CAROLINE JONES: Hello I'm Caroline Jones. Tonight a story that poses the question: how far someone should someone reasonably go to save the life of a perfect stranger? Ash Falkingham is a young Sydney man who's decided to go to Canada to donate his kidney to a seriously ill woman he's only just met. Since his mother found out, she's been desperately trying to stop the surgery.
KATE CROFT, ASH FALKINGHAM'S MOTHER: It's like having my son surgically extracted. I have made a donation. I'm living on one organ.
CAROLINE JONES: This is the story of the Falkingham family, a group called the Jesus Christians and a guru called Dave.
ASH FALKINGHAM, "JESUS CHRISTIAN": We call it bin raiding, getting the food from the bins. But the most popular term is dumpster diving. Part of the way that we try and live simply as a group is getting a lot of our food from the discards from supermarkets and groceries, taking that food and eating it. It sounds very disgusting if you're hearing it for the first time. But it's actually a surprising indicator of the level of, you know, the level of affluence and the level of waste, the level of apathy in our society.
ROBIN DUNN, "JESUS CHRISTIAN": It's like a lucky dip, it's exciting, you know, you don't know. It's kind of like hunting and gathering. You just go out and see what you can find. And sometimes you're lucky and sometimes you're not. It's probably a good idea to keep an eye out, you know, like for security personnel, they may like hassle you a bit, but the other thing of course is that they might lock the bin up. You just try and get in and out as quickly and surreptitiously as you can.
ASH FALKINGHAM, "JESUS CHRISTIAN": Basically the Jesus Christians believe that what Jesus said, he meant; that we're supposed to follow the things that he said in the gospels; that when he said, woe to you who are rich, and blessed are you who are poor, that he meant that you know; that we shouldn't be just accumulating wealth for ourselves.
DAVE MCKAY, "JESUS CHRISTIANS" FOUNDER: When we looked at the teachings of Jesus, it became clear to us this whole attitude towards money was fundamental. You either serve God or you serve money, well let's serve God. Which kind of put money, you know, over where it should be. That if it was going to come, it had to be God that brought it. We were not going to seek after it. And you know, you could say it's voluntary poverty, but it might be voluntary abundance really. And what we've found is that we probably, looked on from the outside, we don't have much. But viewed from where we're at, because we're ready to take nothing, we get quite excited about practically every meal, that it's part of God's provision. And I went a little bit further with that and said, well look if a Christian is somebody who follows Christ, what would happen if we just let Jesus tell us what to do? And what would happen if people actually obeyed him today? And that became the basis of our beliefs.
CHERRY MCKAY, "JESUS CHRISTIANS" CO-FOUNDER: So in the early days we were considered like a Christian youth group doing outreach to kids on the streets, kids meaning 18 year olds. The criticism that's associated with the group has really only been happening since we were labelled a cult.
DAVE MCKAY, "JESUS CHRISTIANS" FOUNDER: Six or seven years ago something happened that has had a lot of repercussions as far as the community is concerned. I was on a plane from LA to Sydney and they had a movie called "A Gift of Love." and it was about a boy, a true story, about a boy who donated a kidney to his grandmother. And I was not even aware that you could do such a thing. Can I actually donate a kidney to help somebody? The idea of actually saving somebody's life, this is like the ultimate, you know, that I could actually save somebody's life was amazing. Even if it was only one, it was something I wanted to do because that's what we Jesus Christians were all about is trying to help people.
Excerpt from "Kidneys for Jesus" Channel 4 UK - 2003:
JON RONSON: It's February 2002 and two Jesus Christians, Robin and Casey, are going to donate their kidneys to strangers …
(End of Excerpt)
ROBIN DUNN, "JESUS CHRISTIAN": When I first heard about kidney donation I thought, wow, that is a great idea. I mean I thought it really fits in with the way I think. It's something I want to do. I thought it was radical. I am kind of used to Dave bringing up radical ideas. I didn't think, I knew that the general public was going to freak out.
DAVE MCKAY, "JESUS CHRISTIANS" FOUNDER: I think we'll be the kidney cult for sureyou know, ‘cause we’re chopping people up and selling them for spare parts.
(End of excerpt)
ROBIN DUNN, "JESUS CHRISTIAN": I was one of the first people to donate kidneys. There were no non-directed kidney donations allowed in Australia, so we really had no alternative but to look overseas if this is what we wanted to do.
DAVE MCKAY, "JESUS CHRISTIANS" FOUNDER: So I became I think the fourth one to donate over there. I think it's up to about 19 now that have donated.
We've got about 30 members. Membership is at this stage is mostly in Kenya, England, America and Australia.
ASH FALKINGHAM, "JESUS CHRISTIAN": I'm 22 years old. At the time I was 19. I'd just almost completed my first year of graphic design. I was walking down this long tunnel and at the end of the tunnel there was a guy handing out books and no-one was stopping for him and even though I was in a rush I stopped and said, "Oh, you know, what is this?" It was this book called "Survivors". It was just very, sort of rational. Saying look, you get a lot of people talking about prophecy. Whether it happens or not the main message is that God's in control and this whole thing that we can work for what we believe in and like, work for God rather than for money, was the thing that I was going through at the time. And to see it in this book, was, yeah was like a reassurance, but also something that made me want to get in touch with the people handing it out.
KATE CROFT, ASH FALKINGHAM'S MOTHER: Ash and I had a happy family situation, and it was special because there was just the two of us for a long time and we were friends. Ash was interested in normal teenage things. He strove to be Christian in his thinking and in his living and I think that's one of the reasons people would always say what a good boy he was.
ASH FALKINGHAM, "JESUS CHRISTIAN": I went with the graphic design with the expectation that I would work in advertising once I finished.
And as I got into it, I really started to think, well, what am I really doing here, you know? Like what I was being taught was the actual ways of manipulating people's minds, you know? It was around that time that I met the Jesus Christians.
NICK CROFT, STEP-FATHER: He announced that he'd met these really nice Christian people and they were great guys and he'd been helping them distribute tracts, and he thought they really knew how to live for God. But when he started telling me about some of their, some of the particulars of their belief system, I heard alarm bells ringing.
KATE CROFT, ASH FALKINGHAM'S MOTHER: I guess that the talk of giving kidneys was certainly one thing that seemed bizarre. I'd never heard of such a thing before as being something you would associate with a particular group. We went away on holiday, we came back and found Ashwin's possessions gone. We found a note on the table with a key to the house, saying that in these early days, it's recommended that contact be limited to email. We didn't see him for 18 months when he first left.
NICK CROFT, STEP-FATHER: It seems like it's part of McKay's practice to make the new recruits cut off their ties with their friends and their family, the places they're familiar with. It didn't even occur to us that they would have got hold of his money and it wasn't until about a week later that we got a statement back from the bank showing a nil balance.
ASH FALKINGHAM, "JESUS CHRISTIAN": Yeah when I joined it was a matter of just, you know, getting rid of my, all the stuff that I had. We had a big sort of garage sale to sell off all the extra.
DAVE MCKAY, "JESUS CHRISTIANS" FOUNDER: When a person joins the Jesus Christians, whatever money they have they put into a common fund within the Jesus Christians. Because it is an organisation where nobody works in a job, we don't get much money and most of the people who join us don't have much money.
NICK CROFT, STEP-FATHER: I thought, well, I'll get on the net and see what I can find out about these people.
KATE CROFT, ASH FALKINGHAM'S MOTHER: And we would be shocked and we would be alarmed and we would be enraged at some of the things that we learned; things that we learnt about what had happened to people in the past.
(Excerpt from "Kidneys for Jesus" Channel 4 UK - 2003):
JON RONSON: One day, she says, Annette just vanished with her children after meeting a Jesus Christian …
(End of excerpt)
NICK CROFT, STEP-FATHER: Since I've been studying them in detail, I've noticed a few things that have happened around the world, quite alarming little reports. There was an alleged kidnapping in England.
BRITISH NEWSREADER: The 16-year-old has been found safe and well. He was living in a tent in a Hampshire forest …
(End of excerpt)
NICK CROFT, STEP-FATHER: Then there was a strange event in California, I think, of Dave receiving some whipping from a member. He did this as a kind of vicarious punishment for some incident that had occurred.
(Excerpt of footage from a Fox News report showing Dave McKay being whipped):
DAVE MCKAY, "JESUS CHRISTIANS" FOUNDER: What’s important is that a statement has been made, that we feel very strongly about this …
(End of excerpt)
KATE CROFT, ASH FALKINGHAM'S MOTHER: It is hard to believe that Ashwin fell for this. You thought no one can really fall for this stuff. And you couldn't possibly fail to see that you're really not getting much done with your relationship with God by doing what you're doing for this group. But here we are and he's doing it.
DAVE MCKAY, "JESUS CHRISTIANS" FOUNDER (to members gathered in lounge room): During the listening time, what we're trying to do is to empty our minds of any ideas we have about anything, really.
DAVE MCKAY, "JESUS CHRISTIANS" FOUNDER: I try to fall asleep every night listening to God, asking God to speak to me. It's not quite the same as sort of picking up your mobile and saying, "Oh God, which way shall I turn at this intersection?" But it's a feeling that where we need that little extra push to make the right decision, it'll be there.
DAVE MCKAY, "JESUS CHRISTIANS" FOUNDER (to members gathered in lounge room): If anyone had any dreams they felt were significant they can share that as well.
KATE CROFT, ASH FALKINGHAM'S MOTHER: Every day you've got to debrief everything you do with the leader. What have you dreamed? Let me interpret it for you. Is something bothering you? Let me set your mind at rest. Is there something you don't understand? Let me explain it.
DAVE MCKAY, "JESUS CHRISTIANS" FOUNDER (to members gathered in lounge room): … The lesson is that if you're doing the wrong thing, even if you try and make it look good, it's still going to be bad."
KATE CROFT, ASH FALKINGHAM'S MOTHER: So that the members of the group have group beliefs and group responses to things that really an individual needs to think out for themself and respond to themselves.
ASH FALKINGHAM, "JESUS CHRISTIAN" (to members): Basically there was a meeting of atheists, a convention. I went along to, you know, just to see what they're up to …
KATE CROFT, ASH FALKINGHAM'S MOTHER: Does it seem like he doesn't always think his own thoughts? Yes, it seems like he doesn't always think his own thoughts. Does he seem like he doesn't always behave in the way he might be expected to behave? Yes, very much. If that's brainwashing, he's brainwashed.
DAVE MCKAY, "JESUS CHRISTIANS" FOUNDER: So yeah the brainwasher, the cult, all those kind of terms that come are very prejudice terms. But there's not easy answers to getting rid of them because there is some truth in each of them. We are teaching, but it's no magic, you know. It's not like, look into my eyes you know, and then you're gone, you're a zombie.
ASH FALKINGHAM, "JESUS CHRISTIAN": After I joined the group, a couple of people in the group that I knew donated kidneys, and I saw this positive experience. They helped someone in a really positive way. They saw this person recover. I saw what good could be done. And I also saw that they weren't really adversely affected by the operation. I decided to do it because I like positive things that can be done to help people, that has the potential to really change someone's life. The point for me is being willing to offer a hand, even if it’s going to cost me something, figuratively offer a hand, offer a kidney I suppose. There are basic risks, like risks that would happen with any major surgery: a risk of infection; there's a risk of internal bleeding; there's the risk of a collapsed lung; there's a remote risk of death. It's roughly equivalent to the risk of death in childbirth, which is I think appropriate because in each one it's sort of giving a life really for a life.
NICK CROFT, STEP-FATHER: I don't think it's a good idea to donate your kidney. I wouldn't like it if he donated a kidney and then he had an injury of some kind. It's sad about those people with kidney disease. It would be nice if their own families made the sacrifice for them. It might be selfish of me, but I just don't want Ashwin to have any trouble later.
KATE CROFT, ASH FALKINGHAM'S MOTHER: I was aghast, I was living in a world of aghastness! I think I said the same thing I've said to him consistently: "I support you in what you're doing always. I believe that you're doing all the wrong things for all the right reasons." I mean, kidney donation itself isn't so bad, it's something that everyone should do more of, but it's not something that you would want someone to do as an act for Jesus. I do feel that Ash has been pressured. I'm certain that the pressure to donate a kidney is one of the many pressures involved in being a member of this group. I would say it's a cult. I would say it's a sect. I would say it's a madness. I would say it's a lot of things. And yes of course Dave is the guru of the Jesus Christians.
ASH FALKINGHAM, "JESUS CHRISTIAN": I wouldn't say he is a guru. If Dave says something, do we all jump off a cliff? No. It's basically what we're trying to do is follow our own conscience. I don't feel that I've been pressured into donating at all. Perhaps people might see me as, you know, young and naïve and idealistic. I see it as a small thing. There are six billion people on the planet, and helping one is just, I think it's just human nature. When I tried to donate a kidney in Australia there was this legal sort of hurdle that I had to get over of forming a long term friendship with my recipient and so that's why I am going to Canada, going overseas to donate.
And the woman who I am planning to donate to at the moment in Canada, her brother has actually died of the same kidney disease that she has. There's a website called Living Donors Online, and Sandi wrote into this website. She hasn't been too concerned that it's perhaps an unusual way of meeting a donor.
NICK CROFT, STEP-FATHER: We know he's going to Canada, but he won't tell us when or where it will happen.
ASH FALKINGHAM, "JESUS CHRISTIAN": I think it will be interesting to meet with Sandi for the first time. Obviously I have sort of developed a friendship with her over the email.
SANDY SABLOFF: The hospital actually sent a letter indicating that this operation would take place on April the 30th and I was alternating between being a nervous wreck and being really thrilled and excited and happy and so on, and just sort of preparing for this. And Ash was laid back, as usual.
DAVE MCKAY, "JESUS CHRISTIANS" FOUNDER: Ash has been very fortunate in that Sandi has an insurance policy which will cover your basic expenses. Sandi's condition, well I think with anyone who is suffering from kidney disease, it just progressively gets worse. Her doctor is pushing her fairly heavily to go on to dialysis.
He feels that she is kind of pushing the limits as far as trying to get by with the kidney just functioning at its own limited capacity. So the kidney is folding down, and it's really time for her to get the transplant now.
ASH FALKINGHAM, "JESUS CHRISTIAN": My stepfather is definitely against the operation and I believe that he would also, you know, take any lengths to stop it if he knew that he could.
NICK CROFT, STEP-FATHER: Recently we decided to get in touch with the Ministry of Health in Ontario, to see if we could stop this organ transplant happening and I pointed out that later on, Ashwin might feel that they were responsible for not picking up that he was being coerced into this and they might like to look into it.
The general thrust of it was that Ashwin was with a person calling himself a friend who in fact was a manipulative cult leader, who was coercing his members into donating kidneys.
ASH FALKINGHAM, "JESUS CHRISTIAN": Thursday morning and I just got a call from the hospital that it has come to the attention of the hospital administration that they are, something like, utilising the kidney of a Jesus Christian, and they want to postpone the operation and review the, I don't know what but, review the assessment.
SANDI SABLOFF: I think what upset me an awful lot was the fact that here we went through a whole process with total honesty, telling them everything that was occurring with us and the Jesus Christians and so on, we held nothing back.
DAVE MCKAY, "JESUS CHRISTIANS" FOUNDER: The real problem is not the hospital. I'm not real happy with the way the hospital has responded but the real problem came from that informant, that anonymous person who is out there to sabotage the operation, for whatever reason. We have some ideas about who it is, this is a nasty piece of work.
KATE CROFT, ASH FALKINGHAM'S MOTHER: We're looking for Ash and looking for that happiness that we had before he left. It's like having my son surgically extracted. I have made a donation to Dave and I'm living on one organ. I have made contact with former members. All of the ex members have written to Ash saying for God's sake, get out because you'll just feel dreadful about this later. You'll look back on it and wish it really hadn't happened.
DAVE MCKAY, "JESUS CHRISTIANS" FOUNDER: But it still is frustrating for us to have to go through this extra bit of complication simply on the basis of our religious beliefs. Really when you get down to it, that's all it is. It's purely and simply religious beliefs.
We have an agenda, and our agenda is to try to get the public more aware of how easy it is to donate and save another person's life and we're hoping that our example will inspire other people to do the same thing.
ASH FALKINGHAM, "JESUS CHRISTIAN": I just got another update from the hospital and they are looking to appoint a psychiatrist who specialises in the field, you know something to do with informed consent and whether I'm under undue influence.
All this done in the name of ethics becomes unethical, stopping someone from doing something that they really think should be done. Hopefully it's not going to be the end of the whole thing. That would be terrible.
It's been 10 weeks now since I first got into Canada, into Toronto, and still the hospital is stalling for time. It feels like they're hoping that I'll go away. They're hoping that either Sandi or I will run out of patience or run out of resources to continue staying on here, which is obviously incredibly frustrating for me and probably more so for Sandi because her health gets worse the longer this thing gets dragged out. And we're seriously looking now at how we're going to fight this stalling tactic.
KATE CROFT, ASH FALKINGHAM'S MOTHER: Recently Ash has now informed us of his exact location which is wonderful. He gave us the address, and more recently the phone number as well, so it's great that we can have full contact with him. Well actually I admire some aspects of the way Ashwin is going about what he is doing. His determination to see this through is something I'm very proud of. I'd like to see another task he completes being finish his relationship with the Jesus Christians, and take up a life of his own, where he makes his own decisions and does live freely.