“The Winnipeg Sun”
Vol. 10, No.90
Tuesday, April 17, 1990
“Cult personality draws people to Fellowship”
Ex-Cult Member Still Feels Fear
by Wendy Stephenson
Sun Staff Writer
She doesn’t make the phone call herself. She’s scared. Someone else phones the newsroom. Please don’t print Theresa’s story – she’s changed her mind, he says.
The story – told over 4 1/2 hours one day in late June – is one of human tragedy – a young woman who sought a closer relationship with God, but instead found herself abused and berated by so-called Christians.
She became mixed up with the University Bible Fellowship, a cult that’s been kicked off university and college campuses in Canada and the United States
Leader abused woman’s trust
It was the last straw for a then 22 year old Bible study student, who realized the missionary position could take on a new meaning.
She blushes even yet as she recalls how the man she looked to as her spiritual leader abused her trust. She had agreed to go with him to recruit University of Manitoba students to join their Bible study group, but they ended up together on his bed. She never questioned him – she went willingly.
More than two years later – freed of his influence – she’s gone to the police , asking them to investigate the man and the organization. “I want to do whatever it takes so people don’t get involved with this group”, she says. “I’d like to see it ended. I’d like to see them out of the city. People don’t take it seriously, but the impact it has isn’t as miniscule as they think.”
In a lengthy interview with two city police officers, she told them about the ministry and how control over her own life had been taken away – how she was led to believe in the ultimate authority of a man who betrayed it.
“The police wanted to know everything from the beginning to the end. Their main concern was …I never resisted. From a legal point of view, it’s hard to fight.”
A police spokesman says no charges have been laid nor are any contemplated at this time. But for her that’s immaterial. She’s achieved her goal. “if someone else comes forward (with a complaint), it won’t be the first.”
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Theresa discovered the truth too late, but she wanted to warn others. It was then the threats began. Word leaked out she’d spoken to the media. They convinced her to fly to Chicago, headquarters for the fellowship, led by Korean missionary Samuel Lee and American Sarah Berry.
“Won’t accept no”
There, she was told they’d take legal action against her if she dared speak out. It was enough to instill the fear of God.
But last fall, the second year student at Red River Community College knew she could no longer keep her silence after she spotted three Korean missionaries on campus. It could happen all over again – and there could be more victims.
“They have to be stopped. If I hadn’t been strong enough, I might have always lived in doubt about who I am,” Theresa says, adding she was only 20 when she got involved in 1986. A full two years later, she left.
“They’re pushy when they approach you. They won’t accept no” she says. “They make promises – God can help you with your school studies. They tell you they like you. They phone you all the time. They feed you. They come pick you up. They smother you.” For her the timing couldn’t have been better, Theresa says.
Recruiting on campuses
She’d grown up in a family where prayer was important and was looking for a Bible study group. It seemed like fate a girl in her class asked if she’d like to join her group. From then on, it was up every morning at 5 a.m. for prayers and after school for Bible Study.
“There’s no free time.” By the end of the school term, she was exhausted, she says, adding if they didn’t study the Bible in the evening, they were sent to the university campuses to recruit.
“I had trouble staying awake. My instructor pulled me aside and asked if I had a medical problem because I was so exhausted. I was on the verge of failing. But I trusted the missionaries, who said every time you give time to God, He’ll give it back to you in double, so don’t worry about little sleep and the amount of time spent studying the Bible.”
That summer, she moved in with two Korean missionaries and another woman involved with the Winnipeg group of about 20 missionaires and 15 students.
“They said where I was living was not the best environment -that my friends were a bad influence because they were questioning and challenging me. My friends were saying be careful. When I first moved in, I had been dating a guy for two years. They said I had to end it.” All marraiges are arranged.
“They kept making insinuations about my marraige. I didn’t trust (them) to choose my marraige partner.” At first, everyone was “all lovey”, but then they started casting aspersions on her, she says. She became confused.
“You’re always exposing yourself…all your secrets…even your worst thoughts you’d never thought you’d share. Instead of being helped, you’re judged. I was made to feel the problem was with me, yet I couldn’t fully believe that.”
She was told if she didn’t change her ways, she’d not be welcome at the centre- initially located at Sherbrook Street and later moved to 3 Emory Avenue.
The accusations increased – she was a troublemaker, she liked to argue too much. Finally, she was kicked out.
“I was really scared at that point I’d never be allowed back. To me, that was just the end of the world. I wanted to be a missionary so badly. I really valued that lifestyle – I thought it was so pure and precious. I thought of all the times I used to hurt and didn’t know where to go in life. I wanted to help others who were hurting to find answers.”
Left with nobody to talk to and nothing to do because the centre had become her life, she took on three jobs. She was relieved several months later to learn she could come back.
But she didn’t last. The mind games and intimidation – sexual harrassment – became too much, Theresa says. Although she’s put the the fellowship behind, the experience is still with her.
“I had nightmares. I’d wake up in sweats. I hated sleeping at night, remembering the things that happened.” Even now, a year later, she struggles for a sense of control.
“It’s a real fear – someone taking control of my life. I won’t let them.”