MP linked to controversial 'cult'

Star-Times/August 11, 2002

Wellington -- New United Future MP Bernie Ogilvy established a religious organisation which provoked controversy in the 1970s over the treatment of teenagers in its care.

The evangelical organisation, Youth With A Mission, (YWAM) established in Auckland by Ogilvy in the late 1970s, took teens off the street and then put them to work - but it drew criticism over the amount of wages it retained.

At that time, YWAM made enough money to buy up to 12 Auckland houses.

The mission operates worldwide and Ogilvy served as its national director for New Zealand.

He confirmed he was aware it had been described as a "cult" by overseas sceptics but said that impression had been corrected.

A source told the Sunday Star-Times the organisation under Ogilvy had bombarded its converts with religious instruction.

Ogilvy is one of eight United Future MPs to grab seats in parliament on the back of the campaign performance of leader Peter Dunne. The party has been accused of being hijacked by the moral right.

Ogilvy said he was proud of his work with YWAM which helped turn round the lives of up to 400 teens.

They were recruited off the streets, given food and accommodation and then put to work by the organisation.

"We stepped out on the street and grabbed them, in a positive sense, trained them, gave them jobs."

He confirmed accommodation, clothing and food costs were deducted from wages before they were paid to the teenagers.

But he rejected a claim the workers ended up with as little as $10 in the hand for a week's work.

"We would keep so much to pay for their lodgings and food and the rest was theirs. The idea was to put money in their hands and get them away from the cycle they were trapped in," he said.

Ogilvy said the houses YWAM bought during his time were later sold.

"As we moved on, we also had the chance at the end to sell them all, giving away the money we had, so we weren't in the process of gathering real estate for our own needs."

The source claimed mission leaders made a lot of money out of what was in essence a cheap labour force, with the director living in a large house with a swimming pool in Auckland's Mt Smart Rd.

Ogilvy, who was the director at one stage, confirmed he had lived at that address but rejected any claim that he profited personally from his time with YWAM.

"If you really want to know, I never received a salary for the whole time I was with them. Not a dime. None of us did.

"No one was benefiting from the system at all, if you wish to use those sorts of closed terms."

Ogilvy said he left YWAM in the "late 1980s-early 1990s" and no longer had any direct involvement in the mission, which still operated.

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