Gospel for Asia Class Action Suit Claims Process is Now Open

I just saw the following notice which is relevant to donors to Gospel for Asia. The claims process for the $37 million settlement in Murphy v. GFA is now open.

Pursuant to the proposed class action settlement with Gospel for Asia (and the individual defendants), the claims process is now open. Class members should have received individual notice by mail and/or email from the Settlement Administrator, Heffler Claims Group.

Filing a claim is simple – either:
1. Complete and return the Official Claim Form included with the Notice; or
2. File your claim online at www.gfaclassaction.us

Both ask you to agree or disagree with the list of donations (provided to the Settlement Administrator from GFA) on the website. To review the list, click on the “Donations List” tab on the website and insert your Class Member ID (found on your claim form). If you cannot find your Class Member ID, you may contact the Settlement Administrator using the appropriate prompts on the website.

Importantly, the claim deadline is July 11, 2019.

Should you have any questions, you may contact the Settlement Administrator at (844) 367-8894.

Funds may be recovered via this action and donated to another organization. If you need a reminder of the problems at GFA, please see this post (and this one) and re-read the report of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. Remember that the ECFA removed GFA from membership in October 2015 due to multiple violations of financial standards. GFA promised to seek reinstatement. However, it is now 2019 and GFA still has not done so.

ECFA Removes Harvest Bible Chapel from Membership

After disclosing that Harvest Bible Chapel was under investigation, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability finally removed the megachurch from membership due to violations of four standards of financial integrity. Earlier today the following statement was posted on the ECFA website.

WINCHESTER, Va., April 17, 2019—The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) board voted today to update the membership status for Harvest Bible Chapel (Elgin, IL) from suspension to termination due to significant violations of four of ECFA’s Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship™. Based on new information obtained by ECFA from the church while under suspension, ECFA determined that the church was not in compliance with Standards 2, 3, 4 and 6, which pertain to Governance, Financial Oversight, Use of Resources and Compliance with Laws, and Compensation-Setting and Related-Party Transactions.

“ECFA continues to champion integrity in God’s Kingdom,” said Dan Busby, ECFA president. We are committed to applying our standards rigorously and consistently.”

ECFA’s investigation of Harvest Bible Chapel began on November 28, 2018. After a thorough review of documents made available at that time as well as an on-site visit with church officials, ECFA reported on December 10, 2018 that the church was in good standing. This statement would not have been made if Harvest Bible Chapel had shared all crucial information with ECFA.

As part of the ongoing review of the church’s compliance with ECFA’s standards, on March 11, 2019, the church shared new information that indicated possible violations of ECFA standards. Based on this new information, ECFA’s board responded accordingly and suspended Harvest Bible Chapel’s membership on March 14, 2019 and launched a further investigation, that has remained ongoing.

On April 15, 2019, ECFA obtained pertinent information from the church, providing evidence that validated significant violations of Standards 2, 3, 4, and 6. The ECFA board determined that restoration to full membership was not a viable option under the circumstances.

Meanwhile, Julie Roys published an article detailing more damaging allegations regarding financial dealings at HBC and James MacDonald’s ministry Walk in the Word.

HBC now joins Gospel for Asia as an organization kicked out of the ECFA due to public revelations generated by bloggers and news reporting. The ECFA’s process missed all of the violations. However, after investigative reporting brought issues to light, the ECFA acted.

Does the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability Benefit Donors? (UPDATED)

Yesterday morning, Christianity Today announced that the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability suspended Harvest Bible Chapel for potential violation of four of seven financial integrity standards. ECFA’s president Dan Busby told CT that ECFA is trying to find out if the church is or is not in compliance. Although it has been obvious for some time, at least the ECFA has given the public some indication that all may not be right at HBC.

ECFA’s renewed investigation appears to be a response to Julie Roys’ indefatigable investigation of HBC and pointed questions in print for ECFA about HBC’s financial practices. Roys’ work is like deja vu all over again. ECFA also said Gospel for Asia and Mars Hill Church were meeting standards until it was learned that the organizations weren’t as they seemed. In light of the current HBC debacle, I thought of this 2014 article about ECFA’s benefit to donors and am reprinting it here.

Without the work of whistleblowers, bloggers, and journalists (mostly bloggers in these cases), would we ever have known any of what we know now about MHC, GFA, and HBC? (If a former board member had not leaked the ECFA report about GFA to a blogger, the public would never have known the extent of the financial issues with that mission giant.) ECFA membership gave those organizations a seal of approval which helped convince people to part with their money. I hope these glaring situations prompt some changes at ECFA and perhaps even some additional regulation of non-profits.

…………………………………

August 6, 2014

The mission statement of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability is “Enhancing Trust in Christ-Centered Churches and Ministries.” A primary means of pursuing their mission is through promotion of their seven standards of stewardship. The ECFA website states that the standards are “are fundamental to operating with integrity.” The ECFA tells the public that organizations who voluntarily agree to adhere to the standards “must comply with all of the standards, all of the time.”

But what happens when an ECFA member does not adhere to “all of the standards, all of the time?” What does the ECFA do to alert the public when non-compliance is discovered? The disappointing answer for donors is that the ECFA may do nothing to alert the public when an organization is or was out of compliance. In contrast to former years when the ECFA publicly suspended organizations, now the ECFA conducts a private review if there is concern over compliance with standards. Michael Martin, Director of Legal Services and Legal Counsel for the EFCA told me, “When standards-related issues are under review with respect to a particular member, ECFA does not comment on our review.”

I have written numerous emails and left phone messages with the ECFA regarding the Mars Hill Global Fund since May, 2014. I am aware that former members of Mars Hill Church have also contacted ECFA about the use of donations to the Mars Hill Global Fund from 2012-2014. In response to one of those former member emails, Michael Martin replied:

We are aware of the issues you mention and are in communication with leaders of Mars Hill concerning matters which relate to ECFA standards.

True to his word, the ECFA did not comment from May until July 25 when the organization released a statement to World Magazine:

The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) conducted a review of Mars Hill Global and issued a statement that read, in part, “The Church has gone the second mile to address use of any funds if they were not used consistently with donor intent. This commitment, which ECFA will periodically verify, demonstrates the integrity of Pastor Mark Driscoll and Pastor Sutton Turner.”

In other words, trust us, we will let you know. However, the problem for prospective donors is no one let them know. This statement is very close to an admission that the church did not comply with ECFA guidelines “all of the time” (“The Church has gone the second mile to address use of any funds if they were not used consistently with donor intent“). About donations to the Global Fund between 2012-2014, the church had already acknowledged that the “preponderance of expenses related to church plants and replants in the U.S” which was a change from their 2013 Annual Report when they reported that Global Fund money went to mission efforts in India and Ethiopia. There was no report of money spent on U.S. church plants. Yet, donors would not have known that if not for those outside of Mars Hill Church and the ECFA writing about it. Mars Hill Church is still misleading people about how they portrayed Mars Hill Global and has certainly done their part to keep this information out of public view by scrubbing video evidence. Apparently, the ECFA also believes that these matters should be handled secretly without potential donors knowing what is going on.
The ECFA touts their standards as “fundamental to operating with integrity.” They are good standards. However, if the public does not know that an organization has not or is not following them, then how can that integrity be assessed?

In recent years, the ECFA has removed very few organizations from membership due to violations. Most former members have either voluntarily given up their membership or merged with other organizations.
In the old days, it seems to me that donors had more of an advocate with the ECFA. For instance, witness this response from then ECFA president Paul Nelson to criticism received in 1997 when the ECFA suspended Gospel Rescue Mission (a homeless mission?!) for using generic fundraising letters (a more minor offense than re-routing mission money, in my view):

The ECFA, Mr. Nelson said, does not want to punish member organizations, which by joining are voluntarily submitting to accountability. “By the same token we must call attention to the issues when a violation has occurred, and that’s what we’ve done in this case,” he said. “Our whole approach is not to be adversarial to the membership but to take disciplinary steps when we have to, which is what we felt we had to do. Now we’re prepared to work with them, if they are prepared to work with us.”

At the time, the ECFA seemed to take a more diligent approach to their public role. Nelson added:

The standards have not changed, Mr. Nelson said, and the suspension is a reminder that ECFA intends to be vigilant. “I think it does send a clear message-that if there are practices going on, and if those practices are widespread, that are borderline, or are moving in and out of compliance-that ECFA is serious about truthfulness in communications.”

As an evangelical donors to evangelical causes, this research into Mars Hill Global and the ECFA has been surprising and disappointing. More so than ever, if I have doubt about an organization, I will check that organization’s ECFA status but that will be only the beginning. I now know that an organization could be out of compliance even if accredited. Worse yet, the accrediting group could know an organization is out of compliance and never make it known. I may use the ECFA standards, but realize I will have to explore compliance on my own with the organization. I will have to ask for reports of how money is used (apparently the ECFA is not going to require this report from Mars Hill Church regarding their Global Fund) and not assume that accreditation means the organization has been or is in compliance with the guidelines.

Unfortunate, but good to know.

For more on Mars Hill Global, click the link.

For a donor-centered watchdog organization, see Ministry Watch.

Social Crusader and Metropolitan K.P. Yohannan Waxes Eloquent about Charity in India

K.P. Yohannan, source: Youtube
K.P. Yohannan, source: Youtube

Yesterday, K.P. Yohannan, self-styled social crusader and Metropolitan of Believers’ Church, published an article in the Indian online publication Bureaucracy Today on charity finances. Next issue, BT should invite Bernie Madoff to pen an article on business ethics.
 
Some highlights:

However, checks and balances in the NGO space, like in any other system are an integral part of this support mechanism.  Without effective and robust assessment machinery, it will become very difficult to sustain the credibility and utility of NGOs.
In fact, it would be fair to say that scrutiny and regulation of organizations in NGO space is far more critical than that of the private sector. This is because humanitarian organizations compliment and supplement the efforts of the state in a country of the size and diversity like ours. So whereas the government is at the forefront of inclusive growth for all sections of the society, civil society participation becomes imperative to achieve the expected pace of reform. And therefore it is sacrosanct that the credibility of these civil society participants is maintained with full caution in public eye.

This from the leader of an organization who was kicked out of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability in October 2015 and sanctioned by the Office of Personnel Management in January of 2016. GFA has not been reinstated to either organization. On the point of credibility in the public eye, GFA has not released an audited financial statement for the past two fiscal years.
Another quote:

There are a host of reasons why the narrative in India has changed to NGO versus state. Whereas some of the NGOs have been accused of funding anti-national activities, others have been accused of financial impropriety. These are grave charges and it is but natural that the relevant authorities have taken timely action to intervene.

This statement comes from the leader of the organization being sued for fraud in the U.S.
As GFA’s lawyer said, I am a blogger that regularly blogs and will continue to remind donors about the “grave charges” until the “relevant authorities” intervene.

#GivingTuesday: Gospel for Asia's Rubber Plantation in Jeopardy

It appears Gospel for Asia has experienced another setback. The local government wants to build an airport on part of the rubber plantation — Cheruvally Estate — owned by GFA.

“There are many environmental issues at Laha. Based on a study , Cheruvalli estate was found suitable. I had talked to Archbishop KP Yohannan who owns the Cheruvalli estate two months ago and he had expressed his willingness to give land for the airport. I wrote to Vijayan and he acted quickly ,” he said, adding that NRKs were ready to invest if the airport follows a PPP model. Around Rs 3,000 crore will be required to build the airport.
The estate, which was being held by Gospel for Asia, was part of 5,200 acres that was taken over by the special officer along with the land held by Travancore Rubber and Tea Company Ltd and Riya Resorts and Properties Pvt Ltd. Cheruvalli estate is one among the estates that were sold by Harrisons Malayalam Ltd in 2005. The special officer – who was appointed for resuming government land from HML – had inspected the estate on January 15, 2015 and found that the sale deed of the Cheruvalli estate, measuring 2,263 acres, did not contain any survey number included in original document 16001923 held by HML.
Gospel for Asia had approached the high court claiming that the special office had no powers to issue the notice. After their plea was turned down by the single bench that asked the group to first make their claims before the special officer, the group then appealed against it in the division bench.

Last month, KSEB had written to the special officer seeking permission to erect a 110kV line through the property for im proving the power facility to Sabarimala which subsequently was placed before the high court.The court, in its order, gave permission to KSEB to erect the power line through the estate, without providing any compensation to Gospel for Asia.

GFA paid millions of donor money not given for the purchase of a rubber plantation to buy Cheruvally Estate. Now, that investment is being taken by the government with the claim being that GFA was not a legal buyer in the first place.
In October 2015, GFA was evicted from membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability due to multiple violations of financial standards. GFA founder and director K.P. Yohannan has spent much of his time in India since then due to concerns about investigations by various federal agencies.
Today is #GivingTuesday which provides a focus on giving to non-profits. With Christmas and end of the year tax giving, charities bring in a substantial portion of their funds during December.
#GivingTuesday – My advice is to find local charities making a difference and give there.
#GivingTuesday – Advice for making larger donations.

Bill Gothard's Institute Loses ECFA Membership

Seems like the ECFA found a voice.
Christianity Today is reporting the Institute for Basic Youth Conflicts has lost membership in the ECFA.
I went to one IBYC meeting in Michigan not long after I graduated from college. I ran the other way and never looked back.
 

World Magazine on the Release of the ECFA Gospel for Asia Investigation Report

World’s Bill McCleery has an article today on the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability’s Gospel for Asia investigation report released to me and the GFA Diaspora last week.
GFA COO David Carroll sounds more contrite than ever in this piece saying GFA leaders “owned” their mistakes and are sad and sorry that they “breached the confidence of our donors.”  This is a long way from May 7 of this year when Carroll told me:

No, Gospel for Asia has not violated the law.

When you first contacted us, I mentioned that we would not be able to respond to every question you put before us. Now, with the increased volume and frequency of your questions, it has become clear that this back and forth has become a distraction from our mission work. For this reason, this will be my final response. We understand that you will continue to explore issues around Gospel for Asia and continue to be fed accusations from former employees, and we accept that.

We continue to remain accountable to all applicable laws and regulations, to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and to independent auditors.

As he should be, Carroll is sad and sorry about the donors, but I still wonder when GFA is going to make a sincere effort to deal with the GFA Diaspora and other former staff.

As in previous reports, K.P. Yohannan is missing in action. No comment from him.

At the end of the article, Carroll promises to do better but he doesn’t explain why we should listen to him now. GFA touted their relationship with ECFA and their financial integrity while they were violating ECFA standards and telling people they were fine.

Some others aspects of the World article will be reviewed in a separate post (e.g., Bridge of Hope).

ECFA Report: Gospel for Asia Has Yet to Answer the $259 Million Question

The report of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability’s investigation of Gospel for Asia contains some amazing facts. One fact contained in point 2 of the ECFA report is the disclosure of the massive amounts of donor money just sitting in foreign banks. The ECFA, apparently reading my May 22 blog post, wrote:

2. Excessive cash balances held in partner field accounts. Allegations were made that GFA had upwards of $150 million in partner field accounts, far more than necessary to provide appropriate operating reserves. During our visit on June 3, ECFA was informed that GFA field partner cash reserves were approximately $7 million. After ECFA requested detailed documentation of cash balances held by foreign field offices, on June 29, we discovered that GFA’s field partners had $259,437,098 on hand at March 31, 2014 and approximately $186 million in June 2015.
ECFA staff questioned the appropriateness of the high levels of cash being held in partner field accounts. We were told that GFA partners felt it was important to maintain the high balances in case the Indian government decided to block funds being transferred into the country.
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 (see #4 below). ECFA staff expressed concern that the high reserves may not comply with ECFA Standards 4 and 7.1. Subsequent to our conversation on this matter on July 27, GFA provided ECFA with a plan to reduce partner field account reserves to $72 Million, and then amended the plan on August 27 to reduce reserves down to $11 Million. Again, GFA staff disclaimed that GFA exercises any control over field partners (see #10 below).
In our meeting on July 1, ECFA staff asked you what the GFA board would think if they knew of the high balances in partner field accounts. You indicated that neither the board nor you were aware of the magnitude of the balances. You responded, “They would be as surprised as I am.” Subsequently, the GFA board was notified, during their July 13 board meeting, of the balances held by field partners.

As of the end of the 2014 Indian fiscal year (March 31), GFA had a quarter of a billion dollars parked in Indian banks. Over that year, GFA had added $101 million to the $158 million I discovered. For years, GFA has been telling donors about the urgent needs of the homeless and hungry and they have been sitting on donor funds designated to meet those needs. This is scandalous.
If GFA in the United States really didn’t know, they should have fired Believers’ Church and GFA-India as partners. But then on second thought, that might have been awkward since K.P. Yohannan is the CEO of GFA and the Metropolitan and Managing Trustee for Believers’ Church and the related entities.
In his reply to the ECFA, Yohannan said plans have been made to deal with massive balances. However, there is reason to require proof. GFA initially told ECFA that the balance was $7 million. GFA told staff the same thing in a May 14 staff meeting. Here is what Yohannan said in reply to ECFA.
GFA reply excessive funds
 
Yohannan wants the public to believe that Believers’ Church, Gospel for Asia – India, Love India Ministries and Last Hour Ministry are completely independent and unrelated field partners. Yohannan told the ECFA he didn’t know how much money was in those accounts.
However, somehow, GFA convinced the field partners to completely shift their operating philosophy and commit to use nearly all of those funds, leaving only $11 million in reserve (what about the corpus fund?). Yohannan wants the public to believe that he exercised no authority in the matter.
Here’s the $259 million dollar question: Which K.P. Yohannan do we believe? Do we believe the Metropolitan Bishop who signed his name to the Believers’ Church Constitution, or the GFA CEO who told ECFA he didn’t know how much money his Indian organizations had squirreled away?
According to the Believers’ Church Constitution, Yohannan is the ultimate and final authority in all matters relating to Believers’ Church and their trusts. Assets cannot be moved without his approval.
This is a serious matter. For years, donors thought their funds were going to specific needs in India. Now we know much of the money wasn’t going to those needs but rather to interest bearing accounts. If I was a donor, I would want my money back.
Compounding the problem is the incredible claim from K.P. Yohannan that he didn’t know how those organizations were stewarding the funds. How could he not know? He runs those organizations. According to the church Constitution, he is the final authority. I don’t see how Yohannan can have it both ways. Instead of a vague apology, GFA needs to come up with a response that addresses the discrepancies delineated here.
MetropolitanPowersBC Cons
 
And then review what the Believers’ Church Constitution says about the Metropolitan’s role regarding property and funds. If Yohannan doesn’t know how much money Believers’ Church, Gospel for Asia – India and the other trusts have, then who does? He is the Managing Trustee and the one who nominates the other trustees.
GenSecretaryBelChurch
 

ECFA Report: Leaders of Gospel for Asia Claim Millions Went to Hong Kong Bank Instead of Indian Field Ministries

A question Gospel for Asia has steadfastly refused to address is the location of nearly $130 million in donor funds claimed in U.S. audits to have been sent to India. What shows up in Indian public records doesn’t match what is claimed on U.S. audits. The report of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability’s investigation into financial matters at GFA reveal a new claim by GFA about at least some of those dollars, but ultimately leaves the matter unanswered.
Previously, donors have told me that GFA leaders said I had missed funds sent to Indian states other than Kerala. Reviewing the FC-6 forms of all other Indian states, I came to a dead end. No other state records reported the receipt of any funds from the U.S. GFA office to any known GFA affiliate. I have also heard that GFA claims to send funds to two other unnamed charities in India. However, GFA has refused to provide any specifics.
In the GFA report, another claim is made:

15. Alleged missing funds according to Indian FC6 forms. ECFA received allegations that a significant amount of funds were missing based on attempts to reconcile GFA’s audited financial statements and field partner’s Indian FC6 forms. ECFA reviewed this matter to determine compliance with ECFA Standard 4. On July 20, GFA staff provided ECFA with a reconciliation of these amounts, which reflected a transfer of $29,300,000 to a GFA India account in Hong Kong. GFA staff reported that this transfer was not required to be reported on Indian FC6 forms and that this amount along with fiscal year timing differences led to the allegations of significant missing funds.

The way this paragraph is written gives me the impression that ECFA took GFA’s word that these funds did not have to be reported in India. This assumption is problematic and raises other troubling questions. GFA told the ECFA that just over $29 million which GFA claimed in their American audit was sent to GFA India actually went to a GFA India account in Hong Kong.
I do not know India law well enough to express an confident opinion on this claim. I don’t accept GFA’s claim at face value. While I intend to look into it, the claim raises additional questions. Since the funds were sent to GFA India for use in India, why would those funds be exempt from reporting? If GFA uses those funds in India as promised to donors and claimed in the American audit, eventually the money would have to be reported to the Indian government via the FC-6 forms. No matter where the money is parked once it leaves the donor, it will eventually need to be documented in India as a foreign contribution, if indeed it is ever sent to India. Over eight years, the best estimate I have seen is that $128 million is not accounted for. The ECFA investigation apparently only looked into the activities in one calendar year.
The claim about fiscal year timing differences is a distraction. Since the FC-6 forms requires a precise date of receipt to be reported, Jason Watkins and I have been able to take the timing of transfers into account.
That’s it. the ECFA investigators were not told stories about other Indian organizations receiving GFA funds. Apparently, there were no claims about sending money to other states in India. Staff and leaders who provided these spurious explanations to staff and donors did not provide the same reasons to the ECFA.
Just after being terminated from ECFA membership, GFA told the public that “no findings of money missing” came from the ECFA investigation. Having the ECFA report, it is clear that ECFA did not thoroughly examine multiple years of discrepancies between what GFA said they sent to India and what was reported in India to the government. Furthermore, the ECFA apparently took GFA’s word that funds deposited in Hong Kong satisfied GFA’s claim that those funds went to GFA India and did not require reporting to the Indian government. ECFA did not independently verify this claim.
In any case, I hope that staff and donors can now put to rest the false stories advanced by some within GFA (i.e., money sent to other states or other ministries) and concentrate on the big secret GFA has been protecting for months. I challenge GFA to produce chapter and verse in Indian law which exempts foreign contributions from disclosure if those funds are first deposited to banks outside of India. GFA will also need to provide documentation about the large and growing discrepancies over the past decade.
 

Another Call for Participation in the Calvary Chapel – Gospel for Asia Survey

So far 64 people have participated in the survey of those affiliated with Calvary Chapel ministries regarding attitudes toward Gospel for Asia. I am leaving the survey open for awhile longer with the hope of gaining more participants.
Click here to go to the survey.
Twenty-four lead pastors have participated. Of the 24, only one respondent said his church supports GFA and has no plans to stop. Eleven said GFA was never supported, nine said support for GFA had ceased due to the recent revelations, three pastors said support stopped before the recent wave of problems surfaced. Those pastors indicated that they perceived problems prior to the recent set of disclosures and new stories. One pastor said support for GFA was being reconsidered and would probably cease.
Various reasons were given for stopping support. One response summarize the others:

Lack of GFA financial accountability including donated money not being accounted for; GFA not being truthful about how money is spent, who is in charge of money once it reaches India and how much actually goes to the field; GFA having students and others carry cash to India; how GFA staff and ex-staff have been and are being treated; that Believers Church runs GFA in India; that KP Yohannan is in charge of an Episcopal-style denomination that controls GFA India and that they are not up front about that.

Six of seven pastors who reached out to GFA for answers to questions said they were not satisfied with the answers received. One said GFA seemed open in response but the conclusions were at odds with the ECFA board’s action to vote GFA out of the organization.