Bernie carefully picked his way from his position in the chorus to the microphone and waited for the song to begin. Lou Wildman, Oregon Adventist Men’s Chorus (OAMC) conductor, turned and spoke to the audience. “The journey that you have just observed from the risers to the microphone seems so simple. Yet, for Bernie Paulson, this was a journey of great courage.”
As an elementary student at Roseburg (Oregon) Junior Academy, Bernie’s first grade teacher, Vonsella Lynn, encouraged him to sing and accompanied him on the piano. “I have always loved to sing,” he says, “ever since I was a little boy.”
Bernie met Carol Cobb at Walla Walla College, where Bernie, a music education major, was one of her piano students. Carol laughingly says that Bernie was not an accomplished pianist, but he really did try hard. They were married in December 1963 and began a life-long love affair with each other and with the Lord.
Bernie’s ambition was to be a singing evangelist. He interviewed with N.R. Dower, then the Washington Conference president, and was ultimately called to that conference.
The Paulsons' first crusade was in Tacoma, Washington, where they teamed up with Lester Rasmussen for meetings in the Tacoma South Church.
That series of meetings started them on a long career of singing evangelism. They worked all over the nation with evangelists like Don Jacobsen, Dan Matthews, Bruce Johnston and George Knowles. They worked for several years with William Fagel at Faith For Today and evangelists Phil Knoche, J. Renolds Hoffman and others. They were in charge of the music for Mark Finley during on of his meetings in Moscow, Russia. With Clif Walter, Bernie and Carol held crusades in every state in the Northwest.
Bernie was ordained to the gospel ministry in 1972 and eventually became the Northern California Conference evangelist.
Bernie and Carol were holding a series in El Sobronte, California, when on November 23, 1993, Bernie came home with a splitting headache that nothing would relieve.
Worried, Carol took him to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a brain-stem aneurism—a blood vessel had blown up to about the size of an egg and was leaking. If it burst he would only live about four minutes. He was stabilized, then transported to the University of California Hospital in San Francisco.
The doctors told Carol that, because of the location of the aneurism, Bernie probably would not survive the surgery. But since the aneurism was about to burst anyway, they would try to repair it surgically.
The doctors told Carol that if Bernie survived, he could be blind, he might not walk, he could have a major stroke, and he might end up in a vegetative state. They asked her to be ready for him to die from the surgery itself.
While waiting for the operation to begin, Bernie prayed, “Lord, you know what I am going through. If You could possibly see to it that I would be able to come through this surgery alive and still be able to sing, I’ll sing Your praises until You come.”
During all of this, Carol said, "I know I can trust the Lord. I’ve trusted Him all my life. I know that I can trust Him with this. And yet there is a part of you that, hearing what the doctors had said, knows that death or worse could be the outcome. We said our goodbyes, and yet I thought that it would be it all right.”
Bernie says, “When I prayed on the way to surgery, I really believed that the Lord was not finished with me and that I still had a work to do for Him. I believed that He would bring me through safely."
Bernie survived the surgery, but lay like a dead man. Carol was unsure if Bernie would know anything when he came around. She figured that if he would remember anything, it might be the song they sang at a wedding just before his diagnosis. So she sang it to him. The first thing Bernie remembers after waking up was Carol's singing. In response, he kind of squeezed her hand, and she was comforted that he did understand, if only a little bit.
After six months of rehabilitation, his initial recovery progressed to the point that he could go to their Paradise home. Carol felt that there was healing in music and played for Bernie, but it was more than six years before he tentatively started to sing along. Then a little later he was asked to sing for church. Carol says that Bernie’s attention span was short and so they would practice a little at a time, but he did sing.
The Paulsens moved to Vancouver, Washington, in May 2002, to be near Bernie’s mother, Allie. Almost immediately Carol was invited to be the accompanist for His Praise, a men’s singing group from nearby Vancouver, and Bernie was invited to join the group. A few months later, Carol was invited to be the OAMC accompaniest. Bernie was also invited to join that group and it has only been in the last year that Bernie has been able to begin to read music once again.
Lew Wildman reports that at first Bernie was quite tentative, but with each succeeding practice, he became more and more confident. "The day came when we needed a soloist for a new arrangement of the hymn 'I Need Thee Every Hour,' and Bernie was that soloist,” says Lew. “One of my employees told me afterward that his wife wept through the whole thing. She was so moved by not just his story but by his ability to step out in front of an audience and under some difficulty sing such moving music.”
Lew asks. “So does Bernie have a continuing mission?" His answer is clear: "You bet he does! And he has already impacted a lot of us in the men’s chorus through that mission.”
“Music has been my life and still is. I just love being able to influence people for the Lord through music,” concludes Bernie.
The progress that Bernie has made has been long and difficult for both him and Carol. Yet in many ways, the progress seems to be accelerating—and music, along with the blessings of the Lord, is playing a big part.
Watch Bernie sing at http://www.gleaneronline.org/video/Paulson