Christianity Today 2016 February
Lawsuit Claims Gospel for Asia Misused Most Donations to 10/40 Window
(UPDATED) Citing 'innocent until proven guilty,' GFA calls class-action suit a 'blessing' for chance to put allegations to rest.
Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra [ POSTED 2/12/2016 11:44AM ]
Lawsuit Claims Gospel for Asia Misused Most Donations to 10/40 WindowCourtesy of Gospel for Asia
Gospel for Asia is most active in India.
One of the world’s largest missions agencies, Gospel for Asia (GFA), has long promised that it spends 100 percent of donations in the field—specifically, in the 10/40 Window.
More like 13 percent, alleges a lawsuit filed this week by a couple in Arkansas who donated to GFA based on that promise. (and even that is difficult if not impossible to prove)
Their lawyers hope a judge will grant the suit class-action status. Such a request will take months to resolve. But if granted, the lawsuit could encompass hundreds of thousands of people across America who have donated millions of dollars to the massive ministry founded by K. P. Yohannan in 1979.
Despite a robust Christmas catalog and other fundraising materials that advertise how donors can support specific needs among Christians in India and other Asian mission fields,
“GFA spent only $14.9 million of $118.9 million on actual relief efforts, instead spending far more on salaries and overhead for Believers Church and construction of the GFA headquarters,” claims the lawsuit, reviewed by CT. The numbers come from 2013, the latest year for which financial reporting is available and the year plaintiffs Matthew and Jennifer Dickson donated about $1,750 to GFA......
GFA lost its stamp of approval from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) in October, after an ECFA investigation concluded that GFA—one of its charter members—had violated five of the accountability group’s seven core standards. This included misleading donors and board members about the state of the ministry’s finances, delaying sending money to its overseas partners, and hiding transactions from both the Indian government and US officials.......
GFA's most significant presence is in India, where it has four entities: the 2.6 million-member Believers Church, Gospel for Asia–India, Last Hours Ministries, and Love India Ministries.
Patrick Johnstone, author of the first six editions of the widespread missions handbook Operation World, ranked GFA second among the “world’s largest mission agencies in 2010” in his book The Future of the Global Church. GFA is listed below Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ International) and above Operation Mobilisation, the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Missions Board, Wycliffe Bible Translators, and Youth with a Mission.
Since GFA is registered as a religious organization, it doesn’t need to make its financial statements public in the United States. But it does have to publicly account for all funds it spends in India, according to the lawsuit. In 2013, the most recent year for which data is available, GFA collected $115 million in donations worldwide. About $90 million came from American donors.
GFA’s national offices in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Germany dispersed about $118.6 million that year, according to the lawsuit.
The money went toward administrative needs ($27.8 million, including $24.3 million for construction of the new headquarters), GFA affiliates in India ($5.3 million), and GFA International ($76.3 million).
But the four India-based GFA affiliates only reported receiving $33.6 million from GFA International, leaving $43 million unaccounted for, the lawsuit claims based on financial filings in India.
GFA India had some funds in the bank, and reported spending $54.5 million in 2013, according to the lawsuit. That included:
$9.2 million on field administrative expenses.
$14.7 million on the purchase and construction of the for-profit Believers Church Hospital.
$15.7 million on Believers Church salaries and overhead.
$14.9 million on relief to the poor and needy, including welfare of children ($6.3 million),religious schools/education of preachers ($5.8 million), digging of bore wells ($1.4 million), relief for victims of natural calamities ($0.5 million), welfare of the aged/widows ($436), and welfare of orphans ($0).
That means that of the $115 million donated in 2013, just under $15 million went to actual relief work, the lawsuit claims. (and even that is difficult if not impossible to prove)
The lawsuit also alleges discrepancies between the amount that GFA collected and the amount it spent for “Jesus Wells” that provide clean water to villages in India. In 2012, GFA collected more than $3.5 million, which should have been enough to dig 2,500 wells. Instead, it spent $500,000, the amount needed for 350 wells. In 2013, GFA collected more than $4 million, enough for 2,800 wells, but spent only $700,000, enough for 500 wells.
Similarly, between 2010 and 2013, GFA gathered more than $4.2 million to support widows and orphans, but only spent about $31,000 for widows and nothing for orphans, the lawsuit claims.( and even that is difficult if not impossible to prove)
Part of the trouble is the close relationship between GFA and Believers Church, two separate entities that are both founded and headed by a single person: Yohannan.
Since it was founded in 2003, Believers Church purchased a rubber plantation, an undergraduate institute, a teaching hospital, at least six primary schools, and sponsorship of a soccer club. All of the endeavors, except the soccer club, are for-profit, according to the lawsuit.
Another sticking point is the funding of a new headquarters in Wills Point, Texas, that cost $45 million. GFA announced that a $20 million anonymous donation was received in 2013, but that money was actually sent over from GFA’s India office.
“Specifically, that $20 million came from the cash reserves of GFA–India, which consisted of donations to GFA solicited under the promise of GFA’s 100 percent to-the-field guarantee,” states the lawsuit. “Thus, money donated from the United States designated for specific charitable purposes in ‘the field’ in fact was spent in the United States to develop the Wills Point compound.”
The lawsuit, which has yet to be certified as a class action by a judge, is asking that GFA return donations and stop its “unlawful, deceptive, fraudulent, and unfair practices.”
In today's response, GFA attributed the confusion over how it has spent donations to rapid growth while serving in "some of the most complex environments in the world."