Theologically Sound. Culturally Relevant.

Voice of the Martyrs: Transparent Infidelity

A few months back, I looked into Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), and personally found red flags with the organization in preliminary research. Others, like Jon Harris, have addressed VOM and their various scandals. In short, Christian Today reported in 2017 that the organization committed acts of abuse and financial corruption through their Nigerian branch which the separate US VOM did little to remedy or investigate. Additionally, Michael Wurmbrand gave a detailed open letter regarding VOM-USA’s history of sexual abuse, including acts of pedophilia, financial corruption, and general failure of oversight by the board of directors. Furthermore, he writes that they constructed a $28 million headquarters.

My purpose is not to reiterate what others have written, but to explain that this corruption is transparent and available for the layman to see while proposing an alternative course. The sexual abuse scandals are unfortunate icing on the corrupt cake, but sadly unsurprising. On their website, through their About section, one can see the link for ECFA and Financial Accountability, which will then take you to a page where you can access their financial statementsProvided is the asset portion to their balance sheet as generated for FY 2020. Note, the statements were generated by an outside firm and are audited. Formatting wise, the categorization is standard for financial statements, as companies are not overly descriptive.

Automatically, there are two glaring red flags. The first is the $18.9 million in Cash, which would include stocks and bonds. Lockdown policies being fruitful for the rich could explain the rise Year over Year (YOY). On page 16 of the report, it reports $11.2 million in market investments which are marked to current value (this number is likely higher as 2021 was a good year for investors). They did receive $1.83 million in PPP, which they disclose. Now, rainy day funds are prudent, and it is not unwise for an organization to have its savings invested rather than sitting in a bank. One might ask whether in an era of widespread global persecution in Africa, Asia, and India being regularly reported if it is fruitful towards ministry not to expense whatever available cash there is to assist these people. For if you truly believed they needed help, why would you withhold this extra cash from operations?

 

The second red flag is the $23.38 million in Property and Equipment. This is where the headquarters shows up, and they have already discounted depreciation on their balance sheet. Could there be innocent explanations for an organization with $69 million in assets having that amount in property? Yes, there could. If they own charter planes used for missions, refugee housing, hospitals, or orphanages which they manage, and whatever necessary equipment, then yes, it might pass the sniff test. A local church financial statement would probably have a large amount allocated to the physical property, assuming the church owns its land and building. It is important to remain objective and logical when viewing financial reports.

Based on their financial statement, just under half the money VOM spends goes towards Foreign Aid and assisting the martyrs. Admittedly, this could be much worse, and honestly, I thought it would have been given the allegations. The $16.8 million spent on Fellowship and Inspiration is their publication. From a business standpoint, their balance sheet is clean and seemingly efficient. Cash is king and they have cash. To their credit, and abuse allegations aside, the financial statements would suggest that VOM does help people, even if inefficient or negligent in operations; however, expense reports do not tell the entire story and ministry is not a business.

The lesson at the end of Schindler’s List is not that Oskar Schindler did enough, but that he did not. Of the wealth he had, he could have done more, much more. Does one need a $28 million HQ, or could that money have gone towards various third world persecuted pastors? It is these sorts of oversight errors which allow worse corruption to infiltrate or go unmitigated.

Application and Solution

The same corruption which goes on at VOM is likely worse at dozens of other organizations, like the SBC affiliated IMB, NAMB, and the ERLC. For the former two, increased donations correlated with fewer church plants and missionaries while the latter is utterly useless.

Local churches should avoid abdicating their giving through organizations, like NAMB, and instead choose to directly give. There is absolutely nothing hindering an individual, local church from supporting church plants within their area and connecting to other regional pastors. Abdication to organizations like NAMB is laziness. Write a check, feel good, move on. Direct involvement means accountability. There is no need for middlemen. Moreover, local churches could utilize the spiritual gifts of their congregants in the vetting process while allowing members to build and maintain the relationships. Personally, I can attest to a local church which directly sponsors churches in Mexico and another plant in California. They organize mission trips to these churches, assisting in their growth while building connections spanning thousands of miles.

On an individual level, perhaps direct giving is a more appropriate solution. Crowdfunding platforms like GiveSendGo have numerous causes one could donate their money to from medical to missions. Generally, crowdfunding platforms take a percent of the haul, so they only do well if their causes succeed. Individually, stories would have to be properly vetted, but there is more agency for the giver in being able to select the causes of which they donate.

The early church was decentralized, relying on local elders in various cities to oversee their flocks after the apostles planted the seeds. They also gave willingly to their poorer brethren who had to flee persecution in Jerusalem. As Christians, we remained obliged to assist our brethren both domestically and internationally in the fulfillment of the Great Commission. However, we should return to our early roots and rely on a decentralized approach.

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