10 Nov 2010

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

Voxy.com New Zealand November 11, 2009

Inside New Zealand: How To Spot A Cult

Cult-like groups are on the rise in New Zealand. Now the two-part Inside New Zealand: How To Spot A Cult documentary uncovers what really goes on inside these often controversial groups. Inside New Zealand: How To Spot A Cult kicks off on Wednesday, November 25th at 9:30pm, and concludes on Wednesday, December 2nd.

Inside New Zealand: How To Spot A Cult gives viewers an intimate view of what life is like inside groups that some former followers say are cults operating in New Zealand.

"These former members have consistent stories about how the different organisations actually work," explains producer Gary Scott, "and the techniques they say were used to control them, even though the belief systems can be miles apart."

"The modern rise of cult-like groups is not something experts can easily quantify, but there is a proven trend away from mainstream churches, towards other forms of spirituality. There has been a lot of talk about Destiny Church, since the covenant of 700 followers."

The two-part documentary consists of ex-believers' stories, and investigates the similarities they say exist between groups including the Exclusive Brethren, Scientology, Centrepoint, Gloriavale, Avatar and the International Church of Christ.

The documentary includes abuse survivors who have never spoken before, including the first ever interview with a young woman born into the controversial Centrepoint commune, the first of her generation to speak out.

How To Spot A Cult also features Ualesei Vaega, a New Zealand survivor from Waco, Texas, where an FBI seige ended with the death of 86 followers of David Koresh in a devastating fire.

"As you would expect, the effects of something like Waco are deeply traumatic," Scott continues. "Ualesei Vaega's story is even more powerful because he witnessed Koresh go down the path of collecting guns, having sex with young girls, and yet Ualesi came back to New Zealand even though people around him were too deeply brainwashed to make that key decision to leave."

Ualesi Vaega lost his brother, sister in law and many good friends in the tragic fire. As the documentaries show, a similar armed stand-off was only narrowly avoided in New Zealand at Camp David, a walled compound north of Christchurch.

"The scary things about Camp David," says Scott, "is that when the police raided their weapons stockpile, the members were hidden and watching them arrive through rifle scopes. Many of those guys had military training. Even today, some say there is still a stockpile of weapons buried on the West Coast."

How To Spot A Cult will reveal all this as well as the tactics cult-watchers and academics say should warn people that a group may want total control of their followers' lives.

Make sure not to miss the first instalment of this two-part documentary when Inside New Zealand: How To Spot A Cult - Part One screens on Wednesday, November 25th at 9:30pm on 3.

This article was found at:



New Zealand Father tells of rescuing kids from West Coast cult

Dad reaches out to sect child

New Zealand research provides valuable insights on the psychological impact on children growing up in cult communes


  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."


  2. Gloriavale: Two couples tell of leaving religious cult

    By Scott Yeoman, New Zealand Herald April 20, 2015

    Gloriavale leader reacted angrily when challenged over sex abuse conviction.

    Two young couples who quit the Gloriavale Christian Community have revealed what it was like living in the West Coast religious community, and why they left.

    Rosanna Overcomer and her husband Elijah spoke of the lives they had while under the rule of Gloriavale leader Neville Cooper.

    Also known as Hopeful Christian, Cooper has been the leader of the isolated community for over 40 years. He served 11 months in prison in 1995 on sexual abuse charges.

    Mr Overcomer says he was kicked out of the community when he started to question Cooper two years ago and refused to submit to his rule.

    He told TV One's Sunday programme that he asked Cooper about his sexual abuse charges, and if it was right that he was a leader in the community.

    '"Do you think it's right that you're a leader here?' Because as far as I knew, the scripture said that [the leader] had to be blameless outside the church as well. Obviously no convictions like that anyway, and he said I had no right to ask him those kinds of questions.

    "He puts his hands on my head and says, 'Elijah, in the name of Jesus Christ, you've got evil spirits in you'."

    Mrs Overcomer was a member of the Gloriavale community for 27 years. She left to be with her banished husband with their three small children and a fourth on the way, but said it took "a long time to get all that indoctrination out".

    "Basically they just told me there was no way I could be with my husband," she told the Sunday programme. "He was 'evil deceived, full of the devil. You're damning yourself and your kids. There's no chance for any of your family if you go as well'."

    She said they had no phone, or contacts on the outside.

    "So we were basically going to go out, take a tent, then go from there."

    They got a lift to Christchurch, and when the car broke down, a stranger offered to lend them his own.

    Mrs Overcomer's sister Joy Courage also left the community in late 2013 with husband Mordecai.

    They told the Sunday programme they left the commune after their secret relationship was discovered.

    Sunday reported last night that a total of 65 people have left in the past eight years, including 22 in the past two months.

    The rest of Mrs Overcomer and Mrs Courage's family are still living inside Gloriavale.

    Sunday approached Gloriavale for comment and they replied in a statement:

    "We do not make comment about other people or accusations they make about us to the media.

    "Our trust is in God and he is still on the throne. His judgements are righteous."

    Inside Gloriavale

    The Gloriavale Christian Community has more than 500 members and was founded in 1969. It is located at Haupiri, inland from Greymouth on the West Coast. It relocated from its original North Canterbury site in Cust (where it was known as the Springbank Christian Community) to Haupiri in 1991. The community is totally self-contained.


  3. Gloriavale 'needs to be shut down' as secretive sect goes on the defensive

    TVNZ, April 29, 2015 Source: ONE News

    Concerned Kiwis are calling for the Government to intervene and shut down the Gloriavale "cult", as a former member says the religious sect will now be in "defence" mode to protect their way of life.

    Yesterday, police called for residents of the West Coast Christian commune to reveal their experiences in light of new allegations by ex-community members of brainwashing, physical punishment and sexual abuse against girls as young as 12.

    ONE News reader Daniel Bestic said: "Gloriavale needs to be shut down. Immediately. Horrible brainwashing and forced marriages are not something our country should allow to continue."

    Posting to the ONE News Facebook page, Deb Leete Meads feared another Waco, referring to the violent siege of a religious commune in Texas during 1993.

    "No more hanging about, nor being polite, storm it," she said.

    Claudine Wharekura Kingi Murray called on CYFS to "do your job" and "protect the kids".

    Tanya Eade agreed: "It's a cult and the children are pretty much brainwashed as they know of no other way of life. I agree something needs to be done."

    As scrutiny surrounding the isolated commune increases, former member Elijah Overcomer, 26, also said Gloriavale's 16 leaders will now be in "defence" mode.

    Speaking to the Timaru Herald he said the secretive sect will now justify how "bad" the outside world is, after television crews and a former member tried to gain entry into the compound.

    "It probably wasn't the best thing to do. It will only put those living there on the defensive."

    Mr Overcomer is married to former Gloriavale member Rosanna, who recently told TV ONE's Sunday about her 27 years of living a life of submission and fear.

    “They really do seriously believe that if I walk out of there I’m sending myself and my kids to hell," Rosanna said.

    "They turned on me like a pack of wolves," she said about the group and Gloriavale leader Neville Cooper, who was convicted for indecent assault and served two years in prison during the 1990s.

    About 25 ex-Gloriavale members now live in South Canterbury.

    Police added yesterday that they did not need a complaint against Gloiravale to act, but information would help in future investigations.


  4. Men groomed to have underage sex in Gloriavale ex-member says

    by ASHLEIGH STEWART, The Press May 1 2015

    Gloriavale's men are "groomed" to have sex with underage girls and should not shoulder the blame, the granddaughter of the commune's leader says.

    Another former member has revealed that girls who put on weight were verbally abused and forced to fast.

    However, Karen Winder insists underage sex is "not rampant" inside the West Coast commune and only occurs in isolated cases.

    More than three decades after she left the commune with her family, she has become one of the unofficial points of contact for families leaving the commune.

    Winder has just spent time with the Ben Canaan family, who have begun making their new life in Timaru.

    The commune has been under intense scrutiny after former members came forward with accusations of brain-washing, p hysical punishment and sexual abuse, including against girls as young as 12.

    "These children are growing up in an environment where sex is celebrated. The leader thinks that 13 or 14 year old girls are ready to have babies - there's no child rape going on," she said.

    "A 23-year-old is not necessary totally culpable for his actions, because he's been groomed for it."

    Hopeful Christian, formerly known as Neville Cooper, is Winder's grandfather. Her family were founding members of the Springbank Christian Community near Cust, before it outgrew its original property and moved to the Haupiri Valley to become Gloriavale.

    They were also one of the first ones to leave.

    Since then hundreds have left and the number leaving had "intensified" in recent years, Winder said.

    More members were gaining access to the internet on the inside and realising the outside world was not as evil as they had been told, more were rebelling against the leaders and more families were wanting different for their children.

    She does not doubt many surfacing stories of sexual abuse are true.

    While she herself was never abused, her best friend was embroiled in a relationship with a man in his late 20s when she was 15.

    "She left when she was 15 and her moral compass was so far off it wasn't funny. She was a stripper within weeks - she had no value in herself."

    It was important to note underage sex was not the norm in the commune, Winder said, but "a few isolated cases with a few guys who can't keep themselves together".

    contained below

  5. Sex was also viewed differently there.

    "They've grown up sharing a bedroom with their parents - you're there when your parents are having sex, they don't see it as a gross thing."

    On Tuesday, police called for ex-Gloriavale members to come forward and discuss their experiences at the community and the West Coast's top police officer visited the following day.

    Area commander Inspector John Canning told the Greymouth Star it was a "social visit" to make himself known and it appeared to be "business as usual" at the community.

    Winders said police intervention may feed into the commune's paranoia and force them to withdraw further to where "no one can hold them to account".

    Girls were hesitant to go through court cases if the men would not be reprimanded, she said.

    Hopeful Christian was sentenced to six years prison on eleven charges of indecent assault in 1994 but the Court of Appeal quashed the sentences and his convictions and ordered a new trial.
    He was found guilty on three charges of sexual abuse on young community members at his second trial in December 1995.

    With her time at the commune long behind her, Winders has found happiness.

    "[Life is] brilliant. I have four children, I am happily married, I attend church and I have a life of freedom, where I get to make choices for myself."

    Other ex-members spoke to Campbell Live on Thursday night.

    The twin sisters, who weren't named, said they had experienced sexual, verbal, and physical abuse in Gloriavale.

    One was "shunned" and kept in isolation at age 14 for having a relationship with a boy.

    She was put in "the hut" - a shack in the bush - for four weeks.

    Child abuse was "not unusual", she said.

    "My dad used to beat us all the time, for no reason.

    "I never knew why. You'd go home and dad would be angry and the first thing he'd do was get a stick and start hitting you."

    They were forced to fast because the leader considered them overweight, her sister said.

    "If there's a girl putting on weight the amount of insults they get, it's incredible."

    She said she and some of her friends were sexually assaulted.

    "It was the same young men who were doing it to me, were doing it to them."

    Their nine siblings were still inside Gloriavale, and the girls said they were constantly worrying about them.


  6. Gloriavale: The Hopeful Christian interview

    As the storm clouds gather over Gloriavale, Jehan Casinader is allowed inside the West Coast sect for the first interview with its controversial founder Hopefulby Christian in nearly a decade. Is it a secluded sanctuary, or an abusive cult?

    by JEHAN CASINADER, stuff.co.nz May 3 2015

    "Did you know", Hopeful Christian whispers, "that some medical vaccines contain the embryos of aborted fetuses? Did you know that? Aborted fetuses. That's what they put in them. Right? Now, tell me this: why on earth would anyone want to vaccinate their children?"

    He pauses to take a sip of homemade apple juice. I'm having dinner with Christian inside Gloriavale, the fundamentalist commune he founded two decades ago. Back then, he was Neville Cooper. These days, he prefers to be known as "Hopeful". The 88-year-old remains the patriarch of Gloriavale. He's a father or grandfather to many of its 530 members. This is his home; his 1,700 hectare dominion.

    "Living out there in the world, you don't really know how selfish you are," he tells me, before asking whether I'm married and have children. Not yet, I tell him. Christian turns away, looking visibly aghast. He glances around the room at the faces of other Gloriavale leaders. There is awkward silence. The other men look away too. Eventually, Christian muses: "But why not? You're over the age of 16, aren't you?"

    A group of young women dressed in blue frocks and white headdresses wait on us as we eat bacon and eggs. Christian is delighted when the girls assemble to sing a song. He gazes at them from underneath his big bushy eyebrows and exclaims, "Aren't they wonderful?" They sing their last notes, then quietly return to the kitchen.

    Chocolate cake drenched in raspberry coulis appears on the table. I glance at a noticeboard that hangs in the dining room. A handful of short newspaper articles are pinned to it. "Evil twin found in student's brain," screams one headline. "Wills and Kate won't stop at two kids", reads another. There are articles about earthquakes, floods and disasters. One piece describes how an American man fired bullets at his computer screen after seeing the "blue screen of death".

    Twenty-first century technology is not part of the Gloriavale lifestyle. The community, its leaders say, is an idyllic paradise; a safe haven, tucked away from the wicked woes of the world. However, some members are leaving. They swear Gloriavale is in fact a trap for impressionable young people who know no other family, and no other way of life. So, which is it? Is it possible, perhaps, that Gloriavale is both a haven and a hell?


    On a clear autumn day, you can imagine the hills around Gloriavale singing. The small township is surrounded by acres upon acres of lush green farmland. The view of the dairy fields is a welcome sight, after a two-hour drive from Hokitika. I expect to be greeted by the children of Gloriavale, kitted out in their modest blue attire. If I'm honest, I expect to see a scene from The Sound of Music.

    But on this cold afternoon, the hills around Gloriavale are not alive. It has been raining. Mist rises off Lake Haupiri. As I drive towards the community, with my Seven Sharp cameraman in tow, the only sign of life is a plume of smoke rising from the small township. The storm clouds are gathering in more ways than one, and the leaders of Gloriavale know it.

    continued below

  7. To my surprise the gates are wide open. The rental car crunches its way up the gravel path. Outside the main office, Hopeful Christian sits in the driver's seat of an old teal Purgeot, his door ajar. He wears a hearing aid and a polar fleece riddled with big holes. When I introduce myself as a journalist, he stares blankly for a few seconds, then sighs, to no one in particular: "They just won't leave us alone".

    It has been a bad fortnight for Christian. Former members of Gloriavale have gone public. Some claim they were forced to have sex there at the age of 12. Others say they were starved, physically assaulted and put in isolation. Just hours before I arrived, Police released a statement, asking former members to come forward. It's an unusual step, but it's not the first time Gloriavale has caught Police attention. In 1994, Hopeful Christian was jailed for indecent assault against young members of Springbank, the previous incarnation of Gloriavale.

    "All the children, sitting up, please!" says Christian, as he picks up the microphone at breakfast. "And away we go, then! Our hands are together and our eyes are all closed. Nobody is looking around. Remember, we're talking to our father in heaven. He can see us and he knows everything we're thinking."

    The children's eyes dart between Christian and their plates. They are clean and fresh-faced. Clean living, says Christian, is the Gloriavale way. Caffeine is considered a drug. Alcohol is a no-no. Antibiotics are used sparingly. The locals prefer to use natural products to build up their immune systems. There are bottles of cod liver oil on the tables.

    "We live by faith," continues Christian, as the children start to mumble and fidget. "Let us live in faith today. Don't just carry it in your head or in a little prayer book or in a cross around your neck. It's something you must carry right through your life."

    Half of Gloriavale's members are under the age of 15. Much is expected of the young people who live here. At 4am, girls are in the kitchen, making bread for breakfast. Everyone is expected to contribute to the running of the township. They are expected, too, to pursue married life. Having a large family is seen as a sign of prosperity, and contraception is deemed a form of abortion.

    "Our expectation and aim is that our young people come to marriage as virgins," explains Fervent Stedfast, a senior Gloriavale leader. "I would say you have the greatest collection and concentration of virgin young people here than anywhere in New Zealand, whatever people might think or say. Now, everyone must make their own choice. No one's a robot … [but] that would be the normal thing here."

    As Hopeful Christian takes me on a walking tour of Gloriavale, he makes it clear that the young people are expected to "grow up" when the time is right. He points out that at the age of 13 or 14, males are able to reproduce. Many Gloriavale teenagers get married after they turn 16, and start their own families.

    "Purity is a virtue," he says. "We are not rearing homosexuals here. They were not born that way. That is not the way they were made. We believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. That's the way it is meant to be."

    continued below

  8. Gloriavale has its own school. Christian is particularly proud of the construction of a new, cavernous building. It is being assembled by the men and boys of the community. During class time, the children are learning about Latin prefixes. There are posters on the wall which debunk "evolutionary fantasies". A quote on the wall says: "The best mathematics is that which enables us to count our blessings."


    Hopeful Christian says blessings are plentiful in Gloriavale, but if people do not want to receive them, they are free to leave. The reality is, those people have no financial means to leave. They do not have their own money or transport. They are isolated. Some of these people have had no experience of the outside world.

    So, what of the families who have left the sect? Christian places the blame squarely on them. He describes them as "weak".

    Christian says some of those people wanted to enjoy the "benefits" that Gloriavale offers, without being willing to contribute. He accepts that many people have departed Gloriavale, and reveals that some have done so in the middle of the night, with the assistance of outside parties.

    And yet, the community's leaders refuse to answer specific allegations made by ex-members. "We are here, not to argue or fight or justify ourselves," says Fervent Stedfast. "We are here to follow Christ and do what he wants us to do … This is how we live. If people want to leave, they can leave. If people out there want to live the way they want to, they can."

    In the world of Gloriavale, criticism doesn't particularly matter. It doesn't matter that ex-members are giving tearful interviews on national television. It doesn't matter that, on Friday, Police set up a private hotline for people to contact them with information about Gloriavale. It doesn't even matter that the name 'Gloriavale' has been whispered around every water cooler and coffee machine in the country this week.

    "Jesus Christ is coming back one day soon," announces Fervent Stedfast at meal time. "Jesus will come, just as that earthquake came the other day. Some time around morning, the building rattled. It will be just like that when Jesus comes back. We won't be expecting it. He will come to catch us just as we are. Let us all be ready."

    What matters to the people here is that the sun still rises. That the young girls are awake early to bake bread for breakfast. It matters that the young lads pick up their tools, to keep building their new school. And perhaps most importantly, it matters to them that Hopeful Christian continues to guide his flock.

    As I began the long drive out of Gloriavale, I was stuck by the simplicity of their outlook on life. It is pure. It is plain. And ultimately, it could prove to be Hopeful Christian's undoing.


  9. Return to Gloriavale set to divide viewers

    by KEITH SHARP FOR TV GUIDE, August 8 2015

    It took years of negotiation for Amanda Evans and her team to persuade the leaders of Gloriavale Christian Community on the West Coast to let the cameras into their world to make a documentary about them.

    The first one, Gloriavale: A World Apart, looked at the community as a whole and also covered the marriage of two of the young members, Paul and Pearl. It was an eye-opening experience for Evans and her team, who had never encountered a reclusive and highly organised religious community on this scale before.

    "I think the first time I went to Gloriavale I was quite intimidated," Evans says. "Everyone was probably on edge a bit. Until you get a measure of the people you are going to be working with, there's always an element of uncertainty, even a little mistrust, on both sides. However, over the years we've come to build a relationship that's founded on straight-talking and by doing what you say you're going to do. Actions speak louder than words. These days it's like catching up with friends. There's a high level of respect on both sides and they are incredibly generous people in my experience."

    While the first documentary showcased a marriage in the community, the second focuses on birth and death – spiritual subjects at the best of times, but in a place like Gloriavale, ones that assume intense religious significance. Evans says the community leaders placed few constraints on the filming of the subjects, apart from issues of modesty, which is a priority for its members.

    However, one thing that cannot be ignored in all this is the controversies that have swirled around Gloriavale following a number of media exposes – notably a TV One Sunday report in April – sparked by members who have fallen out with the community leaders and have left Gloriavale, saying life there is not what it appears to be.

    Evans defends her approach in light of all such reports. "I've been producing broadcast TV for 34 years now and I think I have a pretty good internal barometer for picking up on phoneys and any dodgy dealings," she says.

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  10. "I honestly get no sense of that at Gloriavale. This isn't an investigative piece and I see no need to fossick about looking for any historical issues. This is a take on Gloriavale in the here and now. I do feel for people who believe they have been abandoned or fallen out with the community. This happens with many faiths including The Salvation Army, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and some Brethren. Shunning is nothing new and historical claims of abuse, though painful, have been brought against many faith groups, especially Catholics for example.

    "Some of the issues raised by the Sunday programme got headline coverage for incidents that happened more than 25 years ago in the Springbank Community (the forerunner to Gloriavale), and the person concerned was duly prosecuted and punished. It wouldn't even be a story if the word 'Gloriavale' hadn't been used to grab the headlines. There'd be almost no interest in those stories if it hadn't been for the phenomenal response to the first doco. So in some ways I feel I brought the community back into the current affairs spotlight, albeit inadvertently."

    While Evans says she finds the Gloriavale Christian Community fascinating, and in many ways inspirational, it is not a place that she, as a professed agnostic, could live. On the upside, the members face no poverty or hunger, learn many practical skills, and live within a close, family-oriented, highly self-reliant environment.

    Evans says on the downside, the strictly assigned gender roles and subjection of women to men (the leadership is entirely male) do bother her, as the women are not allowed to contribute to areas like business development, science or technology fields within the community. That said, Evans says, "Most of the women I know there are very happy in their roles – so who is to judge? Being content in our lives is what most of us aspire to, surely?"

    And that observation comes with a plea for viewers to watch the documentary and make up their own minds about what they see. "We aren't making value judgments," she says. "Viewers are quite capable of doing that for themselves."

    Gloriavale: Life And Death, TV2, Sunday


  11. Documentary reveals life in Gloriavale sect

    New Zealand stuff.co.nz, August 10 2015

    There are only two ways to leave Gloriavale. One is to die - to go in glory, straight to heaven. The other is to walk out the community gates while still alive.

    It's the latter which is a true loss for the community, says Paul Valor, a young man who grew up in the isolated West Coast sect and whose arranged marriage was followed by a documentary team two years ago.

    Now, that team has returned to shed new light on daily life in the reclusive community, who are known for shunning publicity.

    Gloriavale: Life and Death aired on TV2 last night, and shows filmmaker Amanda Evans' return to the sect. Adams and her team were given unprecedented access to Gloriavale for her first documentary, A Life Apart, which followed Valor and Pearl Hope through their arranged marriage chosen by the leaders of the church.

    Life and Death revisits Hope and Valor as they raise their first child and prepare to give birth to a second. It also follows the declining health and eventual death of Steady Standtrue, one of the community leadership which is responsible for deciding the jobs, marriages and rules of the community of around 530 people.

    While Standtrue's health declines, Adams explores the community's celebration of death - which they see as the only way to reach heaven before Jesus returns to earth.

    As Standtrue lies on his deathbed, a woman remarks that his wife, Rose, is "radiant with joy" as she waits his imminent departure to heaven.

    Valor explains that a death in the community is a joyful occasion compared to those who leave while still alive.

    But the documentary shows even as the community farewells Standtrue, much of its time is still occupied with new life - and with contraception forbidden, babies are arriving in abundance. Pearl Hope is preparing for the birth of her second child at the same time as Paul's mother, Purity prepares for her twelfth - and the two women end up giving birth within a week of each other.

    Hope says motherhood is now her defining purpose in life. "My ambition is to be a godly mother and wife," she said, "and I just do that every day."

    The film notes that Hope and Valor are statistically a typical kiwi family, but their lives are a surreal mix of mundane family life and the strangeness of life in the sect.

    Obeying strict gender roles, they live lives of regimented routine and religious devotion.

    On the upside, they live without poverty or material need, in a close, family-oriented, highly self-reliant community. Both say they are happy with their lives and place in the sect.

    "I believe that the truth is here. When people leave here, they are leaving the truth behind," Valor said.

    Gloriavale has faced criticism over the past year from members who have left Gloriavale, and say life there is not what it appears to be.

    The commune has been under intense scrutiny following accusations of brain-washing, physical punishment and sexual abuse, including against girls as young as 12. In April, police urged current or former members to come forward and speak about their experiences, and set up a hotline for Gloriavale tips.

    But Paul and Pearl Valor seem unperturbed by any controversy, and maintain that their way of life is the only one they would choose.

    Valor says, "Lots of people have ambitions for things - cars and houses or holidays, but for us here, things aren't important. Our ambitions are for spiritual things , to serve the Lord every day, in every way I can. That all leads to my ultimate ambition - to go to heaven."

    Gloriavale: Life and Death can be viewed on TV2 Ondemand.