinate to them even after decades–even know how to “be subordinate to their hosts”?

    * Are they willing to change their roles?

    * Give up their positions of control and authority?

    * Truly allow indigenous leaders to lead?

    * Take a back seat?

    * Wait to be invited and instructed, rather than calling the shots?

    * Give up their secret meetings with a few “certain people” to make decisions for the majority of indigenous people in UBF who have little to no say.

    * The question may not just be “are they willing” but “can they”?

    * Will they even care to look at these questions and answer them?

  10. Good questions. I remember that our chapter director once ordered a young student to teach the new Korean missionaries some background in German culture, language and etiquette. That young student really accepted this task and prepared lessons very well and tried to explain everything she knew. (She was later married off to the US, so some of you may know her and ask her about that.) She said that Koreans attended her lessons and seemed to listen, but she had the feeling that they hated her for teaching them, that they did not appretiate at all getting these lectures and only attended because they were told to so by the chapter director. It cannot be said that they were either eager to listen to what a native has to say nor eager to really dive deeply into the culture of their mission field. But I think that would be the first qualification a new missionary needs to have.

    Concerning the sometimes strong shocking remarks from Vitaliy on the behavior of Koreans towards Russians, I also want to mention that my Korean chapter director told me that Koreans actually hate Russians because they believe that the Soviet union was responsible for the Korean war and the division, so in his view it was like a miracle of God that they went to Russia at all (btw, I’m not sure how they think about China, we would need to ask a Korean). So, maybe, on the one side Korean missionaries tried to love the Russians with a shepherd heart, but on the other side, subconsciously, they still hated them and tried to take revenge by domineering over them. And, maybe, a similar thing happened with natives in Western countries. Many Koreans admired the rich and industrialized Western nations, and got a kind of inferiority complex. So this may explain why they again subconciously tried to domineer over these people as well, to comensate that inferiority complex. Anyway, for one reason or the other, there was this attitude of UBF missionaries towards native people from a position of pride, authority and “we teach you”. Superficially and initially it looked like “serving” the young students and showering them with love, but the goal was to make them thankful and dependent and thereby have an even stronger grip on them in the long run and completely subdue them in the end. Natives who could not be subjugated that way were blamed and shamed and were finally expelled or called unspiritual hedonists who “ran away” when they could not stand it any longer.

    • I know for sure that Koreans hate Japanese because once in history Korea was under the Japan authority. The ubf missionaries often said how “bad” Japanese are. I read two books on Korean history, one is about North Korea history, the other is about South Korea history. It was a surprise for me to know that Koreans have a national slogan: “We, Koreans are the best in the world!”. They have right to shout this slogan in Korea, it is OK. But they should try to understand what other people think about them, especially when they come to other nations to live. e.g. in Russia there are many jokes about Koreans. And if a Russian hears the word “Korean” he at once associates it with the word “dog-eater”. Koreans are famous in Russia only for eating dogs, nothing else. So if a Korean would say in Russia that he is the best it would sound very strange and funny for Russians. I was in Korea and visited a national village museum and a king palace. For me it looked very strange especially because Russian people historically were always at war and the village and the palace looked not prepared for a war at all. So I easily understood why Korea lost at wars so much. Watching the museums I couldn’t agree that Koreans are the best, Russians seem much better and wiser for me in many things. Russian cossacks explored the land and went as far as Kamchatka and Alaska! It is not accidentally that Russia is the biggest country. And in some things Russians were better than Americans: Americans killed many natives, the Indians, but Russians didn’t killed anyone and the Indians of Russia peacefully live under the protection of Russians for centures. Also historically many people from Israel live in Russia and in Ukraine. But you know I personally respect them very much. Though they are strangers they are not actuallly strangers for Russians. They are fully Russians. They didn’t insist on their culture but assimilated and became like Russians. They didn’t try to subordinate the Russian culture. There are many scientists and musicians and writers among them. I can say that some of them have become the best representatives of the Russian culture! And I like reading books and textbooks written by hebrew authors. May be this is a way to become a good missionary.

    • Vitaly, you forgot Viktor Tsoi when you said there were no famous Koreans in Soviet Russia.

    • Yes, Viktor Tsoi was very famous. But I came to know he was a Korean after his death only. In Soviet times our country was bigger and there were many people from Asia. They all looked the same to me. Thanks to ubf I learnt to see the difference in people’s appearance. Viktor was the so called “Russian Korean”. He was born in Russia and looked as a typical Soviet man)) (may be you watched a Soviet movie where two Japanese and two Soviet people from Azerbadzhan and Georgia met, and the Japanese say, “All the Russians look the same”))btw there were many Soviet Koreans in Russia and especially in Kazakhstan. Many of them were sent to participate in the Korean war. I watched a documentary about the KGB agent who created Kim Il Sung out of an army officer from Khabarovsk and the North Korea political system. (Kim Chung Il was born in Russia in Khabarovsk, he is also famous but outside Russia)) They say that the third Kim studied in Moscow secretly. We have a borderline with Korea (14 km) and every week a train goes from Moskow to Pyongyang (it takes more than a week to get from Moscow to Pyongyang). And every Russian can have a tour to North Korea for 10 days (the cost is about 1500$) And the tour is called “The nation of people’s happiness”. I thought the tour can remind to Russians the Soviet times, but now I think that it can remind ubf time for former ubfer))

  11. “What do you feel toward those who have hurt you?”

    Here is another answer, given by a Korean woman who had been sent to Germany as a UBF missionary in the 1980s, in a letter published in an article about UBF by the commissioner for cults of the Protestant church:

    “I had to spend the last days full of fear and scared, after R. and L., both belonging to the UBF, suddenly visited me and repeatedly harassed and threatened on the phone. I have therefore decided to write down my request so that you can help me if anything happens to me by the UBF. I ask you for help, e.g. to inform my family and the police, if that will happen! I hereby express definitely that it is my absolutely determined decision to neither come back to UBF – for instance no participation any more at the Bible course or conversation – nor allow any search for contact with me, particularly if I am alone. My only desire is to get away from the UBF definitely and thus to be able to be free completely. I have nothing else left than fear of the UBF which has held me and wants to hold me against my will; once I have been locked in in my room because I wanted to dissociate myself from the UBF. After that I even was displaced and held from my Dortmund dormitory to Cologne till I could escape in the night. That is another reason why I still fear, that the UBF people could come again and kidnap me … I wasn’t a victim of a direct physical use of violence or financial exploitation, however, that spiritual violence was for me more terrible than physical. The know-all attitude and arrogance of UBF, believing that only they have the right faith and others should repent and accept the faith of UBF, was nothing else but ‘religious violence’ for me. I have just suffered from this unbearable ‘religious violence’.”

    Please note again that this first record of spiritual abuse of UBF in Germany was not written by a native, but by a Korean missionary! Her use of the word “religious violence” is remarkable. She is talking about the same thing that later was called “spiritual abuse” in a famous book by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen. In my view, UBF, as established by Samuel Lee, was a spiritually abusive system in its very core. The problems of bad understanding of “mission” and dealing with native people comes only on top of that. Those who romanticize the early days of UBF as the “golden days” to which we need to “go back” do not really know the history of UBF.

  12. This is terribly horribly disturbing, yet unfortunately not surprising based on two facts:

    1) the testimony of so many others from virtually every continent where UBF has gone to, and perhaps

    2) one’s own personal life experience in UBF, which may not be as “extreme,” but nonetheless is in a similar vein of basically being “domineered over.”

    Otherwise, what usually follows is marginalization, gossips, slander, shame, and various sorts of punishments, discipline, threats, warnings or in this Korean missionary’s case “religious violence.”

    Are such things still happening????

    • “Are such things still happening?”

      Yes. Spiritual abuse and religious violence are still happening, and as someone said, around the ubf world. Are people being locked in rooms? No, I doubt it. But the fear is still there, and the same “hotel California” issue exists as expressed by the Korean woman in Chris’ quote above.

      What other words besides religious violence could explain over half of a chapters’ leaders leaving in a 6 month period? I have voicemail and over 200 MB of documents which capture the religious violence that occurred around 2011 in America.

  13. Sharon,

    Thank you for this article. I agree with Adeney. I love his point that every culture brings in a new perspective of God. “Each (culture) is capable of knowing something of God which no one else knows.”

    I think being a missionary is like other occupations in the sense that there a very few good ones. I have had many teachers some good/mediocre, but only a few very good ones. I’ve also had background similar to Adeney’s because I also grew up as a missionary kid, 6 years in Ukraine and 4 years in Turkey. I’ve seen many different kinds of missionaries a few who understand Adeney’s concept of being a “stranger in a host culture” and unfortunately many who don’t.

    A problem I sense is a lack of s o u n d training, a lack of concrete vision, a lack of definition of what a missionary is. There is desire, fire, sacrifice, but no wisdom, discretion and this causes more damage than good. I’ve seen so many ubfism’s that only make sense to ubfers. I’ve gone with the ubf flow and hurt others even when it was against what I truly thought and I’m sorry.

    The interesting thing, however, is that there is always CME (continuous missionary education) and workshops and conferences and no lack of meetings. But what type of training is it? When I compare UBF to other international mission boards of fellow missionaries it’s completely different. I think it’s because UBF is relatively young. I also sometimes see a lack of professionalism in UBF, which I don’t think is right before God, but is a natural consequence if you are overworked preparing all the messages and daily breads and 20 one-to ones. Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.”

    • Joe Schafer

      MJ, I think it’s fair to say that the CME that goes on isn’t training in new understanding or giving new skills or examining paradigms. It’s reinforcement of UBF missionary identity and encouragement to keep going and not give up. But I think you knew that.

    • “I think it’s because UBF is relatively young.”

      MJ, what do you mean with this? UBF is already older than I am, and I have already a gray beard.

      My explanation for the things you observed is that because of its inherent pride, UBF was always unwilling to learn from other ministries and books. Instead it only stewed in its own grease, which consists mainly of the deficient teachings and practices of its founder. The only Korean UBF leaders I saw learning from outside sources and teachers were the reform UBF leaders in Germany. It was the first thing they did because they knew very well that the UBF theology and missiology was deficient and they needed to learn a lot more and relearn much of what they believed to know. The rest of the UBF leaders continued as before and summoned and rehashed the “spiritual heritage” of Samuel Lee instead.

  14. Sharon,

    Thank you so much for sharing your article. You have articulated and expressed so well the emotion and feelings that many of us are feeling.

    “Perhaps there are other Americans whose stories are different. But I know that there are many whose stories are similar to mine. After many years trying unsuccessfully to fit into this UBF “family,” they are now moving on.”

    After many of the American families left Toledo, It became more obvious how isolated and lonely I had become. I realized with much regret, how isolated and lonely we all were. After so many years of being together and attending so many meetings, I still felt and feel like a stranger in this UBF ministry. When I speak up, I experience the cold shoulder, or the nonverbal disapproval. I am told that my faith needs to be more simple.( I take this as , just keep moving forward and stop talking about the issues). When I reach out to try to make friends, I realize more and more that I just don’t fit, and I feel like an outcast. When I look around me, I wonder, is it me? There seems to be an impermeable glass wall that does not allow me in.

    • Hi Martha, I’m glad to see you join the conversation! Yet it is disappointing to hear that you are still going through such turmoil. I would have hoped that by now real progress would have been made so that a good, faithful leader such as yourself did not have to deal with the “impermeable glass wall”. Yes that wall is real. That wall is what I’ve been talking about. It is not impermeable however. It can be smashed. Crashing that glass wall was the only option I could see for myself.

      I endured such pain as you described for over 20 years. I painfully watched as 13 families in Toledo just disappeared after a time of trial and trauma. And that was before the 7 families left Toledo in 2011/2012.

      And that pain is why my longstanding offer to visit Toledo remains open. I so long to meet everyone and discuss many things and share the things that have been happening to our family.

      The pattern of shunning that usually happens (which I watched 13 times) is after a certain point of raising matters of conscience, there is one last “good bye” meeting. The point is either get on board with ubf heritage or go away in silence. I was hoping that pattern was over, but apparently it is not.

      I was offered that last meeting several times in 2011. I was offered to do the following:

      – Meet in another city to “resolve matters? (Why couldn’t someone visit me? I rejected this meeting.)

      – Meet individually to “resolve matters” (Why could my wife and I not meet together? I really rejected this meeting.)

      – Meet with only a couple people and only discuss a limited number of issues (Why couldn’t many people listen in and know what was going on? Why couldn’t we just have an unscripted dialogue? I rejected this meeting.)

      – Meet at the airport to “resolve matters” (Why treat my concerns so superficially? I rejected this meeting.)

      I rejected all these in order to keep the dialogue going and to expose what was happening, trying to include as many people as possible.

      I finally did agree to meet in February 2012. I brought Abraham N. with me. It was a rather good and joyful meeting. Everyone hugged each other. Most everyone said “We have a lot to talk about!”

      So I wanted to meet monthly or continue the meetings. But so far, I only have received silence (well that and 2 threats hinting at a harassment lawsuit).

      This is why I so thank God for you (M&M)! I really hope to visit Toledo soon. I hope new and ongoing dialogue could actually happen in a ubf chapter.

      My offer to meet, preach, teach, discuss or talk in any way with Toledo remains.

      My new mantra: Reconciling with one former member is worth more than finding 99 new sheep on campus.

    • If anyone cares to know, I have a list of those 20 families, which equates to 40 former leaders and 35 children; in total that is 75 people who left the ministry from 1 chapter over 21 years. I have been praying for them by name nearly every week these past 2 years. I think perhaps the time has come to let go of this list and commit all things to God’s sovereignty.

      * I corrected the numbers above to adjust for the families only and only the children they had at the time of leaving. The 103 number would include all the children now plus the single people who left. Quite a few families left before having children. This list does include some Koreans who left such as the wife of the “AoF” in America as well as one Korean missionary couple.

  15. Martha,
    Thank you. I don’t think we are imagining this impermeable glass wall and I no longer think it is my fault that it exists. My commitment now is to friendship regardless of these walls. I hope especially that our friendship will grow.

  16. formershep

    Martha, the isolation you speak of IS VERY REAL. When we were in UBF we didn’t have friends outside of the ministry. We were too busy with ministry activities that that very essential part of a human life was neglected. Also as you shared, a UBF person just can’t fit in with non-ubf people. I found that I had a difficult time relating to the outside world. In some ways, I always had some kind of agenda toward others, like a “shepherd mentality” or something. Also I felt uncomfortable talking with others or deeply making friends because I didn’t want them to know about all the things I was doing in UBF. That proves that my conscious was uncomfortable.
    I know some missionaries who have been in a country for many many years and don’t have a single friend outside of ubf. That is very unhealthy. Unfortunately, natives have followed this example and lifestyle. Also the ubf program makes people SO BUSY that they don’t have time to think for themselves, they don’t have time to enjoy their own interests, don’t have time for family or spouse, don’t have time for others if they don’t have anything to benefit the program. Sorry, but I could go on and on.
    Now for the first time since joining ubf, I am really enjoying making new and real friends with Christians and non-Christians and living a full life. And I am so so glad that I have left ubf to begin living a real and abundant life.

  17. Yes, formershep, I feel the same. Btw in my church I made friends with a man who had spent 16 years in prison. He is a good Christian now, has a family and two daughters and serve several young ladies who have no parents. when I learnt about his 16 years of imprisonment I thought that my 17 years in ubf were relatively better )). Yes, thank God that while I was in ubf He could work in me somehow. I mean that ubf is bad and unhealthy but I wouldn’t exchange my years in ubf for the years in prison. Thank God for his mercy!

  18. Thank you Sharon,

    I felt that you instantly understood where I was coming from when we met at the Well. Thank you, the interesting thing is that it was my first time meeting you and I felt like you understood so much more of why my tears were rolling down my cheeks than anyone else in my own ministry. I have been meaning to call you. I told mark that I would love to visit you and your family sometime, to just talk.

    Formershep, I agree, I also have given up so much of who I am. A lot of my time and energy has been put into “ministry” and I have neglected very important areas of my life. I love serving God, I love studying Gods word with college students, but I do see how unbalanced and unhealthy life is/was. These days I still struggle to live a healthy life while still in UBF. Is this possible to live a healthy Christian life in UBF?


    I thank God for your friendship and for challenging me to open my eyes. Keep speaking up, that’s all I can say. I know that you are not 100% accurate in what you say, but you deeply understand the real issues in UBF.
    I hesitate to say much on these blogs because, its difficult for me to articulate well without painting such a poor picture of UBF. Sometimes I feel like a true outcast, right in the middle, not truly fitting in with those in the ministry and not truly fitting in with those who left. My feelings and emotions towards people in UBF are complicated with love and anger intertwined.
    There is some change in Toledo UBF, gradual change, but God is working and there is hope. Yet, in the midst of this change, there are things that remain the same and people are unwilling to tap into. These things are essential for any ministry to truly experience freedom and true heart felt change. In my opinion reconciliation, emotional and spiritual healing needs to happen in order for our Toledo ministry to experience true change. But this cannot be forced upon anyone. So please pray for true revival!!

    • Thanks Martha! I will be the first to admit I’m not 100% accurate (well ok maybe the second, the first being my wife :)

      I’ve said this before, but my other mantra is this: I will knowingly and willingly stand before God on Judgement Day with flawed doctrine and a partial understanding of truth, but I will not stand before Him without having given my all for the sake of love, justice, honesty, compassion, grace, faith, hope and friendship.

    • Thank you Martha. We would love for you to visit! I understand that speaking on a blog is awkward. I still hope for face to face honest discussion and pray that doors are opening, not closing. I can’t predict what the effect of my words will be and can’t expect or force anyone to listen and respond. Still, I’m glad that some of us can meet together here in this imperfect way.

  19. First of all, MarthaO, I love you! As for the rest of you, I love you with a brotherly Christ-like love. In the last few days we saw the response of Rutgers administration to dismiss basketball coach Mike Rice only after video testimony was released to the public, showing the coach verbally abusing players, kicking them, shoving them, and throwing basketballs at them. Prior to the video, everything was being handled “in house.” You can think what you want about that. But clearly, public outcry forced the administration to take the action that should have taken place when the video was first made known. I respect the action taken because it delivers a message (kind of late but still given) that that kind of behavior will not be tolerated. There are consequences for our actions. In the Church, there are also consequences for actions. The Catholic Church poorly handled revelations of sexual abuse by its priests, but it is now taking steps to handle it (it has been forced to do so). The reason why these things (Rutgers, Catholic Church etc) need to be handled is to protect its people, bring healing to victims and send a clear message to others that this is not proper conduct. UBF is no different. We all acknowledge that UBF is not perfect, nor do we expect it to be. But, clearly, there longer we go without a clear acknowledgement of spiritual abuse, misconduct, crossing boundaries, however else you identify it, then the longer we draw out unhealed relationships, wounds, mistrust, etc. For us married folk, how long can you go, living under the same roof as your spouse after a knock-down, wounding argument. How does it feel until you finally come face to face to reconcile. We cannot satisfy ourselves in UBF with pleasantries towards one another, hoping that we can just forget about those practices that wounded or those people we’ve wounded. “Haven’t they moved on?” does not bring reconciliation. And the reality is that until we face our ugliness and acknowledge it, and repent of it, there will always be an undercurrent of that past, and it will always color our interactions with one another, and it will prolong an atmosphere of mistrust. The bottom line of the gospel and Christian life is reconciliation, God reconciling man/woman to himself and man/woman reconciling him/herself to his/her brother/sister (how’s that for gender neutrality!). As we can see, this will not go away, and none of us should go away until we see things properly handled.

    • Extremely well-said. I for one will not be going away :) And I love you too! With a brotherly Christ-like love that is.

    • With all the gender-neutral language, it’s obvious that Mark hails from Canada! But I think you need to re-post in French with a larger font :)

  20. Vitaly: LOL. Thank God for His mercy indeed!

    Sharon: you are articulating how many of us feel so well. I’m tempted to read the books you quote.

    Martha: I’m so happy to hear from you. Mark’s friendship and correspondence with me has been so encouraging and enlivening. It is the kind of friendship that I yearned for the past ten years. God bless both of you.

    formershep: I’m so thankful that God is leading you into wholeness in all aspects of your life.

    Brian: don’t throw away the list! We all need each other’s prayer.

    Thanks all for these wonderful conversations the past few days.

  21. Dr. Ben, These are all well-posed questions. But it’s sad and unfortunate that such questions have to be posed in the first place. One question that has been in the back of my mind for quite some time is this: aren’t missionaries supposed to establish a church and then move on or go back to their native homeland? I’m not saying that Korean missionaries are not welcome here, but even in the cases of Paul’s and Jesus’ ministries, the longest they stayed in a location was about 3 years; Paul taught in Ephesus for roughly that long and Jesus’ ministry lasted about that long as well.

    Why have the missionaries been content to set up shop and raise their families here? It just seems to go against what a traditional missionary life entails. Like many have observed, this extended stay has led to many, many problems such as over-training of sheep, communication issues causing much confusion and the forceful and wrongful imposition of their culture upon us. UBF has an unpleasant or odd subculture of its own because of this overstaying phenomenon.

    It’s interesting that as time passes, the Koreans do not seem to understand American culture any better; in fact they have become more hardened in their stance that they must impose UBF culture because American culture is utterly godless and corrupted. I even heard one American leader (after 15 years in UBF mind you) say that he was thinking about re-engaging American culture as a missionary of sorts but he hoped that in the process of doing so he would not “catch some weird spiritual disease.” It was funny when he said it, but then I realized that he was serious and so I felt sorry for him and then angered because that is how many UBF Koreans regard American culture. They don’t want to take a back seat or leave because they feel as though they have to sanitize our culture and who we are. True some may do this out of love and a shepherd’s heart, but even still it is a wrong way to look at the people and their culture and it ultimately leads to over-shepherding; moreover it shows a lack of faith in the efficacy of the Holy Spirit’s work upon the heart of a believer.

    I’m sure that many of the missionaries could not even process your questions because their modus operandi is to install a foreign, long-lasting system into our culture.

    I’m so ashamed of UBF in some aspects because the main things I remember learning about in my first four years of UBF was the importance of the shepherd-sheep system, one-to-one bible study, campus mission and faithful attendance to meetings and conferences, rather than the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ, the body of believers and the kingdom of God. If these latter things would have been taught in conjunction with the good things of UBF, then the sky would have been the limit in terms of the good influence of the ministry. Now we’re broken and looking to pick up the pieces somehow.

    But as you noted, the missionaries can’t even perceive this; they think that all is well and that they simply need to double down on their efforts of old. I’ve thought this for a few years now: UBF is very good at giving people an initial spiritual foundation, at least in regard to studying the scriptures and evangelizing others. For a good two years or so this process may go well, but I’ve noticed that many become stagnant after this period because they simply don’t fit into UBF’s system. The wisest thing to do would be to have them pray about joining another church, but we want to instead ascribe all kinds of spiritual issues and labels to these struggling people. This is utter nonsense.

    On my end, I’m trying to not let UBF dominate my thoughts as it has in the past. My new mantra has become: Jesus is greater than UBF or simply Jesus > UBF. I realize that I can only overcome my frustrations and despair by focusing on him rather than the efforts of missionaries or UBF at large. In addition to this, I’m beginning to understand the necessity of reading various Christian sources and conversing with others outside of the UBF body. This was shunned even in my early days in UBF and this explains largely why we are at our current juncture. I really don’t highly regard what a missionary has to say as to what to experience and what not to experience within the realm of Christianity; I have to find my identity in Christ now, of course while still respecting and loving the body.

    Like I said, it is sad that we even have to pose questions about authority and autonomy, but they have forced our hand. It should have been a foregone conclusion that Americans would take over the ministry and contextualize it to their environment, but such a thought process just does not enter the Korean missionary’s mind.

    Paul, a Jew, contextualized the gospel to Greeks very successfully and also desperately tried to reconcile both Jews and Greeks, under Christ, where he could and then he left; he later wrote letters and revisited prior church plants but he did not seem to linger there indefinitely. I don’t see Korean missionaries even remotely following such a model. I don’t mean to be overly negative or cynical about this, but it just seems to be the obvious truth to me. I don’t deny their love for us and devotion to Jesus, but their methods are fatally flawed.

    I heard that UBF is hiring theologians in order to offer training for the staff that would be equivalent to an Mdiv degree program (minus the language courses so it wouldn’t be quite equivalent to an actual Mdiv). I’m wondering why we are bringing people in rather than having our staff go to an actual seminary. I think it would be better for people to get the exposure to the broader body of Christ. Is it a financial issue mainly; it’s cheaper to bring someone in? Is this a common practice in other churches?

    I remember in the past whenever I tried to be involved in planning a conference or a fellowship meeting format, it always seemed as though the final plan was tailored around what would please the missionaries the most. Instead of them asking what would be good for their hosts, they made us acquiesce to what they wanted. It’s almost as if we were forced to become missionaries to the missionaries. From that point on, I suppose I started developing this passive mindset that considered whatever they wanted was best; I just got tired of fighting and trying to bend my thought processes to understand them. But now I’m realizing the negative fruit of my passivity and I want to begin to start thinking critically again and growing spiritually.

  22. Hi, Anon. I just love your comment! I want to add that the missionaries think they are right in forcing natives become missionaries for them. In my talk to a top ubf leader he said that we, Russian natives, must accept the missionaries and make them our sheep (after 20 years in Russia and all the abuse)and that it is God’s will and otherwise we can not be good Christians and build a healthy church with some “church members” missing. It was when all the natives agreed that “the glass wall” we had was the missionaries and that they are not a part of us neither members of our church. And btw I don’t quite understand why Joe and Ben are eager to be such missionaries for the missionaries. The many ubf issues can not be solved until the missionaries leave their “mission field”, to take a back seat is not enough and is not possible in ubf context. When I wrote that I don’t want any dialogue with ubf missionaries or any “reconciliation”, I meant that I am not going to be a missionary for the missionaries. I don’t think God wants me to do such a mission. I believe God wants me to “help” the missionaries leave our country, especially after so much abuse without any understanding they were wrong at all. (They apologized to some native shepherds that during a talk they spoke roughly. They thought that was the cause for natives leaving)))Once our director told to my former sheep that he plans to go to another city and there the “sheep” would be a director and the director would take a back seat and even obey the new director. Oh, there was so much laugh! Back seat can not become a reality in ubf. (And it is easy to understand that no one in the chapter wanted to go to another city with the director’s family). I like the Rabbi’s phrase from the movie, “May God bless and keep the tsar… far away from us!”. Let Korean shepherds in Korea become missionaries for the ubf missionaries. Or let the missionaries just join some churches in their mission fields.

    • Joe Schafer

      Vitaly, I have no desire to be a missionary to missionaries. I’ve stopped going to them to tell them what I think because, frankly, they (most of them) have shown by their words and action and inaction that they don’t really care. If they want to have a real friendship, they know where to find me. They will have to accept me as I am. But I’m done with role-playing. And I am not going to try to change them. They must allow God to do that.

  23. wesleyyjun

    Ditto to Joe’ comment on your posting: “Excellent.”
    Korean’s mission to America was from the beginning a very strange happening. It is anomaly that Koreans are still mostly in control of this American ministry after more than four decades. As for Mother Barry’s mission to Korea, she followed the rule of being a stranger on her host’s turf. Dr. Lee did his job as the host very well. He was at first an assistant to Mother Barry but was determined to change the role around. Mother Barry let it happen. This has not happened in US yet. I have to think more carefully why. But two reasons come to my mind. First, when dozens of Korean missionaries work in different parts of the country, it was not easy for them to act wisely as one person like Mother Barry. We were collectively “stupid.” Second, in Korea Mother Barry stood out as a stranger because Korea is a homogeneous society. It helped Mother Barry keep her role as a stranger. In a multiracial and multicultural society as America, Korean missionaries easily thought they might be hosts too. Their accent and “strange” culture gave them away, but numerous other people like them outside UBF community also acted like hosts, reaching to the positions which even hosts could not reach. In this trend our hosts let us strangers to be hosts along with them knowingly and unknowingly. Where do we go from here? I am not sure. We should search for solution together. It is always easy to talk about my own personal case. I have been telling my American coworker, “Whenever you are ready I am ready. Take it over.” It is easier for me to do so than other Korean chapter directors. Why? First, I did not start Lehigh ministry. Second, I am not faking when I say my American coworker is a born leader. Third, I always liked a back seat; it’s comfortable there. Fourth, I really see myself as a stranger in this society. (I enjoy being a stranger, well most of time. Wasn’t Abraham one?)There are a few other reasons. But there is no need to go on.
    I would say to our American coworkers in US: “Cheer up! Your reward in heaven will be great. We were supposed to be strangers. But you made us feel as if we were hosts along with you. You gave us a part of your turf. We took advantage of it and almost pushed you out of even your part of turf. I am sorry about that. But it’s all because of your generosity. Your generosity makes this country great. All peoples of all nations come and are perched in your generous open arms.”

    • Trueful comment, Anon! I think the reason why they cannot leave after 2 years is that UBF is a control based ministry. After 2 years, they finally have brought people to the point where they have become dependent and obedient. That’s what they worked for so hard, so why should they leave? If instead they had made people dependent on the Holy Spirit, and independent of them, it would be much easier. They don’t rust in the Holy Spirit, they only trust in their own manipulation. Just look how carefully planned and staged every conference was. Samuel Lee would even give instructions and micromanage everything while everybody else was praying.

    • “Dr. Lee did his job as the host very well. He was at first an assistant to Mother Barry but was determined to change the role around. Mother Barry let it happen.”

      I do not think that he did his job very well, because he should have changed the roles again when he came to America. But he still stayed in control and became the general director. Also, his own ideology and teaching was that people always need to obey and never change roles. So he should have either changed his teaching or follow his own teaching. I think this is a sure sign of a power monger: They set up rules for everybody to follow, but make an excemption for themselves.

      Actually, I think this whole question who is the director would not be so important if UBF did not employ single-person-leadership and authoritarianism. If there would be a group of elders instead of a single director, then in a mixed community it would be also mixed, and if there would be a proper understanding of church leadership and acceptance of Mt 23, nobody would rule over the other anyway. Im my view the point that most directors are Koreans is not the crucial point. If they would be natives, but follow the same pattern of authoritarianism as taught by Samuel Lee, things would not be better, but maybe even worse.

      I know one case where a girl from the US was married of to a German against her will in a very ugly way (the marriage was later divorced) by a US native director. Sure, this happened because that director underwent the training of Samuel Lee. But in effect, it did not make a difference whether the leader was a Korean or not. The problem is that the leaders are following a paradigm of shepherding and authoritarianism that is simply wrong. If they would not follow that paradigm, it would not even matter so much whether the leader is a Korean or a native. The wrong understanding of shepherding is what makes this whole question so relevant in the first place.

    • Dear Wesley,
      Sorry it’s taken me so long to thank you for this reply. I appreciate your willingness to try and hear what we are saying and I hope the day comes when we can seek solutions together.

  24. Hi Chris,

    I think I understand what you are saying here.

    “Truthful comment, Anon! I think the reason why they cannot leave after 2 years is that UBF is a control based ministry. After 2 years, they finally have brought people to the point where they have become dependent and obedient. ”

    I honestly do not know why missionaries do not leave after a few years or even humbly allow the natives to lead. But I do know that there is a lot of control, to the point where we no longer use our minds to think, we become isolated and robot like( for the sake of mission). Recently, I told a missionary that I felt like I just woke up. I don’t think she understood what I was saying. The sad thing is I had been a Christian before I came to UBF. My Christian friends kept warning me that UBF just didn’t sound right. There were so many red flags and I just simply ignored them because I enjoyed the deep bible study. I learned a lot, but soon I became isolated. I chose not to talk to anyone about UBF because they just didn’t understand or get it. Soon I was unable to relate to my Christian friends because my life revolved around mission.

    The control is very subtle and many missionaries don’t acknowledge its there. I still recall one shepherdess a few years ago, standing up one Friday meeting and saying, ” maybe I’m not as strong as the missionaries, but I cant keep up with your expectations and the pressure. I work full time, I come to meetings, go fishing, and I hardly have time with my children…and I feel guilty all the time”. A missionary responded,” there are no expectations nor pressure.” There is no acknowledgment that there is control and expectations.

    ” If there would be a group of elders instead of a single director, then in a mixed community it would be also mixed, and if there would be a proper understanding of church leadership and acceptance of Mt 23,”

    You are speaking of what Toledo is trying to become. After many families left Toledo, there was a big push for a group of elders to be formed so that there would be more accountability(leadership council). Shortly after, Pastor Paul decided to step down and allow a native Pastor to step up. There was a strong leading of the Holy Spirit in order for this to have taken place, and three native Pastors stepped up.

    The problem is we were all trained by the same system whether we acknowledge this or not. Many of us are struggling not to fall back into this system that is embedded in us. There are times that I find myself as busy minded as before, attending many meetings without anyone expecting me to be there. At the end I am left empty and burned out. That is what I have been trained to do and learned to enjoy. That’s another problem, we have grown to enjoy this twisted Gospel of works, because it makes us feel like we are the ones making a difference. But this is not the true Gospel and this is not how God intended us to live our lives. God is about love, relationships, grace, mercy and freedom!!Unfortunately, most of these components of the Gospel were not truly practiced in UBF. Even now its difficult for us to love and build relationships with one another. I think this is because its difficult for missionaries or “trained” shepherds to accept and love people for who they are. They try to change natives into what they think is a Godly like character. They love and sacrifice so much but sometimes they forget to trust and point them to Jesus. We should be sharing the true Gospel with others not controlling peoples lives. May God have mercy on us to break free from this system that truly entangles.

    • Martha, Just want you to know that I am listening and that you are making so much sense. I hope that others will hear you speak to clearly and truthfully.

    • “Recently, I told a missionary that I felt like I just woke up. I don’t think she understood what I was saying.”

      But I understand you so very well. This was exactly how I felt. In the beginning, I struggled so much because I wanted to make others open their eyes and wake up from this bad dream as well, but it was so much more difficult than I expected.

      “The problem is we were all trained by the same system whether we acknowledge this or not.”

      Exactly. It is really important that people understand that UBF is in fact not only a community, but also a system of thoughts, values, and practices. A pretty sophisticated system that makes much sense for many years, if you don’t dig too deeply and don’t start to really examine and question it. And we all were victims of that system, including the directors. The system encouraged those who have a dominant personality to lord over others and encouraged those who are timed to be submissive. It reinforced our bad personality traits and instead dampened our good sides, our empathy with others, our talents and spiritual gifts.

      I see much of our discussion as a way to identify and expose the bad elements in this system. While I was in UBF and was unable to honestly talk about these things with others (there were no Internet forums at that time, and inside UBF such open talk was discouraged), I always thought that maybe it is only my own wrong perception. Then after I became married, I found that my wife complained about these same things. And then I found more and more people and testimonies on the Internet or published in books that all showed the same pattern and revealed it was actually a system, not random misbehavior of individual leaders.

    • Sharon: Thank you so much for listening. I don’t know if I am making any sense but there is so much running through my mind and heart these days. It feels like years of trapped thoughts and emotions that I am now free to express.

  25. Chris,

    You said, “After 2 years, they finally have brought people to the point where they have become dependent and obedient.”

    You already know what I’m going to say, but I want to point out something for our readers. Why is this done? Why do ubf people try to bring people to be dependent and obedient? One key reason is because they have bound ubf ideology (heritage) to bible verses. So in their minds, they are pleasing God and obeying the bible by doing such things.

    For example, what does Romans 1:5 say? “Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.”

    When obedience is redefined to mean obey your shepherd, and the expression of obedience is tied to fishing, 1:1, Sunday service, prayer meeting, and your identity has become a servant of God, a shepherd for college students, a mother of prayer or an Abraham of faith, then what do you conclude from Romans 1:5?

    But all this is of course very dangerous spiritually, emotionally and psychologically. How can we counteract such things? Here are a few suggestions:

    1. Stop taking one verse out of context. Romans 1:5 has nothing to do with making people submit and obey God’s law. If you don’t believe me, then keep reading all of Romans, then read Hebrews and Galatians.

    2. Stop redefining words, such as “love”, “obedience”, “joy”, etc.

    3. Connect with the outside world, both the Christian world and the cultural world where you live.

    4. Talk. Speak. Dialogue back and forth instead of just dictating one-way lectures or commands. Ask questions. Think for yourself.

    5. And to the “natives” (are we living in a jungle??) I say: realize that a majority of Korean missionaries feel a similar pain deep down as you do. They just don’t now how to express it and may be unable to do so. Go ahead and push back. So what if they get angry? What can they really do to you? If they truly do have good intentions, they won’t do anything. Realize that you can push back and in some cases the Korean missionary’s spiritual life may depend on your pushing back.

    6. Above all devote yourself to understanding and holding onto the gospel of Jesus. It is true that the gospel is everything. Remember that Jesus+nothing=everything.

    • Very good points, Brian!

      This is what I wrote above, the “system” can make sense for a long time because it seems to be conclusive, everything seems to have a Biblical underpinning, which is repeated every week in the 1:1 sessions, Sunday sermons, sogams and in the conferences. As you say, by redefining words and interpreting Bible texts in the context of UBF instead of in their real context, by picking+choosing (e.g. in my 10 years of UBF we never studied Galatians, though it was considered the most important part of the Bible by Martin Luther – instead we studied passages of the OT like the marriage of Rebekah even several times), the Bible is not taught as it is, but abused as a justification for doing exactly what UBF is doing. Actually, to turn a good teaching into somthing horrible, you often don’t need to teach the opposite, it often suffices to make a slight, subtle change or even only overemphasis of one part or neglect of another part.

      Once you study the Bible carefully without the UBF blinders, you recognize how blantantly the UBF system contradict the Bible. We have already given many examples.

    • Brian you wrote,

      .” And to the “natives” (are we living in a jungle??) I say: realize that a majority of Korean missionaries feel a similar pain deep down as you do. They just don’t now how to express it and may be unable to do so. Go ahead and push back. So what if they get angry? What can they really do to you? If they truly do have good intentions, they won’t do anything. Realize that you can push back and in some cases the Korean missionary’s spiritual life may depend on your pushing back.

      You speak as if the only issue is the Korean missionaries. In Toledo we have a Korean couple that “gets it” more than some natives. I am sure you are aware of this, because you were here with us. So I am not comfortable when you speak as if its only the missionaries that are part of this system. Unfortunately many natives have lost their own identity to this system too.

      “Realize that you can push back and in some cases the Korean missionary’s spiritual life may depend on your pushing back.”

      In all honesty, I am getting tired of pushing back. I am tired of being the controversial one, the loud one, the negative one…
      Im tired of being angry, sad and crying over all this stuff. In all honesty, I would love to hear one senior missionary tell their honest story about how they are feeling. How angry these blogs make them feel. How sad or deeply wounded they felt when people left. I guess I am looking for realness, truthfulness, honesty, not perfection, not resolve, or soldier like attitude just an open honesty of their day to day struggle.

      Brian I will share the following because there is nothing I can say or you can say that will hurt our friendship. I think through all this we have become much better and honest friends.:)

      Brian, I must confess when all the families from Toledo left and you started making all (what seemed to me )anti-ubf comments, I would rage with anger and hurt. I was the first to defend UBF. I was upset because I felt that you left us all alone to face these issues. Then, you would turn around and point the finger on how bad our system was. I couldn’t understand why you wasted your time and didn’t move on.But now I realize that you love God and people in UBF too much to be indifferent. You never stopped caring for us. And for that I am so thankful.

      Timothy Keller wrote: We tend to be taken aback by the thought that God could be angry. How can a deity who is perfect and loving ever be angry? We take pride in our tolerance of the excesses of others. So what is God’s problem?…But love detests what destroys the beloved….Anger isn’t the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference….”

    • Amen Martha! Indeed, our friendship has survived a firestorm, and for that I am grateful.

      One person told me from Toledo when we met: “I don’t think you were angry or bitter.” I replied, “Yes I was. What more do I need to do to demonstrate to you that I am angry and bitter?” So I am SO glad to hear your honest thoughts and feelings. Mary and I have felt similar, as if years of emotion were bottled up and are now being expressed.

      Yes indeed, the problems are multi-faceted. It’s just that my fingers get sore re-typing the same, comprehensive list of issues every single time :)

  26. Chris, you mentioned “It is really important that people understand that UBF is in fact not only a community, but also a system of thoughts, values, and practices.”

    I would expand this by saying ubf is a system of thoughts, values, practices, and also: identities, hierarchies and lineage.

    So much of my “self” is bound up in my prior identity. I find that I have a hard time relating to the loose, open authority structures that are void of hierarchies (even many American corporations have gotten rid of their hierarchy authority structure). And I sometimes feel isolated because I feel I’ve been cut off from the lineage of shepherds, the lineage I once imagined must surely have gone all the way back from UBF to SVM to Peter himself.

    There is also an official ubf motto (We are soldiers of Jesus, we are soldiers of Jesus…). Member shepherds know what I’m talking about.

    It is very important to understand that ubf is a system in order to begin to understand me and my actions. I don’t primarily blame one or two people, but the system (pattern). For me, ubf was a Borg-like assimilation machine. Can bionics offer something good to humanity? Sure. But not if it becomes the Borg.

    • Yes, that’s all part of the UBF system that makes it so attractive.

      The idea that UBF is something more than a human organization, namely a spiritual entity, a chosen instrument of God, instead of a community of believers who are just as precious as other parts of the church. There is a certain “magical aura” given to it. UBF is often called “God’s ministry” or “God’s work” (not sure how you call it, in German they call it “Gottes Werk”), a term I really hate because it implies that everything UBF does is done by God and thus automatically good and may not be questioned, and because it also subtly implies that it is the only ministry of God on this earth, or that there are several ministries, but UBF is a special one, instead of recognizing that there is only one church formed by all believers and we should not think in organizational differentiations (think of Eph 2:14-22). UBF is a human entity, not a spiritual entity, may they tell you what they want!

      Just today I found a bizarre article according to which North Korean archaeologists found a “unicorn lair” with the remains of such an animal that once belonged to a king who was supposed to be the ancestor of Kim Il Sung. At first I thought it was a joke, but it seems it is not. And there are similar stories about the birth of Kim Il Sung, coupling it with something supernatural. These attempts of the regime and dynasty trying to surround itself with a mystical and magical aura reminded me in some way of the “spiritual” aura that UBF imposed on itself.

    • But I want to mention that, though there are certain Korean elements in this idea of UBF being a special spiritual entity, a similar, if not even stronger, idea also existed in the ICC (Boston Movement) which emerged in the US. They saw their ministry as “the Kingdom of God” (http://www.reveal.org/library/theology/dandersn.html#KingdomStudy). We should not think that only Koreans can develop such elitist ideas. In fact, Germans were also quite capable of this as the history of the “third empire” shows. It is a general problem of humans and human communities, not only a problem of Koreans.

  27. Yes, Chris, one of the NK legends says that Kim Il Sung was born from a bear-mother on a holy mountain. btw I know for sure that his wife is called “the mother” of the nation. Very similar to ubf where there is also a mother.

    • I’m not sure if it belongs here, but I just a short extract of “Escape from Camp 14” in TV on the occasion of the recent events. It tells the story of a prisoner who was imprisoned in a NK camp since his birth, together with his family. Once he betrayed his mother and brother to the prison guard. He said he did not even weep when his mother was executed in front of him and his father. He said his emotions were so callous that he didn’t even know that humans are supposed to weep in such a situation. Later he managed to flee to South Korea. But he cannot adapt to the SK society of course. He said “I sometimes miss the purity of the heart” in the camp. I’m really not sure what he meant with this. It sounded so strange. I’ll probably need to watch the whole movie to understand. It’s horrible what the Kim clan is doing to their people.

  28. Hi Chris, I saw that “painful” episode on 60 min, I think. When enslaved you think and feel that being enslaved is the norm, even “right.” Even after liberation and given your freedom, you often might long to go back to enslavement, just as the Israelites in the wilderness did. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in explaining liberation from the law from Romans, told a parable of an enslaved people who were one day liberated from their “masters” who had enslaved them for decades. But even years after liberation, the enslaved people still felt and acted as though they should still be subordinate to their masters even though they no longer had to as freed people. Even the masters still acted and expected to be regarded as masters by these former enslaved people, even though they were no longer masters over the enslaved people.

    Can someone find a link to this ML-Jones account? Is this not reminiscent of how many in UBF feel after being liberated from the UBF system, that though has led many to Christ, yet also enslaves to a fatally flawed faulty system afterward?

    Someone asked me how I felt after leaving Chicago UBF where I had been for 27 years (after starting West Loop in 2008). I said that I finally feel free, more alive than I had been for a long time, no longer feeling depressed, angry, oppressed and constricted, and I had never been happier; I truly feel like an eagle soaring in the sky (Isa 40:31). He was shocked at my passionate, spirited and spontaneous joyful answer with no hesitation. But I say this with no malice toward anyone, truly. How can I have malice toward anyone when I am finally flying and soaring again!

    “My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee.”

    • I found the episode and post the link because everybody should watch this: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50136263n

      It makes me so angry that these things happened and are still happening.

      The episode talks about how the people in the camp had a “broken compass”. They did not know what is right and what is wrong and considered what happened there “normal”. I remember I read something similar in the book “the subtle power of spiritual abuse”. Though of course not comparable to the scale of evil in a prison camp, what happens in abusive environments is always similar. They subtly change your norm for what is right and acceptable behavior, very slowly, so that you don’t notice it until finally accept things are normal that actually are completely unacceptable for an ordinary person with some common sense.

  29. Thanks, Martha, for sharing your stories and sentiment with us fellow sojourners sinners who are on the same spiritual journey as you are. You have many many friends on UBFriends! I for one have thoroughly enjoyed reading your accounts. Thanks so much for being Honest, Open, Transparent. I could not resist throwing my last name in reverse in there!

    • Thanks Dr. Ben,

      I do feel like I can express myself here, without anyone telling how I should be feeling.

  30. Truly, from the UBF missionaries’ point of view, they sacrificed and suffered so much to “serve sheep.” Truly, most of them did so because they felt God’s call. They just simply do not understand, or do not want to understand that they also brought along with them their flaws, imperfections, hierarchical authoritarianism and cultural biases, which to this day, some are still “absolutely” refusing to acknowledge (except Wesley!).

    We sinners can forgive other sinners, including leaders, for sinning. But when you refuse to admit what is already plainly obvious to the world, that becomes “harder to endure,” especially if you want to claim your status and position as a permanent leader over others in UBF.

    I wrote about how much controlling leaders suffer after their sheep, whom they truly sacrificed so much for, leave: http://www.ubfriends.org/2013/03/25/good-leaders-delegate-without-control/ But really, it is their own fault!!! I place the exodus of so many good Christians from UBF–both Korean and natives–squarely with those leaders who refuse to humbly acknowledge what is already so obvious and plainly stated on countless websites, email exchanges, and even face to face private meetings.

  31. wesleyyjun

    I nominate Ben for most creative facial expression Never seen it before.

  32. Samantha

    Reading this article and all of the corresponding comments struck a chord in me. It describes so well the journey I have experienced since moving away from UBF HQ in 2005 ~after 14 years of participating in Chicago UBF. I have experienced a myriad of feelings that cover the whole spectrum: anger, loneliness, freedom, fear, frustration, joy, patriotism, thankfulness, regret, sadness, confusion, hope, excitement, and on and on.

    My writing is not eloquent, nor well-organized. After 22 years of being associated with UBF, I have lots of stories–some good ones, but more that are not so good. But if I had to summarize how I feel right now, it would be thankful. I am thankful for all that God revealed to me in all those years of Bible study. Seeds of faith were planted deeply in me. God helped me to overcome deep rooted fatalism about myself. I am thankful for the amazing friends that God brought into my life through UBF~there are even a few that we still have close contact with–I call them forever friends.

    Having said that, I am also very thankful that God took me away from UBF – so that I could learn about real freedom, true grace and God’s one-sided love–which I cannot earn. I am thankful that I could exit the UBF bubble, re-enter society and re-learn how to live as a child of God in a fallen world. In recent years, God has led us to a church where we can receive His Love, His Word, and His Grace. After so many years of “work” ~it has been amazingly challenging and refreshing to simply receive. Healing is happening daily. PTL!

    We are definitely on a journey, learning and growing each day. Some days feel better than others. Some days, it seems like I am going backwards in my walk with God. But, everyday is a new one. I am so glad that UBFriends is a part of the healing going on in me and my family. Thank you Joe, Sharon, Dr. Ben, Brian, Chris and all for what you are doing!! I am hopeful for the dialog that will come for all who need healing! Blessings!!

  33. Thanks Sam. It’s great to hear from you. I resonate entirely with your “whole spectrum: anger, loneliness, freedom, fear, frustration, joy, patriotism, thankfulness, regret, sadness, confusion, hope, excitement, and on and on.”

    As your key sentiment is “thankfulness,” which I am, but perhaps mine is “freedom,” which is nothing but the grace of God. But I need to tone down on my “freedom to infuriate others!” Will/can this ever change? Lord, have mercy!