Michael Woroniecki was brought up as a Catholic, went to CMU, played football and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
Somewhere along the line, however, he says a divine influence began to drive him.
“My freshman year (at CMU) my grades were so bad I couldn’t play, so I lifted weights and did a lot of partying. Then the Lord began to deal with me. He used injuries. I broke a lot of bones. It worried me, so I picked up my Bible,” he said.
His sophomore year, however, Woroniecki was able to play football and forgot about the Lord.
“At a conference at Notre Dame, I found Jesus and was born again.”.
Woroniecki went on to marry and have six children, while traveling around the world in a bus and preaching about Jesus.
While traveling, Woroniecki and his wife, Rachel, met Rusty Yates and his girlfriend at the time, Andrea.
“It was like dealing with any other people, trying to break through the hypocrisy,” Woroniecki said. Rusty was a Southern Christian who was brought up to believe that if he accepted Jesus as “his personal savior,” he would be saved.
“He thought he could say this little prayer and he would automatically go to heaven, and it’s not like that.
“When we met Andrea, she seemed more willing and we sat down and talked. Although Rusty ended up being a hypocrite, Andrea wanted to follow the Lord.”
Andrea Yates was convicted in March on capital murder charges in the deaths of her sons Noah, 7, John, 5, and her 6-month-old daughter, Mary. The children, along with their siblings Paul, 3, and Luke, 2, were found drowned in the Yates’ bathtub.
Michael said the Yates and Woroniecki families were close.
“We knew the first three children. My kids baby-sat them, and we all played together. We tried to help them learn how to raise children, but you can’t take Christian principles and apply them in a secular way.”
Michael and Rachel
Michael started at Central in 1972, Rachel in 1974. Originally from Grand Rapids, Michael said he didn’t agree with his Catholic upbringing.
“I just had a wild streak. Religion didn’t do it for me, seeing a bunch of empty people go through the actions every Sunday.”
He said he began to sit in his dorm room and read the Bible.
“I sat in my room saying, ‘Who are you, God?’ It was very child-like. A little humility goes a long way. I said, ‘Who was this Jesus? Was he alive?’ And slowly things started to happen.”
Michael said one of the hardest things he did while in college was attempt to witness to the football team.
“I really went through hell on the team when I got saved. The rejection was terrible.”
When Michael met Rachel, he said he “helped lead her to the Lord.”
“I wanted to know Jesus. I didn’t want to be deceived,” Rachel said.
Rachel, also a former CMU student and cheerleader, said when she started college, she never would have guessed where she would end up.
“I could never have imagined what life would be like following the Spirit, and it is awesome,” she said.
She had experiences similar to Michael’s while she was on the cheerleading squad.
“It was hard to be a cheerleader because there was a lot of rejection. I had to stand. It was good for me,” she said.
While at CMU, Michael said he and his wife used some of their influence to change the curriculum of social work and human sexuality classes, which were showing pornography to students.
“The influence (of pornography) was so degrading and so counter-productive.”
He said they talked to former University President William Boyd and got the curriculum changed.
“I was surprised the president was willing to talk with a couple of students,” Michael said.
Traveling and preaching
After graduating, Michael and Rachel went to Southern California and then returned to Grand Rapids. Along the way, they stopped at college campuses and cities to preach on the street.
“We were preaching Jesus, not Christianity. That was my message: seek Jesus, not church,” Michael said.
Response to his preaching is usually best in Central America, he said.
“The culture is different. There is the Catholic climate, and there is more desperation.”
In the United States, Michael said the Northwest is most open to his message. CMU is a good campus as well, he said.
“It was a good response (at CMU). It’s not like some of the big-time party schools, where there is a lot of mocking. That’s why I chose (to attend) Central; the people are more community-minded. It seems like more serious-minded people. The last time we were there we had a lot of good, serious sharings.”
While visiting CMU last fall, Michael said he took his children to see the locker rooms. “We ran around on the football field, where I used to play, and had a lot of fun.”
After college, Michael and Rachel went to Grand Rapids to preach to Michael’s hometown. After they were banned from Grand Rapids for harassing people on the street and made national headlines, the Woroniecki family began to travel the world. Rachel said her children have been to 32 different countries.
“They’ve seen everything,” Michael said. “They’ve been to Disney Land, they’ve climbed the Swiss Alps. I’m their brother, their friend and their father. We’ve given them parents that are loving and not at each other’s throats.”
Rachel said her children have no desire to go into the world on their own.
“Their heart is with us. They have a heart to follow Jesus. They’re not looking for anything because they have the love of Jesus and their family.”
Rusty and Andrea
After drowning her children in a bathtub, Andrea called the police and confessed to the murders, for which she was convicted in March.
The Woronieckis have been under fire from Texas authorities and the media for the influence their preaching had on Andrea Yates, who killed her children because she believed their lives were not going in a direction God wanted. After her arrest, Andrea wanted to have her head shaved, so she could see the Mark of the Beast, which she believed to be branded on her scalp.
Rusty Yates was not willing to give Andrea the support she needed, and this is what led her to kill her five children, Michael said.
“He let Andrea get into that situation, where she needed help. Then, he couldn’t help her and wouldn’t recognize that she needed him and Jesus. He let Andrea suffer under that.”
When Michael and Rachel met Andrea and Rusty, Rusty glorified the lifestyle the Woronieckis lived.
“He thought he could be like us, without coming to Jesus Christ. He thought he could be like me, that his children would be like mine. He saw our life and our way of living and wanted it, but wasn’t willing to pay the price. He was a workaholic,” Michael said.
In a letter to Andrea Yates, Rachel Woroniecki wrote, “Life is so short. It is so very cruel. It is so lonely and empty. You must accept the reality that this life is under the curse of sin and death.”
Andrea took immediate and full responsibility for her actions, Michael said.
“She was a very caring, loving, intelligent woman. When (she) was put in that kind of pressure cooker, it was too much for her,” he said.
Michael said his preaching had nothing to do with the murders.
“I’m responsible for what I preach. I can’t be responsible for what they do with it.”
Woroniecki on Preacher Rick
In his travels, Michael said he has encountered Rick Warzywak, better known at CMU as Preacher Rick, and other preachers like him.
“He’s a phony. They’re Pentecostal preachers; they’re almost like car salesmen. They present themselves as righteous. It’s nothing to do with Jesus.
“It’s utterly disgusting, it’s very grieving to me. They have no heart for people. They get a crowd by being sensational and offensive. They take a beautiful thing and make it terrible. We have to counter that and expose those guys as phonies.”