Christian cult stole our kids, say parents

The Star, New Zealand/November 7, 2009

A number of parents are stuck in a desperate battle with a church in Durban's upmarket suburbs that they accuse of "stealing" and brainwashing their teens.

Calling Grace Gospel Church in Pinetown a "mind-controlling" Christian cult, the parents claim girls have been married to men they hardly know, chosen for them by the church.

The church is a branch of Church Team Ministries International (CTMI), an international Christian group with head offices in Mauritius.

The group's leader, Basil O'Connell-Jones, was sent to Durban from another CTMI branch, Selborne Park Christian Church in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, in 2003.

He is well known in charismatic Christian circles for his autobiography Amazing Grace, which details his time as a soldier in the then Rhodesian army and his near-death experience of being shot in the head and then overcoming the injury.

Now O'Connell-Jones is accused of ministering to many young people, aged between 18 and 30, and encouraging them to abandon their tertiary studies and careers and leave their families to live with him in his Hillcrest home or in other church leaders' homes.

CTMI is led by founder and televangelist Miki Hardy, who is said to live in luxury in Mauritius. The group is alleged to encourage its members to leave their home countries and go to the island to help build the Mauritian church and "serve the Lord".

Parents who have lost children to the group have formed the Concerned Parents Group, to fight the church.

They tell of how, when pastors initially approached the Grace Gospel Church with their concerns, including the church's aggressive recruitment of children from their churches, they were called "pathetic Pharisees", jealous of the church's secret doctrine, which no other church apparently has.

CTMI is considering suing the parent group for defamation, for calling it a cult and for accusing it of kidnapping children.

But the parents are undeterred. They believe that any court case would lift the lid on the church's activities.

Keith Brown, who was part of a team of members from other churches at a meeting with GGC leaders, says a CTMI leader bluntly told them: "Jesus did not come to bring peace in families but a sword".

Brown says his eldest son Stuart (then 27) was diagnosed with cancer in 2006 and died in a hospice after being cared for in church leaders' homes because the leaders "felt uncomfortable visiting Stuart in our home".

Steve and Heather Goddard, of Kloof, say their daughter, who they did not wish to name, has been a member of the church for almost three years and started avoiding her other Christian friends "in favour of members of Grace Gospel".

Anthony and Romaine Chaplin, of Durban North, say their son had been a top pupil at Kearsney College before going to study at the University of Cape Town.

Last April, he abandoned his studies to go to Mauritius.

The parents have now set up a website - www.ctmi - with stories about their children and links to websites about dangerous cults and the characteristics of cults.

"This church has brainwashed our children. They are encouraged to reject their biological families and their studies and will more than likely be pushed into an arranged marriage," says one of parents.

But O'Connell-Jones's daughter Kara-Jane and her husband Richard Seynisch have defended the church, saying they are like any other young person in their age group.

"My life started and ended with drinking, clubbing, fornication and all other 'youthful lusts' that surrounded me," she says. "Then, during my first three weeks in Mauritius, I was bowled over by the light, the joy and the freedom that was so evidently oozing out of the people in the church."

But Melany Wood, 21, who attended a youth camp in Mauritius at the end of 2007, says: "People there are blinded. They are so struck by this church that they cannot see reality."

Another girl, 22, who wished to remain anonymous left the church in high school after she had questioned the teaching.

"I've seen my good friends, girls of 18 and 19, give up their dreams because the church labelled them 'worldly' and 'of the flesh'. They've had their lives mapped out for them, and some of them have been married off to men who were chosen for them by the church - guys they hardly know."

Leaders of the GGC did not wish to respond to the allegations. "CTMI is a non-denominational missionary organisation with thousands of members across 25 different countries. We do not wish to be involved in the dispute between four families and their relationships with their children, all of whom are major citizens.

"We have chosen therefore not to reply to any allegations against us and to leave it to the young adults themselves to address the issue, as they are the ones who are directly concerned," they said in an official statement to the Saturday Star.

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