Love and grace People

Easter In

With collectors flanking him, Rob Whelan busks for the Red Cross on Lambton Quay in Wellington. Photo: supplied
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As New Zealand celebrates Easter without holiday trips or mass gatherings because of the Covid-19 household isolation, we speak with someone for whom this public holiday has special significance.

Ten years ago, Rob Whelan victimised Christians, thinking  “Don’t talk to me about your imaginary friend”, and wouldn’t say God’s name aloud.

He no longer victimises Christians – or anyone.

The Wellington musician was passionate about music; still is.

When it’s not isolation time, he still plays at bars such as J.J. Murphy & Co., Welsh Dragon Bar and Double Vision Brewery in his adopted home town. His songs speak of freedom with one song describing the capital city as the “place where I belong”.

Wellington musician Rob Whelan plays at Chooky’s Pub & Pantry in Cuba St. Photo: supplied

Yet this hasn’t always been so. The New Zealand-born song-writer lived in the United Kingdom for 38 years, after his British parents returned there when he was a toddler.

His dad would tell him about New Zealand: “Dolphins and catching fish and everything. The magical land”. But these memories didn’t endear the Manchester lad to Aotearoa!

Rob eventually visited New Zealand for a month’s holiday. Upon returning to the UK, his life fell apart.

He was already heart-broken after breaking up with his girlfriend and later his beloved band split up.

New Zealand kept appearing on his radar. For example, he’d see the country promoted on a t-shirt or advertisement.

“So I took the hint and thought, ‘okay’.”

When Rob landed in New Zealand at the end of 2012, he felt hopeless. He found work on Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF) sites, especially those with “musos” he could make music alongside.

About six months into this, he was toiling on a Coromandel co-operative site at Karuna Falls when he was briefly introduced to a fellow resident who gave him the creeps.

This man shook Rob’s hand and said, rather disturbingly, that “I’ll be seeing you verrry soon”.

Rob returned to his hut to sleep and awoke at 2 or 3am freezing cold and petrified by a “shimmering” flying near him.

His host moved him to a new hut. However the next night this strange shimmering occurred at the same time, seeming to go into his stomach and make him throw up.

Rob spotted a Bible on the hut shelf, grabbed it and said the Lord’s Prayer.

“I wasn’t religious but I went to assemblies when I was at primary school, so I could say the Lord’s Prayer.”

He left Karuna Falls and ended up in Thames at Easter weekend. He had hot and cold shivers, describing these as like his whole body was a mobile phone on vibrate mode.

He sensed the problem was spiritual not physical.

Rob walked down Thames’ main street and wondered what to do. He entered a small, empty church and sat on a pew. As he did, the sun shone like a “warm comfort”.

During the next while, Rob continued labouring on WWOOF sites, playing his acoustic guitar and hanging out with musicians.

Someone recommended Wellington, so he moved there and eventually made a living working at Music Planet and playing gigs.

One day he was due to play a gig, but caught a chest infection with a cough.

His flat was near the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul and he spied a sign saying “The Healing Rooms. Jesus heals today as he did 2000 years ago”.

Rob asked what he had to lose, faced his fears and walked into the cathedral. Those inside prayed for him “and it cleared up and I was able to play the gig”.

He continued on and attributed the quick healing of his chest infection to coincidence.

However, the healing didn’t stop. His aunty in the UK had a fall and was on life support in a coma. She was expected to die so Rob went to the cathedral, lit a candle for her and filled out a yellow prayer form.

The next day, his dad reported there had been a miracle – his aunty was awake and off life support.

Rob returned to the Healing Rooms. As the group prayed they held a little ‘healing cloth’ for him to send to his aunty.

The sun shone through the stained glass windows only for those moments when their hands were on the cloth.

It was like an Indiana Jones movie.”

 

The cloth was delivered to his aunty in the UK and within three or four days, she was further healed, no longer needing liver or kidney dialysis machines.

Rob says he understood his aunty’s healing was a miracle, however he stubbornly continued his rock and roll lifestyle unabated.

Over time, God “got the best” of him. Rob was baptised in the sea two years ago, regularly attends church which is something he never thought he’d do, and is writing and recording a worship album to bring hope to others.

Rob Whelan outside the Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo

“Easter is where it all started, really,” he says, reflecting on his own life. He says every trauma has been healed and he has purpose.

“God just completely transformed my mind and my life.”

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More information:

To check out some of Rob’s original songs click here 

If you would like to explore more on the Christian faith click here 

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