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David McKay - In Trouble Again
They first came to our attention during the 1981-82 Christmas season for the literature they were distributing to young people in Perth. We reported on them in June 1985. A group of young people, including a 12-year-old girl from India, walked across the Nullarbor, and were nicknamed the ’Nullarbor Walkers’. We stated then: ’We are concerned by the group’s current walk to prove God...if these walkers had been honest in their intentions they would have quietly crossed the Nullarbor without any prior publicity...it has become a publicity stunt to gain sympathy (plus money and provisions) and open the way to further youthful converts…Many Christians naïvely think concern about this little group is all “much ado about nothing” but there have been, and unfortunately probably will be some more, young people whose lives have been disturbed and negatively affected by this small cult. Families have also been disrupted and deeply hurt because of this cult. Small cults can be as damaging to individuals and families as large cults.’
Over the years, the group, led by David McKay, has accumulated a long list of publicity stunts from graffiti on Sydney subway walls to gluing money to pavements, grown men wearing giant nappies, to wearing robes and remaining silent in court. For McKay it seems that ’publicity is the name of the game’ — all with the purpose of attracting young people to his community with its Biblically distorted teachings and practices.
They gained considerable publicity over their kidney donation activities during 2002-2004, and were even dubbed the ’Kidney Cult’ by some of the media. Members of McKay’s group lied to medical authorities in order to make their organ donations to total strangers. When asked about the lies of group members to medical authorities, McKay acknowledged that it had happened, but said: ’I feel that’s their business…Wouldn’t you lie to save someone’s life?’
In June 2000, the group persuaded 16-year old Bobby Kelly, in Romford, Essex, England, to join them and renounce everything. As a result of their persuasion the vulnerable teenager tried to take and give away all his possessions from his room at his grandmother’s home, where he had been staying. She wouldn’t let him do this and he went to stay with the group. Concerns ultimately led to claims of him being ’kidnapped’ by the group and court orders for him to be produced. The group refused to ’surrender’ Bobby to the authorities, leading to contempt of court charges. Before he was found, the confused teenager told the BBC in a brief interview: ’I am very homesick. I miss my mum and my nan and my sister and a lot of other friends a lot, but it says in the Bible that you have to give everything up to work for God.’ He claimed members of the McKay group were the only ones who told the ’full story’ of the Bible. The boy was eventually located, hiding with a couple of members at a campsite. He was made a ward of the court.
The story caused quite an outcry in Britain. The main ’McKay missionary’ couple involved were Roland and Susan Gianstefani, originally from Melbourne. They have repeated their activities and troubles, but this time in Kenya, Africa.
In June 2005, Roland Gianstefani was arrested by Kenyan police and charged with the abduction of journalist Betty Waitherero Njoroge, and her seven-year-old son, Joshua. In July Susan Gianstefani was also arrested and charged with the abduction, but immediately released on bail, as was Roland. Betty Njoroge’s father, Fred Njoroge, a wealthy Kenyan, became concerned about changes in his daughter and the fact that she withdrew her son, Joshua, from school. Mother and son went to stay with group members, adding to family concerns and the ultimate abduction charges.
The extremes of McKay’s group led to extreme reactions on the part of relatives and time in prison for Roland Gianstefani, who, according to David McKay, contracted tuberculosis as a result of his imprisonment. The Gianstefanis had to surrender their Australian passports, which were then also cancelled by Australian consular officials. In September, the abduction charges over the disappearance of Betty Njoroge were dropped when she presented her affidavit at the court hearing, claiming she had joined the group voluntarily. Action was still pending late September over a Children’s Court case filed against the Australians by Betty Njoroge’s parents. In addition, the Gianstefanis have been seeking to sue the Kenyan Attorney General for compensation. It may take quite some time, yet, before the issues are resolved for McKay’s group in Kenya.
McKay and his extended family group have used, and been called, various names from: ’The McKays’, ’The McKay Family’, ’Dave & Sharon and the church which is in our home’, ’Nullarbor Walkers’, ’Nullarbor Kids’, ’Medowie Christian Volunteers’, ’Voices in the Wilderness’, ’Rappville Christians’, - just ’Christians’ and over the past few years: ’Jesus Christians’.
(From TACL Vol 09 #4 July/Sep 2005)