The curious case of Fly Fishing Collaborative
“Gaining a good network of supporters is critical to the life of any new NGO, and in this day and age people can be very leery of supporting any non-profit; not everyone out there is completely sincere in their fundraising efforts.”—Bucky Buchstaber,
from the opening paragraph to his story,
“Fly Fishing Collaborative in South Africa,”
in Revive: A Fly Fishing Journal, fall 2016.
THE VILLAGE OF YEMERI GROVE, BELIZE, sits roughly 200 miles south of Belize City and about 10 miles north of Punta Gorda, or “PG”—the “Permit Capital of Southern Belize.” PG is home to both the luxurious Bel Campo Lodge, surrounded on all sides by jungle and howler monkeys; and Garbutt’s Fishing Lodge, surrounded on all sides by water and permit flats. Driving down to PG for a late-February fishing trip, I stopped in Yemeri Grove to meet with Emerson Mangar, the 34-year-old manager of an aquaponic tilapia farm that was funded and built in spring 2015 by a Portland, Oregon-based non-profit called Fly Fishing Collaborative (FFC).
FFC was founded in 2013 by Bucky Buchstaber—now its executive director—with the aim of “rescuing kids from human trafficking through the efforts of the fly fishing community.” (The word “rescuing” had been used on FFC’s homepage since 2013. In early March, four days after I interviewed Buchstaber for this article, it was changed to “preventing.”) The group works toward this goal by building tilapia farms around the globe similar to the one in Belize, creating a funding mechanism allowing safehomes and orphanages to generate their own source of both food and income. Specifics are found on FFC’s website under the “Vision” tab: “Every $15,000 we raise will provide a totally sustainable tilapia farm that will be built for an orphanage or safe-home in order to provide them with food, income, water, and fresh produce.” Descriptions are also provided on videos found on FFC’s website and Vimeo page, the most recent from Jan. 20, 2017, where Buchstaber again details FFC’s mission: “The Fly Fishing Collaborative is an organization that mobilizes the great people in the flyfishing community to build sustainable aquaponics farms for safehomes and orphanages around the world. These homes provide livelihood for children that are being rescued or prevented from entering into child trafficking.”
February 26th, 2017
March 3rd, 2017
FFC raises money in a variety of ways, but primarily through individual contributions, donated fishing trips from guides, and sales of flies, fly wallets, and other FFC gear. This money pays for the tilapia farms. The farm in Belize is the second built by FFC, after northern Thailand, and I’d emailed Buchstaber before my trip, asking if he would set up the meeting with Mangar. He replied that he thought it would be great for me to see the farm, but added that the Belize operation isn’t an exact model of what they do, “given that it’s not directly related to child trafficking.”
This is true. The FFC farm in Belize is not directly related to child trafficking. Nor is it indirectly related. The $33,170 tilapia farm built in Belize was not built for a safehome and it was not built for an orphanage, it was built for a private missionary school called the Toledo Christian Academy (TCA), whose goal is “making disciples and lovers of the Word of God through a Christ-centered education.” Mangar and his wife, Juliana, manage and run the farm and academy, but an American Board of Directors based in Waco, Texas, oversees the school.
In Buchstaber’s original email, he explained that FFC had built the farm for the school in order to “help them care for kids in the surrounding villages through their feeding program.” But the school’s feeding program doesn’t feed kids in the surrounding villages; it feeds the students at TCA, who are already heavily subsidized by private donations. As Mangar began showing me the farm, he explained how it is being used to raise money, and how that money is spent.
“One of the reasons that Bucky and the others are so excited,” Mangar said, “is because the farm helps provide local funding to pay our teachers.”
“What about the feeding program?” I asked. “Bucky mentioned that. Who does that feed?”
Mangar: “The children.”
Me: “Children in the community?”
Mangar: “No, children in the school. We have more than 100 students, and every day the students get hot lunches. They have to pay a little bit for the hot lunch, but part of the supply of vegetables comes from the tilapia farm. That’s why what Bucky is doing here is extremely important. We did not have to pay a dime for what they did, and it’s providing a way for us to bring in funds so we can continue to have students get a quality education.” (This education includes using the controversial fundamentalist-Christian A Beka curriculum books, which cost TCA $8,000 per school year.)
During more than an hour spent with Mangar, he politely and thoroughly described TCA’s tilapia operation without once mentioning food or money from the farm going toward anything but the school itself. He did say that TCA had enrolled foster children in the past, and that private donations helped keep tuition low, but he emphasized on several occasions that the money raised from the farm would go toward helping the school become more “self-sustaining”—by reducing costs and helping pay for maintenance and growth. “What we are working toward right now is being able to sell 600 to 1,000 fish per month, and we sell each fish at $5 Belize a pound,” Mangar said. “With $5,000 a month, we could have scholarships for kids, send our teachers off to further their education, or different things we have envisioned for the future. Eventually, we want to duplicate the Christian academy in one of the other districts, so we’ll have a sister school.”
Mangar described how missionary groups from churches in the U.S.—like Calvary Chapel, in Mesquite, Nevada, and The River church, in Blacksburg, Virginia—come down every year to help work around the school—about six groups per year, usually with about 15 people each. “You should see people’s eyes open up when I tell them what we’re doing,” he said. “A lot of people are into helping churches across the globe become more self-sustaining—that’s kind of the movement that we’re seeing at this time.”
On April 18, 2015, TCA held a ceremony inaugurating their new tilapia farm, and the event was covered by Breaking News Belize. The story made no mention of Fly Fishing Collaborative or its efforts to fight sex trafficking. Nor did it mention the more than 30 grand that FFC put toward the project. But the story did quote then-principal Mangar: “The first persons to eat tilapias will be students and staff,” he said. “The rest will be available for sale.”
I asked Mangar how Buchstaber and the Fly Fishing Collaborative had selected TCA as the place to build a farm, and he told me that it began with a question from one of the missionaries. “This guy from Virginia, Todd Meyer,” Mangar said. “He came down with a mission-team and he said to me, ‘Emerson, what would you think about raising tilapias? Because I know some people who would be thrilled to come down and help you do it.'”
I FIRST READ ABOUT FFC in the winter 2014 issue of Revive magazine, which had a story called “Welcome to the Jungle” written by Buchstaber. The opening graphs gave a vague outline of how he and his wife had envisioned FFC, and ended with an inspiring realization: “Finally two years later it was this recent Thailand trip that proved that what we dreamed to do through FFC is actually possible. We did it!”
All this enthusiasm was intriguing, but the rest of the story was about overcoming fear and fishing for blue mahseer, which left many unanswered questions. “How much money was raised? Where did it come from? Where in Thailand was the farm built?”
Some details became available later, as Buchstaber began sharing the FFC story more broadly. Starting last summer, he began posting regularly on the Christian blog site, Saturate: “I took a much closer look at what I do when I’m not ‘at church’ and how I can use that part of my life to reach the lost,” Buchstaber wrote on July 18, 2016. “So one April night in 2014, I gathered a handful of my friends together in my living room to brainstorm ways we could include people from the fly fishing community in God’s great plan of restoration.”
When FFC began operations in 2013, its website listed two non-profits as beneficiaries of its fundraising efforts—Hear the Cry, based in Oregon; and Remember Nhu, based in Ohio. Hear the Cry, according to its website, “started in 2007 when one church in Portland [Westside: A Jesus Church] decided to give 10% of every dollar toward compassion and justice causes around the world.” But according to the Oregon Department of Justice, Hear the Cry is the church, operating under an assumed business name for A Jesus Church Family, for whom Buchstaber was formerly a pastor. “Hear the Cry would not be considered a separate legal entity from A Jesus Church Family,” an Oregon DOJ employee wrote to me. “It is more like an official nickname.”
Hear the Cry has two “field partners” named Jason and Brenda Sommer who, according to Mangar, did most of the heavy lifting on the FFC Belize project. “Jason did all the welding and Brenda did all the plumbing,” Mangar said. “They are both workhorses.” Because churches are exempt from the Oregon DOJ’s non-profit registration requirements, and because Hear the Cry operates within A Jesus Church, Hear the Cry’s financials aren’t public. But the Sommers were paid $20,000 in 2015 for their work with FFC. The husband-and-wife team is also listed on the donation page for Remember Nhu. (A lot of crossover exists between these four groups, none more so than for a man named Michael McDonald, who serves as board member for Remember Nhu, board member for Fly Fishing Collaborative, Executive Director of Hear the Cry, and Global Justice Pastor for Westside: A Jesus Church.)
Remember Nhu began in 2005 and aims to end child sex slavery through a particular kind of prevention. According to the group’s website: “When introduced to the incomparable love of Jesus Christ, children are introduced to a new and accurate vision of themselves. Nurturing children into mature disciples of Jesus Christ protects them from the sex trade.” Remember Nhu operates 70 children’s homes in a dozen countries and had close to $3 million in revenue in 2016. The group’s founder, Carl Ralston, gave a presentation at Fly Fishing Collaborative’s 2016 fundraising event at the Multnomah Athletic Club in downtown Portland. Ralston and his wife recently moved from Ohio to Oregon, where they also attend Westside: A Jesus Church. Ralston attends the Hood River Alliance Church as well, just east of Portland, and is a prominent member of its parent organization, the Colorado Springs-based Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA), otherwise known as The Alliance, whose $43 million “Great Commission Fund” finances more than 2,000 U.S.-based CMA churches and ministries. Alliance churches make up just one of the many evangelical church families that view exponential growth as their way of fulfilling God’s “Great Commission”—spreading the word of Jesus Christ to all nations.
This growth—often accomplished through “church planting”—is a central doctrine to the modern, hip, non-denominational, “emerging church movement” or “missional movement,” whose churches go by many monikers, including “seeker,” “apostolic,” and “charismatic.” While the tattoo-covered congregations these churches produce are sometimes mocked or criticized, and some of their bad-egg pastors exposed, the fact remains that church groups do much of the world’s important, essential caregiving work that governments are unable or unwilling to do themselves. This partly explains why minor transgressions by religious organizations are sometimes overlooked in the name of Big Picture virtue. But overlooked too long, and minor transgressions can become major atrocities. In 1998, one of the Alliance’s branches was found guilty of more than 20 years of systematic child abuse from the 1950s to the 1970s. Thirty alumni from the Mamou Alliance Academy in Guinea were found guilty of rape, sexual molestation, excessive beating, and sadistic dental practices performed without novacaine. The academy, which a 2010 article in Christianity Today described as “the Auschwitz of missionary kid boarding schools,” was the subject of the 2008 documentary All God’s Children.
AFTER BELIZE, on Feb. 26, I called Buchstaber to ask why so much money had been spent on a private school rather than an orphanage or safehouse, as indicated on FFC’s website and fundraising videos. “I was pretty confident that Emerson was going to set up a feeding program in the surrounding villages,” Buchstaber said. “I guess my bad is not following up as well as I should have.” He sent me an email later that evening: “Emerson is a great guy down there in Belize, with a heart of gold, but I was really disappointed to hear that he’s not doing more good to the surrounding community.” Buchstaber then added: “It would have been so nice for you to see some of our other farm projects that are much more anti-trafficking related.”
I agree, but only two other farm projects are listed on FFC’s 2015 federal and state tax filings (the most recent available)—Uganda and Rwanda, both in East Africa, which is harder to reach than Belize. And if FFC’s filings are accurate, and the Uganda and Rwanda farms are both “more anti-trafficking related,” then why did FFC spend more than four times as much on the Belize farm ($33,170), than on the combined amount spent in Uganda and Rwanda? ($7,584). To be clear: The point isn’t that 30 grand was spent on “disciple-making” in Belize; it’s that 30 grand wasn’t spent on fighting sex-trafficking in Belize, especially considering that the U.S. State Department’s 2016 “monitoring and combating trafficking in persons” report ranks Belize as a Tier 3 country—its worst rating—below both Uganda and Rwanda. (Tier 3 countries are described by the State Department as those “whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.”)
“That farm in Belize doesn’t define us,” Buchstaber told me. Maybe not, but nonprofits, young ones especially, are defined by actions not words. And of the $169,825 in 2015 revenue listed on FFC’s taxes—of which $83,783 went to “salaries, other compensation, and employee benefits”—the $7,584 spent on non-Belize tilapia farms represents less than 4.5 percent.
The morning after speaking to Buchstaber, I received a second follow-up email from him, again placing blame on TCA despite his role as FFC’s executive director. “When we talked of them [TCA] serving their local community with the farm we felt it was a worthy project,” Buchstaber wrote. “It’s hard to hear that they haven’t done much for their surrounding community. That pains me.”
Three hours later Buchstaber sent a third follow-up, only this time he changed his perspective and began defending various aspects of the academy: “Just to be fair about the project in Belize, TCA (the school that Emerson leads) provides free tuition waivers to many underprivileged/poor children that would not otherwise go to school because their families cannot afford it. I believe they also offer free meals to surrounding kids. I hope he told you all that.”
But Mangar had not told me all that, because none of that is true. I passed Buchstaber’s comments onto Mangar via email, and he promptly responded. “All primary school students in our district go to school, just not all of them to TCA,” Mangar wrote. “There are no ‘poor’ students withheld from receiving an education.” As to Buchstaber’s comments about TCA providing “free tuition waivers to many underprivileged/poor children” Mangar said: “Fees are waived as the need arises. If parents present their case to us and we see their need to be helped, then we remain open to waiver. At this time there is not a need for this.”
Buchstaber’s sudden about-face was surprising, especially considering our initial phone conversation. When I returned from Belize I’d emailed one of my friends in Punta Gorda, a guide for the Garbutts and a lifelong resident of the Toledo District who had told me a story about trying to get his son into TCA. “I sent him twice to take their test and they said he wasn’t qualified,” he wrote me. “And I know my boy is as smart or smarter than the average kid, so I’m not seeing them looking after underprivileged kids with those kinds of standards.”
I shared this story with Buchstaber over the phone and said that it didn’t sound to me like TCA was serving the most vulnerable kids in the community. “No, it definitely isn’t,” he answered. “It’s not a farm that we boast about and it’s not a good representation of our program. I’ll tell you that straight up.”
Why build it, then? Why did FFC choose to build, for only their second project, a farm that so obviously deviates from their stated mission? I asked Buchstaber, via email, about Todd Meyer, the man who’d first approached Mangar about the tilapia idea. “Todd is one of the supporters of the school,” Buchstaber replied, adding that when FFC took on the Belize project for TCA it was partly because “they, through Todd Meyer’s network, had some funds available to share the expense.”
Meyer currently serves as pastor for family ministry at the St. James Anglican Church in Cost Mesa, CA, but when the farm was being built in Belize he was the associate pastor for Church of the Holy Spirit in Roanoke, VA—sister church to The River, which has been hosting annual missions to Punta Gorda and TCA since June 2010. According to a 2013 blog post on Church of the Holy Spirit’s website: “The goal for these mission trips to Belize has been to develop a long-term relationship with TCA so that we can help them improve their facility, provide better training for their staff, help them to become self-sufficient so that they will no longer have to rely on foreign funds.” The post included a list of projects that had been completed at TCA by the missionaries, including building a new kitchen, replacing a roof, putting in a foundation, and sending two of TCA’s teachers on full scholarship to Liberty University, the Lynchburg, VA-based Christian college founded in the early 1970s by famed televangelist Jerry Falwell.
By fall 2015, another item had been added to Church of the Holy Spirit’s completed-project list: a tilapia farm for TCA. “One of the best kept secrets in missions at Church of the Holy Spirit is a little school named Toledo Christian Academy in the Southern part of Belize,” Meyer wrote in a November 2015 blog post aimed at recruiting members for an upcoming mission to TCA ($1,300 p/p). “We have been partnering with this school for over 5 years building relationships with the staff and community by doing construction on a new office building, building a tilapia farm, running vacation Bible schools, and more.” A post by Meyer the month before had noted that, “One large way that Church of the Holy Spirit has supported TCA is through the building of an aquaponic tilapia farm earlier this year. This farm is providing them with fish and produce that they can serve at school or sell for income.”
In other words, the farm is doing exactly what Emerson Mangar told me it was doing.
BUCHSTABER SHARED that he has at times wrestled with his relationship to the church, and that he set up FFC as a non-faith organization because he didn’t “want to just work with Christians.” He added that, “the heartbeat of Fly Fishing Collaborative is not to go out and make converts.” But FFC has thus far only been non-faith in its fundraising. The actual spending has all gone through evangelical groups that clearly state the growth of Christianity as their primary goal, which might be just fine with some donors but ought to be made transparent on FFC’s website regardless.
Buchstaber said that he is trying to work with more non-faith groups like Portland’s Sexual Assault Resource Center (SARC). Yet his own words show his struggle in keeping non-church friendships formed on the river separate from evangelism: “Working with the un-churched, mainly the Fly Fishing Community, has become the heartbeat of our organization, Fly Fishing Collaborative. How can we as Christian leaders in the marketplace make more room in our businesses for non-believers to join us in what God is doing?” he wrote this fall on the website, Saturate. “It is then, when they see the fingerprints of God in their jobs, and contribute to the good God is bringing to this world, they can see God for who He is; the natural response to that is surrender and worship.”
Tom Bie is the founder, editor, and publisher of The Drake. He started the magazine in 1998 as an annual newsprint publication based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He then moved it to Steamboat, Colorado (1999), Boulder, Colorado (2001), and San Clemente, California (2004), as he took jobs as managing editor at Paddler, Senior Editor at Skiing, and Editor-in-Chief at Powder, respectively. Tom and The Drake are now both based in Denver, Colorado, where The Drake is finally all grows up(Swingers, 1996) to a quarterly magazine.
Good piece of journalism there, Tom. I appreciate it.
Fascinating. There are several legit NGO’s doing good work in southern Belize focused on protecting the resources. Will you consider a follow up article?
This is interesting and it is disappointing that the Belize farm is not an orphanage. It may be worth reiterating that this was 2 years ago when this group was in its infancy. I know many of these people and trust the work they are currently doing (I am not a Christian either). Many of them are in Thailand right now building a farm that I hope & trust is more focused on their mission.
Zack, the point isn’t that the Belize farm “is not an orphanage,” it’s that it’s a private school, and FFC has spent the past four years telling people that their donations were going to something other than a private school. Fundraising goals for any nonprofit should be straightforward and sincere regardless of any religious affiliation. I’m well aware that FFC is in Thailand right now building a farm. And they’re there with ZOE International, whose goal is clearly stated on their website: “ZOE International’s vision is to fulfill God’s dream that every person on earth will know Him and possess eternal Life through Jesus Christ; and, that in lands where Christ is unknown, His love will be experienced, His Kingdom will reign, His Church will be built, His disciples will multiply, and He will be glorified for who He is.”
Again, maybe that goal is just fine with everyone supporting FFC, but why doesn’t FFC just say that up front so people will know? Why doesn’t ZOE International appear anywhere on FFC’s website and why are they not mentioned in any of Bucky’s Thailand FB posts or blog posts? I have nothing against Christianity, but if evangelism is the goal, then own it.
Faith based organizations do the majority of the needed work to help kids around the world. They are already in place, improving the lives of children around the world and offering safety and new opportunities. Simple fact. Opportunities are what prevent child-trafficking and poverty. Education is one very important avenue to new roads and opportunities for the abused and impoverished. If you have ever traveled to a 2nd or 3rd tier country, or just did a little research- you’d know that public schools offer little real educational value and are not supported by the governments as a priority and often even result in the physical abuse of children. Most of these countries children do NOT attend public schools, as private schools are the best and most available options. Even those living in poverty make private school decisions. “Private schools” are the norm, even for poor children. Uganda, for example is almost entirely educated by the “private school” system. But this phrasing has a completely different meaning there, than we in the U.S. understand it.
Partnering with existing organizations allows FFC to spend money on Farms… FFC can’t set up a new organization in every country that it wants to help children, the costs and management would be astronomical, and result in a much less effective impact. Therefore = FFC partnerships with existing organizations and yes, they are Christian based. But that doesn’t change the goal. The goal is still to help children. Maybe more non-christians should have organizations implemented and housing children in countries that need it, so that there are more options- instead of spending their time, money and resources writing critical articles that haven’t been well researched and are at very least short sided, with either an agenda or a lack of proper time into understanding what they are actually reporting.
ZOE is rescuing kids from labor and sex trafficking and work in the most intense cases in Thailand, along side the Thai police- rescuing children from brothels and organized crime labor rings, and preventing trafficking by providing housing to the most at-risk children. The protection of their work and the children that live there, is the VERY reason that you won’t see it plastered all over their own or FFC’s website.
perspective, your first sentence: “Faith based organizations do the majority of the needed work to help kids around the world.” is awfully similar to this sentence in my story: “The fact remains that church groups do much of the world’s important, essential caregiving work that governments are unable or unwilling to do themselves.”
You will get no argument from me on that point, but that point has nothing to do with what I wrote. My question is, why hide it? Also, “faith based” is not the same as “evangelical based,” in the same way that being a Christian is not the same as recruiting one.
You write: “If you have ever traveled to a 2nd or 3rd tier country, or just did a little research-you’d know that public schools offer little real educational value and are not supported by the governments as a priority and often even result in the physical abuse of children. Most of these countries children do NOT attend public schools, as private schools are the best and most available options.”
Sadly, all of this is true. But this doesn’t always lead to the outcome you are implying. If it is widely known that “public schools offer little real educational value” and that “private schools are the best and most available options” then how badly do you think parents want their kids to attend the private one? What might they do in order to make that happen? Maybe this will help: “A common form of human trafficking in Belize is the coerced prostitution of children, often occurring through parents pushing their children to provide sexual favors to older men in exchange for SCHOOL FEES, money, and gifts.” That sentence is from the 2014 US State Department’s report on monitoring and combating trafficking of persons in Belize, released nine months before FFC began building its farm for the Toledo school.
You write: “Therefore = FFC partnerships with existing organizations and yes, they are Christian based.”
I don’t know how many different ways I can say this, or how many different times I have to repeat it: I DON’T CARE THAT FFC PARTNERS WITH CHRISTIAN ORGANIZATIONS. I care that they hide it. I care that, in the case of Belize, this “partnership” led to FFC spending $30K on a school instead of spending it on what they said they were spending it on—fighting sex trafficking. Don’t mislead. Don’t misrepresent. Don’t lie. Don’t tell people that the money they are giving will be spent on an orphanage that saves kids from sex-trafficking when it’s actually being spent on a school that saves kids from becoming anything other than Christian.
You write: “Maybe more non-christians should have organizations implemented and housing children in countries that need it, so that there are more options- instead of spending their time, money and resources writing critical articles that haven’t been well researched and are at very least short sided, with either an agenda or a lack of proper time into understanding what they are actually reporting.”
Look, I understand that you want to defend FFC. I respect it, even. But I think we both know that the problem with my story isn’t that it wasn’t well-researched. It’s that it was. You just don’t like what that research shows. But you’re right about one thing: I definitely have an agenda. It’s just not what you think it is. I don’t claim to be an expert in Christianity or fighting child trafficking or grade-school options in third-world countries. But I know flyfishing guides, having been one myself for seven years. And I know how hard they work for that $500-$600. So when I saw that flyfishing guides were being solicited for donated trips, and were being told that every dime from those trips would go to “build sustainable aquaponics farms for safehomes and orphanages” when I knew—because I’d seen with my own two eyes—that their money was NOT being used for that, then yes, I acquired an agenda. Right or wrong, fair or unfair, it’s true that if Bucky Buchstaber would’ve started the Paintball Collaborative, then I never would’ve noticed. But I care about people who flyfish, and I care about the people of Belize. I’m not sure what you consider the “proper time for understanding what I’m actually reporting,” but I’ve been traveling to Belize for 17 years, and I’ve spent the past three of those years working on this story. Which is long enough to understand this: If you go out and raise $30,000 and tell people that it will be spent on fighting sex-trafficking in Belize, then you better spend it on fighting sex-trafficking in Belize. Because that problem, in that country, needs the money more than your church does.
I knew it! Thanks for digging into this Tom
That FFC promo video left me feeling the same way I did back in high school when a new “friend” invited me to a “fun little get together” on a school night with a few dozen other kids and a hip older couple. After about an hour of moderately fun activities came the moment when we joined hands and they began proclaiming their devotion to a deity. I was their captive and I had been duped! I didn’t like the way that whole experience made me feel one bit–and like I said that FFC video gave me a little bit of subconscious deja vu.
wow, real good work. unfortunately, not at all shocking; evangelism abusing trust through deception. i hadn’t heard mention of ffc since it’s launch and half-hoped you’d uncovered a cult leader whose disciples maintain his network of farms near the world’s best destination fisheries. turns out i wasn’t far off. except the fishing in rwanda sucks.
In an industry so fraught with self promotion and narcissism this is one of the few things that while not perfect is trying to make someone else situation better or possibly save their life. I would love to hear the rest of the story as you have only given part of it.
Dear Anonymous, if you don’t like the part of the story I’ve given, then you are really not going to like the parts I left out. But if you feel like sharing “the rest of the story” here, feel free to enlighten us all.
I find it very interesting that it required you only an hour long interview with Mangar, a few emails and some glances at general financial reports for you to believe that you have the whole picture figured out. I’d be very interested to hear about what you “didn’t include”… I would guess that it is more assumptions, based on 15% of the facts. A good journalist asks all the questions and establishes an understanding before reporting. That means more than just being nice and tipping the local young man who carries your bags and fishing equipment to your room, while you head to the bar for an after travel cocktail.
Misinformed is a nice way of describing this
article and your skewed perspective.
—Federal and State tax returns and Profit and Loss Statements are not “general financial reports.” The most important metric by which almost all non-profits are measured is how much of the money it raises goes directly toward its stated mission.
— It’s interesting that you choose 15% as the amount of my story that you feel is based on assumptions. As I point out in the piece, FFC spent $7,583 on farms in Uganda and Rwanda—two projects that, according to Bucky, were “more anti-trafficking related.” And FFC spent $33,170 on the school in Belize, which is not anti-trafficking related. So, of the $40,753 total spent on aquaponics farms that year, just over 15% was spent on FFC’s stated mission. The rest was spent on something else.
— You write that “A good journalist asks all the questions.” I couldn’t agree more. But if there was anything missing from my story it was not because the questions weren’t asked; it’s because they weren’t answered. Like you, I’d be very interested to hear what wasn’t included. So if you’d like to help fill in the blanks, you can start by asking Todd Meyer how much money his group put toward the Belize project, since that money was clearly a huge influence in FFC’s decision to abandon its mission and build a farm for a group that has nothing to do with fighting child trafficking. Here is his email: firstname.lastname@example.org (I emailed him the same question on March 21 but he didn’t reply.)
—Also, a few of you have asserted that my story was biased because it didn’t include enough about FFC’s current or more recent work, pointing out that the Belize farm was built “2 years ago when this group was in its infancy” and that I was “only reporting on work pre 2016.” So, in the name of completing “the whole picture,” feel free to ask Bucky or Jason (below) the following question: If building the farm in Belize in 2015 was a “misstep” or “oversight” or “misunderstanding” caused by a young but well-intentioned non-profit, then why is FFC returning to Belize next month to spend more time, money, and resources installing solar panels for the Toledo Christian Academy?
Tom I know this must have been a very tough story to write. And you probably will lose a few friends over it. But unfortunately this is not a surprise to me. This group was a local benefactor of the fly fishing movie that tours each year. I could never get a straight answer at the movie showings these past two years. As much as I enjoy the fly fishing movies I will not attend. I am OK with the hidden Church deal. But I am not OK about the lack of significant dollars going to its stated cause.
Tom, as a recent donor of FFC, I believe this article tells only part of the story I know to be true and that by you not digging deeper and only reporting on work pre 2016 does not highlight the amazing work FFC is doing over the last two years.While I may not see eye to eye with Bucky from a religious point of view, I can say unequivocally that FFC is making a difference in children’s lives today. I probably don’t see eye to eye with you on a lot of things either even though we both love fly fishing, skiing, climbing and both lived in Jackson and Oregon and share common friends. For someone who claims to have brought the fly fishing community together through The Drake, it sure looks like you are trying to divide it through an article veiled as a witch hunt. In my short time of knowing Bucky, I have never heard him in public or private refer to Christianity, Jesus, or God (even though I knew of his background) and I believe he has done something similar to you – brought together a very politically, socially and economically diverse fly fishing community around a global crisis that shows no prejudice towards religious, political, or socioeconomic status or background. My wife and I donate around 15% of our income to non profits especially around fish and land conservation. But we do not shy away from organizations that are clearly religiously affiliated even though we may not believe in the same thing the organization believes in. We give money because of the hard work that these organizations do for causes we believe in. To penalize someone who is making the world better in such a nasty period globally, why would anyone criticize that? I will be doubling my donation to FFC next year and will encourage all of my non-Christian or non-religious friends to do so as well. Tom, I hope that you are volunteering your time and giving a % of proceeds from The Drake to the poor communities where you spend so much time outside the US that desperately need it, as you pointed out in your article. I would encourage you to go to Thailand and FFC’s other locations and give us a follow-up article.
Ryland, I agree with almost everything you wrote, but did you read my story? Because you make many of the same points I made:
—”FFC is making a difference in children’s lives today.” I don’t deny that for a second. And if FFC’s slogan the past four years had been “Making a difference in children’s lives” then I never would’ve written what I did. But surely we can agree that “Rescuing kids from human trafficking” is a far more dubious claim, especially based on some of their funding decisions.
—”In my short time of knowing Bucky, I have never heard him in public or private refer to Christianity, Jesus, or God.” Precisely. Yet 100 percent of FFC’s funding thus far has gone to groups whose stated mission is proselytizing, evangelizing, and converting people to Christianity. Where FFC chooses to SPEND its money is not the point; it’s that FFC and its leader have not been candid about those choices while RAISING the money.
—”We do not shy away from organizations that are clearly religiously affiliated.” That’s good to hear, because I am in no way saying that you should. My problem is with groups, like FFC, that are UNclear about their religious affiliation, and go out of their way to hide it, especially when asking for money. If that were to change, and they were more forthcoming in their fundraising, then I would absolutely be willing to go to Thailand and FFC’s other locations and give a follow-up article, if they’d have me.
Lastly, you ask how I could criticize “someone who is making the world better.” First, a correction: I have never claimed “to have brought the fly fishing community together.” Others may have, but I have not. I don’t see that as my job. I also don’t see my job as being a cheerleader for the industry. Rather, I see my responsibility as informing, educating, and occasionally entertaining The Drake readers. And sometimes this requires being a journalist. I don’t deny that Bucky and FFC have done and are doing some good things. But Bucky, on the FFC website, on FFC videos, in his presentations and elsewhere—for the past four years, not just “pre 2016″—has repeatedly claimed that “every $15,000 we raise will provide a totally sustainable tilapia farm that will be built for an orphanage or safe-home.” Yet they spent more than $30,000 to build a single tilapia farm in Belize that has absolutely nothing to do with an orphanage or a safe home. So my question to you: How do I NOT criticize that?
Thanks for the article Tom.
I fully support what you are writing about in the article and in the comments you have made here. When I give money to a charitable organization, I want to see that money going to the cause/idea that they are supposedly fighting for. From the numbers you provided ~50% of revenue went to paychecks/benefits. That doesn’t work for me in a charitable organization. Top that off with funds not going to the advertised cause and now how much of my money is going to what I was lead to believe my hard earned money was supporting.
I hope the FFC takes a serious look at this and changes course. It’s a noble cause that they are trying to take on but it seems like they are more talk than action right now.
What you people don’t understand is that all salaries paid are raised separately from the aquaponics farm money. Individual supporters who want to see this work happen are supporting the people who are willing to go out and do the good work. Tom there are some things in your article that I agree with, like the need for better transparency to avoid misunderstanding, but there are a lot of pieces missing. I am a part of this organization and it is far from perfect, but great things are being done. Not just by the fly fishing community, but average people who want to see some kind of change in this world. Offering that opportunity to get involved,to the fly fishing community, is just part of the whole picture.
Tom, an excellent piece of work in a top notch publication. In the interests of defending FFC’s program in Belize, you rightly point out that the point of this is being honest about where the money is and isn’t going. In this case, the horribly tragic child/human trafficking issue feels to be sidelined by the critics and even FFC. It leaves me feeling that it was a convenient cause chosen rather than a true commitment to it by FFC. I hope your readers know that while this issue may not have been helped here by TCA/FFC child and human trafficking is still something that needs our attention. Ironically, when I started reading your article, I was thinking what a great cause that I can get behind but it will be another organization I will need to support.
Thanks for the great reporting. Well done, Tom.
Doing good, is doing good.
Tom – I recently saw a film by FFC at the fly fishing expo in Denver. Half way through the film a buddy leaned over and referenced this article in Drake (which I had not read at the time). The film alludes to helping children victimized by the human trafficking trade but didn’t go into any real detail about how they do that other than building the farm itself. It left me feeling “what’s next” and how is this sustainable. Unfortunately this article answers those questions and leaves me even more skeptic of the organization’s motives.
Lastly, I find it misleading that there was absolutely no reference to its strong Christian affiliation, which isn’t an issue other than the lack of transparency seems odd. Thank you for the informative read. Find a way to do a follow up on the Thailand project, the donors of FFC deserve it!