by Jeffrey W. Hamilton
In any discussion of false teachers, you have to address the issue of money. Money is a significant motivator behind those who would compromise the truth, for the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil (I Timothy 6:10-11). Even in Paul's days, there were men who taught the gospel for the money that they could make from it (Titus 1:10-11). Since money is their motivation, they are not concerned about the purity of the truth that they present to their listeners. Brethren are viewed as a commodity in which to trade (II Peter 2:3). As Micah said, "Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who lead my people astray; When they have something to bite with their teeth, they cry, 'Peace,' but against him who puts nothing in their mouths, they declare holy war" (Micah 3:5). Understandably, this behavior continues to modern times.
In the Philippines, many churches were established by brethren holding liberal and institutional beliefs. Initially, each preacher raised his own support from brethren in the U.S. by writing to various churches and individuals. Some of the congregations grew large and began organizing the churches in their regions. After several years, the elders of these central churches realized they had a problem. Brethren in the U.S. had no idea what a living wage was in the Philippines. There were preachers in their area who were barely making ends meet. Meanwhile, those more eloquent in English were making up to ten times more money than their poorer fellow preachers.
Unfortunately, to solve this problem, the brethren turned to further unscriptural practices. They selected several central churches to receive all funds from the U.S. These churches, in turn, set a standard salary for all preachers, based on the salary of a school teacher. In the 1970s, when this came about, the typical school teacher made about 125 to 150 dollars per month. To correct the current inequities in income, the elders of the central churches decided to raise or lower a preacher's salary by 25 dollars per month until the preacher was making the standard wage. By the early to mid-seventies, the central churches were approaching their targets.
About this time, Roy Cogdill, Cecil Willis, and others from the conservative churches began to make trips to the Philippines. Several preachers were converted out of their liberal beliefs, but, of course, such a change left them without income. Cogdill and others offered to help these brethren find support from brethren in the U.S. Since these brethren had been making 150 dollars per month, the preachers from the U.S. sought the equivalent of 200 to 250 dollars per month for each preacher.
It did not take long for word to spread that if you declared that you have renounced liberalism and were now conservative in your views, you could almost double your salary. Unsurprisingly, there was a mass exodus of preachers from the liberal camp.
Initially, the liberal brethren were upset that the conservative group had "stolen" so many of their people, but later they realized that the conservative brethren had done them a big favor. Only the devoted preachers were left in the liberal churches. The riffraff had mostly left for the money.
Over the years the situation decayed. Those who were more eloquent in English were asked to write on behalf of preachers with limited English skills. The eloquent were placed in a position of power and many began dictating who would preach in each congregation. They also dictated the beliefs preachers had to affirm in order to receive funding. Juanito Balbin, a Filipino preacher on the island of Mindanao claims oversight of 65 congregations and 85 preachers. (1) Another preacher, Rody Gumpad, is more careful in wording his claim of overseeing 50 congregations in the area of Tuguegarao, near the north end of the Philippines. (2) Rody calls himself the father of the churches in the Cagayan Valley. He uses the title of evangelist, which to Rody means he travels between congregations and trains preachers. (3)
The desire to raise money has become all-consuming. Few preachers among these brethren live in the villages where they preach. Instead, they are assigned congregations far from their homes. This provides justification to write to U.S. brethren about their desperate need for transportation. These village congregations usually see their local preacher only on Sundays or when an important event occurs, such as a death in the family.
Travel is difficult in the Philippines. Road surfaces are pitted and traffic is heavy, even in small cities. This makes it necessary for congregations to form in each village so that the meeting place is within walking distance. In turn, preachers collect two to four congregations to operate since this makes them look busier to American brethren. It is rare to find a preacher devoted to just one congregation. Of course, a preacher with two or more congregations cannot have them in neighboring villages. Instead, they are scattered an hour or so apart, providing further justification for purchasing a vehicle.
To gain congregations, these preachers will work hard to establish works in various villages. This seems wonderful until you come to realize that the preachers view the congregations that they start as belonging to them. In most of the world, preachers serve the brethren in a local area, but in the Philippines, the congregations exist for the preacher.
Over time, the leading preachers in various regions began to cooperate. Their common tie was the American brethren who brought funds to the Philippines. Hierarchies have begun to develop. One Filipino preacher, who wishes to be unnamed, gave me this written statement: "An example of this kind of leadership can be found in the practice of 'closed door' meetings. At these meetings, only select preachers are allowed to attend. The matters discussed at these meetings are not made known publicly to the brethren. These men were boldly acting for the congregations without the congregations' consent. These men have 'disfellowshiped' members of other congregations. They have acted according to a pattern not found in the New Testament. They have arrogated to themselves authority equal to the Apostles. Their agenda has been to disallow this disfellowshiped person to teach to their respective congregation for he was a 'false teacher.' They have even went as far as telling people in their own group that they would be thrown out if they accept this 'false teacher.' And I know one of these personally. We're not talking about a local congregation deciding who will be allowed to teach, but a group of congregations being ordered by these men."
What is extremely disheartening is that brethren in the United States are unknowingly encouraging the corruption of the church in the Philippines. Our people are extremely caring and generous with the funds with which the Lord has blessed them. When they hear of a need, they respond quickly with abundance. Unfortunately, they are willing to give without verifying that a need truly exists. This has given many preachers in the Philippines ample means to raise large sums of money. Consider these quotes from a letter written by Rody Gumpad in June of 1996:
"You want more? Well, work harder and the Lord will bless you more."
"God is faithful and He increased your support to more than you expected."
"Work harder and God will bless you."
"Friends, do you know why we have all these blessings? Simple! It is because we are working hard for Him, rain or shine, day and night."
"Why do you not feel the goodness of God in your family and in your congregations? I will tell you again, folks, work harder, concentrate your efforts. Do all the best ye can and be faithful. I am very sure that God will bless you more. That's how we acquired our properties. I never deceived anyone. We got many gifts, unexpected one time helps."
Rody's view is that monetary blessings are evidence that God is pleased with his work. Well did Paul warn that there are men "who suppose that godliness is a means of gain." (I Timothy 6:5)
I should point out what Rody means by "unexpected one time helps." Rody will write to American brethren asking for help with various difficulties in his life. He has asked for help in purchasing milk for his children, and funds for medicine and operations. None of these are wrong in and of themselves, but since Rody writes to many congregations and has had notices printed in papers with large circulation (4) far more money comes in than he needs for the particular problem. Often checks arrive with notes telling Rody to spend the money as he sees fit. Some arrive with no note as to how the funds are to be used. These checks Rody spends on material things. Only if more money comes in, specified for a specific purpose, will Rody offer to return the money. Generally, the giver will tell Rody not to bother. (5) As Rody explained in a videotaped confrontation in 1996, he spends this extra money on land, housing, cars, and other material goods. He makes sure that all the money is spent so that when another need arises, he can then feel justified in asking U.S. brethren for more money because he has no available cash. (6)
When reports of Rody's wealth began to trickle out in 1996, Rody declared them to be lies. Glenn Hamilton went to Rody and asked, "what it was about the report he considered to be a lie. He said it was that he had recently bought two houses and three cars. The truth is that Rody has long owned one house and one jeep (called a Tamaraw here and is really a covered pickup truck). A little more than two years ago he bought a trike (this is a motorcycle with a covered sidecar). Then two years ago he purchased a second car (used). So Rody has three vehicles (not three cars) and they are not all recently bought. I would be remiss if I did not point out that Rody himself told me that the second car was purchased using money that had been raised for his son's chemotherapy. The amount was $3,000. Less than a month later, Rody was again trying to raise money for the chemotherapy. As for his house, Rody has long owned one house and began preparation two years ago to build a second house. This second house is now roughed in, but not finished. Again, what Rody was calling a lie was that they were recently "bought" houses. One has long since been bought, the other is still being built and some of the money came from a loan (so Rody does not consider it "bought")."
Few American brethren realize Rody's material wealth. They simply hear of a need and respond with generous aid. Rody is not the only Filipino preacher involved in this type of scam. I simply have better documentation on him to share with you.
Rody has encouraged Filipino preachers to write of their personal hardships when raising support since more money comes in when people's heartstrings are tugged. Rody also uses the hardships of those he knows to raise money. In a trip around the U.S., Rody mentioned that one preacher's daughter was dying of cancer and that the family was having difficulty paying the medical bills. Funds were given to Rody to carry back to the Philippines. Shortly after Rody returned, he purchased a brand-new, $15,000 vehicle, but no funds were given to the family. Several months later, the young lady died. At the funeral, Rody offered to pay the medical bill if the preacher would renounce several men who were publicly protesting the corruption in the Philippines. The preacher was so upset that someone would make merchandise of his grief that he walked off without a word to Rody. The preacher paid his own bills with help from others who heard of his situation.
National hardships are also exploited by these corrupt preachers. For example, a drought struck the southern island of Mindanao from 1998 to 1999. The local paper printed a report that "Over 60 people have already died from hunger and other famine-related reasons." Earlier reports stated that most of the deaths were among the tribal bands in the mountainous regions. Not all the deaths were due to starvation. Some were shot while attempting to steal food. Preachers began writing to the U.S. about the need for aid during the famine, neglecting to mention that the same article talked about the millions of dollars of food and aid that were being poured into the region by the Philippine government and charities to alleviate the suffering.
Soon appeals were being forwarded by sympathetic brethren, but the message was corrupted. The more than 60 Filipino deaths among the remote tribes (who reject Christianity) became nearly 60 Christians dying of starvation. Large sums of money poured into the Philippines from concerned brethren who never checked the story. When some objected, pointing out that there is no record of 60 Christians dying during the drought, the local preacher took brethren to graveyards, showed them tombstones, and said these were brethren who had died during the drought. Their word was accepted without checking to see if the ones in the grave were Christians. Nor did they check with the health department to see if these people died of starvation or just merely died during the period of the drought.
Regularly, appeals are sent to the U.S. begging for help because of storms, earthquakes, or drought. Articles from the paper are clipped and passed along, but brethren from the distant U.S. are unable to verify that the danger actually affected brethren. Some even send clippings of events that are not in their area, knowing that brethren do not know the geography of the Philippines.
More cautious Christians follow the example given in I Corinthians 16:3 and send their gifts by a member of their congregation. When that is not practical, they follow the example in II Corinthians 8:18-21 of selecting someone the congregation knows and trusts to carry the funds over to the needy. This works well when the carrier is personally known by the group, but things begin to break down when the person selected is simply well known because of his writings.
In late 1997 and early 1998, Ron Halbrook and Jim McDonald announced their intentions of going to the Philippines to deliver aid to Christians suffering from the severe drought in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. (7) They claimed to have reached 15,000 Christians with the funds. In an amazing display of efficiency, these brothers managed to distribute the $400,000 dollars to 15,000 Christians across the entire Philippines in 8 days! (8) Assuming an average congregation size of 30 members, these men would have had to visit 500 congregations in their eight-day tour of the Philippines.
How was this done? Ron explained in a letter to John Isaac Edwards, dated 3/17/1999: "...the combined figure for what Jim and I both raised was about $400,000. We went to each region and met with brethren in a central location, rather than asking men to travel from far-away areas. (The one exception is Palawan, an island we were not able to visit, though we were well acquainted with the severe conditions and the brethren there. Some of them came to Manila and received help with careful instructions for distribution.) No church in need was ignored, but we simply could not reach all the affected areas and churches. Money was not wasted on preachers not in need, but brethren from each church listed the local membership and distribution was made accordingly."
The funds were not delivered to churches but to preachers who traveled to central locations to receive the funds. After carefully warning these men not to cheat, they were asked to list the churches they represented and how many members were in those congregations. A fixed amount was allotted per member and each preacher received a lump sum payment with instructions to distribute the funds to the members in their area. Notice that the idea of sending a representative to ensure that the funds reached the hands of the needy was defeated. These brothers did not see the needy in their eight-day tour of the Philippines. They could not even visit all the congregations involved.
Obviously, the potential for fraud was very high. To counter this, Ron Halbrook and Jim McDonald had each preacher sign receipts for the funds they received for each congregation they represented. The receipts had the address of the donor of the money and these receipts were to be mailed to the donors to acknowledge the fund's delivery. Of course, one problem is that the receipt actually only acknowledged that a preacher received the money. They did not offer proof that the funds were actually delivered to the congregation.
However, a deeper problem occurred because funds contributed from one donor were not delivered to one congregation. Some donor's funds, because of the amount they gave, would have been broken down between several congregations. Other donors' gifts would be too small to meet the amount given to even one congregation, so the preacher was given several receipts, one for each donor whose gift contributed to the total received. This sounds like a good system until you learn that all receipts only listed the total amount that the congregation received. If I and three other donors' funds were pooled to give a gift to a congregation, all four of us would receive a receipt that showed the total given to that congregation, but not the amount which each of us individually gave. Ron stated that such was not needed because each individual knew what they gave. But notice that it is not possible to tell if all the funds an individual sent actually reached a congregation. Suppose I gave $25 to be delivered. Later I receive a receipt showing that a congregation received $100. How am I to know that all $25 which I gave went into that $100 gift? Is there a way to be sure that $5 wasn't pocketed? Since I don't know who the other contributors to the total are, there is no way to compare notes to assure ourselves that the funds were properly delivered. Nor could the donors contact the preacher receiving the funds for accounting, since he was not told how the funds were broken down between donors.
The situation becomes even worse when a donor's fund is partially used between two congregations. When Ron was questioned about this, he stated that he kept copies of the receipts as proof. (9)
The problem here is that first, someone would have to realize there was a potential problem before they could complain. Second, any proof offered to the complainer concerning his funds does not prove there wasn't a problem elsewhere.
I'm not saying that Ron Halbrook and Jim McDonald did not deliver all the funds they received to preachers in the Philippines. I am willing to accept that all funds were delivered, but they are unable to prove they made the delivery. Further, their use of receipts deceived the donors into believing there was accountability when none actually existed. The receipts also claim delivery to congregations when in fact the funds for multiple congregations were only given to a preacher.
It is unfortunate that when the flaws were pointed out in their system, Ron and Jim ignored the warnings and used a similar system the following year. In 1999, Ron and Jim delivered more funds to the Philippines. In this distribution, their receipts did show the amount donated by an individual or organization. This time they did not deliver all the funds to the local preachers in person. At least a portion of the fund was placed in a local bank account in the Philippines and several local preachers where put in charge of distributing the money. A fixed distribution of 465 pesos per member was set.
I was given copies of some of the checks and receipts were given to the preachers. The checks were written in Pesos, the receipts only show the U.S. dollar amounts given. In one example, a preacher was given a check for 5,115 pesos, which indicates he claimed 11 members. The preacher was given two receipts to sign, one for $100 and another for $200. At the time the check was written the exchange rate was 38 pesos per dollar. The receipts for $300 should yield a total of 11,400 pesos. We have a 6,285 pesos (or $165.39) discrepancy! How is a donor in the U.S. to know that less than half the funds he gave did not reach the preacher let alone the congregation?
A second example shows another preacher was given a check for 33,480 pesos, which indicates he claimed 72 members. He, too, was given two receipts to sign: one for $150 and another for $1000. $1,150 comes to 43,700 pesos. Again there is a discrepancy, this time of 10,220 pesos (or $268.95).
Such discrepancies should have sounded alarm bells and a call for a complete audit of the accounts. As far as I know, nothing was done. In the year 2000, Ron Halbrook continued to solicit more funds that he might deliver to the Philippines.
I started out discussing the way money can corrupt people. Think about what would happen when word gets outs that there are people willing to give payments just for claiming to be a member of the church. Do you think the number of people claiming to be members will go up or down? Do you think these claimants will be sincere Christians or simply people looking for another way to fill their bellies? (John 6:26-27). I am sure there are sound, faithful members of the Lord's body in the Philippines, but such people are becoming hard to find because of the corruption that U.S. brethren have caused among the brethren in the Philippines. We must face the fact that the work of the Lord has greatly suffered at the hands of generous brethren from the United States.
Full documentation of the listed problems in the Philippines can be found on the Internet at http://pistos.com/corruption/index.htm.
1. "I have my own areas of works too, and I am speaking for and in behalf of this works, alone. We have more than 65 churches, both old and newly established ones. We have more than 85 preachers; young and old to. We train an average of ten preachers every month, and these preachers go to the field of preaching, zealously. These 65 churches and 85 preachers are located in the ten progressive big provinces of Mindanao, where the Lord's work is very prospective." . . . "I do the work in traveling to churches. So I know most of the impulses, movement, feelings, activities, and belief of the churches, specially in my area of works of 65 congregations and 85 preachers in it." Juanito Balbin, August 20, 1999.
2. "Next let me turn to Rody's activities among churches in Cagayan Valley. First, Rody did not start all 50 churches in the valley. There are around 40 preachers in that province (including my father-in-law). Rody is not required to visit all these churches. He only has one church that he works with regularly. But he has helped start many others (usually with help from other preachers). Rody then assigns a preacher to work with the congregation he helped start. I use the word "assign" because that is the word the preachers used (though Rod says it is just a "suggestion"). The way it works is that Rody tells the congregation which man should work for them and tells the man which congregation he should work for. If the congregation does not accept the man, then they will not have a preacher. If the man does not accept, then he will not have a congregation. I talked with Rody about the fact that the system is unbiblical and denies the autonomy of the churches. He said that he had to do it that way [as] he was the "father" of all these people. (I use the word "father" because that was the term Rody used. To be the "father" of people in this culture implies the right to control or rule them. A father is not to be contradicted or spoken against). I explained to Rody that he was not the "father" of the preachers or the churches, though he never retracted the statement." Glenn Hamilton, November 6, 1996.
3. "Rody has also announced that he is no longer the preacher at Metro Tuguegarao, . . . but is instead the Evangelist of Cagayan. . . . When one member asked [what] does an evangelist do, Rody said he travels around and trains preachers." Glenn Hamilton, November 18, 1999
4. "Rody Gumpad reports that two were baptized in April. The number there continues to grow. Rody also reports a lack of funds due to the necessity of buying canned milk for their baby and other expenses." Searching the Scriptures, August 1991, page 472.
5. "I received supports and many many extras, gifts, and one time helps. During the medication of my son, Jay, yes many helped for his medication. I told it all to my friends and supporters, but when the needs filled up, I am also telling them that we now have enough. Many others also reacted but delayed. So, I told them (by letter or by phone) that no need, we now have enough. I even returned many checks to the senders, but, most of them said, 'Rody, thank you for your honesty. We are sending you back the money and please use it as you see fit.' Besides, we got many unexpected gifts, one time helps. I have so many letters, notes here that can prove this, but the rest are checks alone and no letter. Friends, believe it or not but this is the fact! I don't even know the other sources of this monies, gifts, but it is said that someone told them about the work we are doing here for the Lord and they want to share some of their blessings. Sometimes, they said "little help" but it is $500, $1,000, or even more!" Rody Gumpad in a letter written June, 1996.
6. "Also, Rody Gumpad's father was attacked by a man with a bolo (sugar cane-cutting) knife and severely wounded. The attacker slashed Rody's father several times across the head and face. I received pictures showing the wounds. To get medical care, Rody borrowed at a high rate of interest. This did not save him. Rody's father died anyway, saddling Rody with the additional expenses of his burial, which in the Philippines, is high. Rody wrote me pleading for help." Gospel Truths, September 1993, page 20.
7. "On the second trip last year, Jim McDonald and I delivered nearly $400,000 in benevolence to about 15,000 Christians who were suffering and in some cases dying from a severe drought." Ron Halbrook in a letter dated 2/20/1999.
8. "On June 29th Ron Halbrook, David Theriot and I departed for the Philippine Islands to distribute relief gathered for suffering disciples there. We arrived on the 30th, began our work of distribution on July 1, concluded our final distribution on July 8 and returned to the States on July 9. Our major task is done." Jim McDonald's report on the distribution dated 7/17/1998.
9. I have copies of dozens of receipts showing who donated the money, what church received it, the number of members and amount received, with the name, address, & signature of the representative of the church receiving the benevolence. This was done not only to verify delivery of the money donated, but also to provide a means to follow up on any later questions or complaints." Ron Halbrook in a letter dated 6/19/1999