CHRISTIAN LIVING | Anne Lim
Monday, 30 November 2015
Mathew Kratiuk is a transformed man.
In 18 months he has gone from a General in Satan’s Army to a General in God’s Army. His journey has been from guns to God, from hate to love.
It would have been scary to meet the scarred, muscle-bound, tattooed man when he was a drug addict, bikie gang member and violent standover man.
But when I meet him at Bible Society Australia’s office, there is love in his eyes and passion in his heart for encouraging others not to give up on life but to turn to Jesus for healing.
Mat, 34, had his life changed forever by a five-foot-nothing woman who offered him love while he was still the angriest man at the Salvation Army rehab centre at Dooralong on the NSW central coast.
Six weeks earlier he had been beaten up and booted out of an outlaw bikie gang in Perth over his outrageous behaviour and no one had yet penetrated the wall of steel he had built around his heart.
“I’m scared, I’m angry, I’m hurt, I’m fearful, I’m broken-hearted. I’ve had this massive ego; all around the world I was known as ‘killa’. Suddenly I’m just a drug addict in a little crappy shack in the middle of nowhere with nothing and no one and I was on the verge of suicide,” he tells Eternity.
“I’m sitting at the table with my head in my lap and I’m thinking about the hell, I’m thinking about the gun that I had to my head just six weeks ago … and the feeling of being permanently tortured because your soul is gone.”
Suddenly the Dooralong boss’s wife – who he has just snarled at – comes out of chapel and asks him if she can give him a hug.
“I said ‘What do you mean? What do you want to hug me for?’ And she goes ‘because I love you, mate.’ And I felt this wet stuff starting to come out of my face. I didn’t even know what a hug looked like. And I just went ‘OK’ and leaned in and she just pulled me close and she just held me. And she put her hand on my head and she started to pray for me.
“I just exploded. I had tears and snot and I broke down. For 33 years the world had said about me – ‘See that guy, he’s in the too-hard basket, don’t worry about him, work on the next guy.’ Until this point the world had deemed me unlovable. What this lady did in one action was she said: ‘My God says to love him and to love him well.’ What she did was she just flipped over – pop – 33 years of reinforced steel and concrete. She just flicked it over in the name of Jesus.
“Then I realised I was in a place where these people genuinely loved me and then I began the process of getting well. That was the answer. The answer was not saying ‘You need to go to church or you’ll go to hell.’ The answer was love – that broke the wall down.”
Having been branded a “bad boy” at age 12, after his parents split up, Mat had been expelled from school at age 16 and his life had been a downward spiral of drugs, violence, and extortion.
He had spent the next 16 years addicted to ice, toting a gun 24/7 and terrorising those he considered his enemies, leading to a six-month jail sentence.
“I left home really young and, as sad as this sounds, I had conjured up in my own head with drugs that I didn’t have a family, which is an absolute lie – I have an amazing family,” Mat tells Eternity.
“But I was on the search for a family, looking back. That’s why for so many years I had so many influential male figures in my life, surrogate uncles – some of these uncles had done life in prison; some were triple murderers. I took to them because, even though they were classed by society as bad men, they were very charismatic. And I was in awe of the fact that they would walk into the room and everyone would be just ‘Do you know who that is?’ I wanted a piece of that at a pretty young age. I would later become that myself. And it’s really sad. I don’t really know how it started or where it came from.”
For years he lived a flashy lifestyle on the Gold Coast, financed by drug dealing, carrying out violent money-collecting activities and moving from one dysfunctional relationship to the next.
Then in an attempt to walk away from the drug industry, he went back to live with his mum in Wollongong, south of Sydney, but on his 25th birthday he was attacked by hitmen sent from a dealer to whom he owed money.
“It was a very vicious attack and it was from someone that I was close to. It really rattled me. I had three titanium plates and 14 screws in my face and skull. I also had a silicon implant to replace my eye socket – I had 200 stitches in my mouth.”
After the bashing, Mat suffered from severe anxiety and post-traumatic stress “because I really trusted this guy – I loved him. It really unravelled my head.
“I was on Xanax for the next two years and that made things worse because I’m on ice all the time and I was a psychotic nightmare. I would think that the guy at the zebra crossing was there to kill me. It made me so paranoid that I became more violent. I started to say ‘If anyone’s coming to get me, I’m going to get them first.’ So I started living with that mindset and I hate to think how many people I got that probably weren’t even trying to get me. It was nuts.”
At 28, he spent six months in jail for demanding money with menaces, an experience that led to the first of three “moments of clarity and sanity”.
He headed to Perth on the promise of a job in the mining industry, but when that didn’t work out he went straight back into the drug business.
It was then he linked up with outlaw bikie gang members, who nicknamed him “killa” and “kaos” because of his terrier-like attitude. He gloried in his fearsome reputation, having “killa” tattooed on his bicep and “kaos” on his chest.
“I was so driven by money and material crap,” he says. “I had a shoe collection on my wall; there must have been 200 pairs of shoes there. It was all about the money and the gold and the women and the drugs. And I was so fuelled by ego.”
A second time he tried to escape the darkness, spending six months at a Salvation Army rehabilitation centre in Perth.
“I even graduated, but the whole time I was in there I wasn’t serious. I didn’t do any of the 12 steps; I didn’t do any journaling, I didn’t read the Bible, I didn’t find connection with God; I didn’t even try to find a connection with God.
“I was the guy at the back of the chapel laughing and saying ‘Look at these weirdos.’ I didn’t get serious, I didn’t want it bad enough and within two weeks I joined the bikie gang when I left and, of course, I was straight back into the drugs and worse.”
Back in Sydney, Mat’s alcoholic father died suddenly, plunging Mat into a frenzy of guilt, regret and anger.
“I’d always thought there’d be more time for us to figure out that stand-off. In hindsight I just wish I’d told him that I loved him.”
His drug-taking and outrageous behaviour reached a new level, so that even his bikie club-mates said he was going too far. His behaviour was so out of control that he was beaten up and expelled from the bikie club in Perth. Now he sees it as the best day of his life but at the time it felt like the worst.
“What happened was I lost my identity, and that was the massive thing – that was God’s plan. There was no other way I would find him or seek him unless my identity was taken from me,” he recalls.
“God knew that I had to be completely stripped bare to be rebuilt from the ground up. I needed to be rebuilt completely or it wouldn’t have worked.”
Change really started to happen when he saw a sign at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting: If nothing changes, nothing changes.
“I think this is when I started to pray. So I prayed ‘What does this mean? I think God started to reveal to me: ‘Matty, you’re 33 and you’re the king of rehab. What a claim to fame that is. You’re worried about being the coolest guy or the toughest guy in rehab – come on, mate. If nothing changes, nothing changes.’ And I really felt convicted.
“So next week when I walked into chapel all the bad guys are at the back of the chapel saying ‘Come and sit over here’ and I said ‘Nah,’ and I walked up to the front and sat on the front seat by myself. I felt so horrible. I felt like all the eyes were on me; and I’m thinking they’re going to say ‘He’s a pussy, he’s gone soft.’ You know what happened? Next week two of them came up and sat next to me. And two weeks later two more, and then two more. And suddenly we’ve all got our hands in the air, suddenly we’re all saved, we’re all so happy we don’t give a stuff about people looking at us judging us because our hands are in the air. We’re too happy to care.”
Just before he graduated from the programme, Mat felt God was calling him to link up with a very bad man from his past.
“I kept thinking that God was saying ‘I want you to look up Owen Pomana,’ and I’m thinking ‘Why? Why would you want me to look up the worst, the most violent drug addict?’
“I finally surrendered and punched his name into Google and I just went, phew – here he is on stage preaching the word of God and I’m in tears.”
After linking up with the reformed drug addict and standover man, who is now a travelling evangelist, Mat received a phone call that started his own career as an witness for Christ.
“I get a phone call from Owen … He said ‘God’s told me you need to get on a plane, man.’ He’s in Indonesia with [convicted drug smugglers] Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, ministering to these amazing men. ‘God’s told me you need to start travelling and sharing your testimony.’”
So instead of buying a motorbike, Mat blows the $10,000 he had saved from working as a carpenter to travel for three months through Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, sharing his testimony.
“I became dear friends with Andrew Chan. I absolutely loved and adored that man. He is a big part of who I am today, because this dude was the real deal. He came from where I came from, he made heaps of mistakes, he did heaps of bad things, he was addicted to drugs just like me; but he encountered Jesus and it was real and it completely transformed him. This man’s faith was like none I’ve ever seen … He was an inspiration. He went to prison as a drug dealer but he was executed an ordained minister.”
In November, when Mat received an Industry Excellence Award for Business (out of 60,000 students in the Hunter TAFE region), he was accompanied by his proud mum and dedicated his award to Andrew Chan.
“It’s hard to believe that a year and a half earlier I was a violent, soulless, drug-addicted, ex-gang member who had completely given up on life!”
Now an active member of C3 in Thirroul, he is starting to step into full-time ministry, speaking at conferences and churches, to recovering drug addicts and reformed criminals.
“I don’t see myself as an ordained minister; I see myself as a pastor. There is no doubt I’m an evangelist. One day I will definitely pastor a church – in fact, I would like to start a church at some stage. I don’t believe that will be for some years.
“I really feel convicted by the spirit lately that he’s just getting me out there; he just wants my testimony to be heard.
“Looking back I can see that it was all part of the plan to get me here and doing God’s work.
“I have won Lotto not once but a couple of thousand times. The amount of times I should be dead or in jail is phenomenal. Do not live through what I’ve lived through and it’s a reminder to me not to ever take it for granted and to just get God’s work done and that’s the only reason I’ve been saved; he’s called me to his purpose.”