Cult or ‘radical Christianity’?

2010-07-17 00:00

A GROUP of parents have raised concerns over weekly church meetings in rented space at Northern Park Primary School in Pietermaritzburg; according to the group, the meetings are conducted by a cult based in Mauritius.

Church Team Ministries International (CTMI) has come under the spotlight recently after allegations surfaced that the group encouraged youngsters to abandon their lives and studies in South Africa to join the organisation in Mauritius. People as young as 19 left their parents for Mauritius, where they were married by the head of CTMI, Miki Hardy.

Families whose children have become involved in the group created the CTMI Concerned Parents’ Group (CPG) in 2009.

According to the CPG, news began emerging of heartbroken parents whose children, seemingly obsessed with the group, displayed a change in attitude towards the homes and churches where they had grown up.

“Soon afterwards, they left home either to live nearby in CTMI homes or leave for Mauritius.”

Some of CTMI’s practices and the behaviour of many members have been identified as “cult-like” by experts in the field.

CTMI’s Durban affiliation, Grace Gospel Church, recently began operating in Pietermaritzburg, to the distress of the CPG.

Since then, members of the CPG and Northern Park Primary have been in discussion.

CPG’s Keith Brown, who said he lost two children to the group, said the CTMI was asked to stop meeting at Pinetown Boys’ High School after concerns were raised. “We are hoping discussions with the Pietermaritzburg school will yield similar results. We do not want others to share our experience, as we have seen the damage CTMI caused in our homes,” he said.

Among the allegations levelled against CTMI is that Hardy’s wife, Audrey, facilitated the sterilisation of women in the group.

“… Audrey strongly encouraged several couples among the leaders to get sterilised so that we would be more free to serve the church and receive people to live with us,” said Patrick Monasie, a former CTMI leader from Mauritius.

Monasie said that under the group’s influence, he persuaded his wife, now estranged, to undergo the procedure. She has been unable to forgive him since.

Members of CTMI and its affiliates have denied the CPG’s claims, saying the group has a vendetta against Hardy and cares little for its so-called “lost” children.

Grace Gospel Church leader Basil O’Connell-Jones said he has nothing to say about the CPG.

“They are on a big mission and are full of nonsense. I am not going to respond to their claims.”

AT their parents’ request, some young people involved in CTMI worked with local pastoral therapist Sean Semple. Semple’s research showed the following trends:

•An increasing involvement in the life of Grace Gospel Church to the detriment and exclusion of hobbies, previous commitments and friends and family.

•A dramatic change in study and career plans, usually in favour of study or work for CTMI.

•A loss of independent and critical reasoning.

•Stilted conversation heavily dependent on church jargon.

•A “flattened” and artificial affect, notably non-spontaneous, “robotic” responses.

•Growing arrogance and judgmental attitudes towards people outside their church, even to the extent of paranoia.

•Growing deceitfulness.

•Increasing aggression in response to being challenged about the church.

•An obsessive conviction to move to CTMI’s building project in Trianon, Mauritius.

ALTHOUGH Grace Gospel Church’s (GGC) website confirms meeting “regularly on Sundays and during the week” in Pietermaritzburg, local pastor Graham Anderson said this is not the case.

Anderson — who has led the congregation meeting at Northern Park Primary for 10 years — said that although the GGC is invited to address the Maritzburg congregation five times this year, there is no definite link between the two groups.

“And anyway, it is incorrect to call them a cult.

“These kids have simply become radical Christians, but people seem to have a problem with this,” he said.

LIKE most newly-weds, Levi (24) and Hayley Page (20) and Keegan (25) and Liezl O’Connell-Jones (21) appear at ease with their better halves, exchanging glances and smiles.

Both couples are active members of Grace Gospel Church and lived and worked at the CTMI headquarters in Mauritius for extended periods.

The big difference between these four and other young married couples is that they never dated and never had a conventional boyfriend-girlfriend relationship before they were married.

“It’s something people really have trouble understanding, to the extent that we have been branded as a cult,” said Keegan.

“But we tried to live holy and pure lives by not dating like ‘the world’ says you should,” he said.

According to the four, they did not need to “date” to find their matches.

“God knows who he has for you, and you need to listen to him. I knew Hayley was the one for me because I just felt a peace in my heart about her,” Levi said.

Hayley’s parents have publicly voiced their concerns about her marriage and involvement in the church.

“My parents, who are members of the CPG, will tell you that I have been brainwashed and that I can’t think for myself,” said Hayley. “The truth is I have been convicted by God, and have chosen to live for him; something they have not accepted.”

The young women also denied being forced to put their studies on the back burner.

“Nobody forced us to do anything,” said Liezl, whose family had hoped she would attend medical school in Cape Town. “When the Lord has a different plan for your life, that is what you should follow,” she said.

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