“…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
(Philippians 2:13)


From Riches to Rags to Great Wealth

God@Work in the life of Peter DeStefano

My life was going really well, or so I thought. Money was flowing in from my
company, which supplied artwork for buildings and campuses of major corporations. With my profitable business, I was living the worldly bachelor lifestyle: women, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.

I had bought a six-bedroom house equipped with five fireplaces, butler’s and maid’s quarters, and an Italianate marble ballroom. Every three years, I bought a new car in addition to the 1960 RR Silver Shadow I kept in the garage. I also provided housing for my family. Yep, I was living the high life. Money was my idol, and I worshiped and reveled at that altar. Although I had been raised a Catholic, church going was no longer part of my life. Every once in a while, I might shoot a prayer up to hopefully get an answer, but my vision of God mainly consisted of a ritualized figure to call on for forgiveness, who was then placed on a religious shelf until the next time needed. I believed God forgave me after I confessed, but I kept on sinning anyway, choosing to pursue my own wealth and desires. Then one day, everything changed.

Due to the collapse of Wall Street and bank failures during the fraudulent investment schemes of Madoff in 2007/08, my business contracts suddenly dried up. It was as if someone had turned off a faucet with no leaks. My pride would not allow me to face up to my problems at first. I still thought I could salvage my business and property. My brother agreed to refinance my estate and then introduced me to Ryan, a mortgage broker. Looking at my financial portfolio, Ryan asked me a startling question: “Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior?” This is not a typical question posed in a loan office! I can still remember the exchange clearly. I nodded yes, and he replied, “Good. You may need Him like you’ve never needed Him before.” Then he asked, “Do you have a church?” As a Catholic, I thought, of course I have a church, even though I had not visited in a long while. Ryan invited me to attend FAC with his family. As I listened to Pastor Marty’s preaching that Sunday and on succeeding weekends, I began learning that God is not some distant, indifferent figure on a shelf, but rather a loving Father who wants a relationship with me.

I cried myself to sleep that cold night, asking Him “why” and pleading with Him to end my life.

The investment bank turned down the financial proposal Ryan had prepared. I had been so sure that my brother would not be refused the mortgage that I fell into despair. When I was given ninety days to vacate the premises, I still refused to believe all my money was gone. I did not tell my family, except for my brother, that my house had been foreclosed, and stubbornly, I did not seek alternative shelter. I felt broken and lonely. The night I had to leave my home, I packed up my personal belongings, along with my Shepherd puppy Bruno, stuffing clothes in the car. After curling up in the back seat, I cried out to God and cursed Him. “I can’t believe you’re doing this,” and “What is the sense of it all?” I cried myself to sleep that cold night, asking Him “why” and pleading with Him to end my life.

But in the morning, something amazing happened. I heard birds singing, and I heard Jesus’ voice speaking to me, saying, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap . . . yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26) You are so valuable that God sent His only son to die for you. (John 3:16) You do not have to fear personal threats or difficult trials. Nothing can shake God’s love from you.

I knew then it would be all right. In the light of day, I knew my life had changed. I felt relieved. God had taken me, a sinner, shaken me up and turned me around. That Sunday, Pastor Marty’s sermon, based on Gene Getz’s Measure of a Man, spoke directly to me: a man is not judged by his worldliness, but by charity, by his capability to love his fellowman. Jesus saved me from a life of empty riches to a life of lasting wealth.

But my story doesn’t end with my conversion as miraculous as that is to me. The real test of value is in everyday living, how belief holds up during the wear and tear and trials of life. In February of 2012, while standing at a sink to wash my hands in a store restroom, I had a stroke, falling to the floor. I could not talk. I was not expected to walk again. As I lay in the hospital bed, all I could do was pray. Because I believed in God’s love for me, I could praise Him, asking for His will to be done. I wanted to recover, for sure, but I gave it all to Him. Pastor Erik came to see me and pray with me; other brothers from FAC came to sit with me and pray, and one day, it happened: I could move my big toe! Eventually, I regained movement in my legs until I could walk again. I could talk again. After four years, I could even drive again.

During my convalescence, staying with my mother, I asked God what He wanted me to do. I began taking online courses in Christian counseling, receiving my Master’s degree with a specialty in Addiction Counseling. Today I work with drug and alcohol patients, both as a paid counselor and volunteer helper. Every Wednesday night, 7:00 p.m. in the FAC Red Barn, I co-facilitate substance abuse meetings for men.

If you are struggling with addictions, please hear me when I say, “Praise God for He is Mighty and Saves.” My life now is simple but so rich in meaning. I believe that real success in a man is in his charity. I was broken and now I am whole in Christ. I have been redeemed.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.” •