Gospel for Asia Continues to Raise Money for Flood Relief Without Saying How the Funds Will Get to the Needy

A month ago, I asked Gospel for Asia how they planned to distribute donor funds to flood victims in Kerala, India. In 2017, Gospel for Asia’s comparable organization in India (now called Ayana Charitable Trust) and their ecclesiastical arm (Believer’s Church) lost registration with the Indian government to accept foreign contributions. Thus, these groups can’t accept any of the funds now being raised by K.P. Yohannan from foreign donors. GFA very deliberately is raising these funds on the organization website and on social media. If GFA is giving these funds to another nonprofit in India, why can’t GFA simply inform the donor public about this?

When I asked GFA’s public relations firm, I was told:

GFA has headquarters in Kerala, India. Volunteers are actively rescuing, feeding those affected by flooding and providing other supplies.

However, InChrist Communications did not respond when I asked how those headquarters could accept funds when the registration to accept foreign funds had been revoked.

The later a friend of the blog was told that funds were being sent to Believers’ Church in India. Furthermore, the GFA representative said it could not be guaranteed that the donated funds would actually get to flood victims since GFA has no control over Believers’ Church. Actually, this explanation doesn’t make sense because Believers’ Church cannot legally accept foreign contributions.

Saying One Thing and Doing Another

When Compassion International lost their registration with the Indian government, they left the country. GFA has never addressed their loss of registration, nor why they continue to raise funds to send to India when the organizations they claim to support can’t take them. This is an issue for more than flood support. GFA has continued to raise support for sponsored children, missionaries, and all sorts of activities. GFA is telling the public they are doing something that the Indian government says can’t be done. If GFA is getting donor funds to the intended targets, GFA should disclose how they are doing that.

It is a mystery to me why investigative reporters have not taken up this issue. If there is an easy way around this issue, then why didn’t Compassion International use it? While there may an explanation, given GFA’s size and current legal difficulties, it seems like they should have to be more accountable.

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Image Fair use, GFA Facebook page

Dear Gospel for Asia: How Will Funds Raised for Kerala Flood Victims Get to Them?

Over the past week, the news out of the state of Kerala in India has been devastating. Due to severe flooding, over 400 are dead and 800,000 have been displaced. Sadly, those numbers are expected to climb. Of course, the natural impulse is to help.

Kerala is the home of K.P. Yohannan, Gospel for Asia (now called Ayana Charitable Trust in India), and Believers’ Church. While it is understandable that K.P. has been informing his followers about what is happening there, he is also doing something that raises a question: K.P. is raising foreign donations to send to flood victims. The question is how will those funds get to flood victims?

In 2017, the government of India canceled the registration of Gospel for Asia (Ayana Charitable Trust), Believers’ Church India, and two other affiliated organizations to receive foreign donations. Yohannan is raising money but it isn’t clear how those funds will get to flood victims when the Indian organizations he fronts can’t receive them?

Different Answers from Different Sources

Yesterday via email in response to a GFA press release asking for donations for flood victims, I asked public relations contact Gregg Wooding of InChrist Communications if he could explain how donations will get to flood victims. He replied:

GFA has headquarters in Kerala, India. Volunteers are actively rescuing, feeding those affected by flooding and providing other supplies.

I wrote back to ask how GFA in Kerala could receive those funds since the Indian government had canceled the organization’s FCRA registration. He did not answer.

Earlier in the day a source called GFA in Wills Point, TX on behalf of my blog and asked how American donations could be accepted in India since the FCRA registrations had been canceled. The caller was told that GFA still is able to operate in India, but the license to receive money is with Believers Eastern Church. The GFA representative said that the funds given to GFA are sent to Believers Church. He added that GFA and Believers’ Church are technically and legally different entities. GFA cannot guarantee money given for India disaster relief will be used for that purpose through Believers’ Church because GFA has no legal or ultimate authority over Believers’ Church. Money given to GFA is preferenced by donors for a certain purpose and Believers’ Church in practice uses the money for what it is preferenced for.

Leaving aside the uncertainty that the Believers’ Church might not use the funds as intended, GFA’s answer doesn’t match what the Indian government says. As I will demonstrate below, the registrations for GFA (Ayana Charitable Trust), Believers’ Church, and two other GFA affiliated organizations were canceled in 2017.  The question remains – how will American funds get to flood victims since GFA and Believers’ Church are unable to receive foreign contributions? Maybe there is an answer to this question, but GFA hasn’t provided one that fits with information available to the public.

FCRA – Foreign Contribution Regulation Act

In India, a charity must be registered with the government to receive foreign donations. There are rigorous reporting requirements as specified by the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) and the records are available to the world via the Home Ministry’s website. In fact, those records prompted the early questions about Gospel for Asia’s finances that eventually led to GFA being removed from membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

The FCRA rules are clear that only registered organizations can receive foreign donations (click here for a larger image).

Among other conditions, the rules (Q.2b) state that an organization “must obtain the FCRA registration/prior permission from the Central Government.” In contrast, Q.3i specifies that “individuals or associations who have been prohibited from receiving foreign contributions” cannot receive them.

To determine organizations which have been canceled, one can go to the India’s Home Ministry website and scroll down to the FCRA link.  On that site, there is a link near the bottom left which reads: List of Associations whose registration has been cancelled. If you click through, you will need to select the state of Kerala. Once you do that, you will see Ayana Charitable Trust at the top of the list. Scrolling down you will soon encounter Believers’ Church India and Love India Ministries and Last Hour Ministries.  Here are screen caps of Ayana Charitable Trust (formerly GFA-India), Believers’ Church, Love India Ministries, and Last Hour Ministries on the canceled list).

Since the very organizations which GFA and GFA’s PR representative said will take the money can’t do so, it is a fair and significant question to ask how donations intended for flood victims will get to them.  So far, GFA has not provided a satisfactory answer or provided evidence that the Indian government is wrong. Donors should demand more.

For more on the impact of the revocation of registration to receive foreign funds in India, see this article on Compassion International. When the Indian government canceled their registration to receive foreign donations, they left India. 

 

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Image: with permission Indian Navy (GODL-India) [GODL-India (https://data.gov.in/sites/default/files/Gazette_Notification_OGDL.pdf)], via Wikimedia Commons

Indian Government Halts Flow of Foreign Funds to Gospel for Asia

Pope KP2In a surprising development, the nation of India’s Ministry of Home Affairs has cancelled the registration of Gospel for Asia and three related organizations. According to the Times of India, Gospel for Asia (now called Ayana Charitable Trust) was the largest recipient of foreign funds in the nation during fiscal year 2016. The other affiliated organizations which lost registration are Believers’ Church, Last Hour Ministry and Love India Ministry. Believers’ Church is the ecclesiastical arm of GFA in Asia.
In India for a charity to accept foreign funds, the charity must be registered with the Ministry of Home Affairs. The organizations affiliated with Gospel for Asia have traditionally been among the richest in India. In FY 2016, these charities pulled in $206.5-million from foreign donors, most of that from the United States.
Gospel for Asia is the target of two RICO lawsuits in the U.S.  Plaintiffs allege fraud and misuse of funds. At least one of these cases has been slated for trial in 2019. In October of 2015, GFA was evicted from membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability for multiple violations of EFCA’s financial standards. GFA vowed to regain membership in the financial watchdog but has yet to satisfy ECFA requirements.
In 2016, GFA was sanctioned by the federal Office of Personnel Management for failing to abide program standards. As a consequence, the U.S. government banned GFA from accepting donations from federal employees during the annual workplace charitable fund drive.
In 2015, it was learned that GFA leaders asked student visitors to India to take U.S. dollars into India without reporting the funds to customs officials.
Below is the cancellation notice on India Ministry of Home Affairs website for Ayana Charitable Trust (formerly Gospel for Asia in India).
ayana FCRA cancelation
GFA does business in India under other organizational names that apparently have not been cancelled (e.g., New Hope Foundation, Holy Spirit Ministries) but most funds go to the four cancelled entities. In practice, the move might not immediately hurt Believers’ Church and GFA in India because the organization has hoarded so much cash over the past decade.

Gospel for Asia Tops India's List of Foreign Donation Recipients for FY 2016

Source TT Architects website
Source TT Architects website

A March 20 article in the Times of India puts focus on just how much money pours into India via the mega mission organization Gospel for Asia. A companion piece on Believers’ Church features K.P. Yohannan again saying he has no legal standing in any of his organizations. His own church Constitution seems to contradict this statement.
According to the ToI article, Ayana Charitable Trust (Gospel for Asia’s new name in India) took in $126,376,000 (Rs 8.26 billion). Much of that came from Ayana’s Hong Kong bank accounts. Because of this infusion of cash from their Hong Kong bank, it is hard to know the impact of GFA’s fall from respectability over the past year.
Believers’ Church recorded $128,824,000 in donations although $76.5 million came from “foreign funding from local sources.” While it is hard to know what this means in the case of Believers’ Church, presumably some of these funds are interest payments on the massive bank accounts owned by Believers’ Church. Since the Times article didn’t track all of the NGOs controlled by GFA, it is also possible that shell NGOs like Love India Ministries gave money to Believers’ Church which originally came from GFA in the U.S. or Canada.
Combining the two mega charities, Gospel for Asia’s Indian partners declared $255,200,000 in revenues for FY 2016 alone. According to the articles, all of the entities affiliated with GFA and Believers’ Church have $366,735,000 just sitting in bank accounts. GFA founder K.P. Yohannan boasts of the outreach conducted by his group. However, with the funds available to them, GFA could do significantly more than they do now.
Yohannan told the ToI that he does not head up any organizations.

When questioned whether he is personally heading these organizations, Yohannan said: “I don’t hold legal positions in any of them. We have in our church, councils and committees of 22 bishops that run these trusts.”

However, as I have reported before, Yohannan is the supreme authority over spiritual and temporal matters for Believers’ Church according to the church Constitution. He also heads the boards of at least some of the schools and the Bridge of Hope and is considered the benefactor of Believers’ Church Medical Center.
In October of 2015, GFA’s membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability was revoked due to multiple infractions of ECFA’s financial standards.

Indian Government Cracks Down on NGOs; Gospel for Asia India Changes Name to Ayana Charitable Trust

Source TT Architects website
GFA HQ – Source TT Architects website

Earlier this week, the Indian press reported that 20,000 NGOs had been cancelled by Prime Minister Modi’s crusade against corruption. According to those reports, only 13,000 NGOs remain as approved by the government.
It is unclear if any of the NGOs connected to mission giant Gospel for Asia has been caught up in the crack down. The government’s Home Ministry website provides lists of about 12,000 NGOs which are not now approved and none of the GFA organizations are listed. However, given the reports of 20,000 cancelled, presumably more will be announced in the days ahead.
In looking for information about the drastic measures, I learned that Gospel for Asia in India is now called Ayana Charitable Trust (see this blog post at India Happenings). To my knowledge, this name change was not disclosed to donors outside of India. The Gospel for Asia – India website is not functional and hasn’t been for months. Apparently, donations from America, Canada and around the world are being sent to Believers’ Church as well as a handful of NGOs in India, all affiliated with Believers’ Church.
Apparently, Gospel for Asia isn’t operating as GFA in India.
Recent government filings indicate no foreign contributions to Ayana Charitable Trust. For instance, look at this report filed in the last quarter of FY 2015-2016.
Ayana Trust last qtr 2015-2016
However, in April 2016 the Deccan Chronicle reported robust contributions for 2014-2015 to Ayana Charitable Trust, Believers’ Church, Love India Ministry and Last Hour Ministry, all affiliated with Believers’ Church. This reflects donations from GFA in Wills Point, TX to these NGOs. The Chronicle reported the donations to Ayana and not the old name of Gospel for Asia. However, as noted above, Ayana reported no contributions in the last quarter of FY 2015-2016.
It is unclear why GFA has changed the name in India. Creating multiple NGOs and changing their names does make it harder to track donations. Given the intense scrutiny of GFA’s activities (leading to expulsion from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability), making it hard to track activities might be a defensive strategy.