A Brief History of UBF at Northwestern

Philippians 4:8,”Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” (Northwestern U. motto, founded 1851)

Northwestern was the first campus ‘pioneered’ in Chicago UBF and one of the first in America. Five Korean women nursing graduates (from the top university in Korea, SNU) came to Chicago in 1977. Four of them are still active in UBF: Sweety Rhee at UMKC, Ruth Yoon at MSU, Sarah B. Choi in Chicago and Pauline Park at OSU. They didn’t speak English very well, so initially they shared Jesus with hospital staff since they worked the night shift as nurse aides. Cofounder Sarah (“Mother”) Barry urged them not to stay with missionaries, but to get an apartment next to a college and stay there. They asked someone to take them to the nearest campus, which was Northwestern. They didn’t know how to find an apartment, so they prayed. As they finished praying, they saw a man that looked like a “janitor”. (Actually, he was a Northwestern professor.) They asked him how to find an apartment and he helped them. They got an apartment right across the street from where they prayed. Later, they invited this professor to lunch and since they didn’t have any napkins, they gave him clean toilet paper instead. They lived poorly and purely: their only furniture was a table for Bible study; they had no beds. They were the first missionaries to begin “fishing” on campus, directly inviting students off the street to Bible study. Every day they went fishing, with great joy and without shame; every night they held prayer meetings, then worked the night shift at the hospital to support themselves. Sometimes in their prayer meetings, they were so sleepy that they prayed according to their nursing study lesson. Because of the language barrier, these young missionaries held 5-to-1 Bible studies (5 missionaries to 1 student), rather than the usual 1-to-1.

Many students came and left. A few remained, or brought friends who remained. The first to remain was Geordan Griggs, who was extremely smart, but wrecked by his broken-family background. He was very nervous and had difficulty concentrating. He had found only one friend at Northwestern–his roommate, partly because he was extremely eccentric, often eating raw meat or walking barefoot in snow. When his roommate brought him to Bible study, he was on academic probation and could scarcely function. He enjoyed Bible study and eventually accepted Christ. He began to change. Co-founder Dr. Samuel Lee gave him public speaking training as a presider. Initially this was difficult for Geordan, but he remained faithful and overcame his Red Sea. He became a leader in Cincinnati UBF before going to heaven. Another early disciple was Alan Wolff, the first American to study the Bible with an American. Alan was an atheist, punk rocker who mocked Christians. In his first Bible study he said, “You have to be really stupid to believe this stuff!” But one thing that intrigued him was the joy he saw in the missionaries. In time, he accepted Christ. But he was such a poor student that he was kicked out of NU. He went back home to Washington DC and participated in UBF there. He finished college, returned to Chicago and worked his way back to NU as a successful employee, got his PhD from NU, and became an elder in Chicago UBF. Another NU graduate, Pastor Mark Vucekovich has pioneered DePaul/Lincoln Park UBF in Chicago. Yvonne Timlin was a journalism major with several boyfriends at once. But through Bible study with Pastor Mark, and living with a missionary family (Dr. James and Sarah Kim), she has been changed into a most sacrificial, dedicated woman of God in Chicago UBF. Pastor Kevin Albright was a proud, self-righteous Catholic student. At his first UBF Easter conference he accepted the living hope in Jesus Christ and has been serving NU students with Bible study every since. He could get a high-paying job with two NU engineering degrees; but he gladly serves NU ministry full time. Tony King was involved in UBF starting in high school in Chicago. He was deeply wounded by his parents’ separation. But he accepted Jesus and always wears a smile on his face. He finished his degree in Math at NU and still serves NU ministry. He led Brian Annear, a theater major, to Christ. Brian recently finished a 6-month missionary stay in Moscow and got married. Erik was a reclusive atheist, who came to Bible study mainly to get help to resolve a car problem. Handel’s Messiah chorus impressed him and the prophetic word of God from Daniel spoke to his highly intellectual mind to see that the Bible is more than fiction. He has served in China as a teacher. At present, there are 13 families serving NU as Bible teachers and several singles, and about 50 students come each quarter to Bible study, usually once a week. Many students come and go at NU UBF, but God keeps calling a remnant from Northwestern—some we see, some we don’t— and is using them to further His Kingdom. Early ministry at Northwestern was the fruit of prayer and depending on God, and it bore lasting fruit. It is our prayer that God may continue to raise servants of Jesus Christ as Bible teachers and missionaries from among Northwestern students.