At Gloriavale, Levi Courage felt that he had no freedom, no money, no way out.
On a rainy night last June Courage finished work and told his parents, Aaron and Joy, he was leaving Gloriavale - for good.
He took a change of clothing and made his own leap of faith into the unknown.
Courage left behind eight siblings. And his childhood sweetheart, Rose.
At 17, Courage is haunted by the abuse, exhausted from working like a "slave", and disillusioned by the religious dogma within the isolated Christian community based at Haupiri on the West Coast of the South Island.
"I was trapped in a conundrum. I would be 'going to hell' if I left and I was in hell if I stayed working like a slave. I left because of the emotional trauma and the work stress. I was in a state of deep depression that forced me to either end my life or to find another way out, " Courage said.
Last week a group of ex-Gloriavale members took the secretive community to the Employment Court in a bid to determine their employment status while they lived there and ascertain whether they were exploited as workers. They are seeking a ruling on whether Gloriavale members were employees or volunteers.
Courage, Daniel Pilgrim and Hosea Courage have all left Glorivale and are seeking a declaration from the Employment Court after they worked at the commune and in Gloriavale-owned businesses as teenagers. The decision will affect those currently and previously living at the sect regarding their working conditions, pay and employment rights.
The court action follows earlier inquiries into the employment status of people living and working in Gloriavale.
Courage told the Herald he wants justice for what he calls the underpaid and underage workers at the commune.
It is claimed boys are told to sign a declaration of commitment, told who to marry and where they would work.
As a 5-year-old, Courage claims, he collected moss in swamps, cleaned work sites, and helped with concreting. When he finished school at 15, he worked at Gloriavale's Forest Gold Honey for up to 70 hours a week, sometimes starting at 3am. He claims that he had only one week of holiday a year and if he didn't work, he was told he wouldn't eat.
"Sometimes we went without food for 12 hours. I was emotionally and physically drained. I still can't believe what I went through running on nothing."
Courage claims that they once had to fulfil an order for 200,000 75 gram honey jars in three days.
He says he and other teenage boys worked 50 hours without sleep, had a four-hour break, and then worked for another 72 hours without sleep to complete the order.
"I often cut myself and jammed my hands but I was told to 'shake it off', even though it hurt like crazy. I saw my cousin have three of his fingertips chopped off while he cleaned a machine. I found a finger. It was horrific. They didn't pay me because I was underage and there were no holidays or sick leave. It was pretty obvious we were being used."
Courage claims he was once told to write 40 hours a week in a logbook when he actually worked 90.
When the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) audited the honey factory, Courage claimed, he had to hide in a chemical store for three hours until the auditor had gone because at 14, he was an underage worker.
Steve Patterson, who conducted a covert investigation into Gloriavale and is now a human rights lawyer, was taken by Courage's smile when he went on his undercover mission to Gloriavale's honey factory.
"Levi was sheltered and naïve and seemed stuck in a time warp, but I instinctively clicked something was 'going on' with him. He has seen things there he knows are seriously wrong but he's been denied the freedom to have an opinion. Now, he has a permanent smile like the weight has been lifted off him.
"There were times when I drove home in tears, it was so hard, my wife had to pick up the pieces. I had heard things that offended the very fibre of my being because I was thinking this should not be happening in NZ," Patterson said.
Glorivale leader, Howard Temple declined to comment when approached by the Herald.
Scott Wilson, the lawyer for Gloriavale leaders, said there was no compulsion on children to work. Adults signed a declaration to work and donate any profits back to the community. He referred to the children's work as "chores" and it was up to the parents to decide where their children worked.
Courage rejects this: "Gloriavale shouldn't exist as a sect or cult anymore. The assets should be split up and people should get their fair share from all their hard work and the long hours."
The hearing continues and a Givealittle page has been set up to help pay the legal costs.
Courage will never forget the night he was rescued by his sister. He never forgot Rose either. Three months later, he emailed Rose and promised he would rescue her.
Rose turned her back on her family to turn her life around. Through tears, she told the Herald it was devastating telling her siblings why she was leaving the commune.
"I told them it wasn't because I didn't love them and it wasn't because I didn't love God anymore, I needed to go because I couldn't keep living the way I was. When I look at their photos, I feel sad I can't see them and watch them grow up," Rose said.
The second eldest of 12 children, Rose had multiple jobs at Gloriavale: sewing, laundry and caring for children. She also worked in the kitchen every day preparing lunch and dinner for 600 members.
Rose was attracted to Levi and trusted him. She says he is "friendly, kind and caring".
At Gloriavale the pair were forbidden to talk to each other or have any contact. As young teens, they hatched a plan to escape but were caught by a leader and publicly ostracised.
"Often, we'd have to run away and hide in secret because if we were seen we'd be yelled at and told off by the leaders," recalls Courage.
"Rose, who was probably the sweetest girl there, was often called a 'whore' or a 'slut' for just talking to me. We were seen as rebellious so they would never let us marry."
When Courage fled Gloriavale, Rose lost the will to live.
"I felt the only escape was to kill myself. You're told you'll go to hell if you leave, the only option was to end your life but you'd go to hell for that too."
Rose is overwhelmed by the outside world and feels like an "alien" in it but she loves her newfound freedom.
"I have a phone, a job, a bank account. I can wear what I want and eat what I want. There are no rules, I have choices, " Rose said.
The couple are slowly building a future together and are happy to work long shifts they know will be compensated.
Courage is a labourer at a wool scouring company and Rose works at a bakery.
They live with Courage's older brother and are saving to buy a house, get married, and start their own family.
Courage wants his friends and family left behind to know: "You don't have to live like that, there's definitely a better way, no one should be used and abused. Me and Rose are really happy and we want that for everyone at Gloriavale."