Thinking about the Present: Corruption

September 20, 2023 Brian W

Reading this from Ministry Watch was like a punch to the gut:

Authorities are looking for a Georgia man they allege posed as a missionary and squandered at least half of the $33 million in funding he promised to use to produce and distribute Bibles and Christian literature in China.

According to a federal indictment, authorities accuse Jason Shenk, 45, originally from Dublin, Georgia, of misusing millions of dollars in donations for personal use. A grand jury recently indicted him on 37 counts. The charges include money laundering, wire fraud, and failing to report a foreign bank account.

The number alone is staggering. Very credibly, nearly 17 million dollars, maybe more, that was meant to advance the Kingdom was wasted on farms, property, weird investments, life insurance schemes, and, probably most appropriately, a gambling website start-up. Mr. Shenk seemed to use every legal loophole he could think of to avoid proper financial reporting and bluffed about suffering persecution in China to keep the curious at bay. There are other parts of the story I found interesting:

April 2010 through July 2019, garnering around $22 million from one charitable organization and its donors, about $10 million from another charity and its donors, and other individual donations.

I will not knock on foundations or big charities by any means. The good they have done for the Kingdom is immeasurable to someone like me. Still, I think of the Spiritual Warfare training we equip our missionaries with. In this training we learn who our enemies are: The world, our flesh, and the Enemy. When I see a scam like this, I wonder: how can this happen? How can this man raise $32 million from two big institutions with lies while good men and women doing good work to see Christ glorified toil for decades with a mere fraction of those resources? 

I wonder if part of the answer lies in putting too much faith in our American business practices, trusting in the world instead of in our God-given discernment. It can be easy to put our trust in our financial systems. Look how much wealth they have brought us; businesses that deal in money use these systems to make more money. If they can do that, surely, we can too?

But the world is corrupt and groans for Christ’s return. Instead of easy money and quick gain, we are seduced into scams like this by quantifiable, verifiable, and understandable metrics. So, it seems, anyway. Indeed, we are doing good if we are funding 5,000,000 Bibles, and we know getting God’s Word out there is essential and will do a lot of good. It is more understandable than supporting 100 top-notch church planters for five years. What good will that do? Some church planters will fail, some will leave the field. Sure, an agency, a field, or another missionary may gain resources anyway, but will that be the value the donor wanted? It takes effort to know. It is not easy to learn. Bibles are just good; we can count them, so we give.

The Lord can use many things in this world for His glory. It is important not to outsource our discernment to a worldly system. Churches should support missionaries they know. Ministries that deserve support do more than just make slick presentations; they invite you into the work. They want the giving and receiving not to be one way but to flow in both directions. This kind of support is hard to fool; this is where the Spirit can guide us through personal knowledge, knowing the work and the people involved, allowing them to know us, and seeing the fruit with your own eyes. The Shenks of the world can’t survive in such environments; their lies are exposed to the light, and the faithful flee from them. It might take time from retirement or work, it can be messy and complicated, but by working on developing a relationship with those we help, seeing their work, and discerning its effect, we protect ourselves and others from deception. There are no shortcuts. The world is not our friend, our flesh is easily fooled, and the Enemy has tricked the best of us from the beginning of time. To fight the good fight, we need more than professional accounting, slick presentations, posed courage, and vague promises that cannot be seen. Partnerships of any kind should not flow one way but should be mutual. Knowledge trumps systems, discernment is our weapon in the world of deception, and our fellow believers are here to share wise counsel. 

There are no shortcuts to it. We need to give generously and with trust but also in knowledge full of the Spirit and keen to discern what is just, right, and true.


Brian W
Brian served 14 years in the Republic of Georgia, where he started a youth ministry, discipled new leaders, and planted over 15 new churches before serving in leadership of another missions organization. Brian is married to Maia and they have two children.