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  • Writer's pictureEric Navas

UBF's elephant in the room: Suicides

The holidays are approaching (Thanksgiving and Christmas). Holidays can be a joyful time. But unfortunately they can also be a time of suicides and factors that lead to suicides such as depression and abuse. For this reason this post is being made.

Regarding UBF and suicides to quote from an ex-member whom is also my friend:

“I would not go so far to say that UBF caused all these suicides and depressions. But I would say that UBF is not equipped to help such people and often aggravates these problems, because UBF shepherds don’t have any education in Biblical counseling or psychology and try to “help” people by pressing them into the mold of a UBF shepherd. It may work in 1% of the cases, but for the 99% where the mold does not fit, it is disastrous.” Source:

To expand on that when a current member expresses thoughts of suicide all the shepherd (bible teacher or UBF "missionary") will do is relay more bible knowledge and maybe a pat on the back. That's it. Bible study (without spiritual abuse) in itself is not bad but most of the time when one has thoughts of suicide bible knowledge alone is not enough. What they do need I'll explain at the end.

What happens if a current member succeeds at committing suicide?

-The event is covered up

-Family, friends, and other members of UBF who witnessed the suicide are forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).

-All evidence is removed

-Members are forbidden to report to the authorities

This was the case with the tragic story of Samuel Choi of Chicago UBF:

"It has been suggested that Samuel was suicidal before he came to the USA and that he had even attempted suicide in Korea. He had not tried to commit suicide in Korea. He had told his mother that he had once contemplated suicide as a teenager. However, a history of depression did run in his mother’s side of the family. Samuel’s grandmother had a history of depression. Samuel’s uncle, now a member of UBF in the USA, had actually attempted suicide in Korea. For this reason, his mother was worried about her son as she sent him to the USA, into the environment of Chicago UBF. Mr. Lee was no doubt aware of Samuel’s family history of depression since he had been the personal “shepherd” to Samuel’s mother for a while in Korea, and Mr. Lee took a special interest in her family.

Shortly after Mr. Lee ordered Samuel to surrender his passport to him and to submit to his “training,” on a Monday morning in October 1999, Samuel attempted suicide. He was talked off the ledge by police officers, and they accompanied him to the Chicago Read mental health facility. (This is the location ) The wife of Samuel’s fellowship leader, Karris Hong picked him up from Chicago Read; her husband was in Korea at the time. She and some of her fellowship members tried to keep Samuel under a makeshift suicide watch, but she did not notify our family though we lived in the same neighborhood, and she did not notify his parents in Korea. On the Friday of that same week, Samuel disappeared. He was not at the regular Friday night meeting for all members. His fellowship members, his supposed suicide watch, should have been concerned; they said nothing about it to me or my wife who were at that Friday meeting. Samuel slept at a friend’s house that Friday night. The next morning, Saturday, he jumped from a 12-story downtown parking structure. It was not until the police showed up at the Chicago UBF building on that Saturday afternoon that I learned that he had unsuccessfully attempted suicide earlier that week.

I have wondered why the wife of Samuel’s fellowship leader would have neglected to inform us, Samuel’s immediate family who lived in the same neighborhood less than three blocks away, that he had unsuccessfully attempted suicide that Monday. And why did she try to solve the problem in her own way by setting up a totally ineffectual suicide watch? The answer is clear to me now. It was because she knew what Mr. Lee’s “clear direction” in the matter was. As another former member wrote in testifying about Samuel’s suicide, “[In UBF] Once M. Samuel Lee gives the direction, there is no other way except obeying him, even though his direction is unreasonable.” I strongly believe that Karris Hong’s fear was that if she told us or Samuel’s parents of his suicide attempt, we or they would have moved to help him return to Korea, regardless of Mr. Lee’s “clear direction.” It is likely that Karris Hong did not agree with Mr. Lee’s “direction,” but she feared Mr. Lee and the possible repercussions if she did anything to undermine his “direction.” She chose to stay out of trouble instead of doing what was wise and right. It is a scenario that has been repeated so many times in Chicago UBF.

Just one day, less than 24 hours after the suicide, on a Sunday, Mr. Lee ordered that Samuel’s shared apartment room be completely cleared out and all his belongings taken somewhere. Paul Chung and several other current members of Chicago UBF carried out his order that afternoon. [This was done without consulting us at all, his nearest of kin in Chicago.] My wife and I were just too numb at that point to object to this at all. Mr. Lee’s motivation for ordering this seems obvious to me: Look for and get rid of any evidence, perhaps a suicide note, that might implicate Mr. Lee’s abuse as a possible motivation for the suicide.

On that same Sunday, Samuel’s suicide was not even mentioned. It was amazing to see how quickly things were back to “business as usual” in Chicago UBF after Samuel’s suicide. When Mr. Lee first spoke publicly about the suicide during a regular Friday meeting about two weeks after the suicide, he could only talk impassively about suicide being an unpardonable sin; he never accepted responsibility. My father suggested cremation of the body to Samuel’s parents and they assented. They were ordered not to come to the brief, small funeral attended only by Mr. Lee and the Chicago UBF elders. Samuel’s name was not mentioned in Chicago UBF again." Source:

Another tragic suicide story is of Sarah Regina Thompson, mother and wife, of a UBF family:

Source of image:

Here is the news article of Sarah's suicide:

Here is more evidence and references to these suicides and other ones in UBF:

So what do those who are contemplating suicide truly need? Someone to truly listen to them, understand them, and support them. Professional people who know whqt they are doing. Not someone who just repeats bible knowledge and tries to cover up the issue.

Here is the National Suicide Prevention Hotline number 1-800-273-8255 they are available 24/7.

Here is the National Suicide Prevention Hotline website:

Another suicide awareness/prevention website:

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