Fleecing the Faithful—Again: Former YWAM Leader Defrauds Many


A Swedish Christian businessman swindled friends, family, and missionaries of millions of dollars

Ken Walker | posted 6/08/2011 09:52AM

When Jan and Henny Pauw visited Le Rucher on a summer missions trip, they never dreamed it would wind up costing them their retirement nest egg. The Dutch couple became ensnared in a faith-based Ponzi scheme that operated for a dozen years before it unraveled.

Nestled on two acres at the base of France’s Jura Mountains and the nearby Swiss Alps, the Le Rucher retreat center opened in 1994 to help stressed-out missionaries recuperate. But Le Rucher became the setting for the promotion of the fraudulent Nordic Capital Investments (NCI), which has created resentment toward Le Rucher co-founder Erik Spruyt. Last October, Swedish businessman Kristian Westergard, the founder of NCI and a close associate of Spruyt’s, was convicted of gross fraud in Sweden and sentenced to prison.

In 1998, the Pauws went to Le Rucher—then associated with Youth With a Mission (YWAM)—with their evangelical church in Ermelo, the Netherlands. An industrial chemist by trade, Jan had never been on a Christian mission. On the couple’s first trip, Spruyt suggested they consider becoming long-term volunteers. Jan replied that they couldn’t afford it.

When the Pauws returned the following summer, Spruyt repeated the suggestion. Jan demurred. Then, they say, Spruyt introduced them to NCI, a special investment fund that paid interest of 15 percent a year (the rate on a contract they later signed). It had the potential to generate enough income to support the couple. Part of the attraction was the promise that some of the fund’s earnings would generate charitable support for select Christian missions. The Pauws invested euros worth $260,000. The following year they moved to Le Rucher as volunteers.

In total, the couple received more than $230,000 before payments ceased. But the principal amount of their nest egg has vanished. They still rue their decision to trust Spruyt’s referral to NCI. In a 2001 e-mail with a sample NCI contract, he said, “If you want to take this seriously then this is the procedure that I recommend to you with the amount you want to invest.”

“All we have now is our old-age pension and a small pension from my work as an industrial chemist,” Pauw says. “Sometimes we think, How could we have been so stupid to believe them? Why did we trust them?

Read the rest of this article at Christianity Today here >>>

Some remarks

I guess what we are reading here is how well affinity frauds work. You gain the trust of the leaders or as a leader you have a natural amount of trust associated with you and from there on it becomes easier to lure in new victims. And for the record this works the same with all these marvelous business opportunities that lure in the small people. It is not surprising that these business opportunities are so often targeted at church communities: there is a naturally higher level of trust.

Part of why this works is that lack of financial understanding, business understanding, innumeracy so you which is being replaced by trust in the person offering you the opportunity. It is for this reason that leaders are targeted first. Once you have the leader over the bridge the rest of the sheep will follow. And for the record, no one is immune and we all run a risk of falling for it.

On Affinity Fraud

Affinity fraud is when one person gains the trust of others because they share the same religion, race, ethnicity, career or other social characteristic and then deceives them in some kind of financial transaction. Now this is not necessarily intentional, as this may also be the result of a misguided participant in one scheme or another, a gifting club or pyramid scheme or the pyramid scheme posing as a legitimate MLM.

In a world of increasing complexity many do not know how to properly investigate the credibility of an offering and trust becomes an increasing factor relied on.

“You can trust me, because I’m like you. We share the same background and interests. And I can help you make money.”

The normal process of cautious skepticism is replaced by social blah blah, and for the record, it works. Another tactic used is to first lure in some prominent members of a group and once that is done the others are pitched using the credibility and good name of the group leaders: the elder, the pastor etc.

With the hierarchy of leaders and followers already established, the investment becomes merely an extension of our desire to belong and be accepted.

The fact that some of the earlier entrants, the ones you know and trust, are receiving good money is not a guarantee that it is all good, that is the essential working of a pyramid scheme, the high INITIAL returns. The case outlined in Christianity Today show that exactly and there are many more known cases throughout history.

What makes those types of scams extra attractive is that  once an affinity fraud victim realizes that he or she has been scammed, all too often the response is not to notify the authorities but instead to try to solve problems within the group. This usually just ensures that the fraud continues without anyone reporting it to the authorities until it is too late to recover funds. Scammers recognize that the tight-knit structure of many groups makes it less likely that a scam will be detected by regulators and law enforcement officials, and that victims will be more forgiving of one of their own members.

Some tips

Some way to revent becoming a victim of affinity fraud are:

  • NEVER TRUST PEOPLE BLINDLY.
    No matter how well you know someone or think you can trust them, always be cautious when it comes to handing over your hard earned money. Ask questions about the scheme and keep on doing that until you understand the scheme. Let them know that you are aware of all the scams that are taking place regularly in today’s world. Just because a person is a fellow Christian, it does not mean that he or she is a good person who will not cheat you, intentionally or out of ignorance.
  • DO YOU DUE DILIGENCE; CHECK THINGS OUT THOROUGHLY
    Use the Net, call others with financial; insights and not associated with the scheme or seek professional advice, but whatever you do, never step into a scheme you do not understand.
  • DO NOT GET GREEDY
    The strange thing is that many of these schemes promise high yield on low risk or even risk free investments. In the financial world however the principle  is usually exactly the other way around: the higher the returns the higher the risks. Greed is a sin, not just because the Bible tells us it is, but because nothing good can come of greed. It leaves us wanting more and more, no matter how much we already have. Desist from this emotion and you and your money are safe. Know that God will provide you in all your needs which is something different than all your wants.

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The Jesus We’ll Never Know: Scot McKnight


In the times prior to my conversion I read a lot of material about the historical Jesus, by the way with great interest but something was not quite alright.

McKnight, author of the article quoted below and one of the historical Jesus researchers himself makes the comment:

Furthermore, these scholars by and large believe in the Jesus they reconstruct. During what’s called the “first quest” for the historical Jesus, in the early 20th century, Albert Schweitzer understood Jesus as an apocalyptic Jesus. In the latest quest, Sanders’s Jesus is an eschatological prophet; Crossan’s Jesus is a Mediterranean peasant cynic full of wit and critical of the Establishment; Borg’s Jesus is a mystical genius; Wright’s Jesus is an end-of-the-exile messianic prophet who believed he was God returning to Zion. We could go on, but we have made our point: Historical Jesus scholars reconstruct what Jesus was really like and orient their faith around that reconstruction.

The comment very much resounds my own sentiments when reading these studies: could it maybe be that we are creating out own desired reality. If, as we may suppose, historical research departs from the same methodologies, should the outcomes not be more alike? Yet very similar to the students mentioned in the first lines of this article, it appears that the historical methods lead to similar results: a Jesus construct that is potentially more who we want him to be or a Jesus construct that is in our own likeness.

In his closing paragraph McKnight comes to the same conclusions I had to admit to myself prior to conversion: at some point methods run out of steam and energy. And where McKnight makes this point for historical research, I think it is not that dissimilar for other disciplines as well. Simply put perhaps we should start to be more open about the limitations of our methods and about what exactly it is they can and cannot prove. Most of all about our own potential biases prior to any research as they may influence our findings or lead us to conclusions that are no longer carried by our findings.
No matter how I look at it: science an the human sciences included are all involved in telling us about the supernatural from a position of limitation to the natural and natural explanations. So, let’s try to be honest about this limitation, which in my view is exactly the strength of science and leave the rest to our own non-scholarly experience and doctrinal understandings, as an individual and a church as well as a community of researchers.

On a personal basis: it seems to be that the best way to get to know Jesus, God, has proven to be the opening up for a relationship again.  Of course that goes outside any methodological realm but at the same time science can at no time go where the Holy Spirit may take us, whether that is measurable or not, it seems to me that that’s the most secure way to fill up the blanks.

Who needs faith when science and history could ‘prove’  it all. At the same time I acknowledge that it is exactly science and  historical method that provided me the (rational) basis I needed for my faith.

SCIENTIFIC AND HUMAN SCIENCE METHODS PROVIDED A REASON FOR FAITH, BUT IT WAS IN TAKING THE LEAP OF FAITH AND ENTERING INTO THE RELATIONSHIP  THAT MY EYES WERE REALLY OPENED.


The Jesus We’ll Never Know

Why scholarly attempts to discover the ‘real’ Jesus have failed. And why that’s a good thing.

On the opening day of my class on Jesus of Nazareth, I give a standardized psychological test divided into two parts. The results are nothing short of astounding.The first part is about Jesus. It asks students to imagine Jesus’ personality, with questions such as, “Does he prefer to go his own way rather than act by the rules?” and “Is he a worrier?” The second part asks the same questions of the students, but instead of “Is he a worrier?” it asks, “Are you a worrier?” The test is not about right or wrong answers, nor is it designed to help students understand Jesus. Instead, if given to enough people, the test will reveal that we all think Jesus is like us. Introverts think Jesus is introverted, for example, and, on the basis of the same questions, extroverts think Jesus is extroverted.Spiritual formation experts would love to hear that students in my Jesus class are becoming like Jesus, but the test actually reveals the reverse: Students are fashioning Jesus to be more like themselves. If the test were given to a random sample of adults, the results would be measurably similar. To one degree or another, we all conform Jesus to our own image.Since we are pushing this point, let’s not forget historical Jesus scholars, whose academic goal is to study the records, set the evidence in historical context, render judgment about the value of the evidence, and compose a portrait of “what Jesus was really like.” They, too, have ended up making Jesus in their own image.

Read the rest of this very commendable article at The Jesus We’ll Never Know | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.