'It was very, very traumatic': Gloriavale escapees open up

The 500-strong Gloriavale community is run by a tax-exempt charity. Photo: Greymouth Star
The 500-strong Gloriavale community is run by a tax-exempt charity. Photo: Greymouth Star

A family of nine that fled Gloriavale says the Christian community tried to separate their family to control them.

Mr and Mrs Ben-Canaan, who only want to be known by their last names, were born and raised in the community for almost 37 years.

Mr Ben-Canaan was thrown out of the community two months ago and his wife and seven children joined him later.

For the first time, Mrs Ben-Canaan has opened up about the harrowing ordeal.

Earlier story:

She said the splitting up of her family was a strategy used by the community to prevent her and her children from leaving.

It has been five weeks since Mrs Ben-Canaan walked away from the only life she knew.

Her husband was excommunicated from the community four weeks earlier.

Gloriavale leaders discovered he was operating a private bank and TradeMe account and gave him no choice but to leave. In Gloriavale no one is above the collective.

After her husband was sent away, Mrs Ben-Canaan came under tremendous pressure.

"There is a decided path that you're supposed to choose," she said.

"If your husband is sent away, you are to decide that you don't see him again and that's the end of your marriage and you live alone for the rest of your life."

Being apart from her husband was the hardest thing she said she has ever had to do.

When he came to visit her and her seven children a few days after he was kicked out, she was manipulated and told that seeing him was against the word of God.

"The four-and-a-half weeks that I was separated from my husband, it was very, very traumatic. He came to visit one Saturday, and I was told that I wasn't allowed to see him or to be breaking my commitment of breaking the word of God," she said.

"But then they turned around and said 'we can't tell you what to do, you have to decide this for yourself'. And I said that 'you've just told me that you don't want me to and you've just told me that, you know, what you're telling me is breaking the law, you are putting pressure on me to go your way'."

Mrs Ben-Canaan said they were pressuring her to go their way, so that way senior leaders at Gloriavale would not wear any of the blame.

She said they told her if she did decide to see him, she would not be allowed to live at Gloriavale anymore, and that would mean her soul was lost, and she would be going to hell.

The separation of family members who are defecting from the status quo in Gloriavale is a strategy used to stop a whole family by leaving, by turning them against the defector. 

Former Gloriavale member Tim Hartnell left the commune 34 years ago.

He stressed there were good people in Gloriavale but splitting families was horrible.

"It's a strategy that they've used for many, many years and I believe the separation of families is wrong."

At first, the technique did not work on Mrs Ben-Canaan. She could not bear to be away from her husband any longer. She decided to leave with him, and her seven children when he visited.

However, the pull and control Gloriavale had over her life were too great. She returned to the West Coast community within 24 hours, with four of her children.

She said she was terrified about living elsewhere.

"I was completely convinced I was going to hell, and that I had to be on the property at Gloriavale to be saved."

But her return was met with consequences. She was stripped of all her previous responsibilities and was no longer allowed to work as a teacher.

Mrs Ben-Canaan said it was a way for those in charge to send a message.

"It was their way of saying, you've been put down. You are in rejection. We are rejecting you because of what you have done. You have created a precedent. And you don't do this if your husband's sent away where you stay here."

Soon though, Mrs Ben-Canaan could not bear it anymore.

The wives of other men who had been kicked out were living reflections of the person she did not want to become.

"I just thought I'm next, I'm next and that is what I am going to end up like if I stay here.

"And I thought no, I want to be alive, I want to be fully alive."

So Mrs Ben-Canaan contacted her husband and told him to help get her out.

So a plan was set, Mr Ben-Canaan would arrive at Gloriavale at 8pm on a Friday night in early July.

They were careful to make sure it was an evening where everyone would be at a compulsory film in the commune's hall.

Regardless, Mrs Ben-Canaan's heart was racing, she had packed their bags, got the children ready and had tried to pin her door shut.

Then she heard a knock on the window. It was her husband.

He said to her: "Will you marry me?"

In the heat of the moment, Mrs Ben-Canaan had forgotten it was 14 years to the day that her husband had asked to marry her.

"It was so beautiful!" she said.

The family then left out the window, bundled into a car and were taken away.

Since the family has been reunited, they have been living together in Rolleston for the past four weeks.

Like her husband, Mrs Ben-Canaan has no desire to go back to Gloriavale, but she still misses her mother and the rest of her family.

Her priority now is finding a home in Rolleston which is suitable for nine people and finding a job for her husband.

Gloriavale declined to comment on these allegations, and the circumstances surrounding the Ben-Canaan's departure.


Individuals will always beat hermetic patriarchal control by Supernaturalists.

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