“God showed me that He is real.
He showed me it wasn’t a fairytale.”
Steve Prager had suffered with social phobia for
most of his life and experienced depression and
feelings of hopelessness. One night, at the suggestion
of a good friend he went to church ….
“Life wasn’t turning out quite as I expected,” says Steve Prager. Steve’s father was the son of a German immigrant who settled in Australia in the early 1900s. Now living in Lindfield, Steve was brought up in a happy family. He had done well at school and had gone on to study at Agricultural College.
“Looking back life was pretty bad for me – it had become a misery. Apart from the usual struggles that we all go through I suffered from a condition called social phobia. I was afraid of people, social situations and the demands that I thought people might put on me.”
“The result was I was suffering from depression a lot of the time. I wasn’t able to attain to my abilities or progress in any sort of career. I felt I was banging my head against a brick wall!”
And that’s just about the way it was for Steve. Life became a vicious circle of failed jobs and continual disappointments. His condition drove him away from people and away from success. He found some consolation in keeping company with his mates and other friends but this led to a continuous habit of nights out, drinking and a general downward spiral.
” I would go out drinking 1-2 nights, sometimes three nights, a week and often ended up binge drinking. I’d drink till I was plastered … sometimes as many as 15 drinks. I was trying to submerge myself, trying to escape.”
“My mates and I would go out on the town – looking for fun. Really all I was doing was trying to cover up for my lack of self-confidence.”
“And we’d try to pick up girls. This would sometimes lead to one night stands. I’m not proud of it now but we really were trying to find some sort of distraction. The only trouble was I’d wake up the next morning feeling really empty inside. Sleeping with strange women only made me feel worse about life.”
Steve opted for a Jackaroo course to prepare him for life on the land. He learned to do basic farm work and at the end of the course was selected to go and work for a newly arrived Canadian family at Yarrawah, a property inland from Port Macquarie in Northern NSW.
Steve learned a lot on the property. He enjoyed the jackaroo life style, fencing, riding the trail and learning about life on the land. The property owner, Rob, a man in his late thirties, taught Steve a lot about hard work and discipline. And over the next two years Steve grew to respect Rob, his work ethic and his expertise were an inspiration.
Over time Rob told Steve about some mysterious out of body experiences he was having. They would occur particularly at night. Rob described times when he would somehow leave his body (this happened when he was asleep) and he would feel himself floating around the house. In the bedroom he would be able to see his own body and that of his wife on the bed as he stared down from somewhere near the ceiling.
“Rob said it scared him a bit. But he could bring on this experience just by lying down sometimes. It made me think, there must be more to life and human existence than I thought. Rob’s talks opened up the possibility that another world existed – I wondered about it but all I could do was wonder at that stage,” Steve said.
Eventually Steve left the property at Yarrawah. He had applied to join the police force and having been accepted he moved to Goulburn in Southern New South Wales. But, eight weeks into the course, Steve’s social phobia re-emerged with anxiety attacks, outright fear and deep depression. He could not stand it, so after some advice from the cadet counsellor, Steve decided to leave. “It really broke me up. What could I look forward to now?” was Steve’s constant thought as he left this career behind.
It seemed that the time was ripe for a quick visit back to Rob and his wife up country. To Steve’s surprise he found that Rob’s spiritual experiences had deepened. Steve says, “Rob went on a Bible study retreat at Port Macquarie. While he was there he had an amazing experience. He was struck by some sort of power and he fell to his knees during a meeting. Rob was so overcome by this power it seemed to change him. When I arrived he told me about it. He had changed. He felt that he had some experience with God. When we spoke Rob told me to actively seek out the meaning of life.”
Rob gave Steve a book on reincarnation. Although Steve read it carefully he dismissed it as ‘so much rubbish’. Rob also gave him another book on Buddhism and, again, Steve concluded that it was also ‘a lot of rubbish’. ” I couldn’t relate to it at all,” Steve recalled.
After Steve’s visit to the property he returned to Sydney and got a job working for a sandwich shop where he met a young man who said that he was ‘a born again Christian’. “Virtually his first words to me were, ‘Do you know God?’ I was amazed,” Steve recalled, “I couldn’t believe how ‘turned on’ this guy was! ”
At that time Steve was going with a girl named, Renee. He involved her in his thoughts about the point of life. Renee suggested that they attend a church. Steve suddenly recalled that a young man named Mike, with whom he had worked some time ago, had talked about North Shore Christian Centre on Eastern Valley Way at Chatswood. “Renee and I decided to ‘check it out’ ” Steve said.
When Steve walked into the church he said that he felt really uncomfortable. “At first the people seemed too friendly. I thought that they might be a cult! During the worship time I got to the point where I was about to walk out when Tony McLennan got up to preach. Everything he said suddenly seemed to be exactly what I had been thinking for so long. I wanted peace with God and everything he was saying was clicking into place. I remember hearing the words:”You can’t live a godly life without the Holy Spirit.” I had never heard that before. I had never heard that I could be ‘born again.’ I was so engrossed that I was on the edge of my seat and soon, when the altar call was given I found myself out at the front of the congregation. As I was led in the prayer of repentance I felt something was happening, something so strong. I wanted to cry and I fought to hold back the tears.”
“I remember talking afterwards with a chap whom I came to know as a wonderful friend, Peter O’Connor. I don’t remember what he said but I had this unbelievable feeling – I’d never felt it before. I knew something powerful was happening to me.”
“Peter gave me a Good News New Testament. I took it home and I read and read. So many things seemed to jump out at me from its pages. All my questions were being answered.”
“Tony and I met to talk on Wednesday nights and then I started attending the church each Sunday where I really got a lot out of Pastor John’s sermons. Tony also suggested that I attend Alpha and I remember praying the prayer of repentance again on the course. And after doing the Alpha Course I decided to get baptised. By this time Renee and I had separated. ”
Steve was baptised and he recalls a tremendous outpouring of the Holy Spirit into his life. “God showed me that he was real. He showed me it wasn’t a fairytale. I couldn’t believe how much He had changed me. Whereas in times past life had been so empty, now I felt this wonderful peace.”
“Social phobia is really a big problem for anyone affected by it. It brings depression, anxiety attacks and fear of people contact. I had had no self-confidence. But now I found myself emerging from my shell. I believe God has been setting me free from this curse. The biggest example of this has been the Alpha Course itself. God gave me the strength to be a helper and eventually a group leader. Imagine it – me, a leader of a group over a ten-week period. And to think that I have helped others find Jesus.”
Steve finds that he still struggles at times but God is taking him through a continuous process of healing in, which each day as it passes sees him getting stronger.
What of the future?
“Well,” says Steve, ” I am doing a course in counselling with the Wesley Centre but I see that my ministry is to do what Jesus said to do – to go and tell others about Him and to help them become disciples of Jesus. So I continue to work on Alpha and, along with Steve Kennedy, I am leading a Life Group (Home group) to help other young people come closer to Christ. God has given me a real sense of urgency about this work. He has given so much to me, now I want to share it with others.”