Mission Reports by Sarah Barry 1956-1974
Sarah Barry, co-founder and current director of UBF (“University Bible Fellowship”), meanwhile called “Reverend Mother Barry” by its members (and obviously enjoying it), was an American missionary of the Southern Presbyterian Church in the 1950s. Being such she was obliged to send regular reports to her mother organization. She did this for about 20 years, though it can be observed, how she dissociated more and more from her own church and built up her own organization together with Samuel Lee, until she finally completely detached from the church. Here is the complete list of her “MCD letters,” which were archived by the Presbyterian Church, but so far unknown to UBF members:
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Similar to the subsequent self representations of the UBF, Sarah Barry’s reports are also very one-sided, self glorifying, glossed over, lacking any self-criticism, and characterized by concealment or falsification of essential backgrounds, events and developments in the history of the organization. Anyway, these historical letters probably will help to understand the history of the development of UBF far better than subsequent, even more forged versions of the “history of UBF” written by Sarah Barry or Samuel Lee.
One can easily recognize how Samuel (actually “Chang Woo”) Lee, after having been employed by Sarah Barry as a co-worker for Christian student ministry under the patronage of the Presbyterian Church, very soon managed to become the actual ruler and autocrat of an independent organization “UBF,” demoting Sarah Barry to become his “secretary.” Samuel Lee even boasted publicly in the 1991 UBF newsletter: “I [Lee] said to myself, ‘In 10 years I am going to make you [Barry] my personal secretary.’ By God’s grace, it had been done exactly in 10 years. I was the leader. She was my associate.” UBF was actually molded by the personality of Samuel Lee and his ideas far more than by Sarah Barry. However she has to be charged for not curbing the negative developments, though she was able to observe them at best from the beginning in her position close to Samuel Lee, instead even promoting these developments, probably overwhelmed with the honor and appreciation she received in UBF as “mother” of the organization.
Interestingly Barry already in her April 1962 report remarks about Lee: “He is showing real ability in the art of leading from behind.” It was indeed Samuel Lee who was pulling the strings in the background, playing off the chapter leaders against each other and very soon becoming the unlimited autocrat in UBF. Barry’s report from the year 1974 reveals that without him actually no decision could be made any more. By how far they had already left leadership in the sense of the Presbyterian Church, of which Samuel Lee once had been a member, too! The mission report of November 1970 also very clearly describes Samuel Lee’s method of effective “cloning” of his ideas, methods and Bible interpretation to all other members.
Sometimes Sarah Barry tries to give the impression that the so-called “Nevius plan” for evangelizing China, which had taken effect particularly in Korea, was fulfilled by UBF in an ideal way, which is, however, not true at all. Among other things the Nevius plan emphasized self-responsibility of the local church, i.e. not only of church leaders, but every single member. The leaders should be elected by the local churches and not be ordered from above by the organization as it is the case in UBF. There shouldn’t be any superior organization at all. Missionaries were thought of being traveling missionaries, and not church pastors, as it is the case in UBF. The practice of UBF differs from the ideas of Nevius in many other critical aspects, and his ideas were designed only for the special situation in China and Korea at that time anyway, i.e. neither for world mission in general nor for today’s time. In her letters Sarah Barry also propagates the idea of every Christian being a teacher, which is rejected, however, by the New Testament in several places.
Interesting is also the clearly visible focus on studying the book of Genesis, the calling of Abraham being interpreted as calling for co-working in UBF to the students. In the report of November 1970 Sarah Barry even remarks that, by one-to-one Genesis Bible study, many students “accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord.” How deeply can somebody accept Jesus who has only studied an Old Testament book where the name Jesus isn’t even mentioned? Older UBF missionaries report that though in the beginning besides Genesis also some chapters from John’s Gospel were studied, these were only chapters targeting towards calling, not the actual Gospel of the cross. The New Testament epistles also weren’t read for a long time in UBF, and even now they don’t read all epistles, since the interpretation and application of the Gospel by the epistles contradicts the ideas of UBF in too many aspects. It is also remarkable that neither Sarah Barry nor Samuel Lee ever mentioned their own “conversion story” and the playing a part and help of other people in this. There is only a kind of “calling story” of Samuel Lee. These two “servants of God” make others believe that they have simply fallen from heaven, fully qualified, without having underwent any kind of training that other members so desperately need according to their opinion.
One can also recognize some aloofness towards other Christian organizations and one sees how the occasional cooperation with the Presbyterian Church in the beginning, with other missionaries, the IFES, or the “Scripture Union” was abandoned more and more and finally stopped completely. The Bible devotional “Daily Bread” which was originally obtained from Scripture Union, was later regularly written by Sarah Barry and other UBF leaders to bring the content more in line with UBF emphasis and doctrines, and merely the name was kept. From a student organization under the patronage of the Presbyterian Church, UBF developed more and more towards an independent denomination, proffering a “complete package” to its members, including a “tithing” system towards the “headquarters,” Bible study lessons, Bible conferences, Sunday worship services, up to wedding and burial ceremonies. Every kind of accountability towards members or other Christian organizations, actually a particular characteristic of Presbyterian churches, was turned down meanwhile.
The missionary letter of November 1962, by the way, declares that UBF was officially founded by 9 students on November 24, 1962 only, whereas UBF always states 1961 to be the year of foundation. The above mission letters of Sarah Barry contain many things which cannot be found in subsequent official reports any more. After Samuel Lee apparently finally had “taken over the wheel” from her during her vacation year in the USA 1964/65, some orientation crisis can be observed in her letter of April 1965, too. But apparently finally she accepted her role as the “secretary” of Samuel Lee and the revered “mother” of the organization. Since that vacation year she also started to write her Christian name with an “h” at the end, as in the English Bible, apparently identifying herself with the biblical Sarah in Genesis. The report from the year 1974 mentions that still the highest decisive authority after Samuel Lee was left to her. This delegation of power, established in the very beginning, apparently was also the reason for her taking over the leading role in UBF after the death of Samuel Lee in the year 2002.