Gospel for Asia's Believers' Church to Start Over 500 Schools; K.P. Yohannan St. Johannes?

This is an intriguing video posted today by Indian Narada News.
[youtube]https://youtu.be/xSz840lLg-8[/youtube]
If this video is what it seems to be, K.P. Yohannan’s India educational staff believe St. Johannes schools are named after Yohannan. While I am not aware of a formal induction into sainthood, Yohannan is the supreme authority in Believers’ Church.
The video establishes that Believers’ Church is working toward over 500 schools which will charge tuition. In some locations, the government requires some seats to be given to the poor. However, elsewhere schools are operated without charity as a goal.
American donors have for years been giving money thinking they were helping poor kids go to school. Some poor kids probably have gotten some education but much of that money has apparently gone into building a tuition generating dynasty for Yohannan’s church. GFA in the states still uses his book, Revolution in World Missions, which decries the use of mission money for schools and hospitals. It appears that donations are being solicited under false pretenses.
Things have been quiet here on the GFA front but this expose may bring renewed attention to the organization.
 

Gospel for Asia Fails K.P. Yohannan's Own Stewardship Test

Yesterday, I noted how K.P. Yohannan criticized missionary hospitals and schools in his first book but now funds them in India with millions of donor dollars.
Today, at the suggestion of a reader, I take a look at similar criticism in his third book, originally titled Why the World Waits.
On pages 245-246 Yohannan’s 2004 edition re-titled Come, Let’s Reach the WorldYohannan poses some questions prospective donors should ask about mission organizations. While I don’t know the answers to all of them as applied to GFA, the answers I do know suggest Yohannan’s GFA fails his own test.
From the book:

Ask questions relating to financial and administrative standards.
1. Is an annual audit done by a certified accountant?

Until I reported on errors in the 2013 audit, GFA published an audit available by request. According to GFA sources, the most recent audit for 2014 has been completed but GFA won’t release it.

2. Is the audit made available to the organization’s constituency?

Not currently. For many years, GFA refused to post their audit citing security concerns. However, until recently, one could request a copy by mail. Now, GFA will not release an audit of the U.S. affiliate. To my knowledge, there is no public audit of the Indian organizations (i.e., GFA-India, Believers Church).

3. Is the ratio of spending for field ministry considerably greater than for administration? (It should be at least 80 percent for actual ministry.)

The actual ratio is a matter of debate. For many years, GFA claimed to send 100% of donated funds to the field but an analysis by Jason Watkins casts doubt on that claim. There is ample reason to suspect that many donations have gone to pay for hospital construction as well as other projects not designated by donors.

4. Are all documents, assets and the like in the name of the organization (not an individual leader)?

No, Believers’ Church* policy requires that property and assets be listed under the name of K.P. Yohannan as Metropolitian bishop along with the church.

5. What are the major items of expense? (If funds go primarily for properties, hospitals and schools rather than for actual field evangelism, be extremely cautious to check them out.)

As I have documented, GFA has amassed an empire of for profit schools and hospitals. They own a rubber plantation, a finance company, rental properties, and sponsor a professional soccer team. An Indian tax court found that GFA did not spend “substantial” funds as donors intended. According to Watkins financial review, only a tiny portion of the donations went to evangelistic activities.

6. Is the missionary or group receiving any financial assistance from other sources?

GFA receives funds primarily from donors in the U.S., Canada and the UK.

7. Is there a written agreement to declare all sources of income for any given project?

In the past, GFA promised to spend funds in accord with donor intent. After losing membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, GFA changed their promise to make it more explicit that the organization may use donated funds for purposes other than donors intend.

8. Is the group registered with the government as a charitable or nonprofit organization?

Yes.

9. Are finances and financial records handled only by the leader and his relatives? (If this is the case, then you have good enough reason not to support him.)

According the Believers’ Church constitution, funds cannot be spent without the oversight of the Metropolitan Bishiop (Yohannan). He has relatives on his boards (his wife, son, daughter, son-in-law and niece are on various boards with oversight over the funds).

10. Are the accounts jointly operated (that is, at least two people responsible for handling the funds)?

As noted above, Yohannan has the final say on how money is spent. There is a committee which exercises oversight but Yohannan has veto power over all actions of the Believers’ Church. His name is on the deed to all properties.

11. Are written and signed receipts kept for records of how money was spent for any given project or missionary?

When GFA illegally sent U.S. currency to India in student backpacks, students and staff were promised receipts. However, for the most part, these were not given to students and one staff member had to implore Yohannan and the U.S. leadership for receipts.

12. Who makes decisions that govern the activities of the mission?

Clearly, by Believers’ Church constitution, the decisions are made by K.P. Yohannan. According to former staffers, the same is true in the U.S., the board has very little role. One former board member Gayle Erwin left the board because he became convinced that Yohannan was withholding information from the board. Furthermore, Yohannan re-wrote a report Erwin penned because Yohannan perceived that the report portrayed GFA in a negative light.
More recently, Yohannan removed two board members from the board of GFA Canada after those board members began asking questions about GFA’s financial dealings.  The removal was contrary to the organization’s by-laws.
By his own standards, Yohannan’s current GFA fails badly and isn’t a good candidate for donations.
According to veteran missionary Billy Bray, the book should have listed him as first author since he wrote much of it. Read more about the authorship of Yohannan’s first three books here.
 
*Believers’ Church is the central organization in India. GFA in the U.S. sends donated funds to Believers’ Church to use them in India via GFA-India and other government registered charity entities.

K.P. Yohannan Criticizes Social Programs in His First Book But Spends Millions on Them in India

Will the real K.P. Yohannan please stand up?
In his first book Revolution in World Missions, K.P. Yohannan (through ghostwriter Bill Bray) criticized social programs such as hospitals and schools. However, Yohannan has directed massive amounts of donor money to build and purchase hospitals and schools in India. In the book RWM, Yohannan claims:

One issue involved one of the most far-reaching policy decisions I ever would make. For some years I had suffered deep pain over what appeared to be massive imbalance between our busyness with maintaining Christian institutions, like hospitals and schools, and the proclamation of the Gospel. Both in India and in my travels around Western countries, I constantly uncovered a preoccupation with so-called “ministry” activities operated by Christian workers, financed by church monies, but with little else to distinguish them as Christian.
Far too much of the resources of North American missions is spent on things not related to the primary goal of church planting.(p. 104-105, 2015 edition)

In contrast, Yohannan controls a massive empire of for profit businesses on behalf of himself and the church he runs, Believers’ Church. Twelve schools are listed on The Believers’ Church website, including a medical college and an engineering school. The flagship healthcare institution is his Believers’ Church Medical College and Hospital in the state of Kerala. In recent years, much donor money appears to have gone into the building or purchase of these institutions without the knowledge of American donors.
K.P. Yohannan – Patron
On the Believers’ Church Medical College and Hospital and the Caarmel Engineering School websites, K.P. Yohannan is described as the patron of these institutions.
The engineering school website proclaims Yohannan’s leadership:

Believers Church Caarmel Engineering College, established in 2002, is a leading self-financing private co-educational institution under the Caarmel Educational Trust owned and managed by the Believers Church headquartered at Thiruvalla, Kerala. Dr. K. P. Yohannan, Metropolitan, Believers Church, is the Chairman and Patron of the College. Fr. C. B. Williams is the Manager and Dr. Paul A. J is the Principal of the College.

In contrast to Yohannan’s claim that he doesn’t sit on the boards of any of the trusts in India, he is described as the Chairman and Patron on the school website. The school appears to be quite elaborate with excellent facilities. You can take a virtual tour of the campus online (link).
caarmel engineering
The Medical College and Hospital are quite new with the medical college just opening this year. Again, Yohannan is described as the patron:

Believers Church Medical College Hospital is a healthcare project of Believers Church. The Church is dynamically involved in various nation-building social and educational projects, healthcare initiatives, charitable activities, community development programs, rehabilitation projects and relief works. Dr. K.P. Yohannan, Metropolitan of Believers Church is the patron of the hospital and Dr. George Chandy is leading the project.

The facilities are extraordinary.
BelChurch Hosp
In his RWM book, Yohannan decries such “nation building” programs as causing him “deep pain.” He spends several pages indicating that his ministry will not focus on “social concerns.”

Because of this teaching, many churches and mission societies now are redirecting their limited outreach funds and personnel away from evangelism to something vaguely called “social concern.” Today the majority of Christian missionaries find themselves primarily involved in feeding the hungry, caring for the sick through hospitals, housing the homeless or other kinds of relief and development work. In extreme cases, among nonevangelicals, the logical direction of this thinking can lead to organizing guerrilla forces, planting terrorist bombs or less extreme activities like sponsoring dance and aerobic exercise classes. This is done in the name of Jesus and supposedly is based on His command to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. The mission of the Church, as defined by these humanists, can be almost anything except winning people to Christ and discipling them.
History already has taught us that this gospel—without the blood of Christ, conversion and the cross—is a total failure. In China and India we have had seven generations of this teaching, brought to us by the British missionaries in a slightly different form in the middle of the 19th-century. My people have watched the English hospitals and schools come and go without any noticeable effect on either our churches or society. (p. 109-110, 2015 edition)

 
I don’t know if GFA hosts dance and aerobics, but the group does sponsor a soccer team in Myanmar.
I have written before about GFA’s rubber plantation, but there are many more real estate holdings, according to Narada News in India. Then there is the matter of many tuition-funded residential schools which take in children of all faiths (e.g., the posh Believers Church Residential School).
In his book, Yohannan criticizes British missionaries but he has recreated the same infrastructure using donations from his affiliates around the world. Let me add that I personally have no problem with the work being done in these institutions. The problem is the deception of donors who read RWM and want to get behind a ministry which puts into practice what Yohannan preaches. For this and many reasons, donors should beware and be wise.

Gospel for Asia's Staff Exodus

In 2015, nearly 50 staff and families, many in key positions, left Gospel for Asia.
In a website project of some of the former staffers — Donor Be Wise — the exodus is described in detail.
staff-leaving-gospel-for-asia
This extreme turnover is a signal that something is very wrong at GFA. Regular readers of this blog will know that there is much wrong with the second largest mission group in the country.
The post concludes with just some of the concerns that have prompted GFA staff to seek work and ministry elsewhere.

The reasons so many staff left are many, yet one only has to read through some of the materials published to draw some conclusions as to the climate of the office leading up to the many public reports. Sadly some current staff have chosen not to read anything that has been published.

GFA’s board has not addressed this dire situation. Instead, their response has been to blame bloggers and admit vague inefficiencies. GFA has also spent loads of donor money on a campaign of public relations. For instance, in the face of the recent drought in India, GFA has spent a meager amount on supplying water while inflating their image at home.

Gospel for Asia Files Response in RICO Suit

Wills Point GFA Chapel - Architect website
Wills Point GFA Chapel – Source: Architect website

In filings yesterday regarding the Dickson v. Gospel for Asia RICO lawsuit, Gospel for Asia’s lawyers claim lawyers for Matthew and Jennifer Dickson improperly brought action against a group of GFA employees without specifying their part in the alleged fraud. GFA’s attorneys do not argue the merits of the allegations but rather ask the court to dismiss the suit because such cases must designate how each person participated in fraudulent activities.
Group pleading defenses generally serve the purpose of making it harder to bring suits when individual agency cannot be identified. Plaintiffs are in a bind, they need discovery to prove the extent of coordinated fraud or cover-up of fraud but a court must accept a group pleading doctrine in order to get to discovery. In any case, in my view, the plaintiffs’ lawyers have provided more than enough evidence to proceed to trial against all defendants. To me as a layman, GFA’s response looks like a lawyerly way to avoid facing the evidence.
GFA’s attorneys also defend the arbitration agreement signed by the Dicksons while GFA employees. GFA argues that the Dicksons should be compelled to arbitrate because their donations to GFA were a part of their employment. All employees are expected to donate to GFA which makes disputes arising from their donations a part of the binding arbitration agreement.
I hope this argument doesn’t persuade the court to compel the Dicksons into arbitration. GFA is essentially arguing that employees have no rights and must be compelled to arbitrate allegedly illegal actions on the part of GFA. GFA also argues that their staff must donate to GFA and have no independent existence as a donor. On a related note, those considering working for a Christian ministry should read these agreements carefully. Arbitration agreements should not serve to shield an organization from whistle blowing.
 
Background articles on the GFA RICO suit
May 10, 2016 Reply to Response to Motion – GFA seeks to compel arbitration
May 10, 2016 Reply to Response to Motion – GFA asks court to dismiss suit
GFA RICO suit filed (2/8/16)
Details about RICO suit (2/9/16)
Statement from GFA board blaming bloggers (2/12/16)
Response from GFA’s lawyers (4/21/16)
Response from plaintiffs to GFA’s Motions to Dismiss and Compel Arbitration (4/19/16)

Plaintiffs File Response in Dicksons v. Gospel for Asia

Attorneys for Matthew and Jennifer Dickson filed responses (see below) to Gospel for Asia’s motions to dismiss and compel arbitration in the RICO lawsuit against leaders of GFA. According to the filing, the Dickson’s provided ample detail and a clear and compelling case against GFA. The response concluded:

Under a straightforward application of the pleading standards, the Court should find the Dicksons allege facts sufficient to support each of their claims. Their Complaint leaves no doubt as to the nature of their allegations, and it is nearly impossible to imagine that Defendants need even a shred of additional detail to prepare their defenses. Accepting the allegations as true, and drawing all reasonable inferences in the Dicksons’ favor, there is no question that all Defendants are liable for the misconduct the Dicksons allege under each of their four claims. The Court should therefore deny the motions to dismiss, and this case should proceed to discovery forthwith.

In response to GFA’s demand that the Dicksons enter arbitration, the plaintiffs said GFA’s demand was based on an invalid and unenforceable employment agreement. The plaintiffs concluded:

Defendants have entirely failed to carry their burden of proving the existence of a valid arbitration agreement. The arbitration language in the Statement lacks consideration and is helplessly vague. Moreover, the Statement is palpably irrelevant to the dispute the Dicksons have brought before the Court for redress: the deliberate misleading of tens of thousands of similiarly situated donors resulting in Defendants’ enrichment. Rather than allowing Defendants to evade responsibility for their conduct based on the happenstance of the Dicksons’ former and terminated status as “members” of GFA, the Court—following well-settled precedent—should deny Defendants’ motion in its entirety.

 
Documents:
Plaintiffs’ Opposition to Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ Claims
Plaintiffs’ Opposition to Defendants’ Motion to Compel Arbitration

Gospel for Asia Denies RICO Allegations, Moves to Dismiss Suit, and Asks Court to Compel Arbitration

In court filings Monday, Gospel for Asia denied all allegations of wrong doing, asked the court to compel the plaintiffs Matthew and Jennifer Dickson to enter into arbitration to settle their dispute and/or to dismiss the suit.
In February, Matthew and Jennifer Dickson brought sued GFA alleging fraud and mismanagement on behalf of themselves and the class of GFA donors. On Monday, GFA’s lawyers responded with denials, a motion to dismiss the suit and a demand that the Dicksons enter arbitration. The GFA legal response included signed agreements by the Dicksons while they were GFA employees which included a clause stating they wouldn’t sue over disputes but rather enter arbitration.
GFA’s response concludes:

Defendants [GFA leaders] pray that arbitration be ordered, or, alternatively, that judgment be entered that Plaintiffs take nothing by this suit against any of the Defendants, that class certification be denied, that all relief prayed for by Plaintiffs in this action be denied, and that Defendants be granted such other and further relief, at law and in equity, to which they may be justly entitled. DATED: April 15, 2016.

GFA’s motion to compel arbitration
GFA’s motion to dismiss the suit
GFA’s brief supporting motion to dismiss
GFA’s response to the complaint
The original complaint Dicksons v. Gospel for Asia
 

Gospel for Asia Claims Allegations Are False But Then Claims Changes Are Coming; Still Keeping the Audit Secret

If Gospel for Asia wants to show change, then the board of directors should release the most recent audit…
In early March, Gospel for Asia’s board of directors (we still don’t know who they are) posted a statement to donors about how they are responding to GFA’s loss of ECFA accreditation and the resulting questions about their financial integrity.
In it, I find some good signs, if indeed the statements are accurate. GFA claims to have instituted new procedures to insure money is spent where it should be spent. However, on the down side, GFA claims that the allegations which led to the need for these changes are false. Shorter GFA: We never did anything wrong and we won’t do it again.
You can read the statement in full at the GFA website. Below, I intersperse my reactions throughout the statement.

Strengthening Our Commitment to You

Wills Point, Texas – March 10, 2016: A positive effect of a malicious internet attack—and a subsequent series of false accusations—against Gospel for Asia has been the overall review and fine tuning of our administrative and financial processes in order to insure we are above reproach.

My carefully documented posts since April 2015 have been vigorous but not malicious. I have all along the way asked for comment and information from Gospel for Asia. GFA stopped responding to me in May of last year. At one point, a rumor was spread that I was offered a chance by GFA leaders to go to Texas and see the operation. That was false but I indicated that I would be willing to do that. There has been no effort to set the record straight with me or any other Christian media source. Christianity Today, World, Christian Today, etc. have all tried but gotten no answers of substance.
GFA board of directors, I ask you, what allegations are false? You keep saying that publicly and privately but you don’t provide evidence. The ECFA report documents numerous problems, many of which came from this blog. If you are going to make an allegation like that, you should be prepared to back it up. I have provided documentation via publicly available documents, internal budgets, staff meeting disclosures, etc. On the other hand, you have answered with denials without evidence.
The fact that you continue to spin what is obvious to everyone is not a good sign that you are actually following through with all of the “fine tuning” you claim. If you can spin this, then there is no assurance that you are doing what you say you are doing. For years, GFA promised to be following ECFA guidelines. You were not doing that. For years, GFA promised to follow the guidelines of the Office of Personnel Management. You did not comply which resulted in the OPM evicting you from the Combined Federal Campaign. Did you forget about that? Donors are not going to forget. If you really want to fine tune, then stop blaming the messenger for false allegations when it is obvious that many of the allegations have already had consequences in the real world.

On February 12, the board of Gospel for Asia issued a statement regarding our relationship with ECFA. Over Gospel for Asia’s thirty-six-year history with ECFA, our ministry underwent a number of reviews, all of which we passed, but our most recent review (which ECFA initiated as a direct result of false accusations originating on the internet) cited several recommended areas of improvement. Gospel for Asia contested ECFA’s conclusions, but simultaneously values our relationship with ECFA, especially as a founding member of the organization.

Seems pretty clear in this statement that it is fine with you to accuse media of making false allegations but then to ingratiate yourself with ECFA. When I make a claim, you call it a “false allegation.” When ECFA includes the same information in their review and validates my work, you change your tune.
Have you forgotten about your former board member colleague, Gayle Erwin? Erwin was a part of the GFA board for 30 years. He pulled back the curtain and validated media reports. In fact, he provided even more detail about how the board was misled. Are his allegations false? If so, please explain.

Compliance with ECFA standards are a benefit—but not a requirement—for a charity to operate ethically and legally. Even so, Gospel for Asia is working to comply with recommendations made by ECFA.
Today, Gospel for Asia, is pleased to announce we as a ministry have implemented—or are well on our way to implementing—each of these recommendations for improvement.
Some of the changes being implemented include the following:

  1. While Gospel for Asia has always undergone an annual and independent financial audit from a reputable firm, the ministry has now contracted a new auditing firm that ECFA specifically recommended. This firm is well equipped to assist Gospel for Asia in navigating the increasingly complex demands presented by the varying international environments within which we operate.
  2. The aforementioned audit—which is underway—has identified additional safeguards that can be applied to GFA’s accounting and reporting processes. Till now, Gospel for Asia has fully implemented approximately forty percent of these recommendations, and is in the process of implementing all of the recommendations.
  3. In order to assess our overall operations and management, we have engaged a national non-profit expert to conduct an additional management review and in turn recommend changes to policies, procedures and practices throughout the entire organization.
  4. With the help of the auditors and experts referenced above, we have created—and are in the process of implementing—an improved agreement with our field partners. This will allow GFA to more efficiently deploy resources and better communicate regarding the use of all resources.
  5. We are in the process of adding more staff to key administrative and financial divisions in order to strengthen our overall operations.

We believe these changes will strengthen our work and insure that all of it is accomplished according to standards that are above reproach.
Gospel for Asia remains undaunted in its mission to bring the love of Christ to those who have yet to hear his name. We believe the best is yet to come and that now, more than ever before, is the time to share the love and message of Christ among the world’s least reached. These changes will allow us to be even more effective.

Statement from Gospel for Asia’s Board of Directors on Recent Developments

If you really are doing these things, then show some good faith to the public by releasing the now completed audit. If you want to demonstrate that you have turned over a new leaf, then release the audit. I know you have been asked for it and have denied the request. It is business as usual at GFA. You have it but you won’t release it.

GFA board members, you need to realize that donors don’t have to support GFA. There are other organizations which are more transparent and more focused. You must earn the trust of donors again. This spin job isn’t a good start. Just saying you are going to do things doesn’t cut it anymore. You must do something to demonstrate you have learned something.

For starters, release the most recent audit.

Gospel for Asia Has Changed Some Promises To Admit They Can Spend Donations As They Want

In a mailing to donors asking for money for new church construction in India, Gospel for Asia has changed their promise about how funds are used.
On their website, GFA still promises that 100% of donations go to the “field” with nothing taken out for administrative costs.
GFA 100 percent 2016
However, in this new mailing, GFA tells donors:
GFA build a church 2016
I wonder how long the 100% promise will remain on the website. As of right now, the messages are contradictory. Website donors are still being misled. This new appeal appears to be how GFA has done business in the past. According to the ECFA, GFA has used donor money for purposes other than intended. This new mailing asks for money for churches (see the letter and enclosures), but the disclaimer tells the donor that the money may not go to build a church.
Given the documentation that GFA is using money in India to purchase land, schools, and medical centers for income production, donors should be aware that the money you hope goes to build a church may build a business instead.

Former Bush Administration Lawyer Harriet Miers is Member of Gospel for Asia's Legal Defense Team

Source TT Architects website
Interior of GFA’s headquarters Source TT Architects website

When it comes to legal defense against the recently filed RICO lawsuit, Gospel for Asia is going big.
Locke Lord of Dallas is a large firm which boasts former Bush Administration Chief Counsel to the President Harriet Miers.  Miers is among the attorneys who will represent the GFA defendants. In 2005, Miers was nominated by Bush to fill Sandra Day O’Connor’s seat. However, the administration later withdrew her name amid controversy.
If GFA is paying full freight, I suspect the “Where Most Needed” fund is going to take a big hit.
 
Miers Order