Don and Pauline's Story

Don and Pauline Stevenson have been pastors emeritus of Abundant Life Fellowship since July 2008.
The Stevensons began as founding pastors of the non-denominational church in the early 1980s, starting as a home Bible study at a New Waterford farm and buying their first building – and old auto body shop on
Taylor Avenue – and officially beginning services there in 1983.
Pastor Don, a native of
Massillon, Ohio, served in the U.S. Navy and eventually went to work for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Working in Pakistan in 1973, Don came to a point when he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ.
The family moved back to
Ohio, where Don landed a job with the U.S. Postal Service. During that time, in Hartville, they got involved with a church. Over time, they linked with a family in New Waterford, who had been traveling to Hartville for worship. That led to their traveling to New Waterford to lead the Bible study.
After officially starting the New Waterford church, Don transferred to a closer post office, first working in
Youngstown and eventually landing in Columbiana. He retired from the U.S. Postal Service in 1992 and began leading the church full time. They were ordained through Bethesda Christian Church in Sterling Heights, Mich. That church’s former pastor, Dr. James Lee Beall, served many years as their mentor.
Over time, both Don and Pauline took classes at the Logos School of Ministry in
Youngstown. Both earned bachelor’s degrees in theological studies from Vision International, Pastor Don at age 57 and Pastor Pauline at age 62. She then went on to earn a master’s degree in Christian education from Vision.
Don led the church through two major building projects, one that moved the fellowship from the
Taylor Avenue property to its current 25 acres along State Route 45. Services in the new building began in the mid-1990s, followed by tripled growth in less than two years. Instead of launching immediately into another building project, the church added a second morning service, which continued to add to its growth.
The next building project, which included the current structure initially valued at $3.2 million, began in 2003 with services launched in 2004.
Over the course of the church’s growth, Don and Pauline reached out to many lost and hurting people in the region. They often referred to Abundant Life as an ICU (intensive care unit). In a newsletter article in November 2000, Pastor Don referenced the ICU theme: “We understand we are an intensive care unit. No matter where people come from or what they’ve been into, our job is to stop the bleeding, take off the grave clothes and get them on the right track through discipling,” he said. “Our mandate in all this is to love each person who comes to the ICU, for there are no impossible cases. If Jesus sent them here, he values them greatly.”
In another newsletter article, this one in November 2001, he commented again on the ICU, this time in reference to eventual plans to enlarge church facilities. “As you know, we as a church are practical minded and not ostentatious. We are trying to find what says, ‘Hey, this is Abundant Life!’ We’re still the intensive care unit God called us to be.”
It became clear as the growth continued that Abundant Life would become more of a regional fellowship – drawing people from many different places – rather than a strictly local church.
In the late 1980s, under the Stevensons’ leadership, the church began offering Wednesday night catechism classes, eventually offering a six-course curriculum that, in part, led to much of the spiritual growth of its members. The introductory course, “Understanding God,” continues to be offered today.
In a church newsletter in December 2003, Pastor Don commented about the role catechism classes played in the church’s growth.
“Remember how strange the word catechism was to you when you first attended Abundant Life Fellowship,” he said, noting the classes began 15 years earlier. That newsletter noted that approximately 100 students attended classes from September through June, and Pastor Don noted that “it’s a thrill to see the parking lot full Wednesday evenings.”
In a 2004 Vindicator story on the church’s last building project, Pastor Don talked about the church’s growth.
“Our job really was not to do everything, but to train leaders,” he said.
Throughout the church’s history, Pastor Don became known for encouraging the membership to “Just Show Up.” See an article on the History page about how that phrase contributed to Abundant Life's growth.
One of Pastor Don’s favorite things to do in ministry was to baptize people. He eventually became known as Don the Baptist and usually wore a shirt carrying that moniker during baptism services.
Throughout its history, including every building project, the church operated without passing an offering plate or conducting fundraisers. In the 2004 Vindicator story, Pastor Don had this to say about that: “We teach stewardship. They don’t have to be coaxed. We figure if we have to do that, we’re doing something wrong.” Besides, he said, “by not passing the plate, we showed we have faith.”
Also under the Stevensons’ tutelage, Abundant Life started a Christian school known as
Providence Christian Academy. It served school-age children through high school and also offered college-level materials for people interested in deeper studies. Though the school eventually closed, plans are being finalized to reopen the college sector this fall. Stay tuned for those details.
Since shifting to pastors emeritus status, the Stevensons have split their time between Columbiana and
Florida.
In October 2010, Pauline faced an experience in the middle of a worship service at Abundant Life that launched the whole church into new levels of faith and expectancy. (The details of that story, offered in Pauline’s own words, will appear on this page soon).
Don and Pauline are the parents of two children, a son, Mark, and a daughter, Kim. They have eight grandchildren, among them Josh Graham, who currently serves Abundant Life as youth director.

A Resurrection Story

I just want to put down on paper what happened to me Oct. 24, 2010.
My daughter, Kim, and I had walked into the sanctuary at Abundant Life Fellowship and sat near the front. Worship, led that morning by my grandchildren Josh and Mary Graham, was just beginning, and we were all standing in worship. Several hundred people were in the room. Our family was on a high because of the birth the previous day of Micah Donovan Graham, Josh and Kyle's first son, Kim's first grandchild and our first great-grandchild. We were happy.
Then it happened.
As we were standing there, I became a little tired and told Kim I was going to sit down. I also turned to see where my husband, Don, might be, as he hadn't come into the sanctuary yet. The last thing I remember saying was "Wonder where dad is." Then I said "Oh boy."

Then it happened

The rest of the story was told to me by Kim and others who watched it unfold.
I had passed out and fell into Kim's arms. My eyes were open and set, and I had quit breathing. Kim yelled out "Someone call 911!"
Praise and worship was still going on, but as people started gathering around me, Josh, still on the platform, realized something was happening. When he realized it was me, he threw his guitar aside, leaped off the platform and began moving chairs away from me to give room for several people trained in CPR to tend to me. By this time, Don was by my side trying to encourage me.
The stage manager, Lori, came over and checked for a pulse. A nurse, Holly, who had been across the hall in the nursery, was dispatched by her husband. She also checked for a pulse.

I was dead

Lori told me later she thought, "I can't find her pulse. Why in the world can't I find it?" Holly, at the same time, was checking in a different spot and couldn't find one. They looked at each other and shook their heads. I was dead. Eyes set, no pulse, no breathing. I was dead!
As the young ladies realized I was dead, they went into action, beginning CPR. They wasted no time. Holly told me later that it hit her, "This is Pastor Pauline!" Seeing Holly's emotion, Lori took over. Two others, Ben and Tom, also stepped in taking turns working on me.
At some point, our pastor, Jeff, had asked someone to encourage everybody to get into groups to pray. He came over to me and was praying, and as he looked at me he could see immediately that I was dead. As he told me later, he thought to himself, "Oh my God. I'm going to be doing Pauline's funeral this week." But they continued praying, asking God to bring me back.
At one point during the CPR, Lori looked at Holly with horror in her eyes as she felt my ribs breaking. Holly encouraged her to continue.

Paramedics

When the paramedics arrived, they immediately ushered everyone out of the sanctuary. They began the defibrillator. During this time, the pastor instructed everybody to go into the fellowship hall to continue praying.
The paramedics worked on me awhile. They eventually loaded me into the ambulance to take me to Salem Community Hospital. I really don't know when the realization came that I was back. Just before the ambulance left the church, Tom, one of the men who had done CPR, came into the fellowship hall to announce that I was breathing but it was very weak.
Several from the church headed to the hospital. Pastor Jeff instructed the church to feel free to stay to pray as long as they wanted. He and his wife were heading to the hospital and would keep people informed.
In the ER, they continued to work on me, still shocking me. I was told that I responded by saying, "Hey, that hurts." Don also told me that I asked him what had happened.
Eventually, they called for a helicopter to take me to Northside Hospital in Youngstown.
I was told Josh led his carload in praise and worship all the way to Youngstown. "So I stand, with arms high and heart abandoned. In awe, of the one who gave it all. So I stand, my soul, Lord, to you surrendered. All I am is yours."
That's what I was told he was singing.
 

Crowd at hospital

Many from the church made their way to Northside, as did others who had found out in the midst of their own church services. (Many were sending texts to friends and family in churches, asking them to pray). So many people showed up at Northside. The crowd was so large they needed a larger room. A couple of people ordered food. Many were praying.
In the ER they were intubating me, which was difficult because of my small neck. Still not knowing if I would survive, they continued shocking me. My heart had an electrical problem and was very weak. I had a very slow pulse, so they decided to put in a defibrillator and pacemaker. The doctor told me that even as they were doing that, my heart stopped again.
The doctors thought I needed to be put into a freeze state (medically induced coma) for several days because they were unsure of brain activity and also wanted to give my body a chance to rest and recover. Hearing this news, family and friends in the waiting room began to pray about that.
At one point, though, the doctor planning to do the procedure came out and told the family, "I'm not doing the procedure. Your mother is very alert and responded to everything." Praise the Lord again. They told all our friends, and there was much rejoicing.
I remained in ICU for five days and finally they took the tubes from my throat. Kim said whenever they were there, I kept pointing to the tubes and motioning to get them out. Also I was gesturing, and they couldn't figure out what I wanted. Finally, they realized I was asking them to pray. Somehow I knew I needed prayer. How funny. 
More miraculous things happened. The nurse asked me at one point to write down all my medicines. Somehow, in the midst of everything, I was able to do that, though I don't now remember doing any of it. They did X-rays and found I had no broken bones. How could that be?
With the tubes out, I began to feel normal again. I knew I was in the hospital, but I didn't know why. The nurse said she would get my family. She kept saying how wonderful I was doing, that it was a miracle.

The miraculous

Kim and Don came into the room. Kim said, "Momma, you're back." She leaned over the bed and rubbed my feet, tears dripping from her chin. I knew then it was serious. They began to tell me all that had happened to me. I couldn't believe it, yet I know God can do anything.
Medically, what happened is called sudden cardiac death, and the survival and recovery rates are very low.
I continued to progress daily. The doctors also kept telling me I was a miracle. To this day, when I go to my doctor, he says, "There's the miracle woman."
The heart doctor has said repeatedly that those who administered CPR saved my life. I told him that Holly, the nurse, wasn't supposed to be in church that morning because she was supposed to work. But her work called her off. The doctor responded that he was supposed to be in church that morning but had been called to work. I told him, "Because you were on God's team to assist me." He agreed. More miraculous maneuverings by the hand of God.
As I continued to heal, I told the doctors I wanted to go home. 

Going back home

Exactly one week after I had died in church, I was back home. It was Oct. 31 - Halloween! What a black eye for the devil, who tried to wipe me out the week before, and here I was back home. God is so good.
I recuperated at home. Don and Mary took great care of me. Don's blood sugar levels, which had been high, declined from all the trips he was making up and down the stairs. Church people brought food, mindful of my restricted diet. Home health care providers checked on me regularly.
I was getting excited to return to church. Pastor Jeff had asked, if I was strong enough, if I could speak at the community Thanksgiving service. The Sunday before Thanksgiving I returned to Abundant Life in the morning and spoke to the community at East Fairfield Methodist Church in the evening. What a day of celebration.
Returning to church, the greeters welcomed me, got me a wheelchair, and nearly everybody stopped to greet me - many filled with wonder and tears.
My talk to the community was titled "God Canceled My Funeral." It came from a Facebook friend who had told me that's what God had done to me. The essence of the message, however, was not just the miracle God had worked in sparing my life, but rather the greatest miracle of salvation available to every one of us.
As I write this, we're in Florida and will be staying awhile. We celebrated my 73rd birthday here. We're enjoying life, grateful to be here and excited at every turn to share the miracle of life God has given us. God is so good!