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Gloriavale mother of 11 drowned after falling in river when bank collapsed

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A woman from the Gloriavale community was standing near a flooded West Coast river with a group of children when the bank gave way under her.

The body of Rejoice Stedfast, mother of 11, was recovered from the Haupiri River in the Grey District just after 8am on Friday.

Stedfast and a group of children had gone to check on the river on Thursday evening when the bank collapsed and she was swept away.

She is the daughter-in-law of Gloriavale secretary and treasurer Fervent Stedfast, and sister to Gloriavale founder Hopeful Christian's wife, Ruth.

A Gloriavale spokeswoman declined to comment on Friday morning.

A police spokesman said Search and Rescue recovered the body of a woman missing in the Haupiri River, Grey District, on Friday morning.

The woman's body was pulled from the river just after 8am.

No further information regarding the woman is available at this stage. The death will be referred to the Coroner.

In a video testimony posted on Gloriavale's website, Rejoice Stedfast, who at the time had nine children, said she grew up in a large family where her parents had turned away from God.

"In my home, there were often fights, anger, fits of rage and even death threats.

"My mother told me that she hated me. At times we were smelly and hungry eating out of rubbish tins and wearing the same dress for six months at a time."

At the age of 13, she said she was "at the end of myself".

"I prayed 'Lord you know I can't take this anymore, I will either leave home or kill myself'. I had an aunt living at the community and I prayed 'Lord make a way that I could go to the community for a year'."

Following her year at Gloriavale, Rejoice Stedfast went home where her parents were more abusive than before.

She eventually returned to Gloriavale and married her husband two years later.

"He's faithful and true and lives by the principle of the word of God."

Her death comes after 20-year-old Sincere Standtrue died in early November, less than two weeks after suffering a medical event at Gloriavale on October 23.

A police spokeswoman said the death was not suspicious. A coronial services spokeswoman confirmed Standtrue's death was before the coroner.

Gloriavale founder Hopeful Christian died at the secluded community in May. He founded the religious community in 1969 at Cust in North Canterbury, before the community was moved to the shores of Lake Haupiri on the West Coast and changed its name to Gloriavale.

Since then, the community has hit the headlines several times, including following an investigation into the circumstances of the death of Prayer Ready, a 14-year-old girl who had Down syndrome.

Last week, former US Navy engineer Howard Temple was confirmed as the new head of the community.

A former member, who still has family in the community, said Temple was appointed the new "overseeing shepherd" after the death of Hopeful Christian. Temple, who Christian had appointed his successor, recently spent several weeks visiting a Gloriavale off-shoot in India, he said.

Gloriavale has a long relationship with India, supporting an evangelical organisation and setting up a community in Tirunelveli, in southern India.

THE SENIOR SHEPHERDS - FERVENT STEDFAST

Fervent Stedfast is the head of the trust board and the group's accountant. He has also acted a media spokesman for the group on several occasions. Stuff reported last year he was essentially Hopeful Christian's second in command.

Stedfast told Rural Delivery that he joined the then-Springbank community in 1970 as a 23-year-old. He had "embarked on a search for truth" which led him to the community.

Further research establishes his original name was Alistaire Barret, and that his father was an Anglican priest.

Stedfast wrote the book What We Believe about the community in 1989, which codifies the group's strict Christian beliefs.

At this time he was also headmaster of the school, as detailed in this 1987 Christian Living article.

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