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GFA World Talks About Widows—But How Does It Help Them?

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Today is International Widow’s Day (June 23), a United Nations-sanctioned event that draws attention to the challenges facing the world’s 258 million widows, who “have historically been left unseen, unsupported, and unmeasured in our societies.”

Among the groups marking the day is GFA World, formerly Gospel for Asia.  The troubled ministry was booted out of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, settled a $37 million U.S. lawsuit and filed for creditor protection last year due to a decline in donations attributed to COVID-19 and negative publicity from a pending $170 million Canadian lawsuit.

A GFA World press release doesn’t make clear what the ministry actually does to help widows. And the ministry’s practice of pooling all donations, regardless of donor designations for widows or other needy groups, raises ethical questions about whether it is really helping widows, or merely using them to solicit donations.

The press release from In Christ Communications, one of two public relations companies that work with the ministry, quoted GFA World’s founder and his son, a ministry vice president.

“The pandemic is crushing widows around the globe, and our hearts go out to each and every one of them, wherever they live,” said K.P. Yohannan, founder of GFA World, an organization that helps thousands of widows in desperate circumstances—providing food, sewing machines to help them generate income, vocational training, and other aid.

“Our goal is to bring them comfort, encouragement, and God’s love,” said Bishop Danny Punnose, GFA World vice president. “We want them to know that God is always with them and loves them.”

But even though GFA World regularly publishes anecdotes about how it has helped widows, the release doesn’t say what the ministry actually does to serve widows. MinistryWatch contacted GFA World representatives to get specifics on how much money the ministry spends each year specifically to help widows. As of this publication, we have not heard back.  

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GFA World issued a similar press release for World Hunger Day, marked every year on May 28. That release also quoted Yohannan’s son but lacked any details about how the ministry fights hunger. “Working alongside the government of India, we’re doing all we can to help relieve suffering and show people the love of God,” said the quote in the release.

GFA World’s press release on widows linked to a special report, “Coronavirus Intensifies Hardships for Widows,” which concluded with a fundraising appeal: “Through GFA, your donation can help widows in practical, tangible ways.”

GFA World solicits donations by offering donors dozens of different options, including offers to support widows, widows and abandoned children, and women missionaries who reach out to widows.

But these solicitations are not specific in how the money will be used, and even though GFA World solicits designated donations, it actually pools all donations, which it says on its “Widows and Abandoned Children” page:

“All gift options represent GFA’s actual ministry efforts to meet the diverse needs of individuals and communities. Regardless of particular designations, monies are raised for ministry purposes, and GFA retains discretion to use donated funds in any manner that serves GFA’s charitable objectives.” 

So, if donors give money to help widows, where do those donations actually go?  It’s not possible, given the lack of transparency of GFA World, for anyone outside the organization to know.

Before ECFA announced it was kicking GFA World out of ECFA in 2015 for misleading donors and mismanaging finances, ECFA had discovered the ministry hoarded as much as $259 million rather than spending the donated funds to the field.

Johnny Moore of The Kairos Company, another PR company that works for GFA World, said the ministry was “misunderstood” by those who didn’t appreciate the “creative” ways it ran its operations, and claimed the ministry “should have been heralded for the fact that they kept significant cash reserves in complicated environments.”

In 2020, Canadian donors filed a $170 million lawsuit demanding GFA return $20 million in donations that were diverted to construct the ministry’s $45 million headquarters near Dallas, plus damages.

In 2020 and 2021, authorities in India raided dozens of properties related to GFA World and Yohannan’s Believers Eastern Church, seizing $800,000 in cash as part of an investigation into fraud and money laundering.

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Steve Rabey

Steve Rabey is a veteran author and journalist who has published more than 50 books and 2,000 articles about religion, spirituality, and culture. He was an instructor at Fuller and Denver seminaries and the U.S. Air Force Academy. He and his wife Lois live in Colorado.