Date: August 10, 2017
BY Lyndsey Koh
India (MNN) — Last year, the government in India used the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) to deny between 20,000 to 33,000 foreign funding licenses to charities and NGOs, including Compassion International who had to pull out of India. According to The Times of India, only 13,000 NGOs remain in the country.
Now more than halfway into 2017, many wonder, what does the future for NGOs and ministry in India look like?
JP Sundararajan is the India-Asia Director for Audio Scripture Ministries. He says, “When you are denied the FCRA, it hurts your ministry greatly, especially if you’ve been reliant on funding from overseas.”
ASM has been faithful in following the regulations set forth by India’s government, and as Sundararajan explains, the regulations are numerous. “We are constantly scrutinized. Every report, every financial document we have is audited and is scrutinized by the government in India. It has become a lot of work for us to remain transparent — which is something we always want to be, above reproach in the eyes of the government and do things according to the law — but it just adds so much more to our plate than we typically are used to doing.”
The FCRA was enacted in India in 2010 and originally targeted international political funds, but eventually required all NGOs in-country to apply for licenses to receive foreign funding. Some of the reasons for license denial were simply due to failed paperwork submissions. But according to The Guardian, “…it was also tactical on the part of the government: requiring short turnaround times, or digital returns for small organizations presents a huge barrier to organizations lacking capacity.”
Amnesty International India and Human Rights Watch have criticized how the Indian government has used the FCRA in dealing with NGOs, and three UN Human Rights experts have called for the FCRA to be repealed altogether.
Sundararajan says, “I think every time I’m in India, the regulations change and new rules are being implemented and we are constantly having to keep up with all of this. And there is no excuse for ignorance and there is really not a whole lot of grace or mercy shown either.”
ASM has recognized for several years that for their ministry in India to thrive, they can’t be solely reliant on international donors. That’s why ASM works with indigenous ministry partners in India and gets a lot of their support directly from the local Indian Church.
For example, “We never give an audio Bible free of charge. We always charge a small token amount, mostly to [communicate that] this audio Bible has some value to it. But more importantly, to protect us from these sorts of accusations where we can say, ‘No, it’s not me going to some place and giving these Bibles for free and telling people about Jesus, but these are people who want the Bible, they’ve bought the Bibles, and here’s a receipt for the Bible.’
“It’s a very small, nominal fee we collect for every distribution we do, but all those little cents so-to-speak adds up. And that model has helped not only give people dignity, give people a sense of ownership of God’s Word, but it’s enabled our ministry in India to grow more and more self-reliant and self-sustaining, which is a wonderful thing.”
This model of partnership with the local Church has even helped change how the Church in India approaches ownership of the Great Commission in their communities.
“The Church in India for a long time has looked at parachurch ministries like ours for example with a fair bit of skepticism because they look at us like, ‘Oh, you don’t need support because you’re getting support from the West.’ So it’s become this dog trying to catch its own tail kind of story because we want to rely on the local Church in India to support us, but the local Church won’t support us as long as we keep raising the foreign funding,” Sundararajan explains.
“But what has happened with all of this is I think the local Church is becoming more aware of what is happening and how to step into that void and we are thanking God for that…. We’ve invited other people into this conversation. So if there was a silver lining to that dark cloud, this would be it.”
As they build relationships with churches in India, they’ve even seen the next generation start to take the reigns for Gospel outreach. Young people in India who are interested in technology-based ministry are coming alongside ASM to help make God’s Word available in audio to those who want it.
So, if you have a heart for ministry and outreach in India, here are a few things to note as you give support and pray:
“When you partner with an organization, make sure they do have their appropriate licenses because when they don’t, that ends up causing problems for the Christian community at-large in India.”
Also, Sundararajan adds, for those ministries you do want to support in India, “I think showing grace would be a wonderful first step, but also continuing to support them would be something I cannot encourage more! Our ministry even in India, we are doing everything correctly and we are trying to do everything above reproach, but we want to make sure that our donors here understand that our ultimate goal is getting God’s Word into the hands of these listeners and we want to do it in a way that doesn’t hinder the work of the Gospel being done by other ministries in that area or by us down the road as well.”
And finally, please be in prayer for these ministries still in India.
“Pray for perseverance for the Church and our leaders there. Pray for wisdom and pray [for] this good work that God began. I mean, with all of this stuff that’s happening, I think we sometimes lose track that there’s so much good happening, and you have to expect opposition of a variety of sorts. So this is not something we’re afraid of, but we do want to have wisdom and navigate these well.”