To hear an excerpt of Matthew’s faith story, click https://youtu.be/0ytNVgiI5MU
I have to say that my faith story began in a juvenile detention center. I was always getting into trouble. I grew up in a violent home. My dad was violent, a lot of different violence was going on in my house and in my neighborhood.
I developed this thing inside of me that I just couldn’t control, like an uncontrollable rage or anger, which led me into a lot of trouble. So I ended up in the juvenile detention center and I got into a lot of fights, until eventually I was locked down in that institution. I was not allowed to interact with the population.
Then one night some guy on the 12 to 8 shift came in and unlocked my door and let me out. He would read the Word to me, but I didn’t want to listen. I was raised Catholic, but wasn’t into God or any of that stuff. I didn’t want to listen to it, but I did want to get out of the cell.
So he started to preach to me and he put Jesus in a way that I could understand. I was about 14 or 15 at this time and stuff started to happen to me. I stopped cursing, I stopped being violent, and ended up being the unit leader. Something special happened to me where I was content and happy and I never, ever, forgot that feeling.
As I got more involved with drugs, I got into more crime. I started committing violent crimes, selling drugs, abusing drugs, and ended up back in prison. I’m there for an extended period of time. I would feel like I didn’t have control over myself. When I got upset or angry, I lost all control.
As time went by, I was released and I remember telling them I wasn’t ready to be free. When I got home I tried to do the faith thing. Some an older gentlemen tried to put me under their wing and show me the way. I’m a street guy, so I thought that was for suckers and didn’t want to hang around them.
I got caught up in the worldly things again, which led to more trouble. I started using drugs and abusing drugs and I guess there wasn’t a shutoff switch, even though we had warnings in school when people told us don’t do this and this isn’t good. I just didn’t hear it and it was like my spirit was just asleep at this point in my life. I had turned my back on Jesus and whatever was going on because I had chalked it up to fake and phony.
My spirit just was asleep and I guess the best thing to do would be to tell you how I put my spirit to sleep. I had an intense hatred toward my father growing up. He had this gray metal box that he kept money in. I remember there was a mini bike being sold down the street that I wanted to buy. And I remember my dad had money.
But when I went to steal $20 from my dad’s box, something inside of me said, “Don’t do that.” It was loud, almost audible, and people back then called it your conscience. I didn’t listen and took the $20, but I felt guilty and ashamed and horrible. I took more money from my dad and I felt more horrible and guilty and shameful. Yet I just wanted to get the mini bike. I bought the bike and when I drove it, I felt so horrible that I had to get as far away from it as possible. So, I threw it in the weeds and ran home and ended up giving it to another man. I thought that would make me feel better, but it didn’t.
The fundamental idea of God that I had as a child was telling me what and what not to do. I didn’t listen, so eventually the voice just got a little quieter and I got better at pushing it to the side.
So when drugs and alcohol and things of that nature came around, it was easy for me to say “yes,” because I didn’t have anything in me saying “no” anymore. As I got more involved with drugs, I got into more crime. I started committing violent crimes, selling drugs, abusing drugs ended up back up in prison.
I’m there for an extended period of time. I would feel like I didn’t have control over myself. When I got upset or angry, I lost all control. It’s like I was on autopilot. I remember going to this guy who was a Christian and asking for help with the demons inside of me. He kind of pushed me to the side, so I ended up talking to a guy who was Muslim.
I was just open to the idea of God. I was desperate to change on the inside. I practiced Islam for years. I just didn’t feel that same thing that I felt with Jesus, and I’m just being honest when I say that.
I got out of prison. Same thing. Got into a lot of trouble and back into drugs. I ended up going back on the streets. Lots of drugs, and rehabs, and detoxes, and facilities. I’ve tried absolutely everything to change. I tried to change the outside. I tried to be successful. I tried money. I tried different women. I tried to move away. I tried therapy counseling, medicines. I even had a kid, hoping that would make me stop, and nothing was powerful enough. No human power could relieve me of addiction.
Moving on, I get out of prison again. I’m back into the streets. This is 15 years in and out of prison. Just multiple years getting out doing the same thing again over and over again. Back and forth, back and forth.
This particular time in April of 2015, I got out of prison and I was completely clean and sober. There had been nothing in my system for years. There’s been so many times that I’ve had the physical separation from drugs and alcohol, but the spiritual aspect wasn’t there, so I would always turn back to drugs and alcohol.
I went to Florida with my beautiful fiancée, Crystal, to seek help and get some treatment. Same thing happened; I got high and went to prison, After my release I got some treatment. I remember a short guy came in and started to break down the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, and started talking to me about God and stuff like that. And I was open, but I didn’t think it was going to work for me.
So he starts to read with me a specific chapter called A Doctor’s Opinion. It said that although the doctor gives all, it’s often not enough. It struck me because I remember ODing, waking up, and begging for help. “God please help me; doctor, help me please.” Human powers asking human powers, and he just shook his head. They get your vitals stable when you OD and they send you home. That’s the solution that they have. I’ve died more times and overdosed more times than I can count.
That chapter called A Doctor’s Opinion is how it started for me with God. While I was in this rehab and I’m doing this reading with this man, they took us to church. I didn’t want to do the church thing, but I did want to get out of the rehab.
So I went. Pastor Daniel gave his sermon on the topic of being counterfeit. At this time all of my friends were dead. My life was in shambles. I still I still remember it like it was yesterday. He started talking to me. There were thousands of people in this room, and Crystal was sitting next to me and I’m holding her hand. I knew he was talking to me. I knew it was God speaking through him to me.
I started to cry. Crystal asked what was going on. I just felt this grace and mercy. I remember thinking about my friends Eddie, and Aaron, and Chan; all the people that I had lost. How am I here, why am I here? I knew I didn’t deserve what He had given me. I was so grateful at that moment.
I looked around and saw all these people with their hands in the air praising God. They’re just happy. And I remember thinking to myself, “I don’t even care if they’re wrong because I wasn’t willing to admit that they were right yet. I just want to believe how they believed.” I started to pray, and I started to read the Word, and the word started to come to life to me. My spirit started to wake back up, and I can almost tell you the moment that it happened.
We went back to the rehab. They took us to Walmart (because they trusted me, a thief!) to get stuff for the barbecue that we were throwing at the rehab. So they took me there, and, of course, I stole everything. As I went to the car a guy at the car started talking to me about waking up. It’s the only way I can explain it.
I heard that sound in my head that said, “You know what? It ain’t right,” and it was loud again. I told John I had to go back into the store because I stole everything. That led me to feeling good. I had spent most of my life in prison, so I was just getting better and trying to do things for others.
I’ve read all these self-help books and who knew that a book on helping others was going to be the solution to my problems. I still had an issue with a firm foundation belief in God. I was still on the fence. I was like, is this happening to me? Is this really real? Am I faking it, right? And am I faking myself out here?
Then I got all my things snatched away from me and got into some legal issues for stuff that I’ve done nine months prior, when I was in my addiction. I went to prison, but I was happy again. I carried the message in prison, I spoke about God. I took people through the steps of recovery.
When I got out of there, I jumped into my van and started to drive and it just hit me all at once. I didn’t even think about getting high. I used to think about getting high over everything.
A couple of weeks went by and I remember waking up and not feeling God. I got scared and thought I had lost it forever. I was in gridlock traffic that day, going nowhere. So I prayed, “God, please, I need to hear you.” There was a little guy across from me in a Honda and I’m in my big beat up van, and I got my window cracked. He starts yelling at me. He goes, “Hey man, my man.”
I’m sitting there trying to ignore this guy. This dude is like pushing me right now. I’m already not feeling God, and he’s very adamant. He keeps going, “Yo, my man, I know you hear me.” So I finally put my window all the way down and said, “What man, what’s up?”
And he goes, “I’ve got a message for you,” just like that with this angry tone. So now I’m getting angry and I’m like, “What’s your message, man?” And he says, “Jesus loves you man.” I couldn’t believe that happened to me. I had undeniable evidence that God was answering my prayers so specifically that I can’t deny the truth of what happened, just an unbelievable experience.
I started to do service work, and in the beginning my prayers and reading the Word were sporadic. So, I don’t want you to think something happened to me immediately, where I was praying every day. At first I just prayed and talked to God. Then I would get on my knees and pray, and then in time I could pray out loud. I was scared to pray for people, or pray out loud, or pray with people. Then I got better with that.
Nine months after my release from prison my significant other, Crystal, passed away from drugs. As I was moving down this direction of service, and the12-Step Fellowship, and God, she moved into the worldly stuff. I remember telling her that I had tried all that stuff; just come with me.
When she passed away, it was the worst thing that ever happened to me, and yet one of the best things that ever happened to me. Still miss her all the time, you know. I remember feeling her spirit. I felt like she was in my head and we were talking. At that moment I hit my knees and prayed, sincere, powerful. I said, “You take her, God, and I’ll do whatever you want for the rest of my life.”
I have undeniable evidence that he did that for me. I got this feeling to check my messages. The last text messages we sent were on our way back home from Hurricane Irma. Crystal sent me a photo of the sun beaming through the clouds. I replied, “Awesome, where are you at?” She replied, “Over the rainbow, silly.” And I said, “Are there bright blue skies?” Then she said “Yup, and the grass is way greener too.”
This conversation meant nothing when we had it, but the hour after the prayer I’d made I checked my response to her picture. God showed me that He took her. So it’s like now I wake up saying, “Reporting for duty, Sir. Where do you want me? What do you want me to do?” And I’m honored to do that, you know.
God has granted me the gift of sharing the message. I wish I could say that it’s my gift, right? But it’s not my gift, it’s a gift by Him for Him, you know.
I always deal with a lot of people, especially in their recovery. A world that just isn’t open to God yet. People go to church and they’re looking for God. They help you build that relationship with God, like we help people find God in recovery. People that aren’t even looking for him, you know.
And as time went by I built this relationship with God. God told me that, “My thinking and your thinking is not alike. Nor are my ways and your ways.”
I have an exact experience with that. I was in a recovery meeting setting up the chairs every Monday night. I grabbed my coffee and set it on the floor. This particular night, there was one single ant walking by himself. I get a piece of paper and get the ant onto the paper and take him outside.
On my way outside I’m thinking, “I wonder what the ant is thinking?” The ant is probably a little upset. He thinks, “I’m just trying to search for some food to feed the family, and this big dumb thing comes and scoops me up and takes me outside in the grass. I don’t know where I am. I’m lost and hopeless, right?”
Kind of like I was. But the ant’s thinking and my thinking were not alike. He has no clue that I took him outside because 100 people were about to walk into that room and someone was about to trample him.
And I started to think about that. When we go through all these hardships and tough things that happen, like people passing away, or losing jobs, we wonder, “Why God? Why would you do this to me?”
I know today that His ways are much better than my ways. I might never know why He did this, or why He’s doing that. It might not even be for me to know. I know that God’s thinking is infinitely greater than my thinking. So His ways are much better than my ways, especially when it doesn’t look like it.
Today my walk is just walking, walking with Jesus, man. Jesus is my superhero. Now I spend my life in service to other people. I just want to carry God’s message into the world. There’s no financial gain attached to it. I always thought that I needed to make money, and I needed to be successful, and I attributed success to the outside world.
I had nothing. I had this little car with 230,000 miles on it. The tires were messed up. The windows didn’t go down. I live in Florida, so it’s hot. I had no AC in there, no radio, and my car sucked. But my life is absolutely incredible today through what Jesus has done for me.
So that’s what I do today. I try to bring other people into my ministry, a 12-Step process that also introduces them to God. The Jesus teachings were about forgiveness and that’s what the 12 steps are based on. All that stuff was extracted from Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount. It all came from biblical stuff: the whole step process.
And it worked for me, you know, so I’ll do whatever God wants me to do for the rest of my life.
More Faith Stories
We built the first church with great difficulty. We went back to the States and the board asked us to become mission staff with the Outreach Foundation. That was 25 years ago, just about, and we’ve gotten more involved with Kenya as days and years went on.
I am a chef by profession. I’m happy because I do what I love. Now I work at Villadise Tours and Safaris, where I meet so many different people coming from far. Being helpful is just a blessing to other people.
Then God started tugging on my heart. There was a church sermon series that was about taking your God-given dream off the shelf. I was like, “I don’t know what my dream is. God, if you have a dream for me you’re going to have to tell me what it is.”
We attended church but maintained a passive religious life. Our family had been going to church and proclaiming, “Jesus is our Savior and Lord,” with our mouths only. It seemed that my heart was gradually drifting away from God.
So, I just put my faith in Jesus. I trust him and it is my prayer that my children and the entire community will know Jesus because of my faith. Our salvation should not be only our own. We should encourage other people.
I’m no longer worried because I have come to learn that God’s timing is the best. You cannot hurry God. These days, all I do is wait, no matter what, I just wait. I know my time will come and that time is God’s time. So, I keep on waiting for God to do for me wonders.