By Michael Ashcraft and Mark Ellis
Molested a few times when he was a child, Paul Gualtieri dabbled with homosexuality as a largely unsupervised 13-year-old in Palm Springs.
It wasn’t long before he found himself in his bedroom proclaiming his destiny: “I’m gay. I’m a homosexual,” he said out loud with no one around. It was a pivotal moment of his life. “There’s power in confessing both good and bad things. When I declared I was gay, I gave a right to a spiritual force in my life.”
When he was 13, he ran away to Hollywood and threw himself headlong into the partying and gay lifestyle. “I just got sucked right into it,” he recalls. “I thought it was great.”
He was too young to be admitted to the gay bars but prostituted himself to support a lifestyle that included drugs like Quaaludes, coke and meth.
“I just ran rampant,” he says. “I had different boyfriends. We would panhandle every day to buy drugs and pay our hotel.”
He slept at anybody’s house who’d have him, in Plummer Park and in the “Hotel Hell,” once posh lodgings for movie luminaries that became decrepit and abandoned on Hollywood Boulevard.
When he was 16, he checked the change return slot of a pay phone, as was his custom. Instead of coins, he found a Christian tract sitting there. “The tract was called ‘Wounded Children.’ It was about a boy who was rejected and abused,” he says.
The truth contained in that little tract had a powerful affect on his heart. “I started to cry. I read out loud the prayer at the end.”
There was a Christian home for street kids nearby. But when he inquired, a friend warned him: “You don’t wanna go there. You have to give up all your jewelry and clothes.”
Even though Gualtieri felt God calling him, he still wasn’t ready to make Jesus the Lord of his life. Instead of going to the Christian home, he went headlong into deeper sin. He performed in some gay porn movies. Once he turned 21, he frequented leather and sadomasochist bars.
Later, “I was shooting meth and living with my dealer,” he says. “I would get him customers, and he would give me all the free drugs I wanted.”
He joined the Navy but got kicked out after only five months.
He felt burned out on drugs but didn’t know how to stop. When he got laid off from a restaurant job and got kicked out of his apartment, he decided on the spur of the moment to go with a friend to Tucson. Again, he fell into drugs with his boyfriend, with whom he worked at a hotel restaurant.
In the restaurant, a young woman and her mother invited his boyfriend regularly to church. The young woman was attractive, so Gualtieri asked her mother, “Would your daughter ever consider going out with a guy like me?”
“I don’t know,” she responded. “Why don’t you come to church?”
As soon as he walked into the Saturday night rock outreach, he was thunderstruck. He had never seen or heard anything like that – music, a skit and a preaching about Jesus. “I was mesmerized,” he says. “The guy said God could give you a brand new start.”
Gualtieri was finally ready to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. He confessed with his mouth Jesus as Lord and believed in his heart God raised Him from the dead.
Once Gualtieri was born again, he asked a church leader how he could get out of the gay lifestyle. Following the leader’s advice, he separated from his boyfriend and began to attend every service at the Door Church in Tucson.
But Gualtieri soon faced intense spiritual warfare, as the evil one attempted to rob him of his newfound joy and
knock him off his feet. “If you can imagine a horror movie with a demon-type skeleton creature with long bony fingers and sharp nails tearing at your flesh, that’s how I felt in my mind the whole first week” after getting saved, he says. “I had been involved in some demonic stuff. It was a torment to get out.”
Two weeks later, he was baptized. In 1990, he married a young woman named Lupe, and together they have six kids.
In 2009, he became a pastor and planted a church in Apple Valley, California, where he is currently raising up new believers.
Gualtieri marvels at God’s grace and tender mercies manifested in his life. “I never got what I deserved,” he says. “I should’ve been in jail or dead with AIDS. In the first year of my salvation, three of my best friends died. Today all of my old friends OD’d, are in prison, were murdered or committed suicide – and here I am alive and serving Jesus.”
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