Last Friday was a milestone for former Hastings man Anaru Birch. After 36 years in the justice system he was signed off, leaving behind 17 prison sentences and life in 11 different jails.
Anaru, who now lives in Palmerston North, runs the Restore programme for the Legacy Church and last Friday, Saturday and Sunday, he was leading the Keeping it Simple Saints programme at Dannevirke's Makirikiri Marae.
"I've been a drug addict and spent so much of my life in jail for forgery, false pretences and drug offences," he told the Dannevirke News.
"I was in the social welfare system as a kid, but Friday's sign off from parole, my last day in the system was the best day of my life."
Anaru had been in the justice system since 1980, but said God had given him hope, something he was trying to share with others.
Over the weekend 50 people shared prayers, song, worship, workshops and their testimonials.
"We've come from all around the North Island," Anaru said.
"My faith in God brought me to this place in my life and I'm working with the younger ones, but it's not always about serving God, we find interests together and I don't bombard them with Jesus.
"I can't pretend it's been an easy walk away from my former life, but my faith is stronger than any struggle or temptation."
Anaru chose to move away from family and friends in Hastings, the hardest thing he's had to do.
"I chose to relocate because I know everyone in Hastings and I knew I could be tempted by my mates, especially in relation to drug use," he said.
"I now feel a sense of purpose in my life through helping others and the Restore programme motivates people to make a change."
Chantelle Kiu-Tiopire sought help through the Restore programme after her much-loved husband died in April from a brain tumour, leaving her with four children aged 13, 7, 6 and 5.
But she told the Dannevirke News her life spiralled out of control in her early teens when she became involved with gangs, prostitution, drugs, alcohol and physical violence.
"Life for me was everything that wasn't good. I didn't care what they did to my body," she said.
"I tried to self harm and to shoot myself and to destroy the family who loved me. Life in Whanganui broke me, but for five years I stuck with that stuff and then I went to Hawke's Bay to my nana and she taught me how to live and I taught myself to heal."
Earlier this year, in shock after the death of her husband, Chantelle moved to Palmerston North and sought help from her uncle Anaru and the church.
"Life is a bit better now for my children and even though it was hard, Jesus just filled that void in my life. Sadly, being human we know how to suppress things in a container, but it pops up."
Ngaroma Panirau (Mala), is from Rotorua and is also on the Restore programme.
"It's helping me with my addiction and to overcome suicidal thoughts and actions," she said.
"My life has been very rough, I suffered sexual abuse and being around my dad, who was an alcoholic, didn't help."
Mala said she'd felt rejected, especially when her mother walked out when she was just eight years old, never to be seen again despite a Crimewatch programme appeal.
"I'd given up on my life because I could see no purpose, but God gave me a second chance at living," she said.
"Going to church and being obedient to God and help from Pastor John [Faiz] has helped me grow.
"I feel better now and can talk to others and I'm no longer crying all the time."
Anaru said Mala has a beautiful singing voice and her faith shines through.
"Her voice has touched a lot of lives," he said.
The weekend at Makirikiri Marae was part of the White Ribbon programme.
"Some of those people shared powerful stories and it's good to see their changed ways," Dannevirke's Tom Kamura said.