Gospel for Asia, which annually collects about $118 million to support projects to benefit low-income people in India and other South Asian countries, is being sued by an Arkansas couple who claim the missionary organization is pocketing donation money.
GFA, one of the world’s largest missionary organizations founded in 1978 by Indian American K.P. Yohannan, is headquartered in Willits Point, Texas. According to the lawsuit, filed Feb. 8 in Fayetteville, Arkansas District Court by donors Matthew and Jennifer Dickson, in 2013 – the last year for which audited statements are available – GFA distributed only $14 million to needy people, of the $118.6 million it had collected that year from its offices in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Germany.
“Soliciting charitable donations to benefit the poorest of the poor while covertly diverting the money to a multi-million dollar personal empire is reprehensible,” stated the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Neither Yohannan nor his wife Gisela Punnose, who is also named in the lawsuit, had returned calls by India-West to their home phone. Yohannan also did not return calls left at the headquarters’ main phone line.
The Dicksons could not be reached for comment.
In its appeals to donors, GFA promises that every dollar donated goes “100 percent to the field.” The organization has special appeals in its Christmas catalog: donors can buy a blanket for a poor family for $12; a camel for $345 – GFA notes that camels can carry loads of up to 330 pounds in sandy desert regions, making them much more efficient than a truck. Camel’s milk is part of the Rajasthani diet, and its wool is used for clothing, says the organization in its appeal to donors.
Donors can also buy a $1,200 motorbike to help GFA’s missionaries more efficiently reach people in remote and hilly villages. In its receipt to donors, the organization provides a “100% guarantee” that all donor dollars will be used in the field.
But, according to the lawsuit, in 2013, $37.8 million was spent on administrative costs, including $24 million to build GFA’s new headquarters in Willits Point. Yohannan and his wife, Gisela Punnose, and their children live in Willits Point.
An amount of $76.3 million was provided to Gospel for Asia-International to support four affiliate missionary organizations: GFA-India; Believers Church; Love India Ministries and Last Hour Ministries.
But the affiliates only declared receipts of $33.6 million, leaving more than $43 million unaccounted for, alleged the lawsuit. The $33 million was added to a bank account with existing assets of $170 million. Even with currency fluctuations, GFA’s affiliates would have more than $150 million cash on hand, according to the lawsuit.
In 2013, the spending of the four affiliates amounted to $54.5 million, according to the combined Indian F-6 reports. More than $9 million was spent on field administrative expenses. Almost $15 million was spent to construct a new for-profit Believers Church hospital, and $15.7 million was spent on Believers Church salaries and overhead, according to the lawsuit.
“Only $14.9 million was spent on direct relief for the poor and needy of India,” stated the lawsuit, adding that $6.3 million was spent on the “Bridge of Hope,” which supports needy children. The “Bridge of Hope” is one of GFA’s most popular programs; a donor is matched to a child in need and pledges $35 per month to support that child with education, one meal a day, healthcare and “Jesus’s love.”
However, according to the organization’s own reports, the cost of supporting a child through the program was only about $8 per month. GFA received more than $15 million in 2013 specifically for the “Bridge of Hope” program, but only $6.3 million was spent on child welfare programs.
Of the overall $54 million spent in 2013 in India through GFA’s four affiliates, $5.8 million was spent on religious schools and the education of priests, and
$1.4 million was spent on digging bore-wells – also known as “Jesus Wells.” GFA received donations for 2,800 wells, but only built 500, according to the lawsuit. Each well, built at a cost of $1,400, was intended to supply clean potable water to under-served villages.
About $500,000 was distributed to victims of natural disaster. Only $436 was distributed through the organization’s “Widows and Orphans Fund.”
In October 2015, GFA was ousted from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. Christianity Today reported that ECFA believed that GFA had misled donors, mismanaged donations, and had an ineffective board. In a statement, ECFA said GFA had violated five of its seven core standards. “This ends Gospel for Asia’s 36-year-long status as an ECFA member,” the council said in a statement.
GFA has since amended some of its language online to donors: "We are committed to honoring your gift preferences, however, occasionally we receive more contributions for a given project than can be wisely applied to that project. When this happens, we use the funds to meet a similar pressing need."