KAUFMAN COUNTY (CBS11 I-TEAM) - At first glance, the new, 280-acre development in far eastern Kaufman County looks like just another well-manicured neighborhood, with newly-paved roads and an elaborate community center.
But it's not.
Instead, its home and headquarters for Gospel for Asia, one of the most successful Christian missionary groups in the world, raising an average of $85 million a year for the poor and hungry in Asia, primarily India.
GFA says its sole mission is to lift up the impoverished, spreading Christianity, providing food, building "Jesus wells" and constructing hospitals.
But former members tell CBS11's I-Team there is a dark side to the ministry.
"I would say it's a cult under the name of Jesus Christ, unfortunately," said Troy Zinszer, who once led Gospel for Asia's recruitment for support from churches in the United States.
Tom and Pam Sluberski were members of GFA for a dozen years, but quit soon after hearing that missionary staff and students were told to take envelopes into India, each stuffed with $4,500 cash.
"It's illegal…when you have a group, say ten, and each is carrying $4,500, you now have $45,000 and that far exceeds the $10,000 limit," said Tom Sluberski, who ran the ministry's website.
Sluberski was referring to the federal law that requires that cash totaling more than $10,000 must be reported to federal authorities when people – traveling individually or as a group – go into another country.
"So we have a problem," said Sluberski.
The GFA was founded in 1979 by K.P. Yohannan, who continues to lead the group. He was out of the country and unavailable for an interview, his staff said.
But David Carroll, the chief operating officer for the group, welcomed the I-Team onto their sprawling headquarters, complete with 85 new homes, a prayer hall and an office building.
"We have never willfully broken any laws," said Carroll, adding that taking the cash-filled envelopes into India was an innocent mistake meant only to help the needy in that country. He said the practice was stopped once the group realized it violated federal law.
"We just never knew … we maybe should have done a better job asking," Carroll told the I-Team.
Several former members told the I-Team they also disagreed with GFA m
oving more than $19 million from India to finish paying off the new headquarters near the Kaufman County town of Wills Point.
But Carroll responded by saying the Christian group did nothing wrong because the money came from a general fund that could be used for various purposes, and not just for work "in the mission field" in India.
It was tapped, "I believe, knowing that campus one day probably would return many times in what they'd invested."
The I-Team has learned that, in June, Gospel for Asia was kicked out as a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, a non-profit accrediting organization that promotes "financial accountability, transparency, fundraising, and board governance."
In a statement to CBS11 News, the ECFA, without being specific, said it removed Gospel for Asia for violating several standards that "are biblical and are fundamental to operating with integrity."
"This ends Gospel for Asia's 36-year-long status as an ECFA member," the statement said.
Carroll said GFA was disappointed in its expulsion from the non-profit group. He added that it was for minor infractions, since corrected, like using money to buy one thing when it was designated for another.
"If they had too many rabbits at that time, and they needed more goats, they felt free to take some rabbit money and buy goats with it…the ECFA expressed displeasure with that," Carroll said.
Several former members told the I-Team that Yohannan and the leaders intruded into their personal lives, not only telling them who they could hang out with, but also where they could work and how they could dress.
"The people, the staff, are some of the Godliest people you'll meet," Tom Zinszer said, but "the leadership, in itself, is very cultish."
His wife, Pam Zinszer, who cut hair at the ministry, said she was put off by GFA's influence on how women members dressed.
"A lot of young ladies would wear t-shirts over their one-piece. They kept saying they didn't want men to stumble by looking at a young lady in a swimsuit," Pam Zinszer told the I-Team.
Carroll, however, denied that Gospel for Asia dictated how members dressed. He also said group leaders did not intrude on members' personal lives.
He said followers are free to come and go as they please; the gates are almost always open to the public; and the GFA is definitely not a cult.
"I dislike that word very much …I dislike being associated with that word very much," Carroll told the I-Team, adding:
"I think we would like to be known as a humble, loving group of believers who represent Jesus and His love very well."
If you want to reach CBS11′s Senior Investigative Producer Jack Douglas Jr., you can email him at email@example.com. If you want to reach CBS11′s Investigative reporter Ginger Allen, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(©2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)
for more features.