Bruce, a concerned pastor who is involved with GFA, writes his concerns to the GFA Canada Board.
“The number and consistent nature of the allegations arising from testimonies in the group known as the Diaspora is overwhelming. … It is quite apparent that the stories do not stem from collusion. They have every appearance of being collaborating accounts of some very serious and long standing relational sins.”
March 27, 2015
Dear Members of the GFA Canadian Board:
Sincere greetings in the name of Jesus Christ, our risen Lord!
I am the lead pastor at [a church] in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, and have served this church for 26 years. I am writing you today out of concern arising from information I received from the group known as the Diaspora.
I was first introduced to GFA by Wendell … in the mid-nineties. He called me, introduced himself, and asked to meet. We arranged a time and during our first conversation I learned he had slept in his car in our church parking lot on the night before. This was my first look at the kinds of sacrifices GFA personnel are willing to make in pursuit of their calling. Thereafter, we made sure he stayed in our home when visiting. Our church also began regular financial support for GFA that has continued to this day, amounting to tens of thousands of dollars over the years.
On one occasion Wendell was a guest minister in our church and visited in our home. At the same time, our daughter, Sharlene, had just returned home from a 4-month discipleship training course. After Sunday dinner she and Wendell sat in our living room discussing her future. This led to her and another young woman from our congregation, Donna _____ (DJ), moving to Dallas to work at the GFA head office. After several months of orientation and volunteering, they moved to India to begin studies at the GFA seminary in Kerala, later graduating with Bachelor of Theology degrees.
In 1999 my wife, Marlene, and I visited them in India. GFA staff treated us very well. I spoke to the seminary student body and travelled to two Bible training centres, one in Tamil Nadu, the other in Sri Lanka, ministering several times to the students. We also visited and ministered at two rural churches. GFA staff members who escorted us were very accommodating and friendly. Our trip ended with a few day visit at the GFA office in Delhi, where Daniel ______ was living at the time. He and other staff graciously hosted us and served as tour guides.
On the first Sunday morning after returning to our church in Canada, I spoke to our congregation about GFA’s work in India and mentioned some specific needs that we were made aware of during our visit. In that Sunday evening’s service a missions offering amounting to over $14,000 was received to help meet these needs.
After their graduation, Sharlene and DJ returned to Canada and worked at the GFA office, first in Hamilton, and later in the new facility in Stoney Creek, Ontario. It was required of them that they not take out membership in a local church and they could not contribute financially to a church. Tithes and offerings were to be given to GFA. They were permitted to attend a Sunday morning service at a local church, but not Bible Studies or young adults groups.
During a missions-fest event at which they had set up a booth for GFA, they met a man, working in another booth, Mike _____, who eventually became DJ’s husband. Later, Mike introduced Sharlene to his close friend, Colin _____, who later became Sharlene’s husband. During the time they were dating, Colin attended several prayer meetings with GFA staff. He became friends with staff members and fellowshipped in their homes. Once their engagement was announced appeals were made to Colin to join GFA. Colin respected GFA and its ministry but did not feel it was God’s will that he serve with them. A few months passed and then one day Sharlene was given an ultimatum requiring that she break off her engagement with Colin or be dismissed.
That day Sharlene left GFA with a very heavy heart. There was no exit interview, no chance to say good-bye, no-one reached out to her. No one said, “thank-you”….She was simply – gone! This was June, 2001.
In spite of this, and out of my respect for the work GFA was doing, I did not stop my support of GFA. Like many others, I didn’t see our daughter’s experience as being symptomatic of a deeply rooted systemic problem. This changed upon receiving testimonies from the Diaspora and from learning of some changes in GFA’s ministry practices about which I was previously unaware.
For example, I am concerned about the implications associated with KP Yohannan being addressed as, “His Eminence the Most Reverend Dr. KP Yohannan”. The word “eminence” suggests something more than honour due to ministers of the gospel, touting instead an air of superiority. It is also titular, such as seen in the Roman Catholic church’s use of the term in reference to its Cardinals. Use of the adjective “most”, attached to “Reverend”, also indicates pre-eminence, setting one person above others. The elaborate robes seen in pictures of KP, and testimony where individuals are seen kissing the ring on his finger, are practices not seen in biblical portrayals of New Testament ministry.
Paul, never referred to himself as, “The Apostle, Paul”, it was always, “Paul, an apostle”. The former is titular, the latter refers to role. In the Bible the idea of leadership is most often associated with servant-hood, not hierarchical position or title. The only man upon whom the Bible confers pre-eminence, is Jesus. (Colossians 1:18).
It is in the Gospel of Matthew that we first see the word “church”. It is first used in the 16th chapter in context of a question Jesus asked: “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” (vs.13). In response to Peter’s affirmation that He was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Jesus stated that this confession was the foundation upon which He would build His church.
The second time the word “church” is seen is two chapters later in Matthew 18 where again, its use is predicated on a question. This time the question came from the disciples of Jesus. They asked: “Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven? (vs.1) In response Jesus taught foundational and timeless principles about Christian leadership and ministry. When observed they produce much good fruit. When they are not followed, churches and ministries can fail with many being harmed as a result.
There is a high and holy calling on Christian leaders to ensure that spiritual ministry is established solely on biblical precepts. We also need to recognize that human nature, being what it is, disinclines us to do so.
The question the disciples asked was the wrong question. It should never have been asked. Being the “greatest”, seeking “ascendency”, is the very opposite to everything ministry is about. The whole Matthew 18 discourse demonstrates this.
First, Jesus responded to the question by putting a child in the centre of the group. This child would be seem as the least ascendant one. The child had no aspirations to the elevated positions the disciples vied for. Jesus then said that unless they were converted, humbled themselves, and became like this child they would not see the kingdom of heaven. Conversion in this context, is not about salvation. It’s about wrong thinking when it comes to position in relation to fellow believers. Ascendency is opposite to humility. Humility is about emulating the nature of Jesus who, as Paul said, :…made himself of no reputation…..He humbled himself” (Philippians 2:7-8).
Jesus said that the person who, “Humbles himself as this little child Is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (vs.4). Thus, the answer to the question about greatness is found in the lives of those who do not seek it. As James said, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
Second, Jesus warned about the damage a lack of humility could cause (vs.6-7). He said it would be better to perish by drowning with a millstone around one’s neck rather than cause another person to be offended by behaviour that results from prideful position seeking or any other action that compromises the well being of others.
Third, Jesus elaborated on humility by teaching the importance of self-discipline (v.8-9). In these verses he spoke of cutting off various body parts. In other words, sinful practices must end. This is a strong warning, one that is too easily lost in the church today. Leaders are responsible for the affects their wrongful behaviours have on others.
Fifth, Jesus made this amazing statement.
See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” (v.10)
Since Jesus had just spoken about the need for His followers to become like little children, His reference to “little ones” includes fellow believers. Jesus refers to angels on assignment – angels charged with the care and oversight of the fellow believers the disciples were trying to step over in their pursuit of greatness. If the angels see the face of the Father, His very image stamped upon other fellow believers, what possible grounds could any one have to seek ascendency over them?
Fourth, Jesus gave the parable of the lost sheep, (vs. 12-.) To understand the meaning of this parable the context is important. Unlike the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15 where Jesus was addressing Pharisees steeped in pride, believing they had no need of repentance, in Matthew the context is in relation to the warning Jesus gave about pride in the church. Here, the lost sheep refers to a person who is lost to the kingdom of God due to wrongful actions by Christian leaders. The parable emphasises the onus that is placed on the church to find and restore persons lost for these reasons.
Fifth, is the teaching that Jesus gives on the three-fold process to be followed when a brother or sister sins, (vs.15-17). It is here that the word “church” appears. Often when this passage is discussed the greater context is missed. Although a brother or sister who sins can refer to any kind of sin, the context is prideful sin on the part of spiritual leaders who see themselves positioned above others.
Sixth, Peter, after listening to all that Jesus said, finally asked the right question: “How often should I forgive my brother?” (vs.21). His focus was now where it ought to be, not on his own ascendency in the church, but on his responsibility towards others.
Throughout the New Testament, deference to any kind of human supremacy is avoided. In Lystra, where Paul and Barnabas were preaching, a lame man was healed at the command of Paul, (Acts 14). The people believed the gods had come among them and proceeded to worship them. Paul and Barnabas tore their clothes and declared that they were mere men, no different than any of them. They claimed no special status as ministers in their proclamation of the Gospel to the lost. This was not self-abasement but neither was it self-promotion. This is a very important principle of evangelism. The purpose is to deflect all attention off man and onto Christ, for He alone is Saviour and Lord.
It was said of the Corinthian church that they, “came behind in no gift” (1 Corinthians 1:7). Considering Paul’s description of spiritual gifts later in chapter 12, this must have been an amazing church in a most positive sense. At the same time however, it was also said of them that their church meetings did more harm than good, (1 Cor. 11:17). Here we see extreme opposite realities present in one church. That this could happen is the very thing Jesus spoke about in Matthew 18.
The reason had to do with sin, many sins, but foundational to them all was their pursuit of ascendency. In 1 Corinthians 1:11-13, we read:
My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
3 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?
The Corinthian believers were caught up in the Matthew 18 question, “Who is greatest in the kingdom of God”. This was the root of all the other sins seen in this church. Whenever anyone other than Jesus is seen as being eminent in the church, humility – so essential to Christian ministry, is compromised. The fruit is never good.
During most of the first three centuries of the church, persecution was severe and constant. Many Christians were martyred. Early in the fourth century after Constantine became the emperor of Rome, he decreed that Christianity was to become the official religion of the empire. To accommodate the new law, polytheistic religious leaders simply added Jesus to the list of gods they recognized. As a result the church was infiltrated with many contrary interests which led to a significant loss of its counter-culture distinctiveness. As time passed it became increasingly difficult to recognize the true church.
Among the many contrary influences to infiltrate the church was deference paid to priests that went way beyond the kind of honour the Bible promotes for leaders. As various branches of the church emerged, some celebrated leadership with things like elaborate attire, expensive jewellery, special seats in the congregation, and titles. Assimilation of these practices led to hierarchical leadership systems quite removed from biblical precepts.
I question the legitimacy of KP’s practice of wearing elaborate apparel and his use of titles. I say this from the standpoint that I do not see where the associated veneration garnered is scriptural or Christ honouring.
I also question how the gospel is advanced by this. Our world is filled with idolatry, including relational idolatry. The caste system, which holds many in the nation of India in spiritual bondage, has, as its most ascendant cast, the Brahmin priests. At the other end of the human spectrum, the dalit, or untouchable caste, is comprised of people considered so inferior and repulsive that to even touch one is seen as contamination. In a culture that enables spiritual darkness and bondage due, in part, by a transcendent priestly class, one would think that the greatest care should be taken by the church to avoid any appearance of priestly privilege on the part of its ministers through things like attire, jewellery and titles.
Jesus lived in a culture where religion was Pharisee led. Among the things these religions leaders considered to be important, three top priorities, were attire, seats of prominence in the synagogues and titles. Jesus did not observe these traditions as an attempt to be culturally relevant. He thereby demonstrated that in advancing the kingdom of God, culture must always be made to bow to the scriptures, not the scriptures to the culture.
At the heart of the gospel is equality, where no one person is esteemed to be better than another. In Christ, race, gender, socio-economic status do not matter. The scriptures teach us to not hold the faith of our Lord with respect of persons, (James 2:1). Great care must be taken by the church to demonstrate humility in all things. No practice of ministry, either among believers in the church or in witness to a lost world, should include any relic, symbol, attire, promotion, or any other thing unless humility, not elevated status, is advanced thereby.
Consubstantiation is a belief concerning the Lord’s table that most evangelicals do not embrace. It appears from literature that I have recently read that Believers Churches may have adapted this doctrine. I do believe that the special presence of Christ is manifest when we break bread and drink wine together in remembrance of Him. However, it is unclear to me how far GFA churches have taken this. Is there a leaning toward salvation by sacrament? In matters such as this, an onus on the part of GFA to proactively inform supporters of changes in practices and beliefs should be taken at the time they occur.
I was also unaware, until recently, that GFA has adapted an Episcopal form of church government. This is not of great concern to me due to the many divergent opinions surrounding ecclesiological doctrines that exist in the Body of Christ.
The word, “Episcopal”, simply means pertaining to bishops or governed by bishops. Oversight by bishops and an archbishop is rooted in Anglican tradition.
The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion. He is seen as first among equals, the leader of other bishops. He is appointed by the Queen of England serving under her authority and the authority of the other bishops. Checks and balances are present in Anglicanism. An archbishop cannot function autocratically.
The term “Metropolitan”, meaning “Metropolitan Bishop”, or “Archbishop”, is being used to describe KP Yohanan’s oversight of the Believer’s Churches. However, GFA’s practice of Episcopalian governance does not necessarily mean that the same accountability arrangements practiced in other Episcopal groups, such as the Anglican church, is present. Authority, responsibility and accountability by GFA, depends upon both its definition and by its practice of the Episcopal governance system it has created. It is not clear to me what this is.
Several questions arise. Does the Boards of Directors in the US have active input with respect to doctrine and practice in GFA churches and its Episcopal structure? Do sister boards such as your own Canadian board contribute any input? How are roles, authority, responsibility and accountability arrangements, as well as overall purpose and function articulated in GFA’s Canadian governing documents (Constitution and By-Laws), filed with the Charities Division of the Canada Revenue Agency? If they are not found in Canadian governing documents are there international joint ministry or agency agreements in which they are included?
The foregoing are some questions that occur to me regarding GFA’s governance.
On the Diaspora website reference was made to an ordination service for Pat _____, the current director of GFA Canada. It contains 3 questions that KP asked him:
Are you resolved to build up the church as the body of Christ and to remain united to it within the order of bishops, Metropolitan, and under the authority of the successor of the Metropolitan?”
. Are you resolved to accept and obey the given orders, responsibilities, and disciplines of the church and the ministry and discharge them in absolute submission in accordance with the constitution of the church?”
Will you promise to submit to my leadership, my successors, and authorities of the church and the ministry set over you all the days of your life and ministry?”
More questions arise from my reading of this.
First, there appears to be an order of bishops in GFA churches. Who are the people that make up this order, and how are they appointed?
Second, reference is made to the successor of the Metropolitan. How is successor-ship determined by GFA?
Third, reference is made to, “absolute submission in accordance with the constitution of the church”. Is this constitution published and available to supporters? Is this constitution a part of GFA governing documents or has a parallel entity been established under a different name? What are the terms of “absolute submission” found in the church constitution?
Fourth, reference is made to life-long submission to GFA. If there is a biblical basis for requiring this of someone it is unclear to me as to what it is. Will you furnish an explanation?
The exercise of spiritual authority and submission as a response to authority, are often misunderstood concepts. As head of the church, Jesus has absolute authority over the church. Devils, diseases, death and all things are subject to His word. Nature itself bows to Him.
Ephesians 5 describes the Lordship of Jesus over His church as taking the form of sacrifice. Jesus loves the church, His bride, and gave His life for us. Through the example of Jesus we learn that sacrifice is the outflow of true authority. Authority is always for the benefit of those being loved and served.
Obedience is deference to the will of another at the expense of one’s own will. Obedience to Christ comes not from fear of judgment, but from the joy of being loved by Him. Thus, mutual love, mutual honour and mutual sacrifice form an never ending cycle of deep intimacy and mutual benefit in the authority/submission relationship between Christ and His church.
Biblically, in terms of human relationships, the most beautiful expression of authority and submission is found in the relationship between a husband and wife. A husband’s headship is not dictatorship. It is sacrifice, the giving of his life sacrificially for his wife, as Jesus gave His for the church. This principle applies to the practice of authority in all areas of life, including church leadership.
The assertion of authority by anyone who himself is not under authority, is not a godly arrangement. The exercise of authority by anyone that is disproportionate to the practitioners own submission to authority, is corruption.
Consider Jesus. One would not think that anyone bearing the title, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords”, would need to be in submission to anyone. However, Jesus practiced submission more than any man. He only did the things He saw His Father do and nothing else. In prayer, before His death, His words were, “Not my will but Yours be done”. He demonstrated perfectly the relationship between authority and submission.
There is a danger for any leader to traffic in worship by revelling in the praise and honour of others, to take honour that belongs to God alone, and siphon some for himself. This was the iniquity found in Lucifer that led to his fall. It is relational idolatry, which has led to the downfall of many men and women in ministry. I hesitate to raise this lest it be thought I am accusing KP of such evils. I am not doing that. I am bringing a strong cautionary concern to you due to current practices I see in GFA, and appeal for sober second thought to be given to them.
GFA supporters are giving support for both missions endeavours and for GFA churches.
This is quite natural and acceptable since church planting should result from evangelistic endeavours. GFA does a good job of describing the evangelistic and social help projects it undertakes. Supporters are made aware of the purposes for which their help is sought.
It seems to me that the same cannot be said for GFA taking similar pro-active measures to inform supporters of the nature of the churches they have set up. It appears that invitations are given to supporters to do research on their own regarding this with some information that is posted on their website and in literature they have produced. This, however, is not the same as up-front transparency. I think it likely that supporters are just now beginning to learn of the nature of GFA churches, especially with respect to clerical adornments, titles, doctrinal stances, and governance. Changes to more zealous measures of information sharing is needed. Trust on the part of supporters may lost if present practices continue.
The number and consistent nature of the allegations arising from testimonies in the group known as the Diaspora is overwhelming. Reading them brought great pain to my heart and I imagine that others who have read them are similarly affected. It is quite apparent that the stories do not stem from collusion. They have every appearance of being collaborating accounts of some very serious and long standing relational sins.
Canadian law that governs not-for-profit corporations such as GFA, treats board members as fiduciaries. I think it likely that the same is true in the USA. This requires that the board exercise proper and adequate oversight of an organization.
The testimonies of Canadian members of the Diaspora, could, if presented to the Ontario Labour Board, give cause for strong censure. Labour laws do not condone the kind of treatment reported.
By asking for and receiving corporate and registered charity status, GFA has made promises to abide by the law. Status is not granted without this. Integrity is measured by the degree to which these promises are faithfully kept.
It cannot be said that GFA has discharged itself faithfully in carrying out fiduciary responsibilities, by acting with all due diligence and performing all duties of care, if it has failed to abide by any pertinent law, such as the Ontario Labour Laws.
The pursuit of integrity in matters of natural jurisprudence not only carry legal ramifications, but moral and spiritually ones as well. Righteousness in its truest biblical, sense is compromised in the presence of broken promises. As Christians this should always be of great concern.
Pretence abounds when promises are broken. We cannot say we will abide by the law and then not do so, while at the same time present ourselves to others as though we do.
Apparent success and the applaud of others are not the truest measure of honour. Honesty is. Pretence is no friend of honour.
In all matters of natural law, such as labour laws, laws that govern finances, trustee law, and all other applicable laws, Christian organizations must be above reproach.
KP Yohannan has accomplished much for the kingdom of God. He has demonstrated an amazing ability to be both a great visionary leader and one well able implement his God given vision. He has influenced many to follow his example of “glad sacrifice”, summoning believers all over the world to pursue the greater callings and work of the kingdom of God. Children in my church have at times given themselves to raising money for bicycles for GFA missionaries. Personally, KP has been an example to me of a man I have always considered to have set a pattern in ministry to emulate.
My purpose in writing this letter is not to castigate or condemn. I do believe that intervention is needed to arrest and change detrimental practices. Nowhere is this more necessary than when it comes to taking responsibility for wrongs committed against members of the Diaspora and any other former GFA workers who may have had similar experiences. I strongly appeal that this take place.
One important consideration regarding this is process. Whenever behaviour by one party creates trauma for another party, care to not exacerbate the damage must be taken. Therefore, I strongly advise against meeting with members of the Diaspora individually until there is a much greater degree of trust than presently exists. For this reason I believe the Diaspora group as a whole should be addressed first. I also suggest that a third party arrangement made up of spiritual leaders, not employed by GFA, be asked to facilitate this process.
My wife, Marlene, and I have ministered in areas of abuse and trauma counselling over the years. I was asked by the New York/New Jersey Port Authority Police Department to help in the aftermath of 9/11. I did two tours of duty at ground zero as a chaplain to police and firefighters during recovery operations. Extreme trauma, such as generated by something as terrible as 9/11 can have devastating and permanent affects. It is hard to describe the degree of trauma experienced at ground zero. In the debriefings I received, I was made aware of affects in my own life that I would not have recognized had I not received them.
Reference to 9/11 is for comparing the affects of trauma only. An event of the magnitude of 9/11 does not have to take place in order for severe trauma to happen. Any breakdown in human relations or other difficult life experiences can be the cause.
As I read the testimonies of the Diaspora I observe affects that often occur when there is a power differential between conflicting parties. One of the affects is fear on the part of the abused. As a first step towards reconciliation, practices and behaviour that created the breakdown in trust, and thereby the resulting fear and other affects, should be addressed first.
I have offered to meet with the Canadian members of the Diaspora as a group for the purpose of debriefing and identifying areas of concern where individuals in the group may need ongoing help. I consider this to be of utmost importance. I hope to do this soon.
I am asking that you consider my request, made herewith, for a meeting with the GFA Canadian Board of Directors. There are a number of things I would like to discuss with you, including the kind of help you could offer the Diaspora at this time. If a meeting with the whole board is not possible, I will gladly meet with a contingency or individual members.
Thank-you for your consideration.
Yours in His glad service,
cc. The Diaspora, GFA Board of Directors, USA