I’ve been thinking a lot lately. And I was thinking how God is so gracious, loving and kind: how He gets a hold of our lives. Before I came to the Lord, my wife’s family, Naomi and Grandma Kopp had been praying for me. Believe it or not, since I was a little kid, I had never been witnessed to by anybody. I was raised Catholic in Mexico and my grandmother lived in Mexico City, she was an opera singer. She met and married my Grandfather who was German. My father was born in Mexico City, and by the age of 9, his father had left the family. My grandmother stayed in Mexico and this is where we grew up. My mother was visiting from New York City, met my dad, and never went back to New York. She is originally from New York, but her parents were from Spain.
Even as my parents loved each other, my father had a very bad habit; he had a drinking problem. He had started drinking when he was nine years old. Because of his drinking, our home was not a normal home. As far back as I can remember, there was yelling and cursing in our home. I can remember my father physically abusing my mother and my grandmother, his mother. As little kids we would scream and yell because we were so scared.
I can also remember my father taking me, at the age of 5 because I was the eldest son, to the nightclubs and the bars. My father was a brawler; he liked fighting. He had a good job with the Bank of Mexico, but the drinking led him to violence. I remember sitting outside at the newsstand where he left me, waiting for him to come out. He would be so drunk. He had a little scooter, and every night, we would get home by the grace of God. I remember this whole experience, him hitting me and beating me when I was growing up. I was so rebellious. By the time I was 8 or 9 years old, my goal was to kill my dad. That was my life.
In 1957, my mother was invited to come to LA, leave my father, and go to live with my grandparents and my mom’s sister. One night my father came home totally drunk, and passed out. My mother woke us up early and we went to the international airport in Mexico City. I remember going to the airport, getting on a plane, and leaving Mexico at the age of 10. I remember how happy I was because we were rid of my dad.
In 1958, my father began writing to my mother about how unhappy he was and how much he missed us. He promised my mother that he had changed. So, in 1959, my mother allowed him to come to America and live with us. I remember hating my mother because she brought him back into our lives. I didn’t want him to live with us. I didn’t have any feelings for him, I was so bitter towards him. And again, he began to drink and abuse my mom.
In 1960 or ‘61, we moved to Montebello, but soon after, my father decided to buy a house in Baldwin Park. I started, as a freshman, at Baldwin Park High School in 1962. My mom had a very good job working for the Union Bank in Los Angeles. She thought that by moving and having a new house, everything would be better; but every time dinner came, there would be arguing, fighting and screaming. My father would get so drunk, that he would get violent and hit everybody. I remember at the age of 15 having a lot of confrontations with him, and I began to get violent. I began to take my frustrations and anger out on people. At parties or on the streets, I would start beating up people. It became a consuming fire in my heart. By grace, I didn’t kill anyone on the streets. There were times when we left people lying there and we thought they were dead. This went on for the four years I was in high school.
By the time I was a senior in high school, I had already been in and out of jail, but never once booked. We had a club called the Hession Car Club, and our advisor was a cop named Al. Because of our relationship with him, they would let us go. Then one night I was at a party in West Covina, and I saw a guy there with my girlfriend. I left and got all of my friends. We went back to the party and ripped people apart. The guy almost died. The next day, the police came to the high school, took me in and booked me. Eventually, I had to go to court. At the time I was eighteen and just about to graduate. I was given a choice, either go to prison or go into the military. Well, at that time, Vietnam was going on, I said, “I’ll just go to Vietnam. It’s a license to kill and I can do whatever I want.”
I went into the Marine Corps Boot Camp, and had twelve weeks of hard training. Because I scored highly in physical fitness, 478 points out of 500, I received the rank of PFC, and I was made platoon leader. I went from MCRD, to Camp Pendleton, and began to train for Vietnam as a 0311 Grunt. I remember so clearly: 1966, on December the 8th, I got my orders. I remember my father and brother taking my best friend, Champ, and me down to San Diego and getting on a ship, the U.S.S. Gaffey, as I was going to Vietnam.
I remember leaving San Diego and starting the trip to Vietnam. I was wondering if I would ever return, especially when I looked out and saw 5000 marines on the ship. I wondered how many would not be returning.
It took about 15 days at sea but we finally arrived on the USS Gaffey navel ship into Da Nang, Vietnam. I could not believe the humidity and the smell and all the green jungle. We were separated and sent to our different units. I was sent to Alpha Company 1/7 up into Chu Li, Phu-Bi and ended up on the outskirts of Da Nang. We were participating in operations and patrols.
As time moved forward, watching some of my friends become casualties or being wounded in combat, I became angry within. This anger toward the enemy consumed me to the point of hating my enemy. By this time, I had already been wounded twice and my time of service was almost completed so I started to think crazy things in my mind. My commanding officer sent me to see the hospital shrink and he recommended that I be sent to Oakland Naval Hospital, Project 49A, for further observation and treatment.
I spent the next six months of my life under psychiatric care, group therapy counseling, because I was so violent. Satan had taken possession of my life. After six months of rebelling against the help offered to me, Dr. Wilson recommended a discharge for me. I was then sent to Camp Pendleton for my discharge to become a civilian again.
I remember when I was at Camp Pendleton my girlfriend, Sharon, got pregnant. She had been in high school with me, but we had actually fallen in love through letters, while I was in Vietnam. They allowed me to have time off so I could go and see my family. That’s the time when Sharon and I got together and she got pregnant. So, the Marine Corps gave me time off to get married. My discharge hadn’t come back yet. Finally, it came back, on September 15, 1967. I’ll never forget that day, when they called me in and said, “Hey, your discharge is back and it’s an honorable discharge.”
I got out and found a job in LA working for the Union Bank. I also decided to continue my studies in Kung Fu San Soo, at Jimmy H. Woo’s Studio. The moment I got out, immediately, I started going back, not only to my old friends, but I started going back to my old life. But this time I was a little bit older, I was 20 or 21 years old at that time. It’s amazing how the war had matured me, tremendously. I wasn’t afraid to kill now, I wasn’t afraid to do anything. When we would go to parties or whatever we would do, we would cause chaos. I remember all the opportunities that God gave me. My wife would never preach to me, she would share the gospel with me, by sharing her love with me. She showed me God’s love through her life, living it.
One thing I never wanted to do, I never wanted to be like my dad, and become a physical abuser. Well, I did. The first thing I did was start pushing Sharon around, kicking her and punching her. Pretty soon, I was choking her but by the grace of God, the angels protected her. It went on for about 4 ½ years until finally, she decided to leave me. When I realized she was going to leave me, I decided that nobody would ever have her or my kids. The best way to do that was to execute her and my kids, and kill myself. As the police would come, I would just shoot it out with them and that would be the end of everything. And then nobody wins.
When I got home, she had already gone to church. As a matter of fact, it was Easter Sunday, April 2, 1972, and I had already made up my mind to kill her. So I got home, and I saw her packed bags on the side. I walked into the house, went to the closet, got my rifle and loaded it with eighteen rounds. I started walking around the house; I began to destroy my whole house, just knocking down everything. I went next to the TV and I was just standing there. I was so angry and so mad inside; I took the butt of the rifle and hit the TV. When I hit it, it came on. And when the TV came on, there was this bald headed guy talking about Jesus, it was Chuck Smith.
He was with Katherine Kuhlman, on one of those programs with “The Jesus People”. I was listening and I wanted to shoot him with my gun, but I couldn’t pull the trigger. It seemed as he was talking on the TV; he was talking directly to me. You know how that is? It was like a bow was being pulled back, the arrows were letting go and they were stabbing me in the heart. And I kept saying, “Man, why don’t you shut up? What are you trying to say?” All of a sudden, I found myself on my knees, listening to him. And for the first time in my life, I began to cry like a baby. You know it’s not too cool to cry when you’re hardened. I just began to cry out to God, “God if you’re really real, and you are a God that can save people, as you saved my wife, I want you tonight, right know, to come into my life.” And you know what blew me away? I didn’t see lightening or hear a voice, I just, by faith, prayed a prayer. And I felt a complete change in my life. As I got up from my knees, I wiped off my tears and put away my rifle. I got in my car and went looking for my wife, to tell her what had happened to me. I couldn’t find her. As I entered the church that she attended, they were giving the altar call. So I just went up to the altar, and when they got done counseling me, I went home.
When I got home, I knocked on the door. The light was already on, my wife was at home, and I heard her weeping and crying inside. I knocked on the door and said, “Sharon open the door, it’s me.” She was just crying and the whole thing. What she did was put the latch on the door, then opened it, and said, “What do you want?” I said, “I’m born again! I accepted Christ.” She shut the door in my face. She didn’t really believe it. So I knocked again and I said, “Sharon honest, I’m born again.” She finally opened the door. It took probably about a year and a half to two years for her to believe, as she watched my life change. But what blew her away was that immediately, I got saved, man, I got saved.
The next day, I went to a Christian bookstore, and I bought a Bible. Now, I didn’t know anything about Bibles. There were little Bibles, big Bibles, you know, huge Bibles. So I got the biggest Bible I could, cause I wanted to be a Christian. I got this big family Bible. At that time, the hippies had these fishes that had the Greek writing: Jesus Christ, God, Son and Savior. They had little ones, medium ones and then they had these big sharks. I got the biggest one I could find, with a leather cord, and I put it on. I didn’t even care; I just wanted everyone to know I was a Christian. Can you imagine a big Bible and a big fish walking around?
So, I began to read the bible. I started going to Chuck Smith’s church, Calvary Chapel. I went down there and I began to get rooted and grounded in the Word. I would go down there on Thursday nights and Saturdays with a van full of people to hear the Word of God. And then the Lord called me, it was weird, I didn’t hear His voice, but I was sitting there reading my Bible and praying and I had a vision. I had never had a vision in my life. I don’t even know what it was, but I saw myself awake and half-asleep, and I saw my old high school. I saw my principal and my vice-principal and I saw all these hundreds of kids. The Lord told me, “I want you to go back to your old high school.” I said, “Okay!” So I waited and I prayed. Then I went to Baldwin Park High School, I remember, it was 1972.
I walked on the campus, Dr. Hollenbeck and Barnholdt, the Assistant Principal, were there. Mr. Barnholdt had been my baseball coach. I remember walking up; I had my fish, “the tuna”, and my Bible. The next thing I knew, the police were escorting me off campus because they thought I was nuts. They didn’t want me on campus. So, I went home totally bummed out, thinking, “ Aw, man, what’s going to happen now?” I went home, and God spoke to me again, “Go back to Baldwin Park High School.” I said, “ Oh Lord, they just kicked me out. They called the police, and the police told me if I come back again, they’re going to put me in jail.” Once more, God said, “Go back to Baldwin Park High School.” So I said, “Okay, I’m gonna go back.” I went back the following week, and Mr. Barnholt and Mr. Hollenbeck took me into their office and they talked to me. They gave me permission to be on campus, check this out, to be on campus, and to go into the classrooms and in the mall area, and I could talk to people about Jesus Christ.
So I started at lunchtime. I would sit out on the grass area and all these kids would look at me, with my fish and my Bible, and they hated me. I would just sit there. I didn’t go up to them or talk to them. I was waiting for the right time, because I didn’t know anything about the Lord, I was just learning myself. I mean, what could I give them that I didn’t even have. I just knew Jesus loved me and he cared about them, and all of a sudden man, in coming missiles; cake, milk, they were bombarding me with stuff. I just said, “Lord give me five minutes and I’ll kill everyone of these kids. Believe me God.” I was so mad. I said, “Lord I don’t need this stuff. I don’t even want to be here.” But the Lord told me to stay there.
So, a couple of weeks went by, and a couple of months went by, and I stood there faithfully every day. All of a sudden, the Lord began to open the doors. Kids began to come and talk to me, and I talked to them. Then one day, in the mall area at Baldwin Park High School, the Lord spoke to me at lunch-time: “Get up on this picnic bench, I want you to talk to them about me.” You know how lunch times are at a high school, everybody is doing their own thing: we had no PA and I’m not a screamer. So I got up there and started, “Hey, for God so loved the world man, that He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, that whosoever would give…” this whole thing. And as I was talking, making a fool of myself, I thought, the Holy Spirit was zapping people. The Holy Spirit fell on that school so heavily, all of a sudden, as I looked out, there were about 1800 kids sitting on the grass listening.
And what blew me away, is I didn’t expect God to use my life: cause who was I? I mean, I barely graduated from high school and I could hardly read. I was asking the Lord, “ Lord, what am I going to do now?” As I began to just share God’s love with them, I said, “Anyone here want to accept Jesus Christ?” Five hundred kids came up and got on their knees, and gave their lives to Jesus Christ. The school was totally blown away. Then Gladstone High School opened up, Azusa High School opened up, Charter Oak High School opened up, Glendora High School opened up, Bassett High School opened up, and soon, I was visiting eight high schools a week. I was just going out on the streets; that’s how my ministry started. I had a bible fellowship in my Kung Fu Studio at night, but during the day I would go to the schools and work with the kids. That was my heart, my life: that kids would come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior.
I never thought, I never expected that God would do such a tremendous work as He has done over the last 28 years. I never dreamed that God would do such a thing. . He has not only blessed my life personally, but the ministry he has given me. He took me from my Kung Fu Studio, to pastoring a church of over 12,000 people on 28 acres. Along with teaching, He has opened up the doors for us to have a Bible School and Pastoral Program. With these programs, we have been able to spread the Word to Central and South America.
Our Missions Ministry has exploded with several churches throughout South America. We have established churches in Chile, from top to bottom, and are starting a Bible School to train the Nationals. We also have churches and Bible Schools in Columbia. In Villevicenzio, in the heart of guerilla activity, we have one school, and the other Bible School, El Secreto, is in the jungle. These schools are turning out dozens of pastors and leaders every year.
My vision is to reach all of Central and South America with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Through the work being done at these schools and a team of pastors from the United States, our goal is to take the Word of God and establish churches in every major city in South America.
In the early 80’s, I began broadcasting on the radio. Today, our Somebody Loves You Radio program, which is nationally syndicated, is heard daily on stations in the United States and Central America.
Soon after we started the radio program, we began the Exit Festivals, which gave birth to the Somebody Loves You Crusades. God has used the crusades tremendously, with thousands of people coming to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. From the beginning of my ministry, at the high schools, God put a burden on my heart for the youth, and I have been able to reach the kids, still today, through the crusades.
Looking back on all the things God has allowed me to do, I, Raul Ries, am still amazed that God chose to use me. My desire, my heart, is to finish the race and to do it well. It is important that we not only run the race, but we finish well.