Kelly Culver – A Sign From God Changed His Direction 

Kelly Culver Climbing Smith Rock

Kelly Culver, foreground, is shown climbing Smith Rock at Smith Rock State Park in central Oregon. At the time, Culver was the adult leader of a Youth for Christ chapter in Tacoma, Wash. (Courtesy photo) 


By Gaye Bunderson 

God used a “For Sale” sign on an empty McCall church to get the attention of Kelly Culver and his wife, Julie. God’s message to the Culvers? It’s time to move to Idaho. 

In 2016, Culver was enjoying a sabbatical with his spouse at WorldMark when the couple spotted the church. God used the vacated house of worship to tell the Culvers they were to leave their home in Tacoma, Wash. and start a new life with new opportunities in the Gem State. 

Since they both got the message at the same time and were certain it was from the Lord, they prayed about it. But the prayer wasn’t, “Are we supposed to move to Idaho…for sure?” It was, “What are we supposed to do when we get here?” 

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the answer didn’t involve purchasing the church and moving to McCall. Instead, the idea was to use ministry skills that Culver honed in Tacoma working for Youth for Christ, as well as a program he’d launched himself called Recreate Ministry to take inner city kids into God’s outdoors. He was to bring those skills to another Idaho town. 

Culver wasn’t entirely surprised that he and his wife were to leave Tacoma. “We knew there was something else we were to do. We thought maybe open a group home for foster kids in Montana,” he said. But the Lord led them to Caldwell – a community they’d visited in the past with no desire to plant roots there. 

Culver’s little brother lives in Caldwell and frequently encouraged his older sibling and sister-in-law to join him. “We said, ‘No way.’ We visited once and it was 400° and my brother had no air conditioning,” Culver said. In other words, it was very hot that year and after sweating their way through their stay, Kelly and Julie hightailed it back to Tacoma. 

But even if living in the mid-sized Idaho community wasn’t in their plans, it was nonetheless in the Lord’s plans for them. They moved in 2017. 

Now, according to Culver, they’re busier than they’d ever thought. 

When the couple arrived in the Treasure Valley, Culver volunteered at Caldwell’s Canyon Springs High School. Ultimately, a classic treat helped him make inroads into the education system. Canyon Springs set aside time for tutors to help students, and while the tutoring was going on, Culver made root beer floats for everyone. 

“One day, I was walking through the hall and the vice principal said to me, ‘Why don’t you be a substitute teacher?’ I said, ‘I don’t have a teaching degree,’ and I was told I didn’t need one to be a substitute teacher in Idaho. So I got the paperwork done, and I started subbing and working with at-risk kids,” Culver explained. 

His time at Canyon Springs turned out to be pivotal when, with good timing, the principal and vice principle of the school both left to launch an Elevate Academy, a year round 6th-12th grade career technical public charter school serving at-risk youth. The academy has chapters in Caldwell, Nampa, Post Falls, and Idaho Falls, and they are all part of Elevate Network. Culver was asked to serve as the first board president of Elevate Academy in Caldwell in 2019. Now, the learning center has a new building in town that encompasses four schools of different trades. Culver teaches automated manufacturing and computer-aided drafting. 

He explained, “We’re preparing students to run CNC machines (computer numerical control) and 3D printers.” 

The mission of Elevate Academy, as stated on its website at, is: “For all students to take responsibility for leading their own lives and studying a career track that may include vocational and college paths or a combination thereof.” 

The evolution of Kelly Culver from student to educator is a story he’s comfortable telling. “I’d always been told, ‘Be you’. I taught driver’s ed, and I’d share my testimony with the kids in the car.” 

He claims he “broke into this whole education thing.” 

“I struggled in school. I was partying and drinking,” he stated. “My mom was an alcoholic, and I was an at-risk kid. That was me.” 

His lifestyle took a turn for the better when he met Julie in high school and got to know her and her parents. They invited him to church, but he initially declined. “My dad went to a legalist church, and I didn’t want anything to do with that,” Culver said. 

In a story one generally doesn’t hear about salvation, Culver was led to the Lord by a comic entertainer who used humor to engage and enlighten his audiences. “I saw a comedian who joked about legalism,” Culver said. 

To this day, he feels God used that comedian to help him see things differently and to laugh at legalism. The comedian led him to accept Christ at age 17. Kelly and Julie got married six months after their high school graduation, and Kelly worked in a sheet metal plant for 20 years, learning the various trades he currently teaches. 

His work with Youth for Christ in Tacoma lasted for 10 years, and he also oversaw a local YFC chapter for three years. In Tacoma, he started his recreation ministry “to take kids outdoors to meet God with no distractions.” He’d like to do that here and hopes to take some trips with kids this summer. (But he’d eventually like to turn the leadership over to someone else.) 

“While in Tacoma, I got a free trip to Bozeman, Mont. with 10 kids, and we went on an ultralight backpacking trip,” Culver said. “One kid had just gotten out of jail the day before, and he was only 15. All he knew was the thug gang thing, and his dad had spent time in prison.” 

During the backpacking trip, Culver looked up and saw the kid – whose name was Josh – sitting on an outcropping of rocks and, later, when he had the opportunity, asked him, “Josh, what were you thinking?” And Josh answered, “For the first time, I realized I could be different than my dad.”  On the backpacking trip, with its emphasis on God and the outdoors, and with Culver’s example, it had occurred to Josh that he didn’t inevitably have to live a thug life and end up in prison, that he could actually make something of himself. 

Over four years, Culver went on seven trips with at-risk youth, all of the trips paid for by donors. The experiences were meaningful, but he thought, “I’m only reaching 20 kids a year – I need to do more.” 

So he went to a foundation and they gave him funds to buy gear for more youngsters. 

Now 56, Culver said he’ll be at Elevate Academy until he retires. Those who work with him tell him, “You bring a presence into the school that mellows things out.” 

Culver appreciates the compliment but said, “I never used to be that guy. My dad was hot-headed. I had to work hard not to be a hot-headed guy.” 

Has he ever needed to get tough with the kids in his charge? Yes, he’s had to cool things down on occasion, he said. And he used a cool head to do it. 

Culver knows he’s doing the work he’s supposed to do. Julie works for an orthodontist and, according to her husband, “She has an incredible impact on the office.” The couple has two grown children and are grandparents. The Culvers attend Caldwell Free Methodist Church. They were never meant to purchase the McCall church with the “For Sale” sign. But God used it to place them where He wanted them to be, doing what He had in mind for them to do. The couple is happy with the outcome. 

“The funnest part has been listening to God,” Culver said. 

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