Heaven-Leigh Nikau and Sade Waikato change their life around by joining Destiny Church

By Carolyne Meng-Yee

Two women from high-profile fractured relationships say they have found solace with Destiny Church.

The daughter of league legend Tawera Nikau has told how the church helped turn her life around and left her keen to repair her relationship with her father.

And war hero Willie Apiata's estranged wife, Sade Waikato, has posted a video on Facebook of her baptism by Destiny leader Bishop Brian Tamaki and his wife Hannah.

Tawera Nikau's daughter Heaven-Leigh has battled back from losing her children to family members and lost weekends smoking P to become a prominent figure at the church, where she baptises new converts.

Now she's trying to pluck up the courage to approach her father after a public bust-up four years ago.

"I contacted him when I first joined the church because I wanted to be free of the burdens I was carrying, the hurt - but he didn't call me back.

"I am scared of the rejection. Even Bishop Brian said, 'You have to go and see your dad'. I am waiting for the right time in myself to say, 'I am sorry for the things I have done. I haven't been the perfect daughter. I love you'."

Tawera did not comment before deadline.

He played 19 times for New Zealand between 1989 and 1997 and was an NRL Grand Final winner known for his high-energy game. In 2003 a motorcycle accident resulted in the amputation of his right leg.

He and Heaven-Leigh fell out after a disagreement over the care of her first two children. After an altercation outside the Huntly police station, Tawera was charged with assaulting his daughter. He was found guilty but the conviction was overturned after he appealed to the High Court.

Tawera Nikau is Heaven-Leigh Nikau's estranged father. Photo / Chris Gorman
Tawera Nikau is Heaven-Leigh Nikau's estranged father. Photo / Chris Gorman

Heaven-Leigh, 28, said her self-destructive behaviour began when she was a schoolgirl after her mother, Letitia, took her own life in 2001. The family were living in England while Tawera played for Warrington Wolves.

"I used to drink bottles of vodka to ease the pain, numb myself so I couldn't feel anything.

"I had the best of the best but I realised material things don't matter - they don't buy happiness and that's all I ever really wanted. I never found that after mum died. It was all about me back then, how I felt and how I've been done wrong."

Tawera, Heaven-Leigh and her brother Tyme returned to New Zealand where she met the father of her children soon after leaving school.

They had two children before her partner moved to Melbourne. Her partner's mother took custody of the children amid concerns about their care. Her downward spiral continued when she starting to use methamphetamine.

"I would smoke it with my friends in the weekends for about six months. It was one of the darkest times in my life."

She credits her ex-partner for "pulling me out of it".

"He just kept telling me that I am better than that - he wanted us to get back together and work things out."

They did for a time. Heaven-Leigh moved to Melbourne before they returned to New Zealand and had two more children. But her partner went back last year.

"We are better as friends," Heaven-Leigh concluded.

While her ex-partner has been one factor in her turning her life around, Destiny Church has been another.

"You know I come from a good upbringing, I didn't want for anything. Through church and meeting these broken people and hearing their stories, I am thinking how lucky I am.

"God helped me heal, so I can help others who are in trouble. That's what Brian and Hannah [Tamaki, the bishop's wife] offered me."

Heaven-Leigh says the Tamakis are unfairly judged and is happy to give the church a weekly tithe from her benefit.

"God has rewarded them for what they are doing for their people. If I had $10 million, I would give them half. I think people take them the wrong way. They teach us about the tools to deal with real-life situations."

Now practising an abstemious life, free from alcohol and drugs, there's one person she is yearning to "make peace with more than anything else" - her father.

"It was all about me back then - how I felt and how I've been done wrong. I don't blame Dad anymore, he is a good person, it wasn't his fault. I forgot Dad lost his wife, his best friend . . . he was dealing with a whole lot of loss, anger and grief."

Meanwhile, mother-of-two Sade Waikato told the Herald on Sunday she was "a regular churchgoer and devoted to her new journey".

Sade Waikato with Michael Dciple Leau, Hannah Tamaki, and Bishop Brian on the day she was baptised. Photo / Sade Waikato Facebook
Sade Waikato with Michael Dciple Leau, Hannah Tamaki, and Bishop Brian on the day she was baptised. Photo / Sade Waikato Facebook

Waikato recently told Woman's Day magazine she'd separated from husband, Victoria Cross recipient Willie Apiata because she felt "trapped and isolated".

A Facebook message accompanying the baptism video said: "A lot of my journey has been very dark but I'm finally at peace. Successful and have true happiness inside and I'm going to continue to do so."

Waikato said she had been in a marriage "where I had clearly changed and was not happy at all and lost the old Sade".

"I love you all please Trust that this does not change who you all know me as I've always been grounded and I don't plan to change that at all!"

Brian Tamaki replied: "Happy for you Sade Waikato great our paths crossed." His wife added: "Was worth getting into my wetsuit."

- Herald on Sunday

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