“Until the lions have their own historians, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
Most of us former members have been written out of UBF history. Our pictures have been removed and our names have been erased. We are spoken of in the third person, as if we are dead. Thus, one purpose of this book is to tell the history of my former group from a collective former member viewpoint. UBF is actively painting the best possible picture of themselves to the world. This book is my attempt to reveal the nature of what is under all that holy paint. Healthy religion is about real transformation, not about painting over failures and shortcomings. These are the stories the group leaders do not want to be told. These are the stories the group will not discuss openly or honestly.
I grew up out in the country of Ohio in the USA. My town had less than a thousand people living in it. My high school class had 87 graduates. I grew up in a sort of winter wonderland. I loved riding snowmobiles! I would often go off into the woods with my dad and brothers, riding the snowy trails all day. I loved to stop and watch the giant snowflakes fall all around us. I loved adventure. I dreamed of being Luke Skywalker and flying off to the universe to explore it.
The only passion that rivaled my sci-fi fantasies was my passion for God. Part of my family is Catholic, and so we attended Mass every Sunday without fail. Prayer was common to me and I read the Bible before going to bed. I took the standard catechism classes, but did not stop there. I continued attending the classes, led by Catholic nuns, through high school. At age 16 I had an intense time of prayer where I felt close to God, as if God were living inside of me. I had prayed so much that night for my father, who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS). His strong body was slowly disintegrating, as his mind stayed normal. His slow march to death shattered my winter wonderland life during my teen years. And it also drove me to become ultra-religious.
I wanted to be a priest. But I was just about to graduate high school and had many other things on my mind, like my one and only girlfriend. The debate raged in my mind. Do I enter the priesthood and remain celibate? Or do I enter the world and pursue my passion for computer science?
I chose the world. I was a Christian but I could not make the commitment to be a priest. Besides, I saw the wonderful example of Christian life from my parents and grandparents. They showed me that I would be loved no matter which path I took.
I entered a university not far from my hometown with all these thoughts in my mind. My father was slowly fading away, my mind was conflicted between technology and God, and my emotions were swirling from leaving behind my girlfriend in my hometown.
You might say this is a perfect storm. Two weeks after arriving on campus, I was sitting by the library on a sunny afternoon. A man approached me and asked if I ever thought about God. Of course I said yes I did. He shared some Bible verses and invited me to a campus Bible study. I told him I was not interested but appreciated what he was doing. I also gave him my contact information. This was in the days before email… so he had to actually visit me in my dorm later. The next week he knocked on my dorm room door, and he had a Korean man with him.
I felt at ease immediately because I had loved the Karate Kid movies and thought the Korean man looked like Mr. Miyagi. Their invitation to Bible study seemed to me to be God’s answer to my prayer to be a priest. They told me all about UBF and how it was a student missionary training ministry connected with the Presbyterian church and that they followed the Westminster Catechism. Immediately the hope to serve God with my life came back to my mind. If I did not have the calling to be a Catholic priest, maybe I had the calling to be a Protestant missionary?
And so I joined UBF with the hope to be a missionary. I began Bible study with these two shepherds. This passion and hope would spur me on for the next 24 years. Always UBF promised to train me to be a world-class missionary. I was drawn in by the wonderful food, the good fellowship and the excessive attention they paid to me.
I stayed at UBF for many reasons. One reason is that UBF became my new family. When my father died, they attended the funeral. I adopted them as my spiritual fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters. We had such joyful and meaningful fellowship at first. It seemed to me I had found my new winter wonderland. I excelled at UBF, rising through the ranks from sheep to shepherd-candidate, from shepherd to fellowship leader and from fellowship leader to Sunday messenger and pioneering chapter director. I could tell there were problems, but I suppressed any negative feelings. I denied any critical thoughts that might hinder or change my newfound mission.
Like the shepherds around me, I felt the twinge of pride whenever any of my friends fell away from our fellowship. I began to see myself as a lone, holy soldier, carrying on the flame of world mission. I was sad every time someone left our ministry or was given harsh training, but I considered it their own fault for having weak faith. I just made sure my faith was strong. I made sure I was the faithful one, devoting 30 or 40 or more hours every week. I threw myself into the UBF activities, attending Sunday service every week, morning prayer every day, weekly meetings on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Every week I wrote a three page testimony or lecture examining the weekly Bible passage and sharing how I had not done various UBF activities that week, and would strive to do better the next week. I became lost in the constant meetings and conferences. In a sense, I did not want to face the reality that my father had died. I hid myself in a UBF bubble. And part of me became frozen in time.
–Excerpted from Identity Snatchers: Exposing A Korean Campus Bible Cult, pg.17-20