By Alan Lim
Jack (not his real name) is a businessman and a close friend of YWAM. YWAM Singapore’s administration team took up one floor of Jack’s office building, which he allowed us to use rent free. The years 1998-2000 were difficult years for many businesses in Asia. Jack’s business was one of those severely hit by the economic downturn. I was unaware of what was happening to Jack and his company.
YWAM Singapore had purchased a property for our YWAM base and had just finished our first public fundraising event. We had raised 350,000 Singapore dollars. Shortly after, Jack asked me if he could borrow 100,000 dollars for a couple of weeks to make a payroll deadline. He would repay it in two weeks. I immediately issued a check for the amount to Jack’s company. I did not ask any of my leaders. I did not think anyone would have a problem. We had a dual signature system for issuing checks. However, because so many of us travel and are out of town, I had one of the leaders sign a whole book of checks at a time. That way all we needed was just one more signature – mine.
A month passed. I had forgotten about the loan. I assumed Jack had returned the money directly to YWAM’s accounts office. One day I enquired with YWAM and was told that no money had been returned. I talked with Jack and found out that his company was closing like many other Singapore businesses because of the economic crises. He was in debt into the millions. He was in no position to repay the money. I was in shock. I realized I had just lost 100,000 dollars of YWAM’s money.
I called a meeting with our YWAM leaders and explained to them what had taken place. I apologized to them for not informing them about it. I rationalized that it was a quick decision and that I did not think that any of them would have objected. I reasoned with them that over the last few years this man and his company had given to YWAM many times more the amount that he had borrowed. Without pausing to hear their thoughts or comments, I proceeded to propose how we could write off this loss. I was problem solving. When I was done, no one said a word. I asked for their thoughts and their opinions and all I got was silence. I got irritated and angry. I emphasized that I had not taken a penny. Jack was our friend. This was an honest mistake on my part and a problem he did not anticipate. I further reasoned that if I had asked the leadership for permission to loan Jack the money, they would have approved it anyway. So I surmised that my real mistake was not consulting them first. They just kept quiet. I responded to their silence.
“Do you want me to pay this money back? I didn’t take it. It was not my fault. What do you want me to do? This meeting is over. We will meet again tomorrow’. With that I dismissed the meeting.
I was very upset when I got home that evening. After dinner, I shared with Susie what had transpired in the meeting. She asked me many questions and drew very specific answers from me. As Susie began to question me, I began to see what she was trying to get at. Slowly, I began to realize the terrible error I had committed and the predicament I had put our family in. Susie’s questions shifted from inquiry, to disbelief, to disappointment, to anger and finally to deep hurt. I saw it all over her countenance.
Finally, Susie said, “Alan, who do you think you are? Who and what gave you the right to lend 100,000 dollars that is not yours? If only you would have had the sense to talk to your other leaders first and they agreed, then it would be all of your responsibility. But because you did not and did it totally on your own, you bear full and total responsibility. You lost 100,000 dollars of YWAM’s money and now you are responsible to return it. We do not have that kind of money. If we sold our home, we will make about that much profit after paying the remaining mortgage. And that is what we will have to do to settle this matter. And I am not about to live my life in this community with this issue hanging over our heads. We are going to settle it and settle it quickly. You go and tell our children what you have done and that you have just lost our home. We will rent some place and we will work out our problems.”
God was speaking to me loud and clear. I was in shock as to what I had done and its implications on my family. I also began to realize how my other YWAM leaders were feeling. I realized I had not given them any place or space to speak to me but instead was simply reporting a tragic mistake and offering solutions and wanting their approval.
That evening I spoke to my children, Chelsea and Kyle, and told them what I had done. I apologized and asked them for forgiveness. I explained that we would have to sell our home to repay the debt and find another home. They cried, forgave me and gave me permission to sell the home. That night Susie and I talked even more. We talked about our personal lives. We talked about our struggles and my failures. We talked about our friends who believed in and trusted us. We talked about failing them and how they felt. I realized I was in deep trouble and had dragged family and friends and YWAM into it.
The next day, Susie and I met with our leadership together with our regional director, David Cole. We had explained to David what had happened. I shared with them what the Lord was showing me and speaking to me through Susie. I explained to them that through my time and my conversation with Susie I saw how I had both disappointed and hurt them. I had presumed on our friendship and taken leadership liberties for granted. I had done wrong to God, to my family, to them, to YWAM Singapore and our friends. I told them that I would take full responsibility to ensure that the money is returned. I would also work with them and our advisors to ensure that the process is above board. They agreed, they forgave me and began to pray for Susie and me.
I put our house up for sale. We gave all our savings to YWAM as our first response. Our YWAM leadership took an offering among themselves and gave to us towards this need. These were their words. “We do not want you both to walk through this alone. We want to walk with you in this. This is our gift to you.” We were deeply comforted, grateful and felt loved and cared for and forgiven. A personal friend heard about our situation and gave us half of the amount lost and asked us to take our house off the market. Jack too gave to us from their personal savings. We were still short of twenty thousand dollars. We met with the accountants and auditors. Their advice was that eighty thousand dollars was sufficient to cover the immediate ‘loan’. The remaining twenty thousand can be returned over a period of a year. We trusted God, saved and returned the rest of the money within one year. In that year, we also reworked YWAM’s financial system so that it was open, transparent and accountable both within our leadership and to an ‘outside’ board. I also worked on our personal financial management.
What Did I Learn?
During this time, the Lord spoke to me about three issues in my life.
- I was lazy.
- I was not accountable.
- I had no integrity.
I was lazy because he had spoken to me about the need for proper personal and ministry financial accountability and systems. I began but did not fully implement it. I excused myself with the fact that it was not my area of strength. I was also too busy to look into the details.
I was not accountable because I had circumvented the systems of check and balance to facilitate convenience. They were put in place for a reason. To avoid the very kinds of mistakes I had just made. I did not value accountability. I preferred convenience and control above accountability and transparency.
I was lacking integrity because when I did wrong, I was quick to find solutions without being first willing to look into my own heart and motives. I quickly brushed aside the wrong and looked for solutions. I was being deceptive, wicked and dishonest. I compromised on integrity and it blinded me and led me into deception and dishonesty.
The Lord spoke to me through two stories in scripture. The first was about Moses in the area of his anger. On three occasions, the Lord dealt with Moses in this area. When he killed the Egyptian, when he struck the rock, and finally when he broke the tablets of stone. On the third occasion, God had him chisel out another two tablets of stone to replace the ones that he broke. It must have taken Moses awhile to do that. It probably took him all day and maybe all night. It gave Moses a lot of time to think and reflect on what he had done. There was the opportunity for processing and a realignment of his heart before he went before the Lord again. I felt that the Lord had been dealing with me in this area of financial responsibility for many years and over many occasions. This time, this matter and this lesson was not going to go away just through repentance and a commitment to change, as important as that was. I was going to walk through an extended period of time to allow my heart to change and be realigned. I was to learn to apply what God was showing me so that I would learn personal and corporate financial responsibility and would value it. A lesson for life!
What Would I Do Different?
- Attend to my personal financial management diligently. Get the necessary help and accountability.
- Work with my leadership so that they carry equally the financial responsibility to keep us right and proper in our management of finances. I took on the responsibility because none of them wanted the responsibility and I failed because of a lack of knowledge, laziness and not having my leaders provide the check and balance.
- Not lend money or give money that I have no authority over. It is not mine to lend or give.
How is Your Financial Integrity?
- Who are you accountable to with your finances?
- Who knows how you spend your money? And your ministry funds?
- Are your personal and ministry funds separate? If not, why not?
- Who do you allow to give you input and feedback about your budgeting and spending?
- What steps can you take today to be fully transparent and accountable with both personal and ministry finances?