Baby-snatching charge spotlights African church

Believers say the Gilbert Deya Ministry -- located above an unmarked warehouse behind a gas works in south London -- is the scene of one of the most extraordinary divine miracles ever recorded.

But Kenyan authorities say it is an international baby-snatching ring, responsible for abducting more than 20 small children, passing them off as the miraculous offspring of infertile women, conceived through the power of prayer.

They have charged Mary Deya, wife of self-styled Archbishop Gilbert Deya, with stealing a baby girl from a hospital.

Two of the church's followers, Eddah and Michael Odera, have also been charged with harbouring an abducted teenager.

The allegations have exposed what commentators on religion describe as a murky world of money, politics and the occult that at times has hijacked an evangelical revival among Britain's burgeoning African diaspora.

Kenyan police found nine children at the Deyas' house in Nairobi and 11 at the Oderas. A Kenyan police spokesman said on Wednesday that DNA tests had shown all of the Odera children and at least six of the Deya children were unrelated to the women who claimed to be their mothers.

Investigators are also looking into four other "miracle babies", which the church says were born in Kenya to two British women of African descent. One of the women claims to have given birth to three of them in a span of nine months.

Two of the babies were brought back to Britain and are now believed to be in the custody of local authorities in London. The others are all in Kenya.

DNA tests have been done on 15 Kenyan couples who say they believe the children may have been stolen from them. The results are due next week.

Police say they are cooperating with immigration authorities in an investigation. The immigration authorities declined to comment.


In its office, the Gilbert Deya Ministry proudly offers DVDs of the Oderas, who it says gave birth to 11 "miracle babies", some at intervals of just two months.

The church headquarters in the south London neighbourhood of Deptford is at the end of a row of brick and concrete garages and warehouses, perhaps a dozen of which have been made over into evangelical churches and mosques catering to the African diaspora.

On a visit on Wednesday, a reporter made his way through the unmarked door, up a staircase and to the back of a corridor, to a large hall where perhaps 30 worshippers, mostly women, were clapping hands and swaying while a minister led them in a repetitive chant. One woman was writhing on the floor.

Church Administrator Chris Meregini said Deya was not available for interview.

Religion experts say unregulated churches have flourished among Britain's African and Caribbean diasporas over the past few decades, as established churches had difficulty luring believers with a different approach to worship than their own.

"English Christian cultural norms are not very close to African Christianity. There is no exuberance, no dancing, there is a very formalised style of hymn-singing, which is not likely to appeal to somebody whose cultural tradition is very different," said journalist Clifford Longley.

"It's a colder and chillier approach to worship than they are used to, and they like it hotter," he said. "I think it does make them more exposed to charlatans."

Politics and money -- or at least the appearance of wealth and political clout -- play a role.

Deya's Web site features photos and video of him meeting Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip, as well as snaps of Deya posing with his mobile phone next to his Mercedes.

It also boasts of his contacts with the Kenyan authorities, including what it says is a photo of a ruling party official accepting the Church's donation cheque. Now that they have accused him of stealing children, Deya is less friendly.

"The government has let me down, disgraced me and my ministry," he writes on the site. "May Jehova see them from his throne, may his anger fall upon them."