'I spent two days inside a cult and I can see why people join them.'

MamaMia, Australia/August 12, 2022

By Kelly Eden

“We were there for the entire weekend. You can’t make a community of 500 fake it for that long,” I argued. “It seems like a really peaceful place to live.”  

I could see the attraction for joining, but that was before recent news on what’s really going on at Gloriavale.

We’d moved to the West Coast of New Zealand for my (now ex) husband’s new head teacher position. Within a few months, he was assigned a student teacher who would spend a couple of months learning from him. To our surprise, the student was a young woman from Gloriavale, a local Christian Community who very rarely socialised with people outside of their community.

There was a lot of gossip around our town about Gloriavale and it was hard to know what was true.

Our friends told us things like, “They share everything. They don’t even have their own shoes.” But none of them had actually talked to anyone from Gloriavale, so we were sceptical. We knew how easy it was to spread gossip in small towns. After the first student left, a second Gloriavale student was assigned to my husband’s preschool. Both of them were friendly, bright young women and very capable teachers. As Christians ourselves, we got along well with them. When the opportunity came up for us to spend the weekend at their community with our two young children, we jumped on it.

We thought it was most likely a cult, but we wanted to make our own judgments about it rather than listen to the gossip.

I tugged at my borrowed ankle-length black skirt, wondering if it was modest enough. It was a little tight fitting, but I didn’t even own a long skirt or dress, let alone a blue one like the Gloriavale women wore, so my friend’s one would have to do.

We’d been asked to wear appropriate clothing. I packed a couple of loose-fitting tops, but wasn’t quite sure what to do with my long curly blonde hair. It’s not exactly subtle. The Gloriavale women all wear headscarves, so in the end I tied it back in a low ponytail and hoped it was enough. I wanted them to feel comfortable, and that we were being respectful of their culture. I’ve done the same in other countries, so it was no big deal.

When we arrived, our student friends welcomed us and introduced us to their babies and husbands. Then one of them took us on a tour of the creche, kindergarten, and primary school. We spent a few hours talking to the various teachers and playing with the children. The kindergarten was exactly like any other, but with stunning murals on the walls–scenes of the lake, forests, and animals, painted by local Gloriavale artists. One of the kids asked me to read to them and handed over a bible story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den.

I knew Gloriavale censored their media. They’d told us about movie night and how editors sliced out anything about divorce, affairs, or children disrespecting their parents.

“Some movies are lovely romantic movies if you just cut out the beginning!”

But as I read Daniel in the Lion’s Den, I noticed several blanked out words. Why would a bible story need censorship? I didn’t think it was polite to ask.

After our school tour, we were invited to visit the kitchen. It was huge and dozens of women worked happily and quietly inside, making everything from bread to homemade butter. I found myself shushing my own girls to match the quiet atmosphere.

“The teenage boys run the smaller community farm and bring us fresh milk every morning straight after milking,” an older woman explained softly, offering us a glass of warm creamy milk from a large bucket on the bench and an inch-thick slice of homemade bread spread with butter.     

After dinner, our hosts led us up to the second floor of one of the community’s large white hostels. It reminded me of church camp. Extended families, with aunties, uncles, and grandparents all live in rooms next to each other on the same floor. We were shown to a spare room set aside for guests on the floor where Hopeful Christian, the community’s founder, and his family lived.

Hopeful Christian had spent almost a year in prison in 1995 on sexual abuse charges and addressed the topic very early on with us.

He was surprisingly open. Hopeful did almost all of the talking and only looked at my husband, but I could tell why people followed this man. He had a powerful charisma and was clearly loved by his family. Although, I could imagine him being equally powerful if someone stepped out of line.

“You can’t be a Christian and live outside of a community,” he told my husband. “Eventually, you will struggle and fall away. It doesn’t have to be our community. There are a few others that are good. But you need to make yourself separate from the world to follow God well.”

My husband, normally a loud, charismatic, talkative man himself, nodded silently and listened.

While my husband talked with the community’s leaders, I spent time with some of the women. I could feel how the family support and lack of financial stress would be a huge relief for women raising their babies.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.Disclaimer

Educational DVDs and Videos