C'mon Gospel for Asia, Let's Talk

On May 7, 2015 Gospel for Asia’s Chief Operating Officer David Carroll told me he would no longer answer any more of my questions. Leading up to that email was my question about why funds given and reported outside of India didn’t show up in Indian records. Specifically at that time, I asked about the funds (15 million Canadian dollars) declared in Canada as being sent to India in 2013 but never reported as being contributed from a foreign source as required by Indian law (I later wrote about that discrepancy). My email from May 5 was as follows:

David – I have reviewed some information available to Canadians regarding charities. In the year most recently available, filings with the Canadian govt. show 15million to India.
In the same year in India, govt forms show nothing came in from Canada.
Can you account for this discrepancy? I intend to write about this tomorrow afternoon.
Thank you, Warren

On May 6, Carroll wrote back:

Good morning, Mr. Throckmorton,
The Canadian funds were combined with U.S. funds by our auditor in India for various accounting reasons. There is no requirement that they be reported separately.
Thank you.
David

That same day, I wrote back with follow up questions and a request for information.

David – Can you provide contact information for your auditor in India? This combination of funds appears to be in violation of Canadian law, and possibly Indian law, according to my sources. I would like to understand the auditor’s rationale for believing there is no rationale for these sources to be reported separately.
Thanks, Warren

On May 7, Carroll cut off contact.

Warren,
No, Gospel for Asia has not violated the law.
When you first contacted us, I mentioned that we would not be able to respond to every question you put before us. Now, with the increased volume and frequency of your questions, it has become clear that this back and forth has become a distraction from our mission work. For this reason, this will be my final response. We understand that you will continue to explore issues around Gospel for Asia and continue to be fed accusations from former employees, and we accept that.
We continue to remain accountable to all applicable laws and regulations, to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and to independent auditors.
Sincerely,
David

In my post on the Canadian funds, I made sure GFA’s position was included. I would have included more if GFA had provided it. Instead I got my hand smacked and was sent to time out.
I have written GFA several times since then. I have addressed correspondence to Carroll, John Beers, and K.P. Yohannan. I have sent some of the emails to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. No answers.
In light of my efforts to get answers from GFA, imagine my surprise when I heard from former donors that GFA is saying they tried to work with me but have been advised by their financial consultants (?) not to talk to me. I wrote David Carroll yesterday to ask him if GFA reps are telling donors that GFA tried to work with me. Apparently still taking his financial consultants’ advise, there has been no reply.
GFA, according to several former donors, you are telling them that the reason you can’t disclose answers to the question posed here is because I am asking about funds going to high risk areas for persecution.  We both know that isn’t a plausible answer since no identities or activities would be disclosed by answers to the questions I have asked.
GFA, if you are telling donors that you have tried to work with me, please stop. We both know better. I am willing to look at any new information you provide. You know it isn’t just me asking these questions. Pastors are asking, donors are asking, staff are asking, former staff are asking. If you really want to work with me, you have my contact information.
The following issues would be a good start:

Will the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability Hold Gospel for Asia Accountable?

I am not betting on it.
CashThe Calvary Chapel Senior Pastors Conference ended yesterday with no public statements from anyone within the Calvary Chapel movement about Gospel for Asia. GFA exhibited at the conference but left their table unmanned much of the time according to sources there. Several pastors, speaking on condition of anonymity, told me that their church would soon drop support for GFA due to GFA’s public silence about various financial, personnel and leadership concerns.
Several sources have told me that GFA is holding up their membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability as proof that no real problems exist. Furthermore, GFA insiders have told me that ECFA executives have reviewed GFA’s finances and is privately expressing confidence in GFA. ECFA leaders have ignored my requests for clarification or explanation about the missing money, money carrying to India, etc.
Mars Hill Church similarly pointed to ECFA membership as an indication that funds were being used properly. Even as the church did that, Mars Hill made changes to their procedures to come more into compliance with ECFA guidelines. What I learned about ECFA via the Mars Hill experience and then later through ECFA’s handling of Faith Christian Church is that donors cannot count on ECFA to disclose problems with members.
Now ECFA membership is being used by GFA to avoid explanations of multiple concerns raised by around 100 former employees, former donors, and bloggers. In my opinion, ECFA is now responsible for whatever problems GFA manifests. Here again is a summary of issues that GFA and ECFA have ignored.

Millions of dollars are unaccounted for and GFA has not given any reasons or explanations. Now GFA is claiming that ECFA has seen the books and has given the all-clear.
Since GFA won’t be accountable, I publicly call on ECFA to provide information relevant to list of concerns listed above.
 

Gospel for Asia Gives Non-Answer to Question About Massive Cash Reserves in India

In a Christian Today article from yesterday, Mark Woods was able to secure some answers to questions I have been posing on this blog. In response to massive cash reserves being held in Indian banks, COO David Carroll said bank balances change as money is spent and deposited.

GFA’s Chief Operating Officer David Carroll told Christian Today that it was important to understand that GFA India and Believers Church were separate entities from Gospel for Asia USA. While he did not provide detailed figures, when asked about the cash reserves apparently held in Indian accounts, he said: “Like any nonprofit organisation or ministry, money in these bank accounts ebbs and flows throughout the year. It does not just sit there. The account balance will swell and then decline as the money is spent according to donor designations.”

CashIn other news, water is wet.
Of course, the balances change but GFA’s surplus has been swelling for years. One nice feature of the Indian FC-6 forms is that balances at the beginning and end of the fiscal years are reported. Looking at just GFA’s balances (remember, GFA in the U.S. sends donor money to at least four Indian NGOs – GFA-India, Believers’ Church, Love India Ministries, and Last Hour Ministries), the balances have been doing more flowing than ebbing.
BalancesGFA india 2009-2013
The above figures do not include money sent from GFA in the U.S. to the other three Indian NGOs. However, the rate of increase is about the same to the point where now all four organizations have more than $150 million just sitting in bank accounts.
Looking the growth of the balances, GFA in the U.S. continues to tell donors that so much could be done if only there was enough money. GFA has money stored away and that has been growing steadily.
I will end this post by previewing a future one. As I have done these calculations, I have noticed that the value of the rupee has declined over this period. By sending so much American money to India and letting it sit in banks, millions have been lost to currency devaluation. In my conversations with those knowledgeable currency exchange rates, they tell me it is better to keep money in the U.S. until it is actually needed on the field. It is easy to see why this is true. The minute you send money to India, you lose some of it. And the longer it sits there, the less it is worth. This method of management of the funds has lost millions of dollars over the years.

Gospel for Asia Admits Money Smurfing; Legal Counsel On Board

In a statement to Christian Today, via comment from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, Gospel for Asia admitted sending cash to India via student groups and ministry partners. From the article by Mark Woods:

GFA is a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), which made an on-site review of its finances at its headquarters in Willis Point, Texas last week. ECFA told Christian Today: “We found the organisation to be highly transparent and fully cooperative, as I’m sure they’ll continue to be as ECFA continues our review of Gospel for Asia.”

It confirmed that GFA had sent cash with individuals travelling to India, but said that it had “stopped this practice entirely, and is working with legal counsel to determine appropriate remedial measures, if any”.

An organization is not highly transparent when they tell members of the public that they won’t answer questions which have now proven to be legitimate. On a regular basis, I get communications from former donors who tell me that GFA did not answer their questions and David Carroll told me he wouldn’t respond to any more of my emails.

CashOn the money smurfing, it is now clear that the ECFA leaders now know this was happening. We also learn here (not from the “transparent” GFA but from GFA’s public relations spokesgroup, ECFA) that GFA has some idea that legal counsel may be necessary.

There is something wrong with this picture. The financial watchdog group appears to be more interested in damage control for a charter member (GFA) than getting answers for donors. All those years the money smurfing was taking place, GFA was a member in good standing with ECFA. If not for recent disclosures from former students and staff, GFA would still be doing it in violation of their own stated financial standards. However, when discovered, ECFA’s response is to focus on GFA’s claim that it won’t happen again. If ECFA had benefit for donors, it would focus on why GFA sent money to India in the first place.

Recently, a person who had carried cash to India for GFA told me that no explanation was given when the cash was handed out just prior to leaving the U.S. Travelers did not have time to contact family or advisors to ask questions about it. It was just expected. There were no receipts given in the U.S. or in India and no customs forms were completed. The amount in an envelope was $4500.

If you are a student, staff member, ministry partner, or pastor who carried cash out of the United States to another country, please contact me at warrenthrockmorton@gmail.com. We can speak off the record unless you designate otherwise.

Gospel for Asia Reveals Financial Information on Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability Page

In a major departure from past practice, Gospel for Asia changed their ECFA page to include their U.S. financial information. Citing security concerns, GFA has declined to reveal this information on the web, but instead required interested parties to request it by mail. Up until now, the ECFA has allowed charter member GFA to be exempt from usual practice.
ECFA page old
Now the page looks like this:
ECFA page new
 
In a prior post, I noted that GFA sent $58 million to India but the FC-6 forms there show only a little over $6 million received from the U.S. Perhaps, GFA is moving toward more transparency. If so, the organization still has a long way to go to explain this discrepancy, as well as the money exporting to India, and discrepancies in the Bridge of Hope program reporting. Clearly, the organization is raising massive amounts of cash but has yet to explain why so much is sitting in Indian banks.
Given this change, perhaps the ECFA has been in talks with GFA and is privately working to bring GFA into compliance with ECFA guidelines. If this is true, don’t expect ECFA to alert the donating public. If the ECFA and GFA don’t see things the same way, my guess is that GFA will quietly give up their membership with no explanation.

Gospel for Asia Tells Staff Carrying Cash to India is Legal But They Won’t Do it Anymore

Cash
Image courtesy of sheelamohan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.)

Listen to the segment of the May 14, 2015 staff meeting (click the link)
Transcript:

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.

Former Faith Christian Church Members: ECFA Owes Us a Public Apology

After Faith Christian Church dropped membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, the point person for former FCC members involved in providing testimony to the EFCA, Rachel Mullis, expressed her disappointment with ECFA’s decision not to publicly release the results of the investigation.
Now joining in is another supporter of former FCC members, Sandy Wade, who said in a comment on this blog:

FCC took the cowards way out and so did ECFA. They obviously feel no moral obligation to protect the Christian community, and they have no interest in telling the truth. Their only public comment was to defend the FCC organization. You would think that after making such public remarks in their defense they would want to complete their investigation and release their findings. Cowards, they owe us all a public apology!

Wade makes a great point. The ECFA publicly defended the church before doing any kind of investigation. Given that the ECFA went out on a limb in the press to defend FCC, it seems reasonable to think they comment publicly now that they know more.
Former member Connie Cohn of Tucson, AZ is not impressed with ECFA’s integrity over the matter:

I believe that if an organization wants to maintain their credibility then, they must adhere to their policies and speak out when those policies/standards have not been met. They say that their mission is to protect the Christian community. To allow a church to resign in the middle of an investigation and not say anything about what was being investigated seems to make us question how respectable they are. They didn’t have to give all the details, but they could have at least said something about them leaving other than that they have decided to resign. They have a responsibility to the hundreds of people who left FCC and are still a part of the Christian community. I, for one, am not very impressed with the integrity of the ECFA.
Another former member said:
To me it shows laziness.  ECFA doesn’t want to finish compiling and publishing a report for an organization not under its oversight anymore.  But to let an organization just leave in order to halt any investigation is a major loophole that shouldn’t be there. The FBI doesn’t halt an investigation when someone leaves the country and just say “oh well nothing we can do, they left”.  ECFA needs to complete what they started ad make the results public so that people will take them seriously.  Since this loophole exists the ECFA really isn’t protecting members and donors at all.

Marcus DiMarco
Former Member of FCC

ECFA Will Not Release Faith Christian Church Investigation Results

This post is a follow up to the resignation of Faith Christian Church from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. I reported early in April that FCC resigned from the ECFA. FCC was being investigated by the ECFA for possible violations of ECFA guidelines. Numerous former members had described the extreme pressure to give 10% or more of their income to the church along with other problems at the church.
Even though the FCC resigned while under investigation, the ECFA does not plan to say anything further about the findings of the investigation. According to an April 9 email from John C. Van Drunen to former FCC member Rachel Mullis, the ECFA will only “cite their resignation” on their website. Writing to Mullis, Van Drunen said:
Thanks for your follow-up.  Since they have resigned there is not anything further we are able to say other than to cite their resignation.  Regarding follow-up with the former members, I have sent an update this afternoon to each person who responded to thank them similarly for their assistance and to give them the same update.
Thank you,
John

John C. Van Drunen
Executive Vice President

Mullis told me that she felt “disappointed” by the ECFA decision not to alert the public in some manner about the problems at FCC. She added that she felt like FCC got a “‘get out of jail free’ card.”
This is another example of how the ECFA’s decisions do not serve donors or the public. All that a prospective donor would know about FCC from the ECFA is that FCC resigned. The ECFA should have a category of resignation that indicates that an organization resigned while under investigation.

Under Investigation, Faith Christian Church Resigns from the ECFA

FaithCC picFaith Christian Church has voluntarily resigned membership from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.
The ECFA was in the middle of an investigation of the church’s compliance with ECFA’s guidelines. By resigning, the church can escape that process.
I have asked the ECFA if they plan to issue a report and will report any response I receive.
If the past is a guide, I am not optimistic that the ECFA will publicly comment.

ECFA Statement: Faith Christian Church Still Under Investigation

The Washington Post’s Susan Svrluga posted a statement from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability about their ongoing examination of Faith Christian Church.

ECFA evaluates and accredits ministry organizations, including churches, only with regard to their compliance with our Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship. Occasionally we are presented with complaints or accusations about a member organization and while we do not automatically dismiss such concerns, the scope of our investigative authority and purview is, according to our bylaws, necessarily limited to issues directly related to these seven standards. With regard to Faith Christian Church, we are working to ascertain if, in fact, any complaint expressed from former church members falls within the scope of our seven standards.

As I reported recently, ECFA executive vice president John C. Van Drunen has interviewed at least one former member of Faith Christian Church and expressed an intention to interview those who signed a letter of concern to the ECFA.  Given what I have heard from former members, it seems inconceivable that the ECFA would find Faith Christian Church in compliance.
For instance, the first standard of responsible stewardship ends with this statement:

Summary. A member’s commitment to the evangelical Christian faith is the cornerstone of ECFA membership. The word “evangelical” connotes more than mere subscription to a doctrinal statement. It includes commitment to an ethical and moral lifestyle that seeks to conform to a biblical norm. It is the lifestyle envisioned in  ECFA’s own statement of faith: “We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit, by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live agodly life” (emphasis added).

Both Christians and secular society often do not distinguish between financial and non-financial issues. A moral scandal would be just as devastating as a financial scandal to the credibility of the organization.

Faith Christian Church has been accused of encouraging the abuse of infants. Multiple remorseful parents and witnesses have come forward with public statements to this effect. If the ECFA is not investigating this aspect of the situation, then they are not adhering to the spirit of this guideline.  There is no universe where the child rearing practices described by former members should be tolerated in an ECFA member church.

In the eyes of many Mars Hill Church former members, the ECFA’s reputation was tarnished by their lack of transparency surrounding financial and leadership issues at the former mega-church. How the ECFA handles this situation will be  a major test of their credibility.