Yesterday, I pointed out that the expenditure of foreign funds by GFA in the fiscal year ending on March 31, 2014 for the support of children enrolled in the Bridge of Hope program seemed quite low, estimated at around $105 per year. Today, I want to point out that GFA’s request for child sponsorship in India is about one-third of what it is here in the U.S. and that the actual costs are even lower than that.
On the U.S. website, GFA requests $35/month to sponsor a child:
It only takes $35 a month to give a child everything they need—school supplies, a daily meal, medical checkups and more—to attend a Bridge of Hope Center. 100% of your sponsorship is sent to the field to support your child.
However, on the GFA/Believers’ Church Indian website, the cost is INR 800/month or about $12.50 in U.S. dollars per month. That’s quite a discount. The sponsorship page promises:
Your sponsorship of Rs. 800 per month provides [child’s name]:
A nutritious meal each day
A yearly medical checkup
Basic school & hygiene needs
I have also seen GFA budget documents which tell a more surprising story.* The actual cost during fiscal year ending 2014 to support one child in a GFA Bridge of Hope center in India was just under INR 500 or around $8.20 per month per child. This paid for the administration of the program, food purchases, and all child services. In fact, the actual items given to each child (school supplies, clothes, hygiene supplies and gifts) only cost INR 140 per child or $2.20 per month.
At that rate, Americans who send $35/month to GFA for a child sponsorship could actually support 4 children. Or GFA could keep the excess in a bank and draw interest on the balance as they appear to be doing. As I noted yesterday, GFA spent over $6 million in foreign contributions on Bridge of Hope expenses in FYE 2014 but had in the neighborhood of $25 million designated for “the welfare of children” sitting in a bank drawing interest at the same time.
GFA has to report that interest (the banks do as well) and all four GFA controlled organizations accumulated $4.2 million on the money in savings accounts by the end of FY 2014.
GFA says “100% of your sponsorship is sent to the field to support your child.” Perhaps this statement should be reworded. The money is sent to the field but a lot of it apparently ends up in a bank on the field.
It is past time for GFA to end the silence and address this matter as well as otherswhich have come out in recent weeks.
*I have the documents but don’t have permission to publish them.
In a recent staff meeting (May 14, 2015), Gospel for Asia leaders told staff that they had $7 million in cash balance in India. Responding to a question from a staffer about why GFA is sitting on so much cash in India, COO David Carroll answered:
That account will tend to build up over the year, it will ebb and it will flow and it will go down as money is spent. Currently, is there 94 million dollars in there or someone asked is there $150 million dollar fund on the field? No, currently the balances from what I understand from India are around 7 million dollars in that particular, those particular accounts. The reason that they are there is because we have to report all foreign contributions that come in. Money will swell and as we spend the money the money will go. We cannot spend the money until we can spend it on the project for which it was designated.
This puzzled me because it seems to contradict the financial contribution reports filed with the Indian government every year. Something isn’t adding up when one compares Carroll’s information to what is filed with the Indian government. According to the most recent report showing GFA’s use of foreign contributions for the Indian fiscal year ending March 31, 2014, GFA alone had $54,929,800 listed as a cash balance. If you include the other entities that receive money from U.S. based GFA controlled limited liability corporations, the balance swells to $158,165,400.*
GFA and Believers’ Church both receive money from several LLCs with Texas addresses (e.g., see this list). Two other groups do as well: Last Hour Ministry, and Love India Ministry. The image below shows the cash balances for each of those organizations in India. These numbers do not include U.S. operations, which are likewise substantial.
Carroll is correct that funds designated for a particular purpose cannot be used for another purpose and so if GFA receives a lot of money for something that is not needed on the field, then they have to wait until they need it to spend it. The report filed with the Indian government provides a reasonable amount of detail about where funds have been and are designated to be spent (see the entire report here). See below:
Note the red boxes on the right side of this chart. The cash balance GFA reported to the Indian government was (in rupees) 3,288,264,488.79. Using the exchange rate on March 31, 2014, this converts to $54, 929,800. Similar calculations led to the image above showing over $150 million. Also note that the previous balance was (in rupees) 2,984251885.50. At the March 31, 2013 exchange rate, that converts to $54,601,600 as a cash balance in 2013.
Donors might have a lot of questions after reviewing this information. For instance, what is a Corpus Fund, and why was $21,512,100 sitting in it as of March 31, 2014? It doesn’t appear that any foreign funds were spent on welfare of widows and orphans. There may be perfectly good explanations for all of the questions raised by these reports. However, given GFA’s promises, the massive amounts of money involved, and the other issuesidentified of late, there is no reason the public and staff shouldn’t ask.
To explore these reports, go to the foreign contributions portal, and then click on the years of interest. All data are not available for 2014-2015 as yet, so click 2013-2014 for the most recent data. Then also click on “Kerala” for the state and hit submit. There you will see all of the charities operating in Kerala. Find Gospel for Asia, Believers’ Church, Love India Ministry, and Last Hour Ministry. Historical exchange rates can be found here.
Last week, I reported the testimony of several former Gospel for Asia students and staffers who told me that GFA asked them to carry envelopes of cash into India.Some groups may have carried as much as $135,000 in cash to India via individual envelopes of cash packed in luggage or backpacks. According to U.S. law, more than $10,000 leaving or entering the country must be declared and cannot be split up among co-travelers to evade declaration. No source I spoke with filled out any customs forms to declare the cash as required by law.
I asked GFA COO David Carroll for comment or explanation before that article was published with no response. I have reached out again this week but have not heard back.
In the mean time, I was given audio of a staff meeting which took place last week after my article was published where GFA leaders Carroll, KP Yohannan, and Danny Yohannan answered a staff question about the practice of various GFA travelers carrying money to India. In the meeting, the leaders acknowledged that students, pastors and staff had carried cash to India. Even though staff have complained for months, the staff were just informed last week that GFA leaders have decided to discontinue it. Listen to the segment in response to a question from a female staffer:
(Author’s note: During the week of November 13, 2015, GFA, through attorneys, demanded the removal of the audio from this post. Even though the use of the audio is in keeping with fair use of the material, I decided to post a link to the audio rather than embed it.)
Female staffer: Ok, so the money regarding the students taken over to India, you know we have to carry the money over. How is that audited? Because if I lost my backpack, all that money would have been lost, and that’s money from sponsors and donors. So why is that put in place, and if it was lost, how would you track that?
David Carroll: That’s a good question and actually that was going to be one of the next questions that we answered because someone wrote a very emotional question about that and said why we were endangering students by having them carry the money to India, and I just want to say that for whoever asked the question that I’m sorry we’ve given you, truly sorry that we’ve given you the impression that we were endangering students. A couples things you should know we would never endanger students or anyone else, we’ve had pastors carry money, we’ve had staff carry money, we’re always looking for ways to get money into India because the reality is that it’s getting more difficult to do that, and we are looking for other ways that we’re able to do that. But we checked with our auditors before we ever would allow such a practice. We actually called Bland Garvey, they’re our audit firm and said this is what we’re planning to do, this is what we are intending to do, and they told us how we get it receipted they said it’s completely legal, you’re under all limits, you need to get receipts, there need to be receipts here, there need to be receipts there which Lori has receipts from here. The Indian side also account for that money as received. If you were to lose it, they couldn’t receive it, and in that case, we would say it’s lost basically. We would have to tell the auditors we gave it and it didn’t get to the other side and I’m sure they wouldn’t be very happy, but is it receipted on the other side as received, and accounted for? Yes, it is on the other side of the pond.
So, we have stopped that practice, we feel that it put more emotional burden on people than we realized and then we wanted to and so…
KP Yohannan: It is a perception problem also. Like when I go to Burma and Nepal, I carry quite a lot of travelers checks and get into the country and cash it into local currency and I give it and then the border department, they account for that money in the local Burmese currency or wherever I’ve been to so (?). It’s a legal thing, you cannot carry any more than $5000 and not declare it but when you get India, Nepal, Burma, you can cash it, you can burn it, you can eat it, you can throw it away, you can give it, it is a local currency you are giving it and so receipts are accounted in the book are reported to the government (?) and that is an absolute thing because what I am trying to say, it’s not trying to be under the radar, or illegal smuggling money into the country, nothing like that.
Carroll: We had heard that one explanation you were given was that the tax rate is high, which would indicate that we’re trying to avoid tax on the money and that’s not the case. I’m sorry if that got skewed but that’s not the case. It’s actually reported on the other side legally so we can do everything we’re supposed to do in reporting that money to the Indian government.
Yohannan: But we don’t do that anymore.
Carroll: We’ve stopped the practice.
Danny Yohannan: We are always looking for legal ways to bring resources into the ministry, but also over there we’re trying to be as responsible to even raise funds on that side…
Shorter GFA: We did nothing wrong and we won’t do it again.
Several questions come to mind. If GFA is not trying to be “under the radar” then why are students given $4500 each? In India, customs would need to be informed in individuals bring in $5000 or more. Clearly, more than $5000 at a time was sent from Texas to India (the smallest group I have heard about so far is 10 people = $45,000; largest was 30 – $135,000). Thus, structuring the transfer among the students to avoid informing the Indian officials seems to be flying under the radar. Furthermore, on the U.S. side, the law requires aggregate amounts more than $10,000 to be declared. If there is no desire to hide the full amount being sent from Texas to India, then why give each member of the group $4500? Why give cash to students, ministry partners and pastors at all? Why not have the GFA staffer in charge simply declare the entire amount when leaving the U.S. and when arriving in India?
It is hard to understand the reason that GFA needs to get money to India. GFA sends millions to India through established channels. It seems hard to understand why donor funds have been risked in this manner.
None of my sources recall getting receipts in India.
A new source told me that a group of between 20-30 people traveled to India in April, each carrying $4500. If GFA has discontinued the practice, it happened just recently. At this point, very little of the explanation given by GFA can be verified. Emails to Bland Garvey and David Carroll have gone unanswered. However, it is now clear that GFA has been moving large amounts of cash from Texas to India via students, staff and pastors.
Gospel for Asia is a large missionary organization which supports direct evangelism, child sponsorships, Bible colleges, education, disaster relief and several other ministries. Their assets are substantial but, at their request, I am not going to address how much money they take in.* The 990s are not available on Guidestar and so it is very difficult to find out specific information about the financial situation.
GFA describes itself as a missionary organization and a church. What GFA calls The Believer’s Church is based in Wills Point, TX and apparently consists of the various churches planted around the world. According to the church website, the church has “over 2.4 million members scattered throughout 14 nations.”
According to the organization website, GFA was founded by K.P. Yohannan. Yohannan is the head of GFA and The Believers’ Church and uses the title Metropolitan Bishop of Believers’ Church.
Dr. K.P. Yohannan, the Metropolitan Bishop of Believers Church, was born and brought up in Niranam, Kerala. Niranam has immense historical significance in the tradition of Saint Thomas, a disciple of Jesus Christ who planted the first church there in AD 52.
In summary, the five basic allegations are below.
1. GFA leadership practices and teaches a false view of spiritual authority.
2. GFA leadership prioritizes ministry over family, and teaches the same.
3. GFA leaders lie or intentionally deceive people in order to “protect” the ministry.
4. GFA practices unbiblical shunning.
5. GFA prohibits or discourages staff involvement in bible studies, small groups and local churches.
My purpose with this post is simply to report that there has been an ongoing effort by nearly 80 former employees to communicate these charges to Gospel for Asia since June 2014. According to GFA, an investigation found no wrongdoing but this response from GFA has not been sufficient for the former staffers.
I was alerted to this matter by a former donor earlier this month. Since then, two more donors have contacted me with similar concerns.
Apparently, during April, some GFA leaders have contacted individuals in the former GFA staff group (GFA Diaspora) with offers to talk about personal matters. J.D., the Diaspora’s spokesperson, said that no apology has come officially from GFA. According to the spokesperson, a more systematic response from GFA is needed to fully address the problems. Even so, the former employees do not wish to harm GFA. Speaking for the entire group, J.D. said:
It is not our intention to harm GFA or its staff in any way. From the beginning, our hope in addressing these matters has been to see repentance and change.
In response to my inquiry, GFA Chief Operating Officer, David Carroll, sent the following statement.
Gospel for Asia was disheartened to receive a letter dated June 17, 2014 from a group of former employees expressing concerns with our leadership team. We value the well-being of our staff and don’t take criticism lightly. After unsuccessfully trying to seek biblical reconciliation with every signer of the letter, our board launched a formal inquiry into the complaints outlined by the former employees. Gospel for Asia President and Board Chair K. P. Yohannan and his family members, also members of the board, recused themselves from participating in the investigation to ensure a fair and unbiased process. At the same time, our leadership team examined our HR policies and procedures, making improvements wherever possible, and affirmed the freedoms afforded to those called to the work of Gospel for Asia. While the board investigation concluded that there was no wrongdoing on the part of leadership, we recognize that, as humans, our leadership is not always going to be perfect. At the same time, our motivation has always been to reach as many people as possible in Asia with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and grow in our ability to reflect the character of Christ in our own organization. Regarding those former employees with unresolved concerns, it is our ministry’s desire to reconcile when possible and disagree in love when necessary, so that we might stand together in our commitment to spreading the Gospel throughout Asia.
— Gospel for Asia COO David Carroll, on behalf of the leadership team
As is clear from the letter, some of the concerns expressed over the past 10 months relate to GFA’s accountability to donors. In the coming days, I will report more information regarding transparency and the concerns of donors.
*Gospel for Asia is a charter member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. On the ECFA GFA page, this caption tells why the financial information isn’t available:
Due to international security concerns, Gospel for Asia has requested that their financial information not be posted on the Internet. To receive a copy of their audited financial statements, please contact Gospel for Asia directly.
I did contact GFA directly and received a copy of an audited financial statement.
UPDATE: In 2015, former board member Gayle Erwin allowed me to publish his unedited report of his investigation of Diaspora’s concerns. His report contradicts the statement from GFA.