As a freshman at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I was often the target of an aggressive proselytizer. A couple times a week, a Korean man would approach me with a broad smile and invite me to study the Bible. I had no idea that he was among hundreds of Korean missionaries spanned across college campuses trying to win the country for Christ. I didn’t know that the headquarters for University Bible Fellowship (UBF)—Korea’s second largest missionary sending agency—was just a few miles away.
I did know that UBF was seen as intense and cult-like. This was significant because I was part of a similar campus group: The Local Church, where I had grown up. Like UBF, The Local Church was an Asian Christian movement that had been evangelizing in America for decades. We also invited strangers to study the Bible—and we were also accused of being a cult. At UIC, we were in competition.
My parents had come to faith in The Local Church in the 1970s. But my experience of the church differed significantly from theirs. The structure that they had embraced began feeling intense and heavy-handed during that freshman year, and I grew uncomfortable with bold overtures like inviting strangers to Bible studies. Other members of my campus group struggled to embrace the culture of The Local Church, a culture heavily flavored by its Asian heritage. By the time I left college, I had also left The Local Church, the place where my faith had been nurtured in its early years.
Like me, Rebecca Kim grew up in the embrace and shadow of Asian Christianity in America. In her new study, The Spirit Moves West: Korean Missionaries in America, Kim, a Pepperdine University sociologist, describes the initial wave of UBF missionaries. ...1