Rest Unleashed – Narrative 3 of 3

raven-yenser-2013-bw-medium-300x246The last and longest narrative in my book, Rest Unleashed: The Raven Narratives, is my story. So far, my journey has begun with considering forgiveness and the gospel of Jesus. I found a tremendous amount of rest for my mind and heart through those narratives. The most rest however came from telling my life story from my perspective. I refused to do two things when telling my life story. One, I would not spin tall tales and would speak as much as possible without any mask or pretense. Two, I would not cut out my ubf experiences and would not see such experiences as purely negative. I titled this last narrative: “Resting in my life”.

Breaking the yoke of undue religious influence

Undue influence. What does that mean? Why does it become a yoke that is harmful to the human soul? How can someone break free from such a yoke? Such questions deserve much deeper thought, and will become the subject of my future books. In today’s narrative, I aim only to introduce the concept and then tell part of my life story.

Undue influence is influence by which a person is induced to act otherwise than by their own free will or without adequate attention to the consequences. The word “undue” is important in this definition. When some force is undue, that force is unwarranted or inappropriate because it is excessive or disproportionate to the object of that force. Sometimes that force is actually a weak force, like the tether on an adult elephant that had existed since the elephant was young. The power of undue religious influence may not be in its coercion but in its perception. Such influence may be carried out not by actual force, but by perceived force or imagined consequences.

Some undue influence might be easily identifiable because the influence is so over-the-top that no person would accept such influence under normal circumstances. An example of obvious undue influence would be a kidnapping of someone and taking them to a concentration camp. We can rather universally recognize this kind of undue influence as being harmful and wrong. Most undue influence in the religious realm however is more difficult to identify. The influence that one person can handle safely may in fact be undue influence on a different person who cannot handle that kind of influence at that time. Such confusion and subtlety often allows the perpetrators of undue influence to justify their abusive tactics because they can point to some examples of successful transformation due to their influence. In some cases, the influence falls into the blind spot of the perpetrators, so that they don’t even realize they are causing undue influence on someone.

My Unholy Devotion To Religion

After my father’s death, I threw myself into the UBF lifestyle. I adopted Ed and the Korean man as my spiritual fathers. The UBF community became my family. The leaders became my spiritual parents. This meant that I would submit my entire life to being trained by my UBF shepherds. That is the UBF way—every member must have a shepherd. The shepherds are self-appointed and choose the sheep they want. A chance meeting on campus meant that it was God’s divine will that you become the sheep of that person. This shepherd sheep relationship was meant to be lifelong, and would even persist into heaven we thought. So I would be eternally submissive to my UBF shepherd out of a desire to be a preacher for God. This provided me with the safety and security and protection I was looking for. I used the UBF community to replace what I lost in my father and to escape the dark reality of life around me. I hid myself in the UBF ideologies, escaping every minute I could to read the bible and avoid the real world. And so my desire to be a preacher for God was born.
Soon I wrote and shared my UBF life testimony, boldly declaring praise to God for my father who had found salvation in Jesus. And around this time I discovered the deep faith of my grandparents, especially my grandmother. She loved my life testimony. She made several paper copies and mailed them the friends and family all over the country. She also made copies of the video of my sharing and played it for all her friends at church. She told me I should be a preacher someday.

My grandparents became a foundation of Christian faith for me. I have always been encouraged by their faithful, devoted and explicit belief in Jesus and their unconditional love for people. They had opinions about politics, religions and the like, but for them, goodness reigned supreme. My grandma was therefore very concerned about UBF right from the start. She always told me that bible study is good, but too much bible study is like too much salt when you cook. God’s messages are about love. We can’t forget God’s love and we can never forget our family. Looking back I wonder how she and the rest of my family endured my 24 years of UBF life. But their goodness and their love was the buoy that always righted my ship.

New Friends, Bold Decisions, Restored Relationships

The big event of our lives happened in 2011. To make a long story short: We left UBF. This means nothing to most people. Leaving a church? Not a big deal. But leaving UBF is different. It equates to losing your salvation because UBF requires each person to be loyally submitted to a UBF shepherd, usually a Korean. But finally I had enough. I began to fear the bitterness, depression and anger in my soul more than any retribution from God or from UBF shepherds. So I resigned.

We sent shockwaves throughout the 6,000 member organization worldwide. I had not intended to leave UBF. I actually just wanted to find out some answers the problems a dozen or so of my friends in UBF had been confiding in me since moving to Detroit. But I finally had enough of pretending to be a holy soldier. So I sent a report into my shepherd telling him my honest feelings. That didn’t go over so well. Within two hours of receiving my report via email, he called me. I could tell he was angry. He told me any problems in UBF were none of my business. He further said that any spiritual deadness I had been observing was because I was the one who was spiritually dead. As soon as I hung up the phone, I experienced the Holy Spirit come alive in me like never before. I suddenly knew God had a purpose for me: expose the problematic dark side of UBF. I saw clearly that UBF suffered from the same authority-based problems that the Shepherding Movement did in the 1970’s in America. In an instant my mind was released from the bondage of guilt and all the abuses in UBF I had ignored or dismissed came to mind.

I then embarked on an amazing journey of recovery from the controlling, guilt-ridden, shame-soaked life we had lived in UBF. I was done with the holy soldier façade. This journey was not so different from the journey of Pi in the movie “Life of Pi” or Truman in the movie “The Truman Show” or the blind girl in the M. Night Shyamalan movie “The Village”. In fact I began watching many movies, especially children’s movies, because I found so many connections with the characters in the movies, such as Tangled. I felt I was Repunzel being set free from her castle tower! Finally I was at peace.

The most exciting part of this journey for me has been connecting with people at Grace Community Church in Detroit. That first lunch with pastor Bryan was an important reality check for me, one that helped me realize there are many Christians outside UBF (imagine that!). Attending the 6:00 am bible study led by pastor Wayne was eye-opening. It was his “Be Armed” series that corrected a lot of false teaching I had picked up. I realized then that for all my thousands of hours of bible study, I had never learned the basic doctrines of Christianity. Even as I continue go through a transformational paradigm-shift in my faith, those basic doctrines hold true and provide an anchor for my faith.

Pastor Wayne baptized me on April 29, 2012. I had decided to be baptized as a way to confirm that I had left UBF had given my life to be a Christ-follower. I’ll never forget pastor Wayne’s words to me just before going under: “You are now free form the teachings of one man.” Now I’m glad to be part of pastor Wayne’s intercessory prayer team, praying for Renewal Church and his new role there. Grace Community Church became a safe house for me and our family. Pastor Bryan was a God-send to my wife and I. His sermons were so full of love, goodness and humor—and so deeply drawn from the well of grace and love—that each Sunday my soul mended a little more.

My wife and I joined a bible study group with Pastor Bryan. And we were utterly shocked to discover what genuine Christian teaching was all about. We found that we had been taught a Christianized form of Eastern philosophy, which continues to be one of our biggest problems. Through Pastor Bryan’s help and the help of our newfound Christian community, our family is being healed day by day. Now my wife and I are renewing our relationship, going on dates, finding out each other’s character and making up for nearly 20 years of lost time.


  1. Brian, thanks a lot for writing about your experiences down so eloquently, courageously and openly. I’m sure it is helpful to many people inside and outside of UBF. There are so many people who write mission reports and histories of UBF, but so few who write about their real experience, so many lost stories that should be told but are never told, because people are ashamed or not used to write freely and openly. This “dark matter” of the UBF universe is huge. But through you, at least some of it becomes visible.

  2. By the way, I still remember how my wife and I watched “The Village” two or three years after leaving UBF, and how much it reminded us of our UBF experience.

  3. Thank you for your heartfelt story. Thank God for calling you as an instrument of change and helping you find peace and joy in Him.

  4. Thanks everyone. I want to highlight what I experienced with Pastor Wayne and Pastor Bryan. I didn’t share this in the book, but something I want to point out here is the stark contrast between the Christian pastors I encountered and the shepherding/directorship style of leadership I encountered at ubf.

    In fact I have so much to say I think I’ll make it today’s article.

    • I think some older leaders mistake directing for leading, and bullying for shepherding.