Karen Zerby

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Karen Zerby during a birthday party for Steven Kelly (2001)

Karen Elva Zerby
Aliases Maria David, Maria Berg,
Maria Fontaine, Mama
Maria, Queen Maria
Born 1946-07-31, Camden,
New Jersey, USA
Rank First-in-command
Present location unknown
Spouse(s) Steven Kelly, David Berg
Children Ricky Rodriguez,
Christina Zerby

Karen Elva Zerby (born in Camden, New Jersey on July 31, 1946) is the current leader of The Family International, a new religious movement. Zerby, a U.S. citizen, legally changed her name to Katherine Rianna Smith in 1997 and uses the pseudonyms Maria David, Maria Berg, Maria Fontaine, Mama Maria, and Queen Maria. Zerby is the mother of Ricky "Davidito" Rodriguez and Christina "Techi" Zerby.

Zerby joined the group, then called Teens for Christ, in 1969. After becoming a private secretary to David Berg (the group's founder), a sexual relationship between the two developed. In a prophecy titled "A Prophecy of God on the Old Church and the New Church", Berg explained that he had been told by God to leave his first wife, Jane Miller, who represented the "old church", for Zerby who became his soi-disant second wife and who represented the "new church".

With David Berg's health declining in later years, Zerby began to take a leadership role within the group. Upon his death in October 1994, she assumed full leadership of the cult and married her long-time partner Steven Douglas Kelly (who legally changed his name to Christopher Smith, and is known to members as Peter Amsterdam or King Peter).

Pre-incarnation and the fulfillment of destiny

Drawing of Zerby from The Humble Prophetess! (ML 1429)
Zerby and Arthur Lindfield on the cover of King Arthur's Nights!, chapter 8

Zerby has claimed that she preexisted and was among Jesus' favorite lovers in heaven before she came to earth. In prophecies published for her followers, Jesus tells her, "You are Maria of the End, the prophetess, the unlocker of the mysteries of heaven." (Heavenly Birthdays!, ML 3193, Para.87) She is told that her birth was a turning point in the history of life on earth, and that she was sent to Earth so Family members may partake of her beauty and purity. It is also claimed that she has the power to heal by supernatural means. (Para.72)

David Berg's spiritual mantle

In the later years of his life Berg made it clear that Zerby would command the group when he died. Following are excerpts of an internal publication compiled from Berg's writings on Zerby, which she had published immediately following his death.

50. My mantle & His Spirit will fall on Maria then. She's a Prophetess of God, she has been since the beginning. It was her messages in tongues that I first interpreted that got us started.

58. (Prophecy:) "The anointing of the Lord will fall upon you, & the mantle of David shall drape about thy shoulders, & thou shalt speak the Words of the Lord to My people, & they shall listen unto thee & heed thee & know that thou art the Word of the Lord. "

72. Maria is already my manager & tells me what to do. Of course, I get the inspiration & the anointing & I get the Words because I happen to be the channel right now. But when I'm gone, she will inherit that power & that mantle & she will be the channel.

83. (Prophecy:) "When thy David is taken from thee, thou shalt be known as a Prophetess, & thou shalt be heeded as the oracles of God, for thou shalt speak that which I shall speak unto thee in that day when he shall be gone from thee, & they shall listen to thy Words. They shall heed My Spirit, & thou shalt become as another one--as the Prophetess of God! "



Senior Family leadership including Zerby have long attempted to keep their photographs and legal names from common circulation (see Category:Secrecy). Although by now most of the group's members have seen photographs or video footage of Karen Zerby and Steven Kelly, their identities and location are still heavily guarded by members working closest to them. Prior to being released here on xFamily.org, recent photographs of Karen Zerby, Steven Kelly and most World Services (WS) members were not readily available even to fulltime members of The Family. This long-standing policy was changed to a limited extent in March 2005, a few days after The Family's discovery of photos of Zerby and other top leaders on this website. This marked the first time that recent photographs of Zerby were made available to the public in nearly 30 years.

Karen Zerby (2001)
Zerby & partner Steven Kelly
Zerby (left) & Barbara Emerson sporting wigs (2001)
Kelly & Zerby

Zerby at a leadership meeting in Thailand (2000)
Karen Zerby (circa 1970)
Zerby on David Berg's left in Tenerife (1977)

Family publications for children


The Maria Monologues

On a typical workday, Karen Zerby (known as Maria to group members) spends hours attending to Family-related affairs. Because of her position of spiritual authority within the group, her staff records her comments on a variety of issues. The Maria Monologues contain excerpts from the transcripts of these tapes, and provide insight into the inner workings of The Family as well as Zerby's character and leadership.

DISCLAIMER: The Maria Monologues are archived here for educational purposes. They are listed to document their existence and wording but we do not condone the points of view or activities.
  • PDFThe Maria Monologues #1
    “… having sex. It's pure to us, there's nothing wrong with it, so we let our kids be in on it, we let them get in on it if they want, we even play it with them because it's nice, it makes them feel good & they enjoy it.” —Maria. 1990-12-12
  • PDFThe Maria Monologues #2
    “I have a feeling that a lot of our Family are getting the idea, maybe only subtly or covertly, that what we have printed & what we have preached is wrong.” —Maria. 1990-12-10
  • PDFThe Maria Monologues #3
    Mene is trying to make Dad's sexiness look like the most evil thing in the world, when it's very normal & natural and common amongst many others in similar situations…” —Maria. 1994-01-11
  • PDFThe Maria Monologues #4
    “I guess it pretty much shocks us to see that we talked so openly about a child of under 11 having had regular dates with the men in the Home where she had been.” —Maria talking about Merry Berg (Mene). 1992-08-01
  • PDFThe Maria Monologues #5
    “If the Law of Love is right, then it applies clear across the board no matter what age it is.” —Maria. 1992-08-15

Public appearances

News from Mama and Peter

8. Mama and I would like to thank each of you for your faithful prayers for us. We depend on them and appreciate them more than we can say. They keep us going!

9. Thank you also for the many letters and personal notes you've sent to us this past year. Though we're not able to respond to each of you personally‚ we appreciate your correspondence and the time you took to share your suggestions, questions, ideas, burdens, and heartbreaks with us. Please know that you are in our prayers.

10. Last year was an especially eventful year for Mama and me. The Lord led us to do some new things that we've never done before—in particular, that Mama has never done before! In July 2002‚ the Lord told us to make a set of videos for the CM Family, explaining about our apostates' increased activity and plans‚ the warning of coming persecution‚ the need to prepare and fortify the borders of our tents, etc. While I've made some videos which Family members have seen before, the new twist this time was that our very own dear Mama appeared on the videos! Aside from one other time when Mama talked on video for a short time to the COs (September 2000), this was truly a first! And she did wonderfully, didn't she?

11. We were very happy that the Lord led us to meet the CM Family via video. Mama especially was thrilled about the opportunity to be closer to each of you in that way, and to share her heart and speak to you in person. This was a milestone event, and the reactions from you to these videos‚ and specifically to meeting Mama on video, are still coming in! God bless all the VSs‚ COs, and others who traveled long and far to bring the videos to you, those who set up meeting spots, and everyone who played a part in making it happen.

12. Another first was that the Lord led Mama and me to make a trip to the States in late October to meet several academics who have studied the Family extensively. While I had met a number of these academics before, they'd certainly never dreamed that they'd be meeting Mama one day! It came as a surprise to all—including us! What would we do without prophecy and the Lord's surprises?

13. We spent three hours with each academic in personal meetings, allowing them to ask whatever questions they had, and of course‚ also getting in a hefty witness in most cases. Mama really shone! She was bold and full of faith as she answered their questions and filled the academics in on the new moves of the Spirit, the Lord's latest instruction to the Family, and personal tidbits about her spirit helpers, relationship with the Lord, etc. It was a thrilling experience for Mama and me to be able to pour out in that way.

14. Here's a little report on our academic trip, written by Marc and Claire, who were a vital part of our team during our visit:

Mama goes public—prophecy fulfilled!

By Marc and Claire, NA media desk

15. The highlight of the year for both our ministry and personal lives was having the privilege of participating in what some academics termed a "historic event" for the Family, as dear Mama met for the first time with several academics who study new religions and who have studied and written on The Family! Our precious queen shone with the Lord's anointing, and several academics commented afterwards how young, vibrant, and beautiful she is. Amen to that—the Lord has given us a wonderful prophetess!

16. It was awesome to see Mama step into a new role of becoming more of a public figure, as the Lord had said in prophecy would come about through the keys. "For as times in the world change, so does the need for your anointing change. And while it has been fine for these many years for you to remain hidden in the shadows and to let the words of your lips and of Mine be spread across the world only through your pen and the missives which you have sent to My children, that time is changing. You will still send them your words and My Words on paper, but you will speak more abundantly, more prolifically. You will do so in person‚ and the time will even come when you will be set high on a rock, and many, many, many will see you and witness your anointing" ("More on the Keys, Part 3," ML #3354:116, GN 947).

17. It was thrilling to see Mama and Peter interacting with the academics‚ answering their questions, explaining about prophecy, spirit helpers, the keys, the board vision, and more with such clarity, conviction‚ and charm. Upon being invited to these meetings, one academic commented that this was most certainly a historical and outstanding move on our part, and of course would be for those being invited to participate. He, and several others, were awed that Mama would choose to meet the academics and counted the invitation a privilege. Another pointed out to us how exceptional these meetings were, as it is very rare that the leadership of a religious group will meet with academics who are studying them.

18. Almost all those who met with Mama said that the main reason they wanted to meet with her was to get to know her as a person and have some time to talk and interact. It was wonderful to see how relaxed the meetings were‚ even though this was the first time that Mama and the academics had met. Although there was a fair bit of discussion regarding research topics, there were also some lighter and even humorous moments, and it was wonderful to see how much fun everyone had together.

19. Several of the academics commented on how healthy both Mama and Peter were and how they "really looked good!" We have let them know from time to time about Mama and Peter's health and the prayer requests that we've received for them, so it seemed that some of them were expecting Mama and Peter to be in less than vibrant health, and had prepared themselves for that. It was a wonderful testimony to the power of prayer‚ especially regarding Mama's eyes and the fact that she was free to use her eyes normally during this time and didn't need to use her dark glasses in any of the meetings.

20. We felt privileged to be a part of this wonderful event in Family history and so blessed to have such anointed and wonderful leadership to lead us into the future through His miracle-working key power!

21. Another personal change for Mama and me has come about gradually through the restructuring of WS over the past two years, coupled with the implementation of the board structure. With others bearing more responsibility, and consequently more of the decision–making load, our own loads have been lightened. There's still more than we can keep up with, of course; however, we're not involved in many things that we used to be involved in. Others have been trained to carry more of the load, and this is a great blessing to Mama and me.

22. Beginning nearly three years ago, we initiated a restructuring of WS, as explained in "The Action Series!—Part 2" (ML #3301, GN 903, 4/2000). Since that time we have established departments to cover every ministry and function of WS. Each department has a department head who oversees the department and all the people who work within it. Breaking down the WS workforce in this way has enabled each department to become more streamlined, more efficient‚ and focused in their line of work. Committees have been established for all major areas of home life, which has provided the shepherds with more help in running the WS units, which in turn lightens their load and ours as well.

23. Now that the boards are in place, we're expecting to share even more of the load with all of you in the board structure. Thank you for taking initiative in implementing programs and providing support and counsel for the Homes in your area. We think you'll agree as you read the next two GNs of this series that the boards are accomplishing great things, whereof we are glad. Certainly Mama and I are!

Legal documents


  • House, H. Wayne (2000). Charts of Cults, Sects, and Religious Movements. Zondervan Publishing Company. ISBN 0310385512.
  • Lewis, James R. (2004). Controversial New Religions Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195156838.