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Gospel for Asia's cash reserves under scrutiny

The ministry accepts the ECFA’s findings and hopes to regain donor confidence


Gospel for Asia Chief Operating Officer David Carroll Vimeo

Gospel for Asia's cash reserves under scrutiny

Gospel for Asia (GFA), an international Christian ministry already under fire, hoarded as much as $259 million during some months rather than spending those donated funds on church-planting, missionary work, or charitable relief for the poor, according to an Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) report made public last week.

The ECFA report raises further doubts about whether all GFA violations of ECFA standards can be reasonably explained as inadvertent missteps. The ECFA booted GFA from its membership roster on Oct. 2.

Former GFA board member Gayle Erwin, who released the report, resigned his board position the day after the ECFA revoked GFA’s membership. Erwin refused a request to be interviewed for this article.

The report, which was written in September, states that the ministry claimed in June that its field partners—affiliated ministry groups closely associated with GFA—possessed $7 million in cash reserves. In fact, according to the report, the field partners possessed $186 million in reserves in various accounts at that time. The report says that GFA’s partners had $259 million in reserves during the month of March 2014.

“ECFA staff questioned the appropriateness of the high levels of cash being held,” the ECFA report says. “The source of the balances was primarily from donor-restricted gifts to GFA, often raised in response to gift solicitations that communicated urgent field needs.”

An officer of GFA said this week the ministry accepts all of the ECFA’s findings. “We own what we have done wrong,” said David Carroll, GFA’s chief operating officer. “We are sorry and sad we have breached the confidence of our donors. “

The ECFA touts seven financial accountability standards as essential for Christian ministry, including demonstrating “truthfulness in communications,” exercising “stewardship” of “giver expectations and intent,” and maintaining appropriate management and controls over the handling of donated funds. ECFA officials say GFA failed to fulfill five of the standards, while the ministry’s actions raised 17 areas of concern in the eyes of ECFA auditors.

Carroll said GFA’s mistakes stem from inadequate management practices: “While it is a painful, humbling time, we do look forward and are working literally day and night as diligently as we can to get those things shored up.”

Carroll added that he knows of no deliberate wrongdoing committed by anyone at GFA: “I just hope we have the grace from God to go forward that not only is worthy of Him but that [matches] the way we operated for many years.” He pointed out that the ministry grew rapidly in recent decades and failed to update and upgrade its procedures in a way required by its expanding scope.

Carroll offered statistics, including that GFA’s field partners in India and elsewhere in southern Asia support some 14,000 national missionaries at a cost of approximately $30 million a year. He added that the ministry provides for 78,000 children through GFA’s “Bridge of Hope” program, which requires another $33 million a year, and constructs some 1,200 new churches a year at a cost of another $15 million annually.

According to Carroll, the discrepancy between the $7 million figure initially provided and the correct $186 million figure arose after a GFA field partner misinterpreted the initial inquiry and believed it pertained to one specific account rather than the totality of money in all field partner accounts. “I don’t know if we did not communicate effectively, or what,” Carroll said.

GFA’s foremost field partner is Believers Church, which began as a church-planting organization in 1978 and has operated essentially as a sister entity throughout the history of GFA. Believers Church owns a 2,000-acre rubber plantation and other property in India and runs an engineering college and a hospital. K.P. Yohannan founded both ministries and continues to head both.

David Harriman, an independent consultant on charitable giving and international grant-making who also worked full time for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Frontiers ministry, said GFA consistently misrepresented itself. “GFA has made promises relative to a very wide range of missional products, all of which are complex and costly to administer at the field level, at least with any level of integrity,” he said.“The marketing of this mission does not, in my opinion, comport with the reality that is Believers Church.”

Harriman said GFA leads donors to believe they are giving pigs, goats, or rabbits to poor families, but donations may have gone to support the GFA-affiliated cathedral, schools, hospital, college, or broadcast stations.

Harriman praised those who have helped bring GFA’s issues to light, including Erwin and blogger Warren Throckmorton, but was sad to hear that problems existed, especially since the discrediting of GFA, long respected in many quarters, could have a ripple effect on Christian giving around the world. “There’s enough doubt in the charitable marketplace about what charities do anyway,” Harriman added.

To rebuild trust, Carroll said GFA will work with a new accounting firm recommended by the ECFA and has engaged a non-profit specialist who is a frequent presenter at ECFA events. Carroll declined to name those entities at this time but said he anticipates “a very thorough audit and review. … We have created a strict and accountable plan for working with field partners in the future and for working with our own board.”

He hopes GFA will in time be reinstated as a member of the ECFA.

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Janet B

While this is sad to hear, especially since we gave gifts through GFA last Christmas, it is refreshing to see the humble admissions of inaccuracy without a bunch of excuses and finger-pointing, and the corrective efforts being utilized so quickly. I will continue to support the ministry.

David Smith

"there is issues with the timely use of funds for the last 2 years because of the political climate in India and the unpredictable situation that brought in"Varghese, actually the issue of use of funds goes back as far as we can see - at least 8 years. I don't doubt that GFA may have done all these good things you mention, but it appears like they've done it with only a fraction of the more than half billion US dollars they raised from donors. Can you explain where $128 million of donated money that never even reached India is? See http://bit.ly/1IJz1C9. I think donors would also like to know why you think an unpredictable political climate justified donor fraud (not spending most donated money on what is was given for) and illegal cash smuggling of around a half million dollars (http://bit.ly/1IJzcxy), when GFA was wiring tens of millions just fine. God says he appoints the governing authorities and we are to submit to them (Rom. 13:1.) God also says, "You shall not steal" (Ex. 20:15.)

varghese

I am a supporter of GFA and am proud of it.  GFA in partnership with Believers Church is doing an amazing work to "reach the unreached".  I watched in amazement the growth of this ministry and its effect on human lives.  There are over 400 trained, dedicated volunteers known as "Sisters Of Compassion" to take care of lepers, widows and orphans.  They established hundreds of Churches among the tribal.  They are a beacon to bring hope to the untouchables.  In a short span of time they established over 12,000 churches mostly in unreached area and the list goes on.  I would recommend you to watch an investigative documentary telecast by "Doordarshan" which uncovers the work done by Believers Church in West Bengal "building on the work of Mother Teresa : what Believers Church is doing.  ( 8 episodes, about 25 min each, sorry it is in Malayalam but you will get an idea about the work.  You can watch it on you tube).  Also I recommend you to watch the documentary film "Veil Of Tears" by Saylors Brothers and narrated by Natalie Grant to get an eye witness account of the amazing work done by GFA in partnership with believers Church.  Yes, there is issues with the timely use of funds for the last 2 years because of the political climate in India and the unpredictable situation that brought in.  It is difficult for an outsider to understand the depth of the situation.  It is so sad to read the negative comments even though there is some truth in it.  One thing is sure, God is blessing the work and I am proud to be a partner in this great work.

Grace Alone

Do not be deceived by these men.  David Carroll can fool anyone with his humble, innocent acting.  They have lied and deceived in major ways with finances and covering up their sin..KPs sin.  Pride and power has gotten to this man.  NO man of God would make men bow before him nor would he make leaders take vows for LIFE TO HIMSELF LIKE KP DID.you can listen to one leader taking the vow under CONCERNS on the gfadiaspora website.top it off with stashing away over $180 million dollars while telling us he needs more money!!! GET INFORMED PEOPLE!!!!

Seashell

Thank you, David, for taking the time to clarify.  Your response answers some questions we have been thinking about for some time.  

Seashell

So, what you are saying, David, is that the money we have sent for several BOH children may not be used on any children at all?  I do correspond with several children.  Are they real?? Do they actually exist?  

David Smith

seashell I wish I could say for sure, but from public records it appears that around 80% of the money raised in the US for Bridge of Hope, Wells and other field designations is either missing, sitting in cash accounts, or was spent on very different things such as for-profit hospitals and universities serving the wealthy. $20 million was also given by the "field" to the US HQ, in violation of their 100% to the field promise. So perhaps they have that many kids but the kids only get a small fraction of the money as it appears, or perhaps there are less kids. Either way it's fraud to claim that 100% of your $35 a month goes to support your child if it's only $8 a month or something like that. Bottom line - a ministry this corrupt and abusive toward its staff (see www.gfadiaspora.com with 100+ former staff) should be denounced by the Church at large, not defended hope upon hope in the face of overwhelming evidence of lies and fraud. The Church gets a black eye for covering up things like this, but gets respect for calling it out and stopping it. Heartbreaking for sure to see more than half a billion dollars over the past 8 years possibly not having gone to the causes it was donated for - that would make GFA the largest charity fraud in world history. Our prayers go up for everyone involved.

David Smith

How I wish one little apology could fix the large-scale donor fraud and abuse of staff that GFA continues to commit! Even here David Carroll lied about a number of things, just as he stood by KP while KP lied to GFA staff saying he isn't on any boards or trusts in India (listen to KP adamantly declare it here, and see the documents that prove him a liar: http://bit.ly/1Y07wLR). Public and Believers Church records show that KP controls virtually all of the entities there (http://bit.ly/1IYdsZn), which means KP lied to the staff, and David Carroll continues to perpetrate that lie here by saying that he and KP had no knowledge or control of the quarter-billion dollars in cash reserves that had been amassed in KP's own organizations. Indian FC-6 forms only show 6M a year going to Bridge of Hope, not the 30M+ that Carroll claims and that GFA probably raises. GFA is fraught with problems that reek of criminal activity, including illegally smuggling large amounts of cash in 18-year-olds' backpacks. At the very least, an organization with that much cash in the bank that spends so much on schools and hospitals in wealthy Kerala, doesn't need your money and isn't effectively reaching the "most unreached." Donors be discerning and do your homework on GFA.

John Schwartz

I think it's important for folks to know about and have access to Gayle Erwin's internal letters to KP and the staff mentioned here in Warren's blog post here http://is.gd/oSg2BI. It is very unfortunate that Gayle will not publicly speak (as well as Skip Heitzig, Damian Kyle, and Francis Chan) to the issues that forced him to leave GFA's board. Thousands of donors and churches need and deserve to know.