Focus on the Family Broadcast

From Prodigal to Pastor

From Prodigal to Pastor

Raul Ries grew up with an alcoholic father who physically abused him and his mother. Raul himself became a very angry and violent young man. After his wife had threatened to leave him, he intended to kill her. Raul was bent on a murderous rampage when he had a dramatic, life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. In this broadcast, Pastor Raul share his fascinating story about the amazing grace of God and its power to transform even the most hardened hearts.
Original Air Date: September 24, 2018


Raul Ries: I just, by faith, prayed a prayer, and I felt a complete change in my life. And as I got up from my knees, I wiped off my tears, and I took out all the rounds, put away my gun, and I got in my car, and I went looking for my wife because I wanted to tell her what happened to me.

End of Preview

John Fuller: Hm, my. Uh, we’re just a few minutes away from that story, and how Raul Ries went from a terrible, desperate place to becoming a believer in Jesus Christ. This is Focus on the Family, with your host, Focus president, Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: This is an amazing testimony, and it illustrates how much God cares about every single one of us. Let’s get right to the message, John.

John: All right. Here’s Raul Ries, and as you can probably tell, this is not going to be appropriate for younger listeners. Raul is speaking at Calvary Chapel, Golden Springs, in Southern California on today’s episode of Focus on the Family.

Raul: My father had a very bad, bad habit. He had a problem with drinking, big time drinking. Started drinking when he was about nine years old. And um, just really, uh, a time of, uh, chaotic because what happened in our home, our home was not a normal home. Our home was, uh, a home where, you know, I re- … As far as I can remember, back when I was a little kid, where my father would come home and would be yelling, and cursing, and slapping my mother, and physically abusing my grandmother and my mother at the same time, which was his mother. And I remember us when we were little kids screaming and yelling, because we were so frightened by this whole thing. And at the same time, I remember my dad taking me at the age of five years old because I was his eldest son, taking me to the night clubs and the bars, and I remember my father just … I mean, he was a brawler, you know. He used to like to fight. He had a beautiful job with the Bank of Mexico, and … But at the same time, the problem with drinking led him to violence.

Raul: And um, I remember sitting outside while he would go inside and drink for three, four, five hours, sitting outside in a little newsstand, waiting for him to come out as he would leave me there with these, with these people to wait for him to come out. And when he would come out, he would be so drunk that he used to have, uh, one of these, uh, European scooters. And he got on it, and we … And by the grace of God, we never got … We, we dropped it a couple times, and we, we got home every time by the grace of God, but through this whole experience as I was growing up, it was just a time where I remember my dad, you know, with me, also, by the time I was about eight …

Raul: And, uh, I mean, he physically used to taking me, and hitting me, and just beating me, you know? Because I was so rebellious against everything that was going on. And I remember, at the age of eight or nine years old, thinking, you know, one of these days, I wanna kill my dad. That was, that was my life. I wanted to … My, my goal was to kill and execute my father. That was my whole goal of my life.

Raul: In 1957, uh, we uh, right after the major earthquake of Mexico City, which was a real big earthquake, my, uh, grandmother, my mom’s mother and sister and my grandfather, we were living in L.A. And so, they gave my mother an invitation to come up and leave my father. So, one night, when my father came home totally passed out drunk. And he, he came drunk, and he passed out on the bed. Uh, that night, my mother woke us up early in the morning, about 4:00 in the morning, and told us to get dressed. We got dressed and we went to the international airport in Mexico, and in 1957, they had those single engine planes. You know, it took eight hours to get from Mexico City to L.A. Today, it takes three and a half hours. But I remember the … going to the airport, and getting on this plane, and leaving Mexico City at the age of 10 years old, and coming to America, and being in America. And I remember how happy I was because, man, now I, we’re rid of my dad. No more drinking. No more cursing. No more violence. And now we’re gonna be so joyous being here in America. And I remember in 1959 … Um, my father began to write in ’58 to my mother that he wanted to change his life, and that he wanted to come to America and live with us because he missed us so much, and uh, I remember b- being a little kid, 10 years old, hating my mother because my mother said, “Okay,” to my father. And I didn’t want my dad to come and live with us. But she went ahead and got his … Because she was an American citizen. And so, she actually worked out his papers, and, and, and got it all set up. Took about nine months. And finally, my dad came up to the, to the States where we were living in, in L.A. And uh, uh, I never forget when he got there. I mean, I didn’t have any feelings for him. I was so bitter at him at the age of 10. And uh, again, he, he began to drink, and begin again to abuse my mom. And I remember, at the age of 15, having a lot of confrontations with my father. And so, I began to become violent. I began to d- you know, take my frustrations and the anger that I had in me, when we would go to parties, when we’d go out in the streets, and I would start, you know, beating up people, and hurting people. And it just became a consuming fire in my heart where, I mean, you know, by the grace I am, I mean, just that I didn’t, I didn’t kill anyone on the streets. But I mean, there were times that we left people laying there, and we thought they were dead. And this went on for, for the four years of high school. I played sports. I was an, an athlete, and played baseball, and doing very well in baseball. And my, my grades were not that good because I didn’t st- I didn’t really study. I, I, I partied a lot, you know? And so, by the time I was a senior, I already had been in and out of jail, but never once booked, by the grace of God, because we knew the cops, and the cops used to let us go. (laughs) And so, what happened is that, on my senior year, when I was down in West Covina, I got in a, in a brawl with, um, this guy that, uh, was doing something, you know, with one of my girlfriends, and I went and got all my friends, and we came to the party, and I mean, we ripped the party. I mean, we ripped people. And this guy almost died.

Raul: So, they came to hi- the high school the next day, and the police came and picked us up and they took us in, and they booked us, and we had to go to court, and the whole thing. And uh, at the time, I was 18 already. We were seniors. And we were just about to graduate.

Raul: And uh, I, I got, eh, put in a position where either I was gonna go to prison, or I would have the opportunity, the judge gave me, to go into the military. Well, at that time, I say, “You know what?” W- w- … Vietnam was going on. Said, “Well, I’ll just go to Vietnam.” You know? “License to kill,” I can do whatever I wanna do. And I remember when we got to, uh, Da Nang, and we, uh … They, they … One … They actually separated … There was 5,000 troops on, on, on the, uh, U.S.S. Gaffey, and they sent us to our own units, and I went to Alpha Company 1- , uh, and they put me with the 7th Marine Division, uh, 1st Marines, and uh, they put me on this, on this platoon, which was a, um, a platoon that went, uh, actually on specials missions. There were seven of us. We were called The Bounty Hunters, and we would go down to the riverbeds, and we would set up camp, and uh, we would watch, and we would click to see how many VC were coming down through the trails, and then we would report back. And it became sort of a … sort of like a n- … I, I, I can’t say a game. It became part of a … A, a part of my life where, as I begin to see some of my friends get killed, the hatred that came for the Asian person. And finally, after 11 months of being in Vietnam, and doing all of the things, they finally, they finally caught up with us, and the government, they called us in. And, uh, they sent us, first of all, to a psychiatrist to make sure that they would check us out to see what was wrong with us, and how, when I came to the psychiatrist, he looked at me and said, “Well, you know, uh, what seems to be your problem?” I said, “My … Well, I think, first of all my problem’s you.” You know? “I don’t like you, and uh,” I, I said, “All I wanna do is I wanna get out of this place.” And he says, “Well, I don’t think that’s possible.” I said, I said, “If you don’t make it possible,” I said, “I’m gonna kill you right now.” And so, he got a piece of paper, started writing all kinds of stuff down, you know? And so, he wrote pretty fast. And then, he gave me this piece of paper, and he says, “I want you to go to the captain, and give them to, uh, to your platoon leader. Give him this piece of paper.” So, when I went back, I don’t know what he had written, but they told me to pack up all my sea bags, get my locker box, everything, that I was leaving town. You know? So, I got everything packed up, and, uh, they send me back to, uh, Da Nang. And uh, when I got to Dan Nang, to the airport, w- w- to actually board a one- a C-130, uh, they, uh they came out the end piece and they put shackles in my feet and my hands. And I thought I was going home, but, uh, I guess I was not. They put me in this plane, and they tied me up, and uh, flew me to Japan, and from Japan to the Philippines, and from the Philippines to Guam, and from Guam they flew me to Travis Air Force Base up Northern California. We landed, and there was a paddy wagon waiting for me, and they put me with my shackles inside, and they put a straitjacket on me, and they took me to, uh, Oakland Naval Hospital, which I spend six months of my life under psychological care. But most under drugs and being in, in, in a jacket because I was so violent. It’s like Satan had taken possession of my life. Uh, at that particular time, they were starting in the 60s what was called Synanon. They were like therapy sessions where you come in in a group session and you talk, and you tell them your problems. Well, every time it would come to my problems, I would become so violent and start beating up on everybody, they’d take me away and you know put me away, and I, and they, just couldn’t talk. And so, after six months, Dr. Wilson decided that I was not fit not only for the Marine Corps, but I wasn’t fit to back to Vietnam, uh, for a second tour, but I was only fit to be discharged with a dishonorable discharge. So, I said, “Well, whatever happens, happens.” I said, “You know, I just wanna get out of here.” And um, they sent me out to Camp Pendleton to the 5th Marine Division, and they would recommend a dishonorable discharge for my life. And I remember when I was at Camp Pendleton, they had me actually locked up, and uh, that’s when I … My wife was in high school with me, and we had actually fallen in love through letters in Vietnam. And uh, they allowed me to have a couple of times, you know, off where I can go and, you know, and see my, my family. And uh, that’s, uh, the time when me and Sharon got together, and she got pregnant. And so, they gave me, uh, time to get married, and uh, I was still in the Marines, and um, my discharge hadn’t come back yet. I was real … I guess it’s a whole thing. And finally, it came back in September 15, 1967. I’ll never forget that date, when they called me in, they said, “Hey, your discharge is back, and it’s an honorable discharge by the convenience of the government.” I said, “Wow.”

Raul: And I got out, and I went out, and went and saw my wife, and told her that I was out of the Marine Corps. Got a job in L.A., working for the Union Bank, and you know, started doing my thing. And 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. Even though I was only 21 years old at that time, uh, it’s, it’s amazing how the war had matured me tremendously. And um, I wasn’t afraid to kill now. I wasn’t afraid to do anything. And so, when we would go to parties, or whatever we would do, it was just chaotic in the things that we would do. And every time, I mean, that I … I remember, you know, the opportunities that God gave me. And my wife, who’d never preached to me, she would share the Gospel with me by, by sharing, you know, her love with me, but never giving me tracts, or you know, putting tracts in my sandwiches, and I bite down, and, you know, “Jesus loves …” nothing like that, or putting stickers on … Never like that. But just her life living. And, and, and one thing that I never wanted to do, I never wanted to be like my dad where I would become a physical abuser. Well, I did. The first thing that I did is I started, you know, pushing her around, and kicking her, and punching her, and pretty soon I was choking her. And by the grace of God, the angels protected her, and it went on for about four and a half years until finally, she finally decided that she was gonna leave me. And when she was gonna leave me, I decided that nobody would ever have her, and I would, I would chase for my kids, and the best way to do that is to execute her and my kids and kill myself as the police would come, I’d just shoot it out with the police, that would be the end of everything. And then nobody wins.

John: You’re listening today to Raul Ries on Focus on the Family. And you can get a CD of this program for a gift of any amount when you call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459, or donate and request it at our website, Let’s return now to more from Raul Ries.

Raul: And so, when I got home, uh, she already had gone to church. As a matter of fact, it was Easter Sunday, April 15th, 1972, and I already had made up my mind I was gonna kill her. So, I came home, and I saw her bags were packed on the side, and I walked into the house, and went to the closet and got my gun and loaded up my gun with 18 rounds. And um, I started walking around the house. I started to destroy my whole house; you know. Just knocking down everything. And I went next to the TV sta- … to the TV, and I was standing there, and I mean, I was so angry and so, uh, mad inside that I took the, the butt of the rifle and I hit the TV, and when I hit it, it came on. And when the TV came on, there’s was, this was this guy, bald-headed guy talking about, about Jesus.

Congregation: (laughs)

Raul: (laughs) It was, it was Chuck Smith, and he was with Kathryn Kuhlman, you know, in one of those [inaudible 00:13:57] with all the hippies. And I was, uh, listening a minute, I, I, I, and I said to … I wanted to shoot him, you know, with my gun, and I couldn’t pull the trigger. And it seemed like when he talked, when he was talking to the TV, he was talking to me. You know how that is? It’s, uh, like a bow was being pulled back and 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, what are you trying to say?” You know? And all of a sudden, I find myself that I, I begin to put my ear more to it, and then I find myself that, as I was listening, I found myself on my knees and for the first time in my life, I began to cry like a baby. You know? It was not too cool to cry when you’re hardened. And I just began to tell God, “God, if you’re really real and you’re a real God and you are a God that can save people as you saved my wife, I want you to come into my life.” And you know what blew me away? I didn’t see lightening. I didn’t see any … I didn’t have any feeling or anything emotional. I just, by faith, prayed a prayer, and I felt a complete change in my life. And as I got up from my knees and wiped off my tears, and I took out all the rounds, put away my gun, and I got in my car, and I went looking for my wife because I wanted to tell her what happened to me. I couldn’t find her. I got to the church where she was, and they were actually … At, at that time, they were having the altar call, so I just went up to the altar call, and once they counseled me in the whole thing, I went home, and when I got home, I knocked on the door, and the light was on already, my wife was at home, and I heard her weeping and crying inside. And I knocked on the door, I said, “Sharon, open the door. It’s me.” And, and she was just, you know, crying, the whole thing. And then, what she did is she put the latch on the door, and she opened the door, and she says, “What do you want?” I said, uh, I said, “I’m born again. I accepted Christ.” She shut the door in my face, you know. She didn’t really believe it. And so, I, I knocked again, and I, and I said, uh, ah, “Sharon, honest. I, I, I’ve accepted the Lord. I’m, I’m gonna change my whole life.” And she finally opened the door, and it took probably about a year and a half to two years for her to watch my life change, to really watch my life change. But what blew her away is that, immediately … I mean, I got saved, man. I got saved. I went the next day to a Christian bookstore and I bought me a Bible. Now, I didn’t know anything about Bibles, so I was looking at Bibles. There were little Bibles, big Bibles, you know, huge Bibles. And so, I got me the biggest Bible I could because I wanted to be, you know-

Congregation: (laughs)

Raul: … a, a Christian. So, I got me this big old family Bible, and at that time, you know, the hippies, we had long hair and stuff. And they had these, uh, fishes that you’d have the Greek writing, “Jesus Christ, God, Son, and Savior,” in Greek. And they had little ones, and middle me- medium sized ones, and then they had these big sharks, you know? That were like that. I got me the biggest one I could with a leather thing, and I put it on.

Congregation: (laughs)

Raul: I didn’t even care! I just wanted everybody to know that I was a Christian. Now, can you imagine a big Bible, big fish, walking around, you know?

Congregation: Laughter.

Raul: And so, as, as we were doing this whole thing, I, I got home and I, I just, every morning, I begin to read the Bible, and I, I started going to Chuck Smith’s church, and I, I got down there, and I begin to get rooted and grounded, and buy the tapes, and buy the books, and read. And then, the Lord call m- … This was weird. About a week later, the Lord call me, and I mean, I, I didn’t hear His voice, but I had, like … I was sitting there, reading my Bible and praying, and I had, like, a vision. I’ve 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, and I saw my principal, and my vice principal, and I saw all these hundreds of kids. And the Lord told me, “I want you to go back to your old high school.” And I said, “Okay.” So, I waited, and I prayed, and then I went to Baldwin Park High School. 1972, I remember. I walked onto campus, and Dr. Hollenbeck, and, and, and Barnholdt were, was the assistant principal, and he was my baseball coach before. And I remember walking up, and I had the fish, the tuna-

Congregation: (laughs)

Raul: … the Bible, and I walked in, and the f- next thing I know is the police are escorting me off the campus because they think I’m nuts. They don’t want me on campus. And so, I went home totally bummed out, man, thinking, “Oh, man. What’s gonna happen now?” And so, I went home, and God spoke to me again. “Go back to Baldwin Park High School.” I go, “Oh, Lord. They just kicked me out. They called the police. The police told me if I come back again, they’re gonna put me in jail.” “Go back to Baldwin Park High School.” “Okay. I’m gonna go back.” I went back the following week, and Mr. Barnholdt and Mr. Hollenbeck took me in their office, and they talked to me, and they gave me permission to be on campus … Now, check this out, to be on campus and to go into the classrooms, and to be outside of the classrooms on the mall area and I could talk to people about Jesus Christ because they knew me from before.

Raul: 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. And all of a sudden, man, incoming missiles … Cake … Milk. And they were bombarding me with stuff, man. I was so mad! I go, “I, I, I don’t need this stuff! I don’t even wanna be here.” And the Lord told me to be there. So, a couple of weeks went by, a couple of months went by, and I stood there faithfully every day, and then all of a sudden, and the Lord began to open the doors as kids begin to come and talk to me, and I talked to them. And then, one day, on the mall area at Baldwin Park High School, the Lord told me at a lunchtime … You know how lunchtimes are at high school. Everybody’s doing their own thing, and we have no PA, and I’m not a screamer. And He says, “Get up on this big, new bench, and I want you to talk to them about me.” So, I got up there, and started, “Hey, for God so loved the world, man, that He give His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, that whosoever would give …” you know, I mean, it’s 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 that, all of a sudden, as I looked out, there were about three to five to 600 kids sitting on the grass, listening.  Whew! What blew me away is I didn’t expect God to use my life, ’cause who was I? And as I began to just share with them God’s love, I said, “Anybody here wants to accept Jesus Christ?” 500 kids got up and came on their knees and gave their life to Jesus Christ, and I mean, the school is totally blown away. And then, Gladstone High School opened up, Azusa high school opened up, uh, Charter Oak High School opened up, Glendora High School opened up, and I was doing seven high school a week, just going on the streets. That’s how my ministry started. I never thought, I never expected, that God would do such a tremendous work that He has done over the last 25 years. I never dreamed that God would do such a thing. And I’m only telling you this tonight because I know there are some of you here that God wants to use your life, and I’ve been, you know, I mean, just in incredible places that I never thought that God would take me, and how my book and my movie has not only got into so many languages, but I mean, it’s got all over the world, and how God has used that testimony. And yet, it’s because of Jesus Christ. But one thing that I have learned in 25 years, that it’s important that we become obedient to the call of God because 25 years of my life has passed me on so fast. So fast. That I figure maybe I got 10-15 years left, if the Lord tares, or maybe more, depending whatever He has, that if I don’t give my life completely to Him now and we don’t go for it completely, then what’s gonna happen to the world? What’s gonna happen to our loved ones and our friends if we’re not sold out to Jesus Christ? What’s gonna happen? They’re gonna go to hell. That’s why it’s so important, young people, and mothers and fathers, that you’re totally committed to the lordship of Jesus Christ. I don’t care what you’ve done, God forgives us. We’ve all blown it, but God is a God of second, and third, and fourth, and fifth, and a hundred and thousand chances if we’re sincere in our commitment to Him. Don’t waste anymore of your days or your years in the Lord. Get rooted. Get grounded. Get a hunger. Get a vision in your life, and ask God, “God, what do you want me to do for you?” And I guarantee you that He will tell you. If you’re willing to do that, He will lead you to that. You know why? Because He loves you. He loves you so much that He is now willing that any should perish but all should come to repentance. And I just pray for each one of you, that you would give your life completely to Him. Don’t play games with Him anymore. And I think that God wants to do some tremendous things … I believe God’s going to send a revival if we, His people, will humble ourselves and repent. And if we humble ourselves before God, and if we confess our sins before God, then He will send His Holy Spirit and He will begin to do things that you can’t even believe, but He needs your heart first. He wants your life completely.

John: Today on Focus on the Family, we’ve been hearing from Raul Ries, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Golden Springs and president of Somebody Loves You Ministries.

Jim: Wow. Uh, what an amazing testimony of how the Lord can change a person. I mean, Pastor Ries went from wanting to kill his wife and kids to being an evangelist and the pastor of a large, thriving church. That’s evidence God is so good. And I just keep thinking about how Pastor Ries described that Easter morning, going through his own house, smashing things with a loaded rifle until he hit the TV and it came on. Now, what are the odds of that?

John: (laughs)

Jim: And right there, on that television set was Pastor Chuck Smith, the founder of, uh, Calvary Chapel, talking about the love of God. And his words knocked Raul to his knees, and the amazing transformation began right there on his living room floor. And boy, if you’re on the fence about Christianity, I hope you really heard what Pastor Ries was saying there and that you’ll give your life completely to the Lord Jesus Christ. He has the answers that you are seeking, and He is waiting for you to turn to Him. If you’d like to learn more about the Christian faith and what it means to be a Christian, we’d recommend our free e-booklet called Coming Home. It will give you all the information you need, and there’s even a prayer included if you’d like to ask Jesus into your heart.

John: Mm. You’ll find the Coming Home booklet at

Jim: And if you’re already a Christian, let me remind you that Focus on the Family is here to spread the Good News of the Gospel and encourage you in your marriage and your parenting journey. Of course, there are costs involved in getting these radio programs on the air every day, so please, support this broadcast if you can. Pastor Ries’ testimony is living proof that Christian media can make a big difference in a person’s life, their eternal life. I- in fact, over the last year, over 170,000 people said they made a decision for Christ because of Focus on the Family. Join us as we help those families thrive in Christ. And when you give a donation of any amount, we’ll send you the CD of this testimony from Pastor Raul Ries with extra content. And if you can’t afford to make a donation right now, please just let us know and we’ll get it into your hands. We’ll trust others will cover the cost of that. Get in touch with us today.

John: You can call us or stop by our website. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Or request your CD and donate as you can at Let me mention that Pastor Ries has asked us for prayer. Um, join us in praying for him. He’s struggling, and has been for several years, with a medical issue that effects his speech. Uh, pray for him, his church, and his family, please. Well, have a great weekend, uh, with your family and your church family as well, and be sure to join us on Monday when Carol Kuykendall offers some hope and encouragement along with personal stories for launching your teens into adulthood.


Carol Kuykendall: I w- just would wanna encourage mothers and fathers who are going through this that the best is yet to come, that-

Jim: That’s good to hear.

Carol Kuykendall: … letting go of your children and helping them become confident adults is the bridge to the very best season of parenting, and that is to be friends with your adult children.

End of Preview

Today's Guests

Broadcast CD

Receive a CD of today's broadcast for your donation of any amount!

Recent Episodes

Focus on the Family Broadcast logo

The Surprising Blessings of an Unplanned Pregnancy

If your family is dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, it can be a very difficult time, with lots of emotions and potential outcomes. In this Focus on the Family chapel message, a winsome mother-daughter team share how an unplanned pregnancy rocked their world, the confusion that resulted, and how the daughter found strength through biblical counseling at a local pregnancy resource center. Ultimately, the baby was adopted by an extended family member and is growing up delighted to have an ‘extra’ mom.

Focus on the Family Broadcast logo

Organizing the Chaos in Your Home

Kristi Clover, mother of 5, shares quick and simple tips to bring joy into your home by getting more organized. From clearing the clutter to choosing your top priorities, you’ll learn some techniques to make housework easy and fun for the whole family!

Focus on the Family Broadcast logo

Encouraging Your Kids to Discuss Their Feelings

Feelings can be confusing for children to experience and express. In this upbeat message, Dr. Joshua Straub will equip you to create a safe environment in your home, so that your children can express what they are feeling and learn how to manage their emotions.

You May Also Like

Focus on the Family Broadcast logo

A Legacy of Music and Trusting the Lord

Larnelle Harris shares stories about how God redeemed the dysfunctional past of his parents, the many African-American teachers who sacrificed their time and energy to give young men like himself a better future, and how his faithfulness to godly principles gave him greater opportunities and career success than anything else.

Focus on the Family Broadcast logo

Accepting Your Imperfect Life

Amy Carroll shares how her perfectionism led to her being discontent in her marriage for over a decade, how she learned to find value in who Christ is, not in what she does, and practical ways everyone can accept the messiness of marriage and of life.