Raul Ries Testimony: Transcribed from a message
I’ve been thinking of 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. Since I was a little kid, I had never been witnessed to by anybody. I was raised Catholic in Mexico. My Grandmother was an opera singer in Mexico, where she met and married my German Grandfather. 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 I grew up. My mother was visiting from New York City, met my dad, and never went back there. She is originally from New York, but her parents were from Spain.
My parents loved each other, but my father had a very bad habit; he had a drinking problem. He 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. My father physically abused my mother and my grandmother, his mother. As little kids, we were so scared.
My father took me, at the age of 5 – 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 would sit outside at the newsstand, where he would leave me, waiting for him to come out. He would be so drunk and every night, we would get home by the grace of God, on his little scooter. He would hit and beat me as I was growing up. I was so rebellious that 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 live with my grandparents and her sister in California. One night, after that invitation, my father came home drunk, and passed out. My mother woke us 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 was happy because we were rid of my dad.
In 1958, my father began writing to my mother telling her how unhappy he was and how much he missed us. He promised that he had changed. So, in 1959, my mother allowed him to come to America with us. I hated my mother for bringing 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, and then on to 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 day at dinner time, there would be arguing, fighting and screaming. My father would get so drunk; he would get violent and hit everybody. At the age of 15, I started having confrontations with him, and I began to get violent. I took my frustrations and anger out on people. At parties or on the streets, I would beat up people. It became a consuming fire in my heart. By grace, I didn’t kill anyone on the streets, although there were times when we left people thinking they were dead. This went on for all four years of high school.
By the time I was a senior in high school, I had been in and out of jail, but never once booked. We had a club called the Hessian Car Club, and our advisor was a cop named Al. Because of our relationship with him, they always 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 to get all of my friends and we went back to the party. We ripped people apart and 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, so I was given a choice to either go to prison or go into the military. At that time, the war in 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 got my orders in 1966, on December the 8th. My father and brother took my best friend, Champ, and me down to San Diego and I got on a ship, the U.S.S. Gaffey, I was going to Vietnam.
I left San Diego and started the trip to Vietnam, 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 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 in 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 wounded in combat, I became angry within. This anger toward the enemy consumed me to the point of hatred. By this time, I had already been wounded twice and my time of service was almost completed, so I started to think crazy things. 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 under psychiatric care, in group therapy, 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 to await my discharge to become a civilian again.
While I was at Camp Pendleton, my girlfriend, Sharon, got pregnant. She had been in high school with me, but we had fallen in love through letters, while I was in Vietnam. When I had time off to visit my family, 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 through at that time, but finally, it came back, on September 15, 1968. I’ll never forget that day, when they called me in and said, “Hey, your discharge is back and it’s an honorable discharge.”
Once I got out, I 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, I started going back, not only to my old friends, but I went back to my old life. This time I was a little bit older, 20 or 21 years old at the time. It was amazing how the war had matured me. I wasn’t afraid to kill now, I wasn’t afraid to do anything. When we went to parties or whatever we would do, we would cause chaos. I remember all the opportunities God gave me. My wife never preached to me, she shared 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 push Sharon around, kicking 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, I decided that nobody would ever have her or my kids. The best way to do that was to execute her and my kids. As the police would come, I would just shoot it out with them and that would be the end of everything. Then nobody wins.
It was Easter Sunday, April 2, 1972, and I had already made up my mind to kill her. When I got home, she had already gone to church but 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, destroying it, knocking everything down. I went next to the TV and I was so angry inside; I took the butt of the rifle and hit it. When I hit it, the picture came on. On the screen was this bald headed guy talking about Jesus, it was Chuck Smith.
He was with Katherine Kuhlman, and “The Jesus People.” As I was listening, I wanted to shoot him with my gun, but I couldn’t pull the trigger. It seemed like 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. 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. It’s not too cool to cry when you’re hardened but I just began to cry out, “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 now, to come into my life.” You know what blew me away? I didn’t see lightening or hear a voice, I prayed a prayer, by faith, 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, but I couldn’t find her. As I entered her church, they were giving the altar call, so I went up to the altar. When they got done counseling me, I went home.
When I got home, 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 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, but it took about a year and a half to two years for her to believe, as she watched my life change. 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 and huge Bibles. I got the biggest Bible I could, because I wanted to be a Christian. I got this big family Bible. At that time, the hippies had these fish 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. I didn’t care; I just wanted everyone to know I was a Christian. Can you imagine a big Bible and a big fish walking around?
I began to read the Bible. I started going to Chuck Smith’s church, Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. I began to get rooted and grounded in the Word. I went on Thursday nights and Saturdays with a van full of people, to hear the Word of God. Then, the Lord called me, I didn’t hear His voice, but I was sitting, reading my Bible, 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 was awake and I saw myself at my old high school. I saw my principal, my vice-principal and 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, it was 1972.
As I walked on the campus, Dr. Hollenbeck and Barnholdt were there. 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. 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. They gave me permission to be on campus to people about Jesus Christ.
I started at lunchtime. I sat 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. What could I give them? I just knew Jesus loved me and He cared about them. All of a sudden, incoming missiles; cake, milk, – they were bombing me. I said, “Lord, give me five minutes and I’ll kill every one 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.
A couple of weeks went by, and then a couple of months, as I went there faithfully every day. All of a sudden, the Lord began to open the doors. Kids began to come and talk to me. 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.” So, I got up and started, “Hey, for God so loved the world, man, that He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, that whosoever would give…” the whole thing. As I was talking, thinking that I was making a fool of myself, the Holy Spirit was zapping people. The Holy Spirit fell on that school so heavily, there were about 1800 kids sitting on the grass listening.
What blew me away was that I didn’t expect God to use my life. I barely graduated from high school and I could hardly read. I asked, “Lord, what am I going to do now?” As I began to share God’s love with them, I said, “Does anyone want to accept Jesus Christ?” Five hundred kids came up, 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, soon, I was visiting eight high schools a week. I was 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: kids coming to know Christ as their Lord and Savior.
I never expected, never dreamed that God would do such a tremendous work as He has done over the last 37 years. . He not only blessed my life, personally, but the ministry he gave me. He took me from my Kung Fu Studio, to pastoring a church of over 12,000 people. Along with teaching, He has opened up the doors for us to have a Bible School.
Our Missions’ Ministry exploded with several churches throughout South America. We established churches in Chile, from top to bottom, and have a Bible School to train the Nationals. We also have churches and Bible Schools in Colombia. 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. 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 and today, our nationally syndicated Somebody Loves You Radio program, is heard daily on stations in the United States and Central America.
Soon after 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 still have that same vision today. With this new generation of youth, my youngest son Ryan has joined me and we have come full circle to the EXIT Concerts. With these outreaches, we are reaching the kids that would never enter a church; going out to them and meeting them right where they are.
Looking back on all the things God has allowed me to do, I 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.