Revealing Insights About How Ministries Helping Persecuted Christians Spend Your Money
January 7, 2014
"If one part suffers, every part suffers with it" 1 Corinthians 12:26
The Pew Foundation claims Christianity faces the greatest level of persecution of any religion. Throughout the centuries, persecution of Christians has always been present somewhere in the world. With over 2 billion Christians spread across almost all of the world's countries, persecution remains a serious, and unfortunately, growing problem. Some think persecution is mostly limited to the Middle East, where countries like Iraq and Syria have seen an exodus of believers in the face of intense persecution at the hands of Muslim extremists. Egypt also has seen a big uptick in radical Islamic persecution of its Coptic Christian population in the midst of its political upheaval. But persecution of Christians goes beyond the Middle East and exists in at least 60 countries according to Open Doors. Churches have been attacked in Pakistan and Indonesia and Christians in Africa have also at times found themselves under assault. Communist nations such as China and Cuba continue to keep Christians under pressure and strictly limit their freedom. Even in more politically-stable Western countries where Islam and Communism are not an issue, Christians increasingly sense the creeping incursion of attitudes that may eventually lead to more serious forms of persecution. Persecution of Christians and Christianity appears to be a problem that is once again growing around the globe.
Naturally, many US-based Christians are very interested in helping their persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ who are under threat of harm and even death in many of these nations. Here we take a closer look at three Christian ministries who seek to provide a desperately needed helping hand to those Christians facing particularly threatening circumstances simply because they believe Jesus is their Lord: Voice of the Martyrs, Open Doors and The Persecution Project. Each takes a different approach to how they spend donors' gifts which we point out below. While all three ministries do great work and are worthy of your support, this financial information may impact which of these ministries you might give to. You can click on the name of these ministries below to access the full MinistryWatch.com profile on these ministries, but be sure to read the information below first to get a good overview of each ministry's approach toward spending your gifts.
Voice of the Martyrs - Founded in 1967 by the late Pastor Richard Wumbrand, Voice of the Martyrs is an interdenominational Christian ministry with the following mission statement, "Serving the persecuted church through practical and spiritual assistance while leading Christians in the free world into fellowship with them." Wumbrand himself was imprisoned for his faith in Communist Romania for 14 years. The ministry lists the following as among its main purposes:
1.) To provide practical relief and spiritual support to the families of Christian martyrs.
2.) To undertake projects of encouragement, helping believers rebuild their lives and Christian witness in countries where they have formerly suffered oppression.
3.) To equip persecuted Christians to love and win to Christ those who are opposed to the gospel in their part of the world.
VOM is the largest US-based ministry solely dedicated to helping persecuted Christians with $42.6 million in revenues in 2012. VOM receives a 3 star Financial Efficiency Rating from MinistryWatch.com. VOM normally has a large annual "profit", at times exceeding 10% of its revenues, due to basing its budget on the conservative assumption it will have no growth in its giving in the year ahead. When higher giving comes in, the ministry ends up spending less than it received in donations for the year. This profit was partially used to build up savings, which amounted to $16 million at the end of 2012 or 41% of VOM's annual spending. Another portion of these savings helped significantly build up VOM's fixed assets, principally buildings and office equipment, over the last six years as the company constructed its own headquarters facilities. While VOM clearly does extensive and worthy work on behalf of persecuted Christians and manages its finances in a conservative fashion which some donors may prefer, MinistryWatch.com would like to see VOM be somewhat more aggressive with spending donor dollars on its mission than it has been in the past. With VOM running "profits" of $4-$6 million annually recently, a savings balance of $16 million and millions more invested in buildings and equipment, a donor might reasonably wonder if VOM really needs their gift more than other ministries at this time. The average ministry in the MinistryWatch.com database saves just 1% of its revenues each year while VOM's savings ratio has averaged 10.8% of its revenues over the last five years.
Open Doors - Founded almost 60 years ago by Brother Andrew, who started the ministry by smuggling Bibles through the Iron Curtain, Open Doors is a global ministry. The US arm of Open Doors is just one part of a large worldwide ministry and we do not have access to the financial statements of Open Doors operations outside the US. Taken together, all of the Open Doors global offices likely represent the largest global Christian ministry seeking to aid persecuted Christians. Open Doors works in the most oppressive countries, providing Bibles and literature, media, leadership training, socio-economic development and ensuring prayer, presence and advocacy for Persecuted Christians. In 2012, Open Doors supplied 2.4 million Bibles and other Christian materials to persecuted Christians, trained 265,000 people and brought various forms of aid to 207,000 more.
Open Doors with 2012 revenues of $14.7 million receives a 2 star Financial Efficiency Rating from MinistryWatch.com, mainly due to its high fundraising costs which amount to 12% of donations received. This level of fundraising costs is twice that of both Voice of the Martyrs and the average ministry in the MinstryWatch.com database. Despite this, both VOM and Open Doors end up spending roughly the same amount on ministry programs (74% and 77% respectively in 2012), but VOM saves more while Open Doors spends more on fundraising. Open Doors also has not invested as heavily in buildings and equipment as has VOM. By managing its financial affairs less conservatively than VOM, Open Doors has less of a reserve than VOM and thus relies more heavily on donors continued generosity. As a result, Open Doors receives a 4 star rating from MinistryWatch.com for its asset utilization since it has chosen to not divert as much money towards building up its infrastructure. In comparing VOM and Open Doors, it appears VOM has been especially focused on building its infrastructure while Open Doors has spent a more normal amount on buildings and equipment. Should Open Doors be able to reduce its fundraising costs in the future, its financial efficiency would likely increase significantly.
The Persecution Project Foundation - Founded by Brad Phillips in 1997, this somewhat misnamed ministry (it is not technically a foundation) has had its sole focus in meeting the ongoing and often overwhelming needs of people being persecuted in South Sudan and Darfur. With the recent outbreak of political violence in South Sudan, this ministry's work is now particularly timely. Operating out of a base in Kenya, Phillips and the Persecution Project have flown thousands of tons of aid into what the United Nations describes as a "red no go" area, trained pastors, help run orphanages, constructed schools and churches, distributed Bibles and discipleship material, built wells and started a Christian radio station.
Persecution Project Foundation is the smallest of the three persecution ministries we are looking at today, with just $3.6 million in contributions in 2012. This is off sharply from 2011 when the ministry brought in $12.2 million in donations. According to the ministry, this sharp decline resulted from it no longer soliciting gifts of deworming medicine from drug companies which had made up a large portion of 2011's contributions. The program to distribute these medicines was brought to an end when an oversupply developed. Cash contributions, however, have remained more stable. Due to its very low fundraising and overhead costs, 90% of a donor's gift was spent on ministry efforts in 2012, significantly more than in the case of Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors. The ministry also spends most of the money it receives each year, which is not surprising given the urgency of the needs it is seeking to meet. At the same time, it is a ministry that is living on faith as well since it does not maintain large cash reserves. Therefore, it needs a constant flow of gifts in order to continue doing its good work. While this is a riskier operating approach which could ultimately place the ministry in a bad spot, most donors like the fact their donation is going quickly to help people and not being diverted to savings, buildings (Voice of the Martyrs) or fundraising costs (Open Doors). As a result, the Persecution Project Foundation receives a 5 star Financial Efficiency Rating from MinistryWatch.com. For those who feel called to help desperately needy people in South Sudan during the current crisis and over the longer term, this ministry is an excellent choice. For those who feel the need to support persecuted Christians beyond South Sudan, Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors would still be good choices even though they both have some issues to consider in the area of financial efficiency.