Keith's friends say they never see him any more. Keith is a 22-year-old chemical technology graduate. He used to love martial arts, music, his record collection and books. But in the space of 4 months, he's given all that up.
Keith is losing his family, money, personality and probably his self-control to the University Bible Fellowship, cult experts say. The UBF which came to Canada three years ago from Korea and has 20 chapters in the United States and a dozen countries around the world, is flourishing in Winnipeg. It calls itself a Christian Bible study group, dedicated to the task of campus evangelism, in a pamphlet published by the group.
But according to Dr. Ronald Enroth of California, a world renowned sociologist who has had six books published on North American cults, UBF is part of a new wave of authoritarian mind control groups quickly replacing traditional youth groups like the Hare Krishna and Moonies.
"It's a huge problem", Enroth said. "These groups which profess to be within the Christian mainstream, not an imported religion, are the type that are growing." Judging by the group's weekly Sunday services, about 70 university students are at various stages of involvement with the UBF in Winnipeg - so far the only chapter in Canada.
The students are introduced to UBF Bible study by mainly female Korean missionaries, referred to as shepherds by group members. The women are seen soliciting students in the hallways, libraries, and cafeterias of Winnipeg campuses, particularly the University of Winnipeg, which is only blocks away from the groups Bible house on Sherbrook Street, university administrators say.
For Keith, who is from Thompson [Manitoba], it all began in June when Ruth approached him at Red River Community College the week before his final exams and asked him if he wanted to study the Bible.
"He was anxious and feeling down at the time," his former roommate and friend since kindergarten said, "That's how they got him." It started with a few one-on-one intensive Bible study sessions with Ruth, his personal shepherd. Then Keith began attending Sunday services at the Bible house, early morning study, and after a few months was involved in several UBF activities each day, his friend said.
He said recently Keith moved out of the apartment he shared with him and another friend and now lives on Sherbrook, 30 meters from the Bible house.
"He told us we weren't spiritual enough for him," he said. He said Keith rarely calls his parents any more and when friends try to talk to him alone, a UBF member is always nearby. "He's completely changed in a few months," he said. "He's gone from a really nice, shy, fun guy to be with the exact opposite."
"He used to be ambitious. Now he lives meagerly and couldn't give a damn if he was a laborer all his life." Keith, who works as a quality control officer in a downtown restaurant earning $8 to $9 an hour, gives his entire pay check to the UBF, his friend said. And although he is enrolled in a few night courses at the University of Winnipeg, Keith admitted to one of his friends he was attending classes solely to recruit more UBF members, he said.
Gordon Gillespie of Manitoba Cult Awareness Center said he has received many calls from concerned parents about UBF. "We don't know enough about them yet," he said, "We're starting to hear about the damage they've done in the U.S. and we're trying to find out more information."
South of the border, where UBF has been operating for more than ten years, former members are launching public campaigns in an effort to ward people about the group. Tom Brown [name changed] was in UBF in U.S. for 4 1/2 years before his parents got him out. It's only now, at 27, after deprogramming, rehabilitation and three years of severe re-adjustment problems that Brown said he has been able to pick up his life left off in 1979.
"It was like a spiritual rape. They violate you but you don't really realize it until the heavy stuff starts coming down and by that time you're already in too far." Brown said he was UBF's number one recruit in the U.S. He became a full-time staff member and dedicated his whole life to UBF and it's leader Samuel Lee.
"Nobody was as committed as I was," Brown, now a de-programmer who was instrumental in founding an anti-UBF lobby group in Chicago, said. He said UBF indoctrination is a professional and well-thought-out system of what cult experts call psychological totalism.
"The recruit is gradually weaned away from family, friends and all other activities except those directly connected with UBF," Brown said. The goal, although no recruit is ever told this, is to have them commit their lives to UBF under total and absolute obedience to Samuel Lee and his teachings, he said.
Lee, whose real name is Chang Woo Lee, started the UBF in Korea in the 1960's along with American Presbyterian missionary Sarah Barry, he said. Dissent among Korean members in 1976 over what they claimed was Lee's abuse of spiritual authority split the group and brought Lee and Barry to the U.S. where they now control UBF operations from their headquarters in Chicago, he said.
Opportunities for sewing machine operators in Winnipeg three years ago opened doors for more than 20 female missionaries to immigrate to Canada and begin their lay mission here.
Ester Kim, the Winnipeg chapter head, did not return FREE PRESS calls. I posed as a philosophy student interested in bible study and arranged to get myself recruited into the Winnipeg group. Chapter head Ester Kim did not answer the phone with "University Bible Fellowship" when I called for a Bible study appointment, just "hello". She said no one had mentioned my name and asked who I knew in the group. Keith's friend had arranged for me to meet and talk about the Bible study with Keith previously and I used his name as a reference.
I arrived at 386 Sherbrook in the early morning. The two-story house had no signs to indicate it was UBF and the main-floor windows of the all white building were covered from the outside. Three Korean women, aged 25 to 35 years old, were reading in the main-floor meeting room when I cam in. They all knew my name and said they were expecting me. One stood up and greeted me with a warm smile and a soft handshake.
"I am Anna Kim," she said. "I hear you are interested in studying the Bible." Kim was the youngest of the three. She, like the other women, was wearing a simple dress, low heels and no make-up. But all three have permed hair. Brown later said that hairstyle is one of the UBF's demands on female members. Kim took me to the large conference table where the two other women were still sitting. The women smiled encouragingly, but Kim appeared to be sole guide.
She started by giving me a page of questions on the first lesson - Genesis, Chapter One - and then brought me a cup of tea. The room was quiet except for the sound of male voices singing hymns in the basement. It was classroom-like, with a large map on the wall and Bibles stacked in the corner. Although the conference table has several seats, Kim sat right next to me as I wrote. "We will go upstairs now for study," she said.
The upstairs room was much smaller but also white and sparsely decorated. Kim sat across from me at a small table and began to pray out loud for my heart to be humbled. "Now we shall sing a hymn," she said. She sang four verses by herself. Then she began asking questions about my university studies, friends and family. "Do you feel sometimes that you don't have a purpose of life? she asked. "The world is so confusing out there, isn't it? she said, adding that I shouldn't hesitate to talk about personal problems in my study sessions with her.
Reading from prepared notes, which Brown said were probably prepared by Lee, Kim took me , verse by verse, through Genesis One, explaining the meaning. The conclusions she drew were; God's word was almighty. He demanded complete obedience to the word, youth must come to him before they are lost and all the above can only occur in a controlled environment.
"I used to have a distorted and twisted personality," Kim said, "I have been transformed. I don't even recognize myself." Kim said she was recruited by UBF more than five years ago when she was a university graduate in Korea. She said she had a job teaching small children, which she loved, but left everything to come to Canada. She said she no longer cares about worldly things such as a career and work. She only works to eat. Her true mission, she said is as a missionary of UBF.
"You will see as we continue to study that God has a purpose for your life as well." The one-on-one session lasted for 3 1/2 hours. After Kim prayed that I would continue to study the Bible, she asked for my phone number and address and set up another session the following night. I was to prepare answers to another set of questions based on three verses in Genesis Chapter Two. Kim also asked me to prepare a sogam (which translated from Korean means straight from the heart) on my feelings about the first lesson.
According to Brown, I began the first stage of a well- defined process designed to gradually pull recruits into UBF. The leaders call the first stage "love bombing". "Shepherds display what is apparently unconditional acceptance and affection for the recruit," Brown said. "If you are shy and a bit insecure, that environment makes you feel safe and more open to what they have to say."
During each one-on-one Bible study, the sheep are encouraged to reveal information about themselves through sogam method - their fears, guilts and insecurities, he said. "That's where they get into manipulation. Such information is turned around on people to be used painfully later on." Then comes stage two: "The thing that makes it all work is isolation," Brown said. "If they can cut you away from your friends, family and the people you trust, then they can replace them and totally surround your life."
"They reach out to constantly occupy your time, he said. "You start to have to make decisions between going home for Thanksgiving, weekends and summer vacation or studying with them." Brown said his shepherd told him his parents wouldn't understand his new life commitment and would probably persecute him for it. When that happened, the shepherd explained, he would know Satan was working through them.
The shepherd also pushes for financial commitments to UBF, he said. Brown said his shepherd told him the minimum contribution was $50 a month. By his last year in UBF, he said he was paying $200 a month to the group. "Some people are rumored to pay up to 80 per cent of their salary," he said. "When I was there, I'd estimate over $300,000 went through the organization every year." Within the space of a few months, on average, the recruit is surrounded he said.
Brown said when he left home and moved in with UBF members, stage three - ego destruction - began. He said he fell in love with another recruit, but because such feelings are considered evil by the group, he did not tell his shepherd.
"When my shepherd found out she nailed me to the wall. She constantly worked on me, yelled at me everyday, rebuking me, hammering at all my areas of weakness and telling me what a rotten sinner I was." Brown said he was also sent to Samuel lee for repentance and there his self-image was wiped out.
"They just kept working on me till I finally broke. At one meeting I just started weeping in front of everyone. I wept for an hour. When Samuel Lee saw that I had finally reached that point, then they could redeem me," he said.
"It's classical brainwashing technique used on prisoners of war. They get you to the breaking point and then they become your redeemers and rebuild you in the image they have for you." The last stage is a series of loyalty tests to exact complete obedience fro the recruit of God, which is really UBF, he said, and leaders will resort to physical abuse if stubborn members refuse to break.
Brown said Lee was revered as a Christ figure and wielded tremendous power over the lives of individual members in the group, including personally arranging marriages between members. "I know Lee enjoys it," Brown said. "I know he gets a thrill out of the power he has over people's lives".
As for Keith and other Winnipeg students in UBF, leaving the group may prove very difficult. "If they're living with the group, it's almost impossible to get them out," Gillespie said. "A lot of people resort to forcibly pulling their kids out."
*** (in the interest of privacy, the identity of the principal in this article has been changed)