Yesterday, Terry Mattingly at Get Religion blog began a post about the NYTs coverage of India and Compassion International like this:
If you have followed news in India in recent years, you know that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party – commonly known as the BJP – has continued its efforts to promote “Hindutva,” or Hindu-ness, which essentially argues that Hinduism is an essential component of what it means to be a citizen of India.
Thus, it’s goal is to defeat secular pluralism and the recognition of a valid role for other faiths in public life. The side effect has, in many cases, been a crackdown on many of the activities of other faiths in India – especially ministries linked to foreign groups.
For discussion’s sake, let’s Americanize these observations:
If you have followed news in the United States in recent years, you know that the Republican party – commonly known as God’s Own Party (GOP) – has continued its efforts to promote “Christian nationalism,” or Christian-ness, which essentially argues that Christianity is an essential component of what it means to be a citizen of the USA.
Thus, it’s goal is to defeat secular pluralism and the recognition of a valid role for other faiths in public life. The side effect has, in many cases, been a crackdown on many of the activities of other faiths in the US – especially the construction of new mosques and activities of foreign groups.
If you read the NYT’s article, you will get some insight into conditions in India where Hindu nationalism appears to be on the rise. Christian journalist Mattingly properly locates opposition to Hindu nationalism in human rights. When the government or a political party takes sides in religion, eventually freedom of conscience suffers.
Christians don’t like these policies in other countries but seem to be oblivious to the same or similar rhetoric and actions here. We should oppose religious nationalism even when the perceived winner is our team.
This news is coming out of Gospel for Asia in the U.S. Gospel for Asia India has requested that their foreign offices suspend all vision tours and travel to their office, stating “the increased persecution on the field makes it too dangerous for anyone to travel to India until the end of the year.”
All trips and travel plans have been “immediately suspended” including the School of Discipleship January class’ trip that was scheduled for late September.
Persecution in India has increased some under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi according to an April report by the U.S. State department. However, GFA sent a group of students to India in April, each carrying $4500 in U.S. currency without declaring it in the U.S. or India. It was not disclosed what, if anything, has changed since April to spark this move.
No travel warnings to India have been issued by the U.S. State Dept. during 2015. Some concerns have been expressed by the Canadian government about areas bordering Pakistan and Burma but nothing general and no advisories have been issued for Kerala where the Gospel for Asia and Believers’ Church headquarters are located.
In a staff meeting on May 14, COO of Gospel for Asia David Carroll said it was getting hard to send money into India.
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.
Given other information provided by GFA, this is a confusing statement.
On GFA’s frequently asked questions page, GFA addresses financial integrity and tells donors that everything is ethical. On that page, GFA promises financial accountability:
The sentence underlined in red says: “Some of those systems include transferring funds only through approved banking channels.” Carrying cash in backpacks is not an approved banking channel. As I have reported, money smurfing is a violation of both federal law and this website promise to donors. So hard or easy, moving money is only supposed to be done through banks.
I have to also question if it is difficult to get money into India via legitimate means. According to the audited financial statement for 2012 and 2013, GFA started creating limited liability companies in 2009 to aid transfers of money to India. They now report 12 of them.
A quick review of the Indian FC-6 forms (e.g., GFA’s 2013-2014 FC-6) shows that GFA transfers money frequently. In fact, GFA decided to transfer $9 million to India just to get better interest rates. Apparently, any difficulty was worth it. See the relevant section of the financial statement in the image below:
GFA took $9 million which they needed for their new home office and transferred to that money to India for about a year to get better interest rates. Then they transferred it back. GFA was willing to place $9 million at risk; so how hard could it be to move money back and forth?
GFA has admitted money smurfing but to my knowledge, there has been no explanation to staff about why the students and money was put at risk. I am aware that staff are very concerned about it as they should be.
I encourage anyone who was asked by GFA to move cash on a trip to India (or elsewhere) to contact me at my email address (click the link). If you have questions about the matter, please feel free to contact me.
Today, Tehelka, an award winning Indian investigative magazine, posted an article about the loss of the Cheruvally Rubber plantation to the government. Even though I posted on this topic recently, I thought this article added some facts and was interested in the tone of the report.
Kerala-based evangelist and self-consecrated archbishop Dr K P Yohannan has hit the headlines yet again, as the state government has recently issued orders to take over three estates his church body owns illegally. According to the government of India website, Gospel for Asia (GFA) – a Texas based charitable organisation – is funding ‘Believers Church’ for the purpose of charity to improve the condition of orphan children. Interestingly, both GFA and Believers Church are headed by Yohannan. The funds sent by GFA were used to purchase these estates instead of putting it to use for charity purposes.
I have been curious about perception in India regarding GFA’s purchase of land for commercial purposes. The writer of this article takes the position that the foreign contributions were used to buy commercial properties rather than for the intended purpose. This is a serious charge and one which GFA should address.
However, it has been learnt that Yohannan and his trust had spent Rs 300 crores on the plantation property. With the government now taking over the land, BC will in all probability face losses on their investments in these estates. Moreover, BC would possibly be ineligible for any compensation as Harrison Malayalam sold the property to BC when the former had no right to sell the property. After the purchase, however, the property was mutated in the name of the Believers’ Church and tax was being paid by the BC itself under the Plantation Tax Act.
Instead of $14.3 million, as I reported earlier, this article claims the price was much higher — $68.5 million. However, no source was given for the information which makes it impossible to verify.
An implication of this report is that a massive amount of donor funds may be lost due to the purchase of this property. Although GFA in India may have believed it had the better legal case, it is a legitimate question whether or not donor money should have been risked in this manner.
GFA has remained silent about a number of concerns recently raised by donors, former staff and students. Prominent among them is the report by former students that they were told to carry cash in backpacks and suitcases to India, seemingly at odds with American and possibly Indian law.
Although not normally of interest to me, I took a look at the hush money charges against former Speaker Dennis Hastert because of the additional wrinkle that he structured his bank withdrawals to avoid federal requirements to report those actions.
Such structuring is illegal whether one is an misguided creation science proponent, as in the case of Kent Hovind, or a mission organization moving over $10,000 out of the country without declaring it at customs, as former and current students and staff at Gospel for Asia have alleged.
I have learned a new term for using multiple people to move money to evade declaration – “smurfing.” Papa smurf arranges for all the little smurfs to carry the load, in the case of GFA envelopes of cash in their backpacks or suitcases, until they arrive at their destination.
Watch for more on this…