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Christians of New York

Christians of New York is a photo blog series that features men and women of God both young and old. Hear their testimonies and stories of God's goodness throughout their lives and see what they're up to now!

Matt Vavoukakis

"Sometimes, you have to get knocked down lower than you have ever been, to stand back up taller than you ever were"
 

This is Matt.

I met Matt a couple months ago at church one Sunday. I met him right after worship at Hillsong. He was a new guy that instantly caught my eye and I knew that I wanted to get to know him right away. I would constantly see him week after week and he would come to the Friday BLØCK hangs every now and then. Nick actually told me a bit about him and said that I should really listen to his testimony about how God lifted him up from one of the deepest holes any of us could ever fall into.

We've gotten very close over the past couple of weeks and I consider him one of my closest brothers in Christ and it's all because of how transparent we were with each other about what God was really doing in our lives and how hard He was working on our hearts.

Matt's story is powerful and inspiring, to say the least. Speaking to him about Jesus and the power that resides within His name and His word has been some of the most refreshing conversations I've had. I'm grateful for him. 


It was quotes like this one that throughout my childhood I would see in a magazine or on a poster in the school gym and they would have a huge emotional impact on me. That being because it seems that my entire life I was being knocked down. My name is Matt and this is my story.

I was born and raised in Long Island, New York. Growing up my family wasn't always there. Actually it was broken completely and the damage was always present. I have a brother who is 6 years older than me (30) and sister who is 18 years older than me (41). At 3 years old my father was arrested and my mother and father finalized their divorce then so most of my childhood was spent jumping from home to home.
My mother spent her years working really hard to support my brother and I alone. Till this day I have more gratitude for that then she will ever know. My father was a struggling alcoholic. He's a great guy but find him with a few in his system and he turns into your worst nightmare quick.

I grew up a "Catholic" which I really wasn't unless you call a Catholic one who goes to Catholic Church on Easter and Christmas. Making fun of what is happening the entire time with my brother by my side. It just had no meaning to me and I honestly didn't believe there was a God. So you can say I was Agnostic. I didn't believe in this or that but I would never be against others beliefs. I just simply didn't care for it all.

Inspirational quotes on overcoming a big fight have always been my go to because my life was consistently full of me trying to overcome a struggle. At the age of just 1. I was rushed to the ER because I simply just lost the ability to breath. I was at the dinner table one night and I went from normal color to purple to dark blue real fast. A quick visit to the ER would eventually turn into a 53 day stay at the hospital where I was actually contained in this bubble baby crib. Those next 53 days that bubble was basically a big ball of oxygen that I could not leave unless I was asking to die. Doctors eventually diagnosed me with a severe case of Asthma. I would go on till this day dealing with this health issue.
 
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Throughout my life at a young age I was battling with my father and his addictions. Constantly worried to go over to his house on a weekend and find him drunk or for him to come home that way and verbally abuse me. I can't even explain to you the feelings I had of being so excited to see him yet so scared of what the situation actually might be. But it was eventually something my heart numbed to. I got used to the fact that he is going to let me down. I got used to the verbal abuse. The pain. The worry of his safety. Majority of my Friday's and Saturday's would be spent at this little bar called "Checkers" in Dix Hills. Which I still don't understand how I was allowed into the place. But Dad would drink and I would discover my new talent at the game darts. I remember always thinking at one point in the beginning of the night. "Man I hope my Dad doesn't drink and just orders a soda so we can have a good time" then my thinking would change to "I really hope my Dad drinks so much that he just goes to sleep because I'm scared of him". It's a terrible thought process for a kid to have.

I would say the most terrifying moments of my life were when the night was over for him and he was ready to go home. He would find me and yell at me "Matt. Let's go!" As if he was waiting for me or something... But I would always kill time at this part because this was the part I had to get in the car with him. He would throw me in the passenger seat and drove his Monte Carlo SS like he was doing an audition for the Indy 500. All rules were broken and at that moment I found myself so desperate for my life. So scared for my life even though I didn't believe in any God. I would close my eyes and hold on for dear life and just begin to ask God to protect us.

The damage was done from what I've seen and what I have been through. At 15 years old I've decided I had a voice and I knew I didn't need to be scared anymore. A huge fight between my father and I one night while he was drunk which got very close to a physical altercation and from there boundaries were set.
 

My mom found a church and recruited me to help out with the kids program because there was no other way you will find me walking into a church but I was always willing to help and work with others. It was a few months of me helping just with the kids until this one week there was a promotion for this guest pastor that was preaching at one of our services all the way from Sydney, Australia. It just caught my eye. He just seemed like a young, normal guy to me. Not like these weird spiritual people all around me. So I decided I will listen in on that service.

That week had come and I went into service when they were finished with worship because I thought the fact they play normal music and switched the words to be all Christian was weird. So he spoke for 35 mins as I sat in the farthest seat back and this guy just spoke truth about who Jesus was and what this lifestyle meant. Honestly what I got from it was "this seems like the only thing that could help or make me happy.. Let's give it a shot." I rose my hand during the salvation call. Still thought everyone was extremely weird. But was willing to give it a shot. Before I knew it. I found myself getting involved with youth group and going to church every Sunday. The church was giving me opportunities to use my talents and play music in a public setting and meet amazing people on the way. So I led worship often. Then I meet someone who just rocked my world. My girlfriend.

I mean words could not describe the love I had for her. It was just a dream come true. A GOD DREAM! Haha sorry. Her and I had such an amazing connection and nothing could separate us. We met in the church and began to help lead in the church. Now I can explain to you this.. There is nothing "hotter" then when you find a girl who you think is beautiful and then she is serving the kingdom of God. Speaking life into others and just doing her thang for Jesus. I was blown away. People began to look at us as a "power couple" a "perfect couple". We both wanted marriage and it was a real discussion and the next step when the time was right. But what people saw at church or in public wasn't all that was going on with us. Just like every couple we had our struggles and downfalls.
But premarital sex was a big struggle for us. See we believe in what the bible had said about sex before marriage but we would try and convince ourselves "well God forgives right?" "But.. We are going to get married anyway so it's okay if we do it now." It was actions that will constantly destroy us. The guilt was real. The shame was real. The thought of letting our church down or the couples looking up to us was real. The distance that stood between us and God was real. We would continue to work on remaining pure but fail here and there and then the time had come for her to go away to college. After 3-1/2 years of being together connected at the hip. It only took a month for us to be separated until we both decided to "take a break". It wasn't a break we both wanted but we knew that this would be only beneficial for our walk with God. A month from the break I reached out to her and was excited to share to her all that God was doing in my life and I was so excited to hear about what she's been up to. So I text her and right from the start through text I can tell by her responses that something is very different. Then she said it. "Matt, I'm sorry but I found someone else." My response through text was "I'm happy for you." My external response alone to God was a really long cry. I mean ugly cry. It wasn't pretty. Internally I was hurt.. I mean hurt. I could physically feel a broken heart at that time for the first time. I didn't know what to believe. If that last 3-1/2 years of my life were a lie.

I tried to use that pain as motivation to deepen my relationship with Him. I went a few months to continue doing what I was doing. Leading worship, preaching for youth and different events and this went on. Until one night I felt burnt out and I just broke. I became so angry with God because like I said before "I was living the dream." and I felt as if He stripped this all away from me. So I stopped what I was doing for the church and the outside event to just have a break. During that break I meet a friend who was a great guy but came from the party scene. I started to go out with him often and really discovering this whole night life. In the matter of months I went from being new to it all to knowing almost every club owner and promoter. Always getting into places and always causing a ruckus where I went. But enough was never enough for me. I became a womanizer.. I would sleep with girl from girl. Not caring the emotional outcome that would come from there end because I knew I would be around for a little and then leave. The whole time I was doing this I was just trying to fill this whole I had in my heart from a broken relationship with other things that were not helping or healing at all. I've become so sick of the pain of loss that I turned to drugs to make me just feel a different way. There would be parties in mansions on the north shore of Long Island that was filled with girls, alcohol, drugs and more girls. I found the three most important things in my life became cocaine, alcohol and girls.

This mixture of 3 was my life. I lived for it because it was the only way I would fill content. There came to a point when I always wanted more and always strived for new feelings. Because after awhile you become so numb to the same stuff you only feel more can do the job or a different mix will help. So I lost it one night. Had what I used to refer to as a "great night" and did my thing to the extreme. That night will turn out to be a night that I would never forget.

I woke up the next afternoon around 3pm to a spotless room which wasn't the norm for me. I can tell someone was in my room. I began to look for my phone and wallet and can't find either. I'm still wearing the boots and pants from the night before but my shirt was gone. It was all very confusing on what had happened and the pounding headache and sensitive to light eyes didn't help me come to a conclusion of what happened. Found my phone and began to get calls/text from girls I never met before saying "last night was crazy" "you're wild", "are you okay", "you looked upset", "I just want to let you know I took care of you". This all didn't mean anything because I don't remember it. Then my mother explained to me what happened.. I came home at4am that night. I was blacked out and I just passed out right on my bed. Around 4:45am I began to throw up while still passed out on my back. I began to choke and couldn't breathe and my mom just so happen to hear in her sleep in the other room a light coughing from my room and decided to check. She found me at a point to where I had vomit in my mouth and wasn't moving. She flipped me over on to my stomach and took two fingers and literally started removing vomit from my mouth and helping me throw up the rest. She was with me for about 2 hours as I was passed out the entire time and she put me back to rest.

I should be dead. I remember walking to the water later that afternoon crying because I came so close to death. Thinking the devil literally had his hands around my neck and was taking my life and I was done. But Jesus had a different plan. He knew it wasn't time for me yet and it wasn't the way for me to go. In my darkest place. Even when I hated Him. Jesus never left me.
 
  "Thinking the devil literally had his hands around my neck and was taking my life and I was done. But Jesus had a different plan. He knew it wasn't time for me yet and it wasn't the way for me to go. In my darkest place. Even when I hated Him. Jesus never left me."

"Thinking the devil literally had his hands around my neck and was taking my life and I was done. But Jesus had a different plan. He knew it wasn't time for me yet and it wasn't the way for me to go. In my darkest place. Even when I hated Him. Jesus never left me."


See those amazing connections I had with those quotes when I was just a kid. Those words on a poster at the school gym. It wasn't a connection to wise words or a clever quote. It was a connection to Jesus before I even knew who He was. I was connected to the thought of overcoming an obstacle and I would look towards a quote as a sign of hope when all along He was saying "when you get knocked down. I will lift you back up" God says "seek Me and I will make you stronger and taller than those mountains that you once couldn't move but now you walk right through." Scripture is where I go to know. Jesus is my inspiration to move on.
 

I literally decided to walk away from that lifestyle and never look back at it again. Then I found myself at Hillsong NYC. Where God literally just opened me up. It was an emotional evening but a much needed one. During worship I could hear so clearly in my head the words "This is family.. This is home."
Since making the decision to live only for Jesus and not myself. I can tell you I have found true happiness. I have found true love and for me there is no turning back.
God makes absolutely no mistakes. So I've realized that I'm gonna look towards Him and want only what He wants and when He wants it. I live for Jesus for the rest of my days.

 

-Matt Vavoukakis