Police urge former members of secretive Christian cult to come forward after it is revealed young girls were married to older men, birth control was banned and children were terrified of the 'Elders'

Daily Mail, UK/April 28, 2015

By Daniel Piotrowski and Freya Noble

Former members of a remote Christian commune have been urged to speak to New Zealand police after one woman came forward to authorities.

Julia, a 22-year-old who was previously living in the Gloriavale Christian Community approached police last week, The New Zealand Herald reported.

Daily Mail Australia has previously spoken exclusively to one family who left the commune and revealed what life was like inside the strange world.

More recently Julia had spoken out about apparently being in a 'wrong relationship' with a married man ten years her senior when she was just 12 or 13, information which emerged amid claims of child abuse.

One other former member said although he would be open to speaking to authorities, he is concerned that any attempts by police to press charges may bring the close-knit Gloriavale community - lead by Australian-born evangelical preacher Neville Cooper - closer together.

'You never know what the results are going to be. If nothing's going to be solved, then the more you stir them up in the community, the closer they'll get together,' Elijah Overcomer told the NZ Herald.

'Even if you didn't agree with the place, you'd get together and try to work to defend yourselves.'

He also warned that it may simply cement ideas held by in those inside the commune that the outside world is evil, and trying to persecute them.

Last month a New Zealand family of fourteen walked out of the remote Christian sect, and are adjusting well to life in the wider community, a relative said, with the father accepting a farm job and the family moving into a home with modern appliances.

James and Hope Ben Canaan last month declared they were living in a 'false system' and left the Gloriavale Christian Community, located at Lake Haupiri on New Zealand's West Coast, with their twelve children and few worldly possessions. 

Founded by the Australian-born evangelical preacher Neville Cooper - now known by the name Hopeful Christian - Gloriavale is home to around 500 residents, sometimes known as Cooperites, who wear a plain, blue uniform and reject birth control.

The Ben Canaans fled some 300km south to the town of Timaru, where supporters from the Marchwiel Reformed Baptist Church community have helped them adapt to a world where Christmas and birthdays are celebrated and money is used to purchase goods and services. 

'(They're doing) really, really good,' said Mr Ben Canaan's aunt, Miracle, who herself fled the picturesque commune with her husband and ten children around six years ago. 

'They are adapting very well. They've got a job and everything. They've had a lot of support.' 

The Ben Canaans' close supporters have closed ranks around the family, who last month thanked the community for their support and requested privacy in order to 'settle into our new lives' in Timaru.

Sources familiar with Gloriavale, such as Miracle - one of Neville Cooper's ten children - discussed the challenges of adjusting to life outside the commune in general terms to Daily Mail Australia.

'There's just a complete struggle in the outside world,' she said, adding that she had 'nothing' when she left but 'managed to get away' from the community 'without too much drama'. 

'It's totally different to what you've lived before. 

'You know nothing of just normal, everyday stuff - like renting a home, insurance, any of those types of things. 

'Often people don't have their birth certificates or bank accounts. They don't even know how to spend money, how to buy things. 

'There's birthday parties, Christmas - none of that was practised in the community... It's huge, adapting (to all of that).' 

The Ben Canaans will now be able to readily access personal technology, like mobile phones and have a television which they can watch without restrictions. 

Instead, Miracle said they will now wear 'modest clothes'. The women in the family will also have to adjust to a world where make-up is worn regularly. 

Author Fleur Beale, who wrote the book Sins of The Father about the 1989 escape of Neville Cooper's son, Phil, and his family from the commune, said the biggest challenge the Ben Canaans would have would be financial, particularly given their 12 children. 

'You can imagine what it's like trying to find a place to live with a family like that,' Ms Beale told Daily Mail Australia. 

'You haven't been used to handling money or buying in a shop. And what do you wear?' 

The details of the Ben Canaans' departure from Gloriavale remain unclear. Miracle said the community was not surrounded with large walls, but: 'There are different types of walls... 

'Psychological walls as well as physical barriers, but no access to telephones and long driveways to be able to leave.'

A spokesman for the commune, Fervant Steadfast, told the New Zealand Herald last month the family had been permitted to depart. 

'If they want to go and live in Timaru, well, that's their choice and that's what they need to do.

'No one is here against their will. We only want people who want to be here.'  

What is Gloriavale? 

Nestled on the banks of the picturesque Lake Haipuri on New Zealand's rugged West Coast, Gloriavale is a Christian community of around 500 people who follow a literal interpretation of the New Testament.

The community, which isolates itself from the outside world, was founded by Neville Cooper, a Australian evangelist. Cooper moved across the Tasman in 1969 with his wife, Gloria, and their ten children to found a Christian community.

As its membership swelled, in 1991 they purchased land by the scenic lake to live off. Mr Cooper - a controversial figure who spent almost a year in prison on sex abuse charges in 1995 - would later change his name to 'Hopeful Christian'.  

Fleur Beale, the author of the Gloriavale book Sins of the Father, said the most striking thing about Gloriavale was the 'control those in power' - a group of elders - 'had over the ordinary people.'

'The women, particularly - it would be miserable to be a woman in Gloriavale,' Ms Beale told Daily Mail Australia. Birth control is non-existent.

'God wants you to get married and have as many children as you can. That's why they have big families.'

Residents are required to wear a uniform. Women generally frock up in long, blue dresses - 'every single day', a former resident named Miracle told Daily Mail Australia. 

Meanwhile, men wear neckties, dark blue pants and a light blue sleeved shirt. And while the personal use of technologies such as television and mobile phones is rare among 'ordinary people', Ms Beale said the community was 'very innovative', with extensive commercial operations.

Residents do not take any wages, but work hard for the community's dairy and deer farms. 

he community consists of more than 80 families, according to Gloriavale's official website, and they live together in large, communal hostels.

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