KP Yohannan and his web of deceit: How the Pentecostal pastor became Episcopal Bishop
KP Yohannan, was born in the backwater cluster of Thiruvalla, in the southernmost state of India. Before completing school education, he was drawn to Operation Mobilization (OM).
He joined as a volunteer. Yohanan belonged to the Episcopal Church Marthoma, but he later joined Pentecostal Church and followed their beliefs.
He married Gizila, who was a co-volunteer of OM. Later he migrated to the US practicing the profession of assistant pastor in a Southern Baptist Church. During this time, he travelled to India, and started ‘Atmeeya Yatra’ (Spiritual Journey), a religious program on radio.
Broadcast from Sri Lanka ‘Atmeeya Yatra’ was one of the most popular radio programmes among Christian families from Kerala in the 80’s.
Beamed in Malayalam, the programme was well received by Malayali communities. Yohannan soon became a Brother Yohannan.
The main objective of the program was de-addiction of alcohol and a campaign against those consuming liquor.
Gospel For Asia
Around this time he travelled to the US and set up Gospel for Asia. The primary aim of this organization was to supporting Indian missionaries working in rural areas and provide mission pamphlets, logistical and other support systems. The organization grew rapidly in the US. The money that flowed to India was astonishing.
Soon GFA was poised for a rapid expansion. It set up branches in Canada, Germany, Britain, South Africa, Australia…GFA footprint spread all over the world. Using various nomenclatures Yohannan managed to get registration with Government of India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for the Foreign Contribution Registration Act (FCRA).
In the filings to the MHA it was mentioned that every penny received will go to charity, and nothing will be used for personal benefit.
In the beginning of 90s, he was growing dissatisfied in continuing with mission work in India. He soon launched his own church and named it Believers Church on the lines of the Protestant Church.
The trustees and directors and decision makers of the Church are Yohannan his family members…
After a couple of years, KP Yohannan made this Church episcopal. Even though he was only a pastor, without priesthood he ordained himself as a bishop of this Church.
This was questioned by traditional episcopal Church leaders. They ignored Yohannan who had become Bishop Yohannan. There is an ordination needed to become episcopal bishop according to religious law.
He worked around this by hiring a bishop for his ordination ceremony from Church of South India (CSI).
This become a big controversy in the Christian circles and was widely reported.
The CSI senate committee probed the issue. They came to the conclusion that their bishop was paid huge sums of money and a luxury car for this. The church sacked bishop KJ Samuel from the CSI for this deed.
There is a rulebook in episcopal church, if anyone becomes a bishop first, he has to become a deacon, then he has to attain priesthood, only then can he become a bishop.
But in the case of KP Yohannan, he broke every rule and become a bishop the very next morning, after he went to sleep the previous night as a brother.
After transition from Pentecost to episcopal beliefs, Yohannan’s Believers Church tried to convince every pastors to wear priesthood robe.
But more than 80 perecent of them refused to do it. The reason behind which was they were earlier following episcopal beliefs and had joined Protestant church under Yohannan.
Now Yohannan was asking them to revert back to episcopal rituals. These pastors left and refused to become priests under episcopal church.
Finally, he got some people from Nepal, Bihar and north eastern states of India who were willing to wear the robe and follow episcopal rituals and made them priests and pastors under his Believers Church.
KP Yohannan: A bad omen
Initially, Gospel For Asia’s Bible College in Thiruvalla was one of the best theological seminary in Kerala.
Around 800 students enrolled every year and most of them are in well known missionaries around the world.
After KP Yohannan’s Believers Church and episcopal transition drama, the enrolment fell below 100 per year.
A major chunk of the students are now coming from north eastern India and Nepal.
The Christians completely stopped going to study in this institution.
Manipulations and Deceit
KP Yohannan and Believers Church are into old traditional episcopal beliefs.
He started rituals like ring kissing, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday prayers, praying to the mediators for fulfilling wishes. In short Yohannan and his Church started believing catholic and orthodox beliefs.
They also started confessing to the priest, which is the Catholic and Orthodox practice.
A year back, Yohannan tried to pursue Jacobite church senior bishop catholic (BAVA).
He wanted to make Believers Church to be affiliated to it as he wished to become BAVA as it is a well-known church and accepted by masses.
He lured them by offering a lot of money and other things but Jacobite church senior bishop catholic (BAVA) refused to fall into his trap.
KP Yohannan’s support base in US
Most interestingly, KP Yohannan Metropolitan is donning the role of a Bishop only in India, but abroad he is still Brother Yohannan.
Most of the donors in the US and other countries are Protestant, Pentecostal believers.
They won’t accept such kind of a traditional episcopal rituals and beliefs. So he cleverly has mentioned in his US website he is Brother Yohannan and has no mention of him being a bishop. Very recently through the internet and social media, most of their donors came to know about KP Yohannan’s tactical ways in India.
A website called Patheos.com exposed how he is having double standards, about his rituals and following traditional episcopal way, not Protestant and Pentacostal beliefs.
More importantly, it revealed how he is misusing the money collected from the US from Pentecostal believers and using it to built his personal empire.
The website also mentioned all the GFA property to Believers Church and church trust owned by him and his family members.
Fundraising through e-commerce-style website
The website for GFA in the US and other foreign countries is constructed like e-commerce websites like amazon, eBay, flipkart.
In this website he has commodified children by publicising them with their photographs and other details for sponsorships.
This is highly insensitive and condemnable. This is how he is sourcing money from all over the world. The money sent through this website goes to Believers church.
Recently, Patheos.com through their communication with GFA office in Dallas were able to get the information that KP Yohannan is getting $ 100,000 annualy as salary.
When converted, it amounts to a whopping 68 lakh Indian rupees.
In contrast, the salary he is giving to the priest, employees and missionaries of his various organizations is a measly $ 73-80 or Rs 5000 per month.
Even though he is collecting such huge amounts of money, he is not paying a decent salary to the people employed by him.
When KP Yohannan and his team met Indian prime minister Narendra Modi recently, he claimed that his church had a following of 30 lakh worshippers.
All these claims were made when the PMO had a report that his congregation was less than 5000 members.
Most of the church members are those who are employed in his various organizations and their relatives.
Yohannan claims that he has churches all over India were also debunked. 70 percent of them are shut down as no one is running the church, as they cannot find enough members for the church.
New tactic to attract believers
A year back, KP Yohannan started a hospital called Believers Church Medical College. It is situated in one of the affluent neighborhoods of Thiruvalla.
The government of Kerala’s recent survey reveals that the spending power of the residents of Thiruvalla are very high.
More than 70% of the residents are NRIs, mostly from North America, Europe and West Asian countries.
There are already three medical colleges in the region. This did not deter KP Yohannan from investing 400 crore to set up his medical college in Thiruvalla.
The interesting fact is that he is yet to be recognized by other episcopal churches. So he gave five MBBS seats to other churches in a bid to gain their support and foster linkages with them.
Two years back he wanted to go and sit on the dais of Maramon Convention, but he got seated in the second row which did not go down well with him.
His presence on the dais was also questioned by other church members including leaders of the Marthoma church. It was later clarified that he was not invited but he voluntarily came and perched himself on the stage. He wanted to sit in the first row but those were already occupied.
A church leader mentioned to KP Yohannan that he went to West Asia and Europe on a fund mobilisation campaign for constructing an orphan centre in north India. He claimed it was not successful because of the recession. Yohannan offered to construct the orphanage. His only condition was to be made preacher at their convention programs. The bishop realized the seriousness of his demand and its consequences and hence refused to accept Yohannan’s offer.
Flouting Norms and Rules
GFA is collecting money for India, for helping the poorest of poor, orphaned kids rehabilitation, drinking water facilities, empowering women, training women for making them skilled, and training missionaries to deliver gospel to rural areas. But there is a clause in American law, from where he is raising most of the funds, that the money should not be used for any profit making ventures.
It’s been stated that no school or college is to be started with a tuition fees model. The schools should be completed free of cost and be for the upliftment and education of the poorest. It is also stated that purchasing land is not allowed only renting land is allowed.
Yohanan flouted all laws according to his will and bought 1600 acre rubber estate, Medical college, engineering college, many schools….all these are profit making. All these properties are owned by Yohannan’s family but the money is coming from GFA.
Yohannan exposed in the West
Only now the western world has come to know that KP Yohannan is funneling charity funds to further his profit driven business empire.
After investigations, the Evangelical Council for Accountability cancelled the membership of GFA due to violation on several counts.
Most of the donors are contributing to charity as there are provisions of certain relaxations in American tax laws.
But Yohannan is using these charity funds to build his own empire under Believers Church.
After these startling revealations many of those working for him left. Those donating raised concerns and objected to his activities, while some have even demanded return of their charity money as he is misusing funds.
A lawsuit was filed in the US by a former employee with all supporting documents. A similar case filed in Canada stating breach of trust.
Only time will tell whether KP Yohannan will become a saint as he is aiming to, or will end up as convict Yohannan.
While Yohannan builds his empire, other serve selflessly
At the same time when Yohannan sow the seed for his empire, others were selflessly serving the poor and the needy.
Padmashri MA Thomas is no more. His mission activity was focused in area of Kota, Rajasthan in North India. 14 years back he was conferred Padmashri by BJP government when it was in power in the state and centre.
Reverend Thomas hails from Pathanamthitta in Kerala. He was from Marthoma church and joined the Baptist Pentecostal church later on.
He started leprosy patient rehab centers in North India. His tireless social work was recognised with several awards including the Padmashri and Mother Teresa International awards. His father was a preacher and a colleague of Sadhu Kochu Kunju Upadeshi, who was a well know gospel preacher of the time. Reverend Thomas did his theological studies from Chennai and then decided to make Rajasthan his work place. Once he told a senior journalist in Delhi, when he first went to Kota, around time of independence, the train was only up to Jaipur. He and his wife and their kid walked down to Kota from Jaipur which is 250 kms through jungle, often crossing rivulets and streams by swimming. Initially, his ministry was started in someone’s garage.
Later Immanuel mission became one of the biggest ministry in India.
Narrating his beginnings to the senior Delhi journalist, Thomas said when he began he did not have any money. He said he had only had his dress and his small bag.
When he was standing in Ghaziabad, he saw a slum cluster, where waste was being dumped around it. Several leprosy patients were living in it. Many rich and affluent people used come to this area and threw clothes for these leprosy patients to keep them warm during the harsh Delhi winters.
None of them dare go close to them fear of contracting the disease. Reverend Thomas said he went to their slums and extended his hand for a handshake.
The leprosy patients folded their hands and said namaste and stepped back. Seeing this, Thomas hugged them and said I can’t offer you money and clothes, this is all I have to offer at the moment.
This was the beginning and where the idea of the leprosy rehabilitation centre started by Thomas took shape.
Thomas always preached gospel and also made it clear to followers Jesus loves everyone, “I am only giving his love to you. Nothing is above God. I only wanted God’s grace, that is enough. I want nothing else in this world.” Kota vicinity has become an educational hub today. Thomas has a big role to play in it as he started educational institutions in Kota. In Kota, Thomas was popularly known as “Bada Papa” not withstanding caste, religion, creed they accepted Thomas with open arms. In the areas when a child was born, or when anyone wanted to go abroad or go for higher education, they wanted Thomas to pray for them and take his advice.
Panvel, a suburb of Mumbai is a typical Maharashtrian countryside. Pastor Philip started social and evangelical association for love (Seal) ashram with his bible college friend Biju.
Pastor Philip is from southern part of Kerala. In his ashram AIDS patients, destitute and homeless were rehabilitated. Today he has over 400 inmates, most of them are patients suffering from various diseases. They are provided food and medical facilities, patient care etc.
Philip told me once that after his theological studies, he arrived in Mumbai to meet his elder brother. He said he was sitting somewhere in the city side where hotels and restaurants were dumping waste. Lots of street dogs were fighting each other for food.
A middle aged man who was not clothed reached the spot and grabbed the food the dog was eating. This moved Philip so much that he decided to start helping the homeless street dwellers of Mumbai city. Philip believes it is his job to improve their living conditions and preach God’s gospel.
The responsibility of teaching many children suffering from AIDS who come from the red light district has been taken up by him. These kids sit alongside his children and undergo school education. He tells these kids: ” if no one is with you, God is with you.”
I asked him when I met him, What his source of funding was. The reply was: “when there is no way, God will open a way. I have trust in him. He has taken care of people till now, he will continue to do so.”
Many such missionaries are working in India. Their focus is not wealth or finance. They believe it is God’s call. Among the Pentecostal groups, infighting is a usual phenomenon. Their beliefs are same but when the financial matters come, the differences crop up and divides them. Many groups are mushrooming and each group will try to create hurdles for the others so that they can gather as much funding as possible through lobbying, networking, rumour mongering and painting others in bad light.
There was an incident, in which Swedish pastor Ulf Ekman’s Ministry called Word of Life funded a Kottayam based New Age Evangelical Group for Bible College and Teaching of Jesus.
After few years, he asked the evangelical group for audit inspections and what kind of money was spent on these activities. They refused to even respond to the communications by Ekman.
It later tuned out that they diverted the money and spent major chunk of the funds on building palatial homes. This was the reasons why they were not willing to present their books for audit.
Then Ulf Ekman stopped funding this organization. The organisation hit back by requesting Government of India to cancel his visa, stating that he was funding groups in the country with an aim to convert people to Christianity.
The Ministry of Home Affairs suspended his entry to India. Then another Pentecostal group helped him. They met PJ Kurien, the Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha.
With his help they got him a visa. Sam Kuzhikala who is a well known singer from another Pentecostal group recalled the days he ran from pillar to post to get Ulf Ekman as they knew he was engaged in genuine charity work and was not focused on conversion as accused by his enemies.
Sam told me that those who were lobbying to get Ekman’s visa cancelled came to his house with a huge cake, late at night. They requested him to refrain from helping Ekman return to India.
Couple of years back when Ulf Ekman was a preacher in Maramon convention, he left pentecost beliefs and joined the Catholic church.