26 Oct 2010

Dad reaches out to sect child

The New Zealand Herald - April 12, 2009

by Anna Leask

A New Zealand father of six is desperate to give a 16-year-old daughter he has never met the chance of life outside a religious sect that still has his former wife in its grasp.

Phil Cooper escaped the sect, a Christian community set up by his father Neville Cooper in 1989 - bundling his five children and wife Sandy into a waiting car in the middle of the night.

The family fled to the United States, but after three years Sandy returned to the community, then based in Cust, North Canterbury, and was later joined by one of their daughters, Dawn.

Phil Cooper raised the remaining four children - Israel, Tendy, Crystal and Andreas - on his own. Unbeknown to Phil, Sandy was pregnant when she left America and his daughter Cherish's existence was kept from him until she was a toddler.

He went to confront his father, Neville Cooper, who has served a jail sentence for sexual assaults within the community, hoping to take Cherish away with him, but was ordered to leave. Now all he wants is to give his daughter the option of freedom.

Although Cooper helped his father build the community, he planned secretly to escape after becoming increasingly worried about its religious "brainwashing", he said.

Two years after Cooper left the community, his father, known to his followers as Hopeful Christian, moved the group to the South Island's West Coast and named the new commune Gloriavale after his late wife.

Contact between Cherish, Cooper and the four children who live with him has been "totally impossible", Cooper said. At one stage son Israel was in brief contact with his younger sister through internet service Skype.

Then, last month, came a phone call and Cooper heard Cherish's voice for the first time.

"I picked up the phone and it was her on the other end ... I quickly said before she hung up: 'Dad loves you and would love to see you.'"

Cherish is currently in India with her mother and grandfather at a school the community set up.

Cooper has written a book, Sins of the Father, about his experiences.

The Gloriavale community produces Pure Vitality deer velvet, exports fishmeal and sphagnum moss products worldwide, runs a plane charter service and operates the only fixed-wing and helicopter maintenance company on the West Coast.

Commune leaders at Gloriavale did not return calls from the Herald on Sunday.

This article was found at:



New Zealand Father tells of rescuing kids from West Coast cult

Survivors in New Zealand documentary, How To Spot A Cult, reveal similar tactics used by cults with different belief systems

1 comment:

  1. Family of 14 walks out on Gloriavale religious commune

    by Kurt Bayer, New Zealand Herald March 11, 2015

    A family of 14 have walked out on a West Coast religious commune to start a new life after concluding they had been living in a "false system".

    The family left cut-off Gloriavale Christian Community in Haupiri at the weekend.

    They are staying with a family 300km away in Timaru and setting about reintegrating into society.

    "It's a huge deal for them to stop wearing their community clothes and so they are going to transition slowly," said Liz Gregory, who is putting up the family.

    When word of their bold move went around the South Canterbury town on Monday, donations soon began flooding in.

    The family are said to have been "blown away" by the generosity of the local community after being gifted clothes, furniture, household goods, books and toys.

    Two days ago, Mrs Gregory appealed on her Facebook page - which has since been deleted - for donations to help the family get back on their feet.

    The team set up to help the family - known online as the Ben Canaan family - are no longer seeking donations after the massive response.

    Supporters are no longer going ahead with plans for a Givealittle fundraising campaign.

    However, the father James, who managed Gloriavale's self-sufficient dairy farm for 20 years, is seeking a job. The family also need a vehicle, said a spokeswoman who is helping them.

    She said the family was "not interested" in speaking to the media today.

    The reclusive Gloriavale Christian community, which currently has more than 500 members, was founded in 1969.

    It relocated from its original site at Cust near Rangiora, where it was known as the Springbank Christian Community, to Haupiri on the West Coast in 1991.

    But it has attracted much controversy over the years, particularly through its leader Neville Cooper, also known as Hopeful Christian, who was convicted of sexual abuse in 1994 and spent 11 months in prison.

    There have been reports of several large families leaving the settlement in recent years.

    However, with no birth control, the population is said to be still flourishing.

    "This family came to believe that they were in a false system and have left 500 of their family and friends (the only ones they've ever known)," Mrs Gregory said.

    "Hugely courageous ... they are very excited about starting life out here.

    "They are feeling blessed, but are aware of the road ahead of them.

    "The family are in great spirits, which is incredible, because what they have done is massive.

    "There have been a couple of other small families leave in the past year, and it's a tough road ahead, but this is a great community."

    James and Hope Ben Canaan today thanked the Marchwiel Reformed Baptist Church and wider Timaru community for helping them reintegrate back into society.

    "It's been quite overwhelming and we offer our sincere thanks to everyone involved," said a statement released by the family.

    "At this time we are requesting privacy so that we can settle into our new lives."