Real Life Stories

Living the Dream - Paul Bernard's Story

God is Faithful - Augustine Chen's Story

Angel Encounter - Greg Stapleton's Story

Living the Dream - Paul Bernard's Story

Picture of Paul Bernard and Family

My name is Paul Bernard, I have been married to Janet since 1983. We have three beautiful daughters and as of August this year all have left home; which I am told I will learn to enjoy sometime down the track.

I was ten years old when my mum and dad became Jesus Christ followers. Our family started going to a little Baptist Church in my home town of Cambridge. Our world changed. Years later, I heard the story of several families from that church who had loved my mum and dad, prayed for them, and showed kindness to them in practical ways again and again over several years. How they celebrated when mum and dad were born again.

In February 2015 I was invited to a Full Gospel Business Men’s fellowship meeting in downtown Dunedin, to talk about sharing my faith in Jesus in the workplace. It was an excellent night. I had fun, and there was good comradery as well. Men were sharing and praying for one another. So I kept attending these monthly meetings.

In 2010 I had a dream. It was a scene I knew well from swimming tournament days as a child. Walking out with towel around my shoulders wearing togs and a singlet. I strip off and hand the towel and singlet to one of my work colleagues and head for the starting blocks. I notice that there are no other swimmers in the race. Then in the middle of the dream I start up a conversation with God.

“God, there’s no-one else in this race?”

“Yes Paul, I know. I set this race up just for you. It’s a lap of honour…”

While standing on old fashioned, well-worn starting blocks, I realised that many people had swum this race before me. I became aware of the “Great crowd of witnesses.” My work team mates were watching from beside the pool and my boss was there too, holding the starting gun. I knew that I was going to learn through this to trust God, “Our Father,” at a deeper level than ever before. It was a lap that that would be linking two seasons of my life. The season after the lap would be all about Janet and me going forward together in God’s plans and purposes for and through us from there.

While standing there, looking down, I noticed I was wearing shorts with pockets. The conversation continued;

“God, these are going to slow me down. What shall I wear instead?”

“Put on the garment of praise”

“That’s so cool God, they will be the best.”

I told my Christian friends about the dream and we were pretty excited about it. One day…

Fast Forward to the end of October 2014

I noticed something wasn’t quite right with my pay. When I checked it out I found that for the financial year to that date I had been paid a significant amount too much. “Impossible,” said our administration, but I was right. It was an error that had gone unnoticed for a number of years. The company wrote off the loss from previous years. We corrected the books for the current year and then came the wait until the end of the financial year to find out what that meant for me personally as far as the IRD was concerned.

January 2015. On holiday in Nelson out for a prayer walk. Suddenly God and I are back in the dream (in broad daylight).

God said, “This is it, you’re in it,” then He says, “Look down,” so I look down. “What are you wearing?”

Me, “The garment of praise.”

God, “What else are you wearing?”

Me, “Nothing.”

God, “Exactly.”

And in that moment I knew God created the universe, He created this world, He created me. Everything I am, everything I have, every gifting, every ability, everything of any value in my life was either created by God when he made me. I have nothing of any value that God hadn’t given me in the first place - except ‘thanksgiving and praise.’

That was and still is a WOW moment.

I knew exactly what handing my singlet and towel to my colleague meant. It had already happened.

When my tax return came back April 2015, the figures weren’t bad but once all the penalties and interest had been added onto my total debt was in the tens of thousands over and above the 80% mortgage I had. During the time of not knowing, I had slid into depression. I had only four sales for the year to that point. Being a commission based salesperson made matters worse and I owed my boss a heap as well.

My boss pulled the trigger on the start gun. This was Janet and I coming up with a “bare bones” budget. A new pay structure was put in place on that basis and I got paid whether the pay was there or not. However, the goal was to exceed my pay with performance until the debt was eliminated. First pay under the new structure was in May 2015.

Tuesday June 2, evening meeting FGBMFI, I am heading down the stairs when this Michael dude runs after me. “Hey Paul, God told me to do something” he says.

God told him to, “Look in your wallet and give what’s in it to Paul.” It wasn’t much money, but it was cool obedience, with joy. Something in my heart broke that night.

The following morning there was $1000 in my bank from another lovely couple (also involved in FGBMFI) who had asked for my bank account number several months before “Paul we want to bless you and Janet.”

Wednesday June 3. This was flood day in Dunedin. I had three unconditional sales on that day. The first one was for a Christian vendor who prophesied that I would be given a performance based award in a year’s time, that I would get presented this award in front of my peers, and that I would honour Jesus and thank God for stuff publicly when that happened. I didn’t believe it actually, but that is exactly what happened, even though I was struggling with depression most of that year. My boss took me to one side and told me I had won an award, but he didn’t want to give it to me now. H said he would like to give it to me at the team meeting … so I had time to prepare what to say and so complete the prophecy, which was fun. A big chunk of the debt was eliminated that year and right now as I type this, it is almost completely paid off.

I never felt like I was swimming the race very well, realising that all along I had been relying on my own strength and not relying on God. All along God has been so wonderful to me so many times over so many years.

God’s love is not based on my performance. There was a day when God set me up and said to me: “Paul, you have been measured and found wanting but Jesus was measured on your behalf and found more than enough in every way.” This was another wonderful bright light in a dark moment.

For most of the time “living the dream” was not much fun. I spent a lot of time crying out to God. Sharing and prayer times at our monthly meetings have been hugely helpful for me. Knowing that through Jesus I am a son of our Father and these blokes are my brothers. Choosing to praise each day and declaring that which God has said is true and thanking Him for these truths, has been crucial. He truly is my provider. My cup overflows - on days when I feel like it and on days when I don’t.

At the FGBMFI regional camp this year a few things came together for me and God made it obvious that through all this He has been developing wider and deeper trust in Him as the foundation of my life. I guess there is some more building coming up.

God is Faithful - Augustine Chen's Story

Picture of Augustine and Jesse Chen

God Is Faithful

I was born in Malaysia and in 1993 came to Dunedin to study at the University of Otago. While studying I met my wife to be, Seow Kiat (Jesse), also from Malaysia. At that time Jesse was an atheist but became interested in my Christian faith. I was just going through the motions with my faith, but went along to church out of obligation. I managed to say to her, “Ask Jesus to reveal Himself to you.” He did reveal Himself and Jesse received Christ. She then attended a “Life in the Spirit” seminar and then an Alpha course. As I “supported” her during the Alpha course I had an awakening in the Spirit myself. The John 14: 6 verse “I am the way the truth and the life” jumped out for me. I needed Jesus myself. God had used Jesse to draw me back to Him.

Blessing of God’s family

God felt so alive to us. As we grew to know Him, we were enveloped with support and love of new friends from church, FGBMFI and Woman’s Aglow. We were on a spiritual high, like a honeymoon. Mike Bunt from FGBMFI invited me to a regional men’s camp. There the men were excited about Jesus and that inspired me. Later I joined the Taieri chapter. The men and their families became like family. Jesse and I got married in 2000. We were blessed with Joshua in 2003. Life was so good, but a painful trial was around the corner for us.

One terrible day

One terrible day Jesse had a massive bleed in her brain, caused by an undetected medical condition. The ruptured blood vessel caused a stroke and her heart to stop. It is a miracle she survived. That evening I was not allowed to stay with her in ICU as I had Joshua with me. It was the loneliest and most heart wrenching night I have ever had to endure. I cried most of the night and all I could do was hang onto a prophetic word that the Lord was going to use both of us together in Christian ministry.

Walking through the valley of grief and struggle

After three weeks Jesse’s condition worsened. Thankfully a visiting Australian neurosurgeon intervened and performed a seven-hour operation which helped. From there she gradually improved. She was then moved to a stroke rehabilitation centre for the next eight months. I found it heart wrenching to see her. She couldn’t remember much, not even recognise our own son Joshua. Jesse then came home. Her healing and recovery was slow. That time was an emotional roller-coaster for both of us. We had tears, grief, doubt, anger and depression at various times. In the midst of it all our many church, Aglow and FGBMFI friends continued to pray for us and support us. I was angry at God, not for causing the aneurysm but allowing it to happen. I couldn’t comprehend it nor be accepting of it. Why us?

A prophetic promise

Meantime Jesse was relying on the Lord a lot as she had lost so much of her previous physical and mental capability. Her spiritual walk deepened. She learned to accept and overcome some of the deficits caused by the stroke. On the other hand I was weary and struggling. Though Jesse was growing in faith I got frustrated as she could not listen for long and didn’t remember what I told her two minutes ago. We had lost our former intimacy. As a result I became bitter and became depressed and withdrew from people. I was at an all time low. I was invited to FGBMFI meetings at times and my hope lifted a bit but my heart was cool. I was given a prophetic word that “the Lord would thaw and warm my heart again”. It sowed renewed hope in me, but there was an elephant in my room, so to speak, which I could not ignore any longer.

My PhD thesis, a distant goal achievable

This “elephant” was an unfinished PhD which I had put on hold when Jesse got sick. I had to stop studying to care for her and Joshua. A month before Jesse got sick I was given the approval to write up my thesis. I now realise that Satan had attacked us when he could hit me the hardest. I felt like a failure. However, a lifeline was thrown to me after two years to complete my thesis. That was a turning point. I had to set a goal and climb out of the hole I was in. At that time the Lord gave me a verse to hold on to: Proverbs 16:3, “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will succeed”. I held on to this promise and most days I prayed this word, though I still had some days in the doldrums. Months later at a FGBMFI meeting one of the men gave me the exact same Scripture. It was still hard going writing the thesis. A visiting scientist heard my situation and he spoke a powerful word that stuck. “You just have to grit your teeth and do it.” These encounters and God’s words really helped me, and I did finish my PhD within the year and finally graduated. Furthermore, there was a job waiting for me. Another blessing was the birth of our second son Joseph the following year.

Learning to love, hope and grow in faith

It was still hard for me to accept Jesse as she now was compared to before the brain injury. I was experiencing work stress and sometimes I had outbursts of anger from impatience and frustration. I began to see how little love I really had, especially after Jesse put up a Love poster from the bible in our room. When I read it I felt annoyed that I lacked those qualities of love. In fact I felt disqualified. It took me a while to realise that God was teaching me not to look at myself but look to Him, to forgive others without counting the cost and learn to love at all times.

Looking back now I see more clearly how the Lord helped us through that long hard season that I couldn’t see while in the middle of it. He still works everything together for good! Fourteen years later with our two delightful boys, things are looking up in our family. There are still battles, but I know He is always with us. I am now looking forward in greater hope and believing the best is yet to come!

God has not forgotten you!

If you are struggling, be encouraged because there is hope for you. He will find a way for you even when there seems no way, like my situation. God is sovereign. He has not forgotten you, He loves you so much and He is mighty to save and deliver!

Angel Encounter - Greg Stapleton's Story

Picture of Greg Stapleton

I grew up in Auckland. My Grandfather helped me know God. When I was 18 I gave my life to God, but slowly lost my commitment to the Lord.

I became a barber and met Leisa in Te Awamutu. We married and moved to Australia in 2000. We had five children together but without God in our relationship it ended. Leisa and four of the children moved back to NZ and I ended up living in Sydney with one of the children. I had a great lifestyle and was pulling in about $3,500 a week. On the outside it looked good but I was empty on the inside and unhappy. My mates couldn’t work out why I was unhappy when I had all the world’s goods.

In my loneliness I decided to find a church to attend. My intention was to slip in and then slip out quickly at the end of the service. I did that for six weeks. At the seventh week after church a woman asked me to tell her my life story. I replied that I would rather not say, but she pressed me to share, so I did – how I was divorced and unhappy. She said, “That’s unusual. It sounds like my story.” She proceeded to tell me a similar kind of story and how she also started attending that church. She had a dream in which she was getting remarried to her ex-husband. This was five years after they had separated. Her dream repeated for the next four nights. Finally, she realised that God wanted her to reconcile and remarry her ex-husband. That happened for her.

I wanted to run because I thought she was going to challenge me. Sure enough she did, saying “I believe this is a message for you!”. In my mind I was saying “I am never coming back to this church”, and I left. No more church for me.

Two months later, out of the blue, my ex-wife Leisa phoned me, asking, “Has God told you yet". She hadn’t said that to me before. “What do you mean?” I asked. Leisa then told me how she started attending a church service in NZ, and after a few weeks God told her that we would get married again, that I was in a prison and that God wanted her to forgive me.

She told me how she had broken up with her partner; it was all over. The bombshell was when she asked if I was happy. I said no. Did I miss the kids? Yes! Leisa then asked me to return to NZ to see how it would go. A profound feeling of peace came over me and I said “That sounds like a really good idea.” Soon after that call I paid all my bills, got released from my position at work and booked my air tickets to NZ. Supernaturally everything fell into place except for one thing, I didn’t have any spare cash for a final coffee. I told Leisa, who said: “don’t worry about it”.

I returned for the last time to the barber’s shop. A big very tall man entered with an amazing pinstripe suit and handsome golden hair. He asked for a cut. As I trimmed his hair I felt a pure and holy presence from him. He was called Edward. Straight away we started talking about God. He answered every question I had, somehow without moving his lips. I stood back and said, “Are you an angel?” He nodded and I freaked out. I asked my fellow workers if they had seen him and they said no. Anyway he paid for his haircut and left. I then went to the back of the shop to count my coins, hoping there was enough left over for a coffee. To my astonishment there was A$250 in my wallet that wasn’t there before. I knew then that God really wanted Leisa and I to reconcile and remarry.

In 2011 I returned to NZ and my family. Leisa and I reconciled and remarried in late 2011. It was amazing. We decided to go to a Marriage Enrichment class in a Hamilton church where we got to know a couple who were missionaries from Zimbabwe. The husband was a Kiwi and his wife African. They explained how in the poverty stricken nation of Zimbabwe God provided for their needs in wonderful ways. On one occasion there they were gathered one cool evening around an outside open fire. Suddenly a man ran from the back of the crowd, leaped over people and the fire and quickly ran into the bush. The missionary’s wife said to the local Pastor, “Did you see that man?” “What man?” he replied. She said, “The man who jumped over the flames.” “Öh” the Pastor said, “That’s Edu, the angel of provision. That means you are going to be blessed for the rest of your mission.” He then said that Edu means Edward in English. Wow! After hearing that testimony I knew I had really had an angel visitation myself in Sydney.

My story doesn’t end there. We moved to Te Awamutu in 2013 where I rented a chair in three barber shops. I really wanted to have my own shop in the main street but did not see how it could happen. I began praying about this and my faith in God increased. I needed to take a step of faith. Leisa found a small vacant shop in the centre of town, perfect for a barber’s shop, but it would cost $30,000 to fit it out well. I had only $6,000. I haven’t enough space to tell you the details of the miracles of provision. Leisa’s mum gave us $10,000, one glass company gave me $20,000 of large mirrors and eleven tradesmen did work for free or minimal costs. Our FADE SHADE BLADE shop was established to the glory of God.

Was all this a coincidence? No. It all happened because the Heavenly Father honours those who honour and obey Him and His son Jesus Christ. You too can receive eternal and present blessings if you will also put your trust in the Lord. God is faithful and He is good. I have proven it. Once I was divorced and lonely, now we are remarried and abundantly blessed in every way.