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Spotlight on Matt Cullipher

By Carolyn Hittenberger

Nothing about Matt Cullipher’s background would have marked him as a prime candidate for ministry. In fact, the opposite was true. Had predictions been made regarding his future, even the experts would have said he simply had none. Born to a teen-age drug user in upstate New York, this baby boy knew abandonment and rejection even before his birth. His mother‘s Catholic family, trying to raise seven other children, turned their back on her. Disillusioned, her only understanding of God was that he existed to punish her.

Matt was very young when exposed to both sides of the supernatural. His paternal grandmother was a witch, working her dark magic in his childhood home. His maternal grandmother was saved in a charismatic Catholic Church when Matt was 3-4 years old. She became one of the earliest members of an Assemblies of God Church in Baldwinsville, NY. Though most of her invitations to attend with her were refused, she kept praying for salvation for Matt and his mother. On the rare occasion when they did attend, Matt was kicked out for fighting, cussing or selling items he had stolen. He says, “I didn’t like church and didn’t respect Christians even from a very young age.”

At age ten Matt began a life of drugs, stealing and the occult. By age twelve he was reading very advanced books in psychology, philosophy, metaphysical beliefs and subjects such as ESP. This led him to believe that “the human mind was of infinite power…and could eventually have kinetic and telepathic abilities.”

When he was fourteen, Matt witnessed a brutal pipe-beating murder and felt absolutely nothing. At mandatory counseling school he was labeled a sociopath.

Between the ages of fifteen and seventeen, Matt began a pursuit of God, studying the teachings of Buddha, Mohammed, Hare Krishna and lesser known religions. He read the Bible through two times. He saw too many flaws in all he read, except for the Bible. Matt writes, “I read it one more time and even attended the church I once abhorred.” Youth Pastor Brian Haima was the first pastor Matt met. He says, “He was different from any pastor I had met.” He welcomed Matt with pizza and said, “Yeah, I know you. We’ve been praying for you for many years and now you’re here.” He was real, warm and not afraid of this seeking sinner.

Though Matt didn’t return to the church immediately, the experience showed him that “there was something more to this whole Christianity thing.” In all the other religions Matt had studied man had to earn his salvation, but “Christianity told me that God himself came and paid the price for me and that only through Him could I be saved. That was a huge deal to me, since I knew I was a rotten sinner who deserved hell.” Matt believed the salvation message but was not yet ready to give up the sin he loved so much. He knew he would have to die to self and self does not die easily. In spite of his ongoing drug habit, he reports, “In drug fueled parties I would often find a young woman or man who was searching for answers and even while I was high on drugs, I would lead them in the sinner’s prayer.”

One day after ingesting twelve different types of drugs, Matt’s body began shutting down. He lost his sense of touch, his sight and his hearing. He lay at the point of death, his heart rate 6-10 beats per minute. In the empty darkness he heard an audible voice say, “Tonight you will be with me in hell.” He gave a silent cry to Jesus to save him and give him another chance. When he woke up thirteen hours later he was completely sober. Matt says, “It was a journey, but many months later I made a firm decision for Christ and have never looked back since.”

Pastor Czyz, Lead Pastor at Baldwinsville Assembly of God and Youth Pastor Brian Haima encouraged Matt, believing in him when he was still “very rough around the edges.” Pastor Haima started training him for leadership before anyone else would have even considered it.

In 1999, one and a half years after his conversion, Matt reluctantly went with the church on a missions trip to Peru. He saw God do amazing things and opened his heart to God’s call to ministry. He also opened his heart to Aracelli who was singing with the worship team that traveled with the missionaries they worked with. She grew up in a town called Trujillo on the northern coast of Peru. She spoke no English and he spoke no Spanish. When he learned that she was a teacher, he asked her to teach him Spanish via the Internet. Through the next two years they formed a warm friendship while he became conversant in Spanish. Romance followed friendship and Matt went to Peru for the summer. The next year Aracelli came to the US and they were married.

In 2005 while working secular jobs, Matt and Aracelli formed a charity called Shekinah Gloria Ministries, Inc. to help establish a school outside of Trujillo, Peru, Aracelli’s home town. Since that time they have helped in ten countries, ministering to more than 150,000 people. Only God can fill a man once devoid of feeling with deep and active compassion. Matt testifies, “To go from sociopath to philanthropist is impossible without His eternal work in my heart!”

When Matt began to feel God’s calling at about 20 years of age, he knew he needed training. He enrolled in classes through Berean School of the Bible, part of Global University, but didn’t follow through on the studies. He was active in various ministries but did not picture himself as a pastor. However, the more he worked in missions and evangelism, the more he realized his need to become a credentialed minister. Berean School of the Bible courses fit his busy schedule and offered him quality ministerial training. Pastor Czyz became an encourager and a facilitator for the courses.

One of Matt’s favorite studies was AG History. He says, “ …when I read the stories of how God directed every step of our beginnings, about the missionaries who had so much faith and drive, about the leaders who were willing to abandon everything for Him…it just inspired me in a way that dry theology could never do. I love theology, but a theology that isn’t lived out is worthless.” He adds, “Reading about missionary endeavors helped me to have a greater vision for missions and a desire to be part of that amazing team!” Matt tells us that his experience with GU has created in him a greater desire for God’s Word and for personal growth as a minister. He has become grounded and balanced in his personal beliefs and doctrinal stance.

After graduating from GU in 2006 Matt and Aracelli applied for and received appointment as Missionary Associates with Assemblies of God World Missions. Their association with Peru and the school they established had prepared their hearts for God’s call to serve there full time.

A year and a half ago, Matt and Aracelli took their two young children, Graziella, six, and Renato, three, to live in Peru. They are involved in various outreaches, the primary one being to help establish a Teen Challenge Center in Lima, the first in the country. God is working His purposes in and through them.

Matt has a final word of encouragement for anyone seeking to prepare for or enhance his/her ministry. 

“Global University provides a great solution for full-time workers, family members or people who feel called into a ministry position. It is quality and affordable education and is a great way to keep yourself open to the Lord’s calling. Don’t wait until the stars align and God calls down from heaven. Even if you’re not sure what you’re called to do or when, it will benefit you greatly! …get going on your studies ASAP and wait proactively instead of trying to backtrack once the calling is confirmed! Take the time to get educated and get credentialed even if you don’t plan on leaving your current secular employ. The harvest is ripe, but the laborers are few and many of them are unprepared! Get prepared and get to work for His glory!”