Felix McCullough recalls clearly the time when it was just Jesus, nature and him — alone and homeless.

“I was living in Florida and at one point was sleeping on the porch of an empty house. I’ve been to hell and back a few times,” said the 53-year-old Athens resident.

What has always been very clear to McCullough, even in times of distress and lack of direction in his life, was the voice of his father speaking to him and his sisters.

“My dad raised four children to love ourselves and others regardless of color and creed,” he shared. The voice of his Heavenly Father was always following him as well.

McCullough at 13 began to play piano without any instruction.

“I felt that I had a gift for music. We couldn’t afford lessons so I would sit at the piano and felt like God was teaching me,” he said.

McCullough wrote his first song at age 12. He said he has at least 1,000 original songs to his credit today.

“Sometimes when you are hungry, music fills you up like a caring mother,” he noted.

Today, after many years of hard roads and pot holes, McCullough said it’s his turn to give back to his father’s memory, to God and his community.

He loves teaching piano to all ages. He enjoys seeing students have a light come on in their minds when they realize the magic that happens between their hands and the part of the brain that gets how special music is.

He also enjoys working with youth, encouraging them and sharing his experiences, bringing uplifting words.

In January 2020, Felix married Tanya Murphy, founder of Grace and Mercy Ministries in Athens. About 10 years ago, Murphy discovered a calling on her life to feed the hungry and homeless. She began the journey by making meals and going to those who were camped out behind shopping centers, feeding them.

She realized her efforts seemed to have God’s approval and her program grew until she found Cooke Ministry in Athens, a location to distribute meals and provide fellowship for those in need. Before last year’s COVID-19 outbreak, meals were served in the center three days a week.

That number was reduced to two days and meals are now received in containers at the door. Felix and Tanya met through activities at the center. He has assisted her with the food distribution and many other programs.

Knowing that he would need to have a degree in ministry to accomplish his goal of someday being a pastor, Felix enrolled in online classes through Ministry International Inc. & Institute. Tanya provided encouragement and support.

On May 29, a commencement ceremony was held for 11 graduates of MII at Silver Springs Vineyards in Riceville. MII headquarters is located in Clinton.

McCullough walked gratefully in a line with 10 others receiving various degrees to accept his Bachelor of Ministry diploma.

Dr. Tony Slay is the president of MII. He told the graduates to walk in love and that God is always present in their lives.

“The Bible is the textbook,” he said. “When you pray, God will move mountains. A river of love should flow out of you.”

“I am happy that I can say I do love everyone,” said Felix.

About two years ago, McCullough organized “3 Play,” a group that features McCullough on keyboards and vocals, Ron Clayton on saxophone and vocals, and Chalmer McDermott as their drummer. The trio performs gospel music in show-tune style for churches and organizations.

Clayton, a seasoned musician, has played with various well-known groups over decades.

“I have worked with many bands and I can say that Felix is probably the best keyboard player I’ve ever worked with,” observed Clayton. “He’s easy to get along with, has an unusual infectious laugh and he’s totally honest.”

Recently Felix and Tanya organized Breakthrough Ministries which will sponsor a women’s conference at 6 p.m. July 17 at Cooke Ministry Center, 714 Walter St. in Athens. Featured speaker will be Dr. Angela Arnwine.

Praise and worship will be led by Marsenia Smith. An offering will be taken. The public is welcome.

Ministry International Institute offers fully accredited courses where students can earn Associate through Doctorate degrees in Ministry. In-class and online courses are offered.

For information, call 865-938-5544. For information on 3 Play, Breakthrough Ministries and the conference, call Tanya at 423-920-1367.

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