I was introduced to the Toledo Chapter of UBF around ’93/’94 by a guy named Jeff. He introduced me to his Korean bible teacher, Hannah. She was excessively persistent in calling me, showing up at my dorm, and offering me all kinds of “help” through 1:1 bible study. I finally gave in and agreed to study with her. Little did I know that this would lead to a long, harrowing 2 years of spiritual abuse and hell.
I was a weak Christian who was trying to find my way back to God and true faith. I grew up in a very difficult home, and was basically fatherless for most of my life. What the UBF cult was great at is what I will call the “love-bombing bait and switch.” I imagine that their greatest prey are students who feel lost, lonely, adrift, or who’ve experienced some profound loss. At first, new bible students are lavished with false love, praise, acceptance, and inclusion. After these so-called “shepherds” get their claws deeply imbedded into the heart and mind of the student, then the switch and real manipulations begin.
Before getting ensnared in this cult, I always wondered how people could fall for such lies. After all, I had just watched how our gov’t slaughtered Waco compound cult followers of David Koresh just months prior to joining UBF! The way that cults operate and manipulate can be summed up in two words: Subtle Coercion. The take-over of people’s minds and lives is done through a very methodical process of love bombing them, alienating them from their former life/friends/family/activities, and then abusing them in various ways through the help of fellow cult associates. This is done through the use of “helpful suggestions” that are really just tactics of guilt, criticism, and shaming. New adherents, after being alienated from everyone and everything they used to know and love, find themselves in a highly vulnerable position where they are desperate to keep receiving the love of this “new family” and are manipulated into a “do anything to keep the love flowing” mindset.
So here are the details of my time in the Toledo UBF cult and how I got out:
1. I began 1:1 bible study with Hannah. As I look back on it, 1:1 was really just code for a lot of intel gathering on her part to learn all about me, my family, their places of employment, and their work schedules (very important to remember, as it directly relates to my escape from their clutches!)
2. Once I was fully immersed in their “family”, I was fast-tracked to live in Sisters’ House with 4 other girls. This house was the communal control center for keeping tabs on their unmarried female members. There was also a Brothers’ House, which operated for the same purpose.
3. I was thoroughly sleep-deprived by the insane number of required meetings, early morning daily bread sessions, special event rehearsals, conference meetings in Canada and elsewhere, and trying to work part-time and be a full-time student. My grades plummeted, but I was told that God’s mission for my life was more important than grades.
4. Dating was strictly forbidden, since the group arranged singles to be “married by faith” by whomever the cult leaders decided to pair up. Towards the end of my time there, I felt certain that I was being groomed to marry someone who had been in love with another sister that they married off to a guy in Montreal. To add injury to insult, they made him dance a duet with me for her wedding! His heartbreak was so evident to me, and their actions were most assuredly meant to humiliate him into the dust.
5. The manipulations and machinations for behavior and mind-control, in the beginning, were always very subtle. It always started with suggestions here and there, that eventually led to overt dictates and mandates by the end of my time with them. In the beginning, you are lavished with “unconditional” love and attention. By the end, they are making every decision about every facet of your life. I remember receiving several articles of clothing from Hannah as a “gift”, because the UBF dress code was ankle length skirts and excessively modest tops. School, work, sleep, dress, whereabouts, visitations- EVERYTHING about my life became their business. After one conference in Canada, I was severely rebuked for receiving and writing back a letter to a young man from another chapter. I was told that this was strictly forbidden.
6. So, what finally woke me up? A truly God-ordained spring break trip that the UBF leaders VERY reluctantly let me go on. I believe that God warned me in a dream the night before I left for this trip. The theme of the dream involved my mom’s house and a message that said “when you are alone is when they will attack.”
I went to the Bahamas with my mom, and while there, I met a beautiful Christian woman in the Straw Market who offered to braid my hair. She invited us to her humble, little church down the road. It was there that my eyes were once again opened to the power of the Holy Spirit, and to the awesome saving grace of the Lord, Jesus Christ. The scales fell from my eyes and I wept as I saw a young man receive the FREE GIFT of salvation: not through pressure, or coercion, or through threats, or fear, or most importantly-through his own efforts. No, I saw with my own eyes that this young man had responded to the sweet, gentle prompting of the Holy Spirit. And that moment is what set me free.
I was in a place where I could finally rest, where my mind could begin to become my own again, and where I could attend a true church where all three Persons of the Triune God were honored and given their due respect. That Bahamian church was a place where the Word of God was held higher than the words and dictates of men, and it was good, and I felt set free.
7. The beginning of my exodus was painful and frightening. When we returned to Ohio, there were several messages on my mom’s answering machine from Hannah, demanding me to call as soon as I got back. When I called, she insisted that I return for Sunday service. My mom was very concerned at the change in my demeanor after hearing the messages, and she gently said to me “you don’t have to jump just because Hannnah says to.” The new school term was set to begin on that Monday. I had a horrendous feeling of panic and dread, because I knew that something was terribly, terribly amiss in UBF. For the first time, I was very afraid to return, afraid that they would know that I was on to them, and afraid that they would take drastic measures to make sure that I would never be able to leave again.
8. So, I deferred my trip back to Toledo until early Sunday morning. I got back in time for Sunday service, and the moment I had feared most came crashing down on me like a tidal wave. After service, we always had a circle “debriefing” amongst our designated leaders and bible teachers, which involved regurgitating the message to make sure that we had been fully indoctrinated in whatever drivel had been espoused that week. I was the last person to speak. Instead of doing what was expected of me, I shared the story of the young man who received Christ.
Everyone stared at me in disbelief, and the alarm bells went off in my head, because the dismissive looks they gave me reinforced the cult mentality that “if it didn’t happen here, then it didn’t really happen.” I prayed for God’s strength and protection to help me not show my utter panic and fear, because I was certain that they would try to restrain me in some way. I acted as if everything were normal, but I had resolved to leave very early Monday morning to go back home and to leave UBF forever.
I wrote a letter to Hannah and left it on her door, saying that I was ill and that I needed to go home since she was expecting to meet with me at 5:30 am. I didn’t tell anyone back home about my plans because I did not want to alarm them and I was afraid that one of the Sisters I was living with might have tried to eavesdrop on my phone conversation. I only packed up a few important belongings to keep my travel light and my exit swift.
9. On Monday, the hunt began. All the months of 1:1 intel gathering paid off. Knowing that my mom was working half a day on Monday, I drove straight to my friend’s university that was nearby my hometown so I would not be alone and so I could begin to reconnect with a solid friend who knew me better than anyone else. I knew that my mom was working a half day. Hannah thought my mom would be working a full day. Hannah looked up and called both of my brothers at their places of work trying to find out where I was, which sent my brothers into a panic, because they had no idea what was going on. After spending most of the morning with my friend, I drove home to my mom’s house.
My blood ran cold when I saw a red SUV parked in the church lot behind my mom’s house. I knew it belonged to one of the guys from “Brothers’ House” and the words from the dream before our trip immediately came back to me: “they will attack when you are alone.” Even so, I felt a tremendous peace wash over me and I knew that I was supposed to confront them with truth of exactly why I left. The three UBF people involved were Hannah, my roommate Lauri, and Russell. I invited them in, knowing that my mom would be home any minute. What I experienced during that brief conversation was something other-worldly, and I believe it was a manifestation of true spiritual warfare. Some might not believe it, but I saw it with my own eyes.
While I was convinced that they might try to abduct me, I felt complete peace that God would protect me. The intense hatred and evil that I saw pouring out of Hannah and Lauri’s eyes was other-worldly. While Russell should’ve been the one for me to be afraid of since he had the ability to overpower me, I never once sensed from him a physical threat or this same intense evil that Hannah and Lauri gave off. The walls and ceiling in my mom’s house looked like they were shifting whenever Hannah or Lauri spoke, and Hannah looked as though she wanted to murder me. I told them that it is not of God for people to be controlled by other people, or to be separated from their family and friends, or to deny the Holy Spirit the work and power that only belong to Him.
As soon as I spoke my peace, the key to our back door turned, my mom walked in, the walls stopped shifting, and the three of them said it was time for them to leave. I had my UBF friend, Jeff, call me and berate me two days after I left the group, and the wall-shifting happened again during that conversation. Then I received a hateful letter from him a week later, along with all the letters and tokens of encouragement I had sent to him during his National Guard training. It was clear that I was labeled an evil pariah. When I went to gather my things on Wednesday, I found several items missing, and the only person who could’ve fit into them was Lauri. Even so, my mom had a very strong friend of hers accompany us on the trip to gather my belongings for safety and protection.
10. The aftermath. So, it would seem that life should just go back to how it was before the cult experience, right? Sadly, no, it doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t work that way because the mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual damage done by cults runs very, very deep. When I woke up, I experienced survivor’s guilt, because there were several people in that group that I genuinely loved and cared for. I was very close to several girls in the group, including the chapter leader’s Korean daughter, who was in Jr. High at the time.
I thought of my beautiful friend Missy, who had been whisked off to Montreal after her arranged marriage. I thought of my roommate Franzie, who had a big heart and a beautiful smile, and I felt guilt that I had been awoken to reality while they were all like POW’s, left shackled and in chains.
I escaped at a time when the Internet didn’t even exist yet, so I very much felt alone in my experience as I tried to process the doubt, fear, and confusion that cults drum into the minds of their victims. I am thankful that others have since awoken, left, and found true freedom in genuine Christianity that honors Father, Son, AND Holy Spirit.
My prayer is that others will be helped through the telling of my experience and story.