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Special investigation: Inside the cult-like doomsday church

2022-11-02 Source:9now.nine.com.au Author: Sam Cucchiara and Julian Price

An hour's drive from Melbourne, in the Geelong suburb of Norlane, sits an unassuming old brick hall.

From the outside, it appears to be any other church in the middle of suburbia.

But what ex-members say happened inside the walls of the Geelong Revival Centre (GRC) is shocking.

From allegations of violence against children, to claims of brainwashing, end-of-world "doomsday" preaching and the shunning of medicine.

It was a Sunday afternoon when a woman attempted to infiltrate the secretive religious sect wearing a hidden camera.

She entered the hall and was met at the door by a member who questioned her.

She walked the path a new recruit to the group would, being let inside and seated at the back next to another member tasked with staying by her side.

After the brief meeting, the man at the helm of the sect, 91-year-old Pastor Noel Hollins, noticed an unfamiliar face and he wandered over.

"We're happy you came," he said, sitting next to the undercover recruit.

"Was it by chance or did someone invite you?" he inquired.

After a brief conversation and an offer to meet with the new member in private, Pastor Hollins got up to leave.

He returned with a warning.

"There's just one thing I will say, if you want to know anything about us, don't go to the internet," he told the woman.

"Anyone can put what anybody said on the internet."

Hollins was referring to recent publicity about the Geelong Revival Centre — dubbed a "cult" by some ex-members — and A Current Affair's impending story that he does not want the new recruit, or anyone else, to see.

'I lost my entire family': Members cut off from loved ones

When ex-GRC member Celeste was just nine or 10 years old, she was convinced her own mum and dad were "of the devil".

"As a young kid, you were taught that this was the only church going to heaven and if you left you're damned for hell," she told A Current Affair, opening up for the first time about her ordeal.

Celeste, who doesn't want her last name used, said she ended up living with a random "family from the cult" after being taken there by her friend's parents.

Multiple ex-members have told A Current Affair the church's followers are forbidden from speaking with people outside the group.

This includes those who have turned their backs on the church, even if they are their own flesh and blood.

When another former member Lauren, who also didn't want her last name used, escaped aged 18, she said Hollins stood in her family's living room.

"He said, 'you can't live under this roof if you don't attend'," Lauren said.

"I looked at my mum and she dropped her head and I looked at my dad and he just said, 'I agreed with him'.

"So I was given a blue Billabong bag that was used for year seven camps and things like that, and was told to pack it with whatever would fit.

"I lost my sisters, I lost my parents, I lost my grandparents, I lost aunts and uncles, cousins, best friends of 10, 15 years."

'Forced to see a doctor in secret': Medicine shunned as church promises cure

Celeste escaped the sect years after she was first introduced to it, but re-joined in her 20s when she fell on hard times and had nowhere else to turn.

By that stage, she was so damaged she was medicated with a cocktail of psychiatric drugs.

She remembered being "convinced" to flush the medications down the toilet, climb into bed and go off them "cold turkey" after a decade of taking them.

"That was horrific," she recalled, as tears streamed down her face.

Lauren said the GRC's opinion is that "you don't seek medical help".

The young mother, who now lives in Queensland, said she was 17 when she convinced herself she had ovarian cancer, but was worried about seeing a doctor because of the GRC's stance on conventional medicine.

"I actually got diagnosed with ovarian cysts," Lauren said.

"That appointment I had to make in secret."

Church manuals obtained by A Current Affair suggest followers are promised a "guaranteed solution to sickness".

One woman, a mother of a 12-year-old girl, "died a slow and agonising death after ceasing her medication in the belief that God would heal her", according to a 1993 report in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Sharon Kovac, 34, joined a Sydney chapter of the group "hoping that the religious sect would cure her potentially fatal chronic illness".

While a Coroner did not ultimately hold the church responsible, an inquest into the young mother's death heard sect members allegedly tried to "starve the devil out of her and persuade her to abandon conventional medicine".

'Smack the autism out of him': Harrowing account of child abuse

When Celeste re-joined the GRC as an adult, she had a two-year-old son.

She claimed he was beaten by a church member because of his autism.

"He took it upon himself to pick him up and hit him really hard and then continuously hit him until he stopped crying," she said.

"And I just got drilled and drilled and drilled constantly that I needed to be smacking him, to smack the autism out of him practically."

While A Current Affair is not suggesting Hollins had any involvement in this incident, Celeste's son is now undergoing medical treatment.

"My son has now got a six-year-old injury of a twisted pelvis, he's incontinent and is going through extreme medical measurements to hopefully untwist his pelvis," Celeste said.

Another former member, Alexander Kilpady-Davies, spent the first 15 years of his life in what he described as a "cult".

As a child, he said he was repeatedly beaten by his father and other "random men" from the group.

"I don't understand why everyone isn't standing here shouting and screaming with signs to shut this place down," he said, fearing other children may be experiencing the same abuse he was subjected to.

'Needs a good slap': Leaked audio recordings paint troubling picture of doomsday sect

A Current Affair has obtained 30 hours of audio recordings from inside the sect, stretching back to the 1990s.

The recordings - some still on cassettes - are from sermons given at Sunday services and annual "camps" held at an Ocean Grove property in Geelong.

Ex-members said they would congregate at the property over the festive season, as the sect's way of stopping them from celebrating Christmas out in the "real world".

Pictures from the gatherings show members packing large white tents.

In multiple audio recordings, Hollins is heard warning of the impending end of the world.

"It's all leading up to the battle of Armageddon," he told worshippers.

"The inhabitants of the earth are burned and few men (are) left."

In another clipping, he appeared to mock mental illness.

"Children are totally spoiled," he said.

"Many of them will finish up with all sorts of so-called conditions and are described as having ADHD and put on drugs."

He recalled seeing one child who was misbehaving in a supermarket.

"All he needed was a bit of a slap on the legs and told to 'stop that, or I'll give you something to cry about'," he said.

"We have to accept that it's a war," Hollins said in another clip.

"The world is on one side and we're on the other."

Ex-members said sermons they heard as children still gave them "night terrors".

"You're told every day that you're going to hell," Lauren said.

"And at 27, I still believe it sometimes."

From Geelong to Los Angeles: Local church goes global

The GRC's tentacles have rapidly spread throughout Australia and the world.

The sect has around 50 chapters globally, including in Canada, Los Angeles, England, Fiji, India, Malaysia, Philippines, Poland, Singapore and South Africa.

While each "congregation" is named differently, they are ultimately linked to the GRC.

Numerous insiders have told A Current Affair Hollins frequently travels to visit overseas chapters.

What are they hiding?

On a chilly Wednesday night in August, A Current Affair attempted to attend the GRC's meeting of the "saints" - a gathering of trusted members accepted into the Pastor's most inner circle.

As Hollins was speaking to them inside the Norlane hall, three burly men stood guard at the church entrance — manhandling the A Current Affair crew out of the building.

'Authorities not doing enough': Calls for government action

A Current Affair can reveal the GRC has been on the Victorian Government's radar for at least a decade, but little has been done.

During a 2013 inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious groups, an ex-GRC member spoke of his harrowing experience in the church after his mother joined when he was aged two.

He would not escape for another three decades.

The man told the inquiry the sect believed that "God will heal all of your sicknesses and ailments".

"They control every aspect of your life," he said, pointing to a noticeboard with commandments plastered on the back wall of the hall.

Raphael Aron is Australia's leading expert on psychological mind control and manipulation, stemming from cults and extreme religious sects.

Aron, who is founder of Cult Consulting Australia, told A Current Affair he had received several reports from concerned family members who had loved ones inside the GRC.

"The effects of all of this can be quite dangerous. It can be quite catastrophic," Aron said.

"They do act without impunity," Aron said, calling for government oversight of extreme religious groups.

"As a minimum, there should be some oversight in relation to these organisations.

"There should be something done to bring these organisations to the government's attention."

Former GRC member Alexander Kilpady-Davies has put pen to paper about his time in the sect, writing a book called Hating God, Loving God.

Shine Lawyers is considering taking legal action on behalf of the complainants.

"The stories and allegations they have shared are staggering," abuse law practice leader Amy Olver said.

"I can confirm these allegations will form the basis of our investigation into potential civil claims on behalf of survivors seeking compensation for the damage allegedly done to an untold number of innocent lives."

"My heart is to see people set free from that place," Celeste said.

Source: https://9now.nine.com.au/a-current-affair/inside-cultlike-church-geelong-revival-centre/cf556881-d667-4d46-bcaa-0e87315e0080

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Editor:Catherine