University Bible Fellowship

An international evangelical movement, originating in South Korea, with a focus on student evangelism and biblical discipleship.


The University Bible Fellowship (UBF) is an international evangelical Christian organization that originated in South Korea in 1961. It was co-founded by Samuel Chang-Woo Lee, a Korean Presbyterian pastor, and Sarah Barry, an American Presbyterian missionary. The organization’s headquarters are now located in Chicago, Illinois. UBF’s primary mission is student evangelism, focusing on Bible study and personal discipleship.

Founding and Expansion

UBF began as a student movement in South Korea during a time of national upheaval following the Korean War. Lee and Barry shared a vision of planting faith in Christ in the hearts of college students, who they believed could become future leaders. The movement initially attracted students through English Bible study sessions. It emphasized deep Bible study, prayer, and a commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The organization expanded its missionary work in 1964, sending workers to various parts of South Korea. By the 1970s, UBF had extended its reach to other continents, establishing chapters in Africa, Europe, South America, Asia, Oceania, and North America. This expansion was often in tandem with other campus ministries like InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Campus Crusade for Christ, Navigators, and Youth With a Mission. In 1975, UBF was incorporated as a non-profit organization in Mississippi, USA, and subsequently moved its international headquarters from Seoul to Chicago.

Beliefs and Practices

UBF identifies as a non-denominational evangelical Christian entity. Its teachings and statement of faith align with conservative evangelical theology. Central to UBF’s ministry is one-on-one Bible teaching, where members engage in personal Bible studies. This approach is reflective of the founders’ emphasis on the Shepherding Movement teachings. The organization is also known for its lay self-supporting missionary model, which is well-regarded within the Korean church community.

Controversies

UBF has faced criticism and controversy, particularly regarding its recruitment practices on university campuses. Universities in Canada and the United States, including the University of Winnipeg, University of Manitoba, and University of Illinois, have at times limited or banned UBF from practicing on-campus recruiting, citing concerns over the group’s methods. The organization has been a subject of study in discussions about spiritually abusive and overly authoritarian religious groups.

Ronald Enroth’s book “Churches That Abuse,” published in 1991, lists UBF as a case study. However, counter-cult researcher Ruth Tucker critiqued Enroth’s methodology, arguing that his findings were based on one-sided testimonials from unhappy former members. Allegations of the group being spiritually abusive and overly authoritarian have been reported, but these claims have not been universally accepted or verified. As of 2016, UBF continues to be monitored by several cult-watching groups in the United States.

Financials

UBF is registered as a non-profit organization in the United States and is a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). In 2019, the organization reported $2,149,367 in total revenue and $2,073,393 in total expenses, with net assets of $13,907,906.

Global Presence

Today, UBF has a significant presence in South Korea and chapters in 91 countries, including American universities and community colleges. The organization continues to focus on student evangelism and raising disciples worldwide, emphasizing missionary work and Christian discipleship. UBF also engages in global initiatives like the Bethesda Medical Center in Uganda, reflecting its commitment to a broader humanitarian and evangelical mission.