Paul was certainly a miracle baby. His mother had a blood infection when he was born and although this did not cause her any harm, it had such a devastating affect on baby Paul that he died twice on the day of his birth. The following day he was given a full blood transfusion and so he amazingly survived infant hood.
Yet just two years later. Paul was in trouble again. He was taken into hospital for a tonsillectomy, but there were complications and his heart stopped three times during the operation. The third time he was unresponsive for two and a half minutes. Another thirty seconds would have meant serious brain damage. It seems that this little boy was destined to live in spite of all that was being thrown at him.
As he grew, Paul was sent to Catholic school in Whanganui and Napier in his home country of New Zealand. Life was hard in the Catholic boy’s schools where discipline was often harsh and compassion was not in big supply! After beating a popular bully at tennis, Paul was beaten with tennis rackets as a ‘reward’. Another day he was beaten around the head with a baseball bat, and on a different occasion with a cricket bat. The school told his parents that both of these incidents were ‘unfortunate accidents’, but this was untrue. On both occasions Paul was deliberately beaten by bullies ant the truth was covered up. As a result, he suffered serious head trauma. The once average student now struggled with academic work.
Not surprisingly, Paul experienced a crisis of faith. He began to question the ‘Christianity’ at this particular Catholic school along with the morality and lack of compassion in the only exponents he knew, the teachers and ‘brothers’ whom he looked up to. The suggestion was strongly inferred that the ‘faith’ presented by this school was the only ‘true’ church, and yet he found the behaviour so hard to reconcile with the compassion of Jesus and the teaching of the New Testament. He also questioned why the priest should be called ‘father’ and why confession should be made to a priest and not directly to God, but he was not given clear answers.
Heavy Drinking and Supernatural Encounters.
At the age of just 14, Paul started drinking. Within a few years he had become a heavy drinker and was in at least a partially drunken state much of the time. He spent two years working with his father in the wool industry, followed by five years working in ‘foodstuffs’. Then in 1988 Paul moved to Kambalda, Australia to work in the mining industry. The drinking got worse. But in 1989, an extraordinary experience marked the beginning of a change of direction.
One evening, Paul got very drunk at a Fire Brigade party. He fell asleep at the wheel of his car, narrowly missing a pedestrian and a tree. Waking up in the evening of the next day, Paul felt terrible both physically and psychologically. He stood by his bed and cried out to God, saying,
“Lord, I can’t live like this anymore. Please send someone to talk to me!”
Instantly there was a bright flash of light outside the window, clearly visible even through the blue blind. It seemed strange, even eerie, but Paul did not immediately recognise the origin.
The very next morning whilst in the works canteen, Paul’s Australian friend Adam said,
“Hey Paul, there’s a guy over there who wants to talk to you.”
Paul went over to the ordinary looking man. The man looked straight at him and asked,
“Did you call for me last night?”
Paul was bemused. He replied, “Pardon?” Again the man asked,
“Did you call for me last night?”
Paul didn’t know how to answer. It was then that he looked at the man’s eyes. Everything else about him was normal, ordinary, but his eyes were a bright blue and it looked as if there were literal fires in them! Shocked, but surprisingly not afraid, Paul didn’t answer. So the man asked a third time,
“Did you call for me last night?”
This time Paul knew that something extra ordinary was happening. He sat down and talked with the man who said that God had sent him to tell Paul about the Christian faith. He asked Paul if he had seen the bright light outside his window and told him that the light was a bright red, signifying the blood of Jesus Christ. Paul had not noticed the colour due to the thick blue blind, but he certainly knew the light was very bright and came in an instant after his prayer.
The man talked to Paul about Christianity on a number of occasions over several weeks. He seemed to be employed at the mine as Paul kept bumping into him at unexpected times, but other than that nobody knew a great deal about the ‘man’. Eventually, Paul asked him his name. The man replied giving a long difficult Greek sounding name that was difficult to pronounce. He finally said to Paul,
“You can call me Philip.”
Philip could not drive a car and so he persuaded a young couple to take Paul and himself to a lively church meeting at Kalgoorlie. At the end of the meeting the pastor announced that ‘somebody here needs to know Jesus.’ He prayed a general kind of prayer and then everyone except Paul fell to the floor! This was something Paul had never seen before, but Philip laughed and said,
“It’s not like the Catholic Church is it!”
Paul could see that this was different. He did not interpret Philip’s comment as a criticism of all things Roman Catholic, but as a clear point being made that the form of Catholicism he had been brought up with was lacking in true spirituality. The ‘faith’ he had seen as a child was more like a club, a belief system with rules. regulations and many words, but nothing that tangibly attracted him. This meeting was different. If felt somehow so very real.
The Angel and the Prodigal
The following week Philip took Paul to a Baptist church. Again there was something very real and alive about the faith of these people. Three days later, Philip came to Paul outside in the mining compound and asked him a straight question,
“Paul, the Lord wants to know if you are going to give your life to him now or not?”
Paul replied a curt ‘No.’ Philip looked sad and said,
“The way you are going is hell.”
Paul didn’t know what to say. He turned and started to walk away, but deep inside he began to feel convicted and so he turned around to say sorry. But Philip had vanished.
It was at that moment that Paul realised Philip was no man. From the fiery blue eyes he had noticed at their first meeting, Paul began to think about all the encounters he had had with Philip. There was the fact that Philip didn’t seem to know how to drive, the fact that it was not clear what job he had at the mine, or whether he was even employed there; the fact that he didn’t ever talk about his life, family or past. Then there was the unequivocal fact that Philip had vanished when they were in an open space with nowhere to hide.
It had obviously been a supernatural encounter, but Paul was stubborn and still didn’t become a Christian. He rebelled and went back to drinking heavily.
In 1990, Paul left the mine and embarked on a bus tour of Australia. He had some scary moments, including an encounter in Melbourne with the Irish Community who were raising funds to buy weapons for the IRA. With an Irish family background, Paul was happy to be involved in the partying, but when it turned sinister he realised that he was in danger. Again, something beyond the natural happened when a man whom he had only just met told him to get out of the city and get the train back to Sydney. The money he gave Paul was the exact money needed for the train back to Sydney together with accommodation. The man could not have known the amount needed. It was just too perfect to be coincidental.
Paul knew that God was looking after him, but that wasn’t enough to get him out of his drinking habit and destructive lifestyle.
Attempted suicide and a Miracle on the Road
Eventually, Paul returned to New Zealand and to a job with a large communications company in Napier. Things were going ok until the company made him redundant. Paul was distraught. He had had enough. He got in his car and decided to commit suicide by driving off the 98 metre (321 feet) cliff at a place called Nuhaka on the way to Wairoa. Taking his hands off the steering wheel, Paul closed his eyes and waited to plunge into oblivion. But it didn’t happen. Realising he should have been off the road and heading for the cliff by now, Paul opened his eyes to find that the car was back on the road! Immediately, he heard God speaking to him,
“Get out of the car and think about what you are doing.”
Paul took note and chose not to try again.
Two weeks later, he had a strange dream. He dreamed that he was staying at Bill Cosby’s ranch in America. In the dream, God spoke to him and said,
“Now is the time to give your life to me.”
God also told him that he would soon see many people he hadn’t seen for a long time. He woke up to find the the room was unnaturally hot and realised that this was no ordinary dream. God really had spoken to him. Very soon afterwards, Paul started seeing people whom he had not seen for many years. Meetings happened in various places and he realised that the words God spoke in the dream were coming true.
It was now 1999, and Paul decided to go to the ordination of a friend from the past who was becoming a priest. He was shocked when he went to speak to the man afterwards only to be greeted with the words, “What the f * are you doing here!”. Paul was shocked both by the attitude and the words of the response. Again, it seemed that somebody was showing him that Christian ‘religion’ and true faith in Jesus Christ are not always the same. Even priests can get it wrong.
Soon after this shocking encounter, Paul’s friend Peter invited him to go to an Assemblies of God church. Paul was shocked again, but this time it was more pleasant. Walking through the door, he looked around and realised that he knew approximately two thirds (66%) of the people there! Moreover, they were people he had recently seen whom he had previously not seen for many years. It was another aspect of the dream being fulfilled. One friend came to him and said that she had been praying for him for the past nine months. They joked about giving birth, but Paul saw the irony and understood the Biblical imagery of being ‘born again’. He attended the church for a few weeks and on one occasion found his arms shaking violently. Paul noticed that most people had their arms raised in praise to God, but he still wouldn’t give in. One of his newfound Christian friends just laughed, realising that Paul was nearly there!
Finally, two months later, Paul’s stubborn heart gave way to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and he gave his life to Christ. He realised afterwards that it was exactly ten years (to the very day) after he first prayed to God for help and saw the bright light outside his window.
In recent years Paul has been on mission trips to the South Pacific Islands and has been instrumental in many healing miracles. He has also shared his extraordinary testimony in numerous Christian outreach meetings in New Zealand. Paul now knows that God had an amazing plan for his life and has used him to bring healing and help to others in ways he once never dreamed possible.
God tells us in the Bible that those who seek him will find him. Paul’s story, strange but true, is proof that God always keeps his promises and always reaches out to those who seek him.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)
Story by Ralph Burden
The beautiful city of Napier, New Zealand
Photo 1: Paul O’Connell. Photo by Ralph Burden.
Photo 2: Napier New Zealand. Photo by Robyn Gallagher. Used with permission by Creative Commons License 2.0.