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From Prodigal to Pastor

Original Air Date 05/14/2002

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Raul Ries came home from the Vietnam War an angry, violent man who intended to kill his wife and children. As he planned his attack, he experienced a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. Today, Raul shares his dramatic testimony of how God has given him peace and freedom from the fury that had fueled him for so long.

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Episode Transcript



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 Excerpt

John Fuller: Well in just a few minutes, you’re gonna hear that entire story of how Raul Ries went from preparing to kill his family to becoming a believer in Jesus Christ. It was a true life-change. And we’ve got that for you today on Focus on the Family with your host, Focus president, Jim Daly. 

Jim Daly: This is an amazing testimony. And let me tell you, if you know anyone that you think is beyond the reach of God, you want to hear this story from Raul Ries. You won’t give up on that person once you hear Raul’s testimony. There is hope for everyone, and I wanna get right to the message, John. So let’s get there.

John: Alright, here’s Raul Ries speaking at Calvary Chapel Golden Springs in Southern California on Focus on the Family. 


Raul: My father had a very bad, bad habit. He had a problem with drinking - big-time drinking. He started drinking when he was about nine years old. And um, just really a time of chaotic because what happened in our home - our home was not a normal home. Our home was a home where, you know, I - as far as I can remember back when I was a little kid, when 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 nightclubs and the bars. 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. But at the same time, the problem with drinking led him to violence. 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 people to wait for him to come out.

And when he would come out, he would be so drunk that he used to have one of these European scooters. He got on it and we, by the grace of God, we never got - we dropped it a couple of times. 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, I mean, physically just taking and hitting me and just beating me, you know, because I was so rebellious against everything that was going on. 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 my life. I wanted to - my goal was to kill and execute my father. That was my whole goal of my life.

In 1957, we - it was right after the major earthquake in Mexico City, which was a real big earthquake - my grandmother, my mom’s mother, and sister and my grandfather 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, drunken - he came drinking. He passed out on the bed. 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. 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 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, 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 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 got it all set up. It took about nine months. And finally, my dad came up to the states. We were living in L.A. And I will 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 again, he began to drink and began again to abuse my mom.

As we moved from L.A., we moved to Baldwin Park. And I started as a freshman in Baldwin Park High School. And um, it was just an amazing time because we thought by moving and buying the new house that everything was going - my mom worked for the Union Bank in L.A. They both had very good jobs. And uh, you know, we were doing fine. But at the same time, it used to be where every time when dinner would come, there would be the arguing and the fighting and the screaming. And then my father would get so drunk that he started getting violently - you know, hitting everybody. 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, you know, take my frustrations and the anger that I had in me and when we would go to parties, when we would go out in the streets, I would start, you know, beating up people or hurting people. And this went on for the four years of high school. I played sports; I was an athlete, and played baseball and doing very well in baseball. And my grades were not that good because I didn’t really study. 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.

And so, what happened is that in my senior year when I was down in West Covina, I got in a brawl with this guy that was doing something you know with one of my girlfriends. I went and got all my friends. We came to the party. We ripped the party. I mean, we ripped people. And this guy almost died.

So they came to 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 at the time I was eighteen already. We were seniors, and we’re just about to graduate. And uh, I got 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 said, “You know what?” Vietnam was going on. I said, “Well, I’ll just go to Vietnam. You know, a license to kill. I can do whatever I want to do.”

And I remember when we got to Da Nang and we - they actually separated - there was 5,000 troops on the U.S. Gaffey. And they sent us to our own units. And I went to Alpha Company 1-7. And they put me with the Seventh Marine Division of First Marines. And they put me on this platoon which was a platoon that went actually on special 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 we would watch, and we would click to see how many VC were coming down to the trails. And then we would report back.

And it became sort of a - sort of like a - I can’t say a game. It became part of a - part of my life where, as I began to see some of my friends get killed. And finally, after 11 months of being Vietnam and doing all the things, they finally caught up with us. And the government, they called us in and 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 when I came to the psychiatrist, he looked at me and said, “Well you know, what seems to be your problem?” I said, “Well I think first of all, my problem is you. You know, I don’t like you.” I said, “All I want to do is I want to 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 going to kill you right now.” And so he got a piece of paper and 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 said, “I want you to go to the Captain and to your platoon leader, give them piece of paper.” So when I went back, I didn’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. They sent me back to Da Nang.

And when I got to Da Nang - to the airport - to actually board a C130, they came up - the M.P.’s and they put shackles on my feet and my hands. And I thought I was going home, but I guess I was not. They put me in this plane and they tied me up and flew me to Japan; and from Japan to the Philippians; and from the Philippians to Guam; and from Guam, they flew me to Travis Air Force Base up in 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 strait jacket on me. They took me to Oakland Naval Hospital, which I spent six months of my life under psychological care, but most under drugs and being in a jacket because I was so violent. It was 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 him your problems. Well every time it would come to my problems, I would become so violent and start beating up on everybody; they would take me away and put me away. They just couldn’t talk.

And so, after six months, Dr. Wilson decided that I was not fit, not only for the Marine Corp, but I wasn’t fit to go back to Vietnam for a second tour, that I was only fit to be discharged with a dishonorable discharge. So I said, “Well, whatever happens happens.” I said, you know, “I just want to get out of here.”

And um, they sent me out to Camp Pendleton to the Fifth Marine Division, and they would recommend a dishonorable discharge in my life. And I remember when I was at Camp Pendleton, they had me actually locked up. And that’s when my wife was in high school with me. And we had actually fallen in love through letters in Vietnam. And they allowed me to have a couple of times off where I could go, you know, and see my family. And that’s the time when me and Sharon got together and she got pregnant. And so, they gave me time to get married. And I was still in the Marines, and my discharge hadn’t come back yet. I was reeling against the whole thing, and finally it came back.

And September 15, 1967, I’ll never forget that day 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.” And I got out and I went out and went and saw my wife and told her I was out of the Marine Corp. I got a job in L.A. working for the Union Bank, and you know, and 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. And um, I wasn’t afraid to kill now. I wasn’t afraid to do anything. And my wife would never preach to me. She would share the gospel with me by sharing, you know, her love with me, but never giving me tracks or you know, putting tracks in my sandwiches and I’d bite down and, you know, Jesus loves me. Nothing like that or putting secrets, never like that. But just her life living it.

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. And it went on for about four and a half years until finally, she finally decided that she’s gonna leave me. And when she was gonna leave me, I decided that nobody would ever have her and 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 would just shoot it out with the police. That would be the end of everything. And then nobody wins.

And so, when I got home, uh, she already had gone to church. As a matter of fact, it was Easter Sunday, April 15, 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 destroying my whole house, you know, just knocking down everything. And I went next to the TV stand, to the TV, and I was standing there. And I mean, I was so angry and so mad inside that I took 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 was this bald-headed guy talking about, about Jesus. It was Chuck Smith and he was with Kathryn Kuhlman, you know, in one of those shows with all the hippies.

And I was listening a minute. I said, I want to shoot him, you know with my gun. 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 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 are you trying to say, you know?” And all of a sudden, I found myself that I began to put my ear more to it. And then I found 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’s 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.”

Program Note:

John: This is Focus on the Family, and we’re listening to Raul Ries. And you can get a CD of this entire presentation when you make a generous financial contribution of any amount to the work of Focus on the Family by calling 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY - 800-232-6459 or donate and request that CD at

Let’s return now to Raul Ries on Focus on the Family.

End of Program Note

Raul: 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.

I couldn’t find her. I got to the church where she was and they were - actually at that time, they were having the altar call. So I just went up to the altar call. And once they had counseled me and the whole thing, I went home. And when I got home, I knocked on the door. 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 she was just crying and the whole thing. What she did, she put the latch on the door. She opened the door and she said, “What do you want?” 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 knocked again. And I said, “Sharon, honest. I’ve accepted the Lord. I’m going to 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. I just - every morning I began to read the Bible and I started going to Chuck Smith’s church. And I got down there and I began to get rooted and grounded and buy the tapes and buy the books and read. And then the Lord called me. This was weird. About a week later, the Lord called me. And I mean, I didn’t hear His voice, but I had like a - 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 didn’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 on the campus, and Dr. Hollenbeck and Barnholdt was the assistant principal. He was my baseball coach before. And I remember walking up and I had the fish - the tuna - the Bible. And I walked in. And the 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 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 - 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.

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 be sitting there. I didn’t go up to them and talk to them. I was just waiting for the right time because I didn’t know anything about the Lord. I was just learning myself. I mean, what can I give them that I don’t even have? And I just knew Jesus loved me and He cares about you. And all of a sudden, man, incoming missiles. (Whooshing sound) Cake. (Whooshing sound) Milk. And they were bombarding me with stuff, man. I said, “Oh, Lord. Give me five minutes. I’ll kill every one of these kids. Believe me, God!”


I was so mad! I go, “I don’t need this stuff! I don’t even want to be here!” 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, the Lord began to open the doors as kids began to come and talk to me and I talked to them. And then one day, in the mall area at Baldwin Park High School, the Lord told me at lunchtime - you know how lunch times are at high schools? Everybody’s doing their own thing. And we have no PA. And I’m not a screamer. And He says, “Get up on this picnic 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 gave His only begotten son, Jesus Christ, that whosoever would give -” You know I mean just 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 our school so heavily that all of a sudden as I looked out, there were about three to five to six hundred kids sitting on the grass listening.


What blew me away is I didn’t expect God to use my life because who was I? I mean, I barely graduated from high school. I couldn’t even read. And I was asking the Lord, “Lord, what am I going to do now?” And as I began to share with them God’s love, I said, “Anybody here that wants to accept Jesus Christ?” Five hundred kids got up and came on their knees and gave their life to Jesus Christ. And I mean the school was totally blown away. And then Gladstone High School opened up. Azusa High School opened up. Charter Oak High School opened up. Glendora High School opened up. And I was doing seven high schools a week just going on the streets. That’s how my ministry started. I had a Bible fellowship in my home. But during the day I would go to the schools and work with the kids. That was my heart and my life - that kids would come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

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 each one of us, whether you were - you know, you don’t have to be violent. You don’t have to be a drug addict or a drunkard. The Bible says we’re all sinners saved by the grace of God, that every one of us in our own way have our own testimony in how Christ brought us to Himself. And we need to share with people because the end is coming. And I think about these things that God has done in my life and how He’s taken me with kings, you know, over the years. And I’ve been with the King of Tanga. I’ve been with Prime Minister Begin before he died. And I’ve been, you know, just in incredible places that I never thought that God would take me. And how my book and my movie has not only gone into so many languages, but I mean, it’s gone all over the world, and how God has used that testimony. And yet, it’s because of Jesus Christ.

Think if you and I would have not been obedient to the call of God. God would have used somebody else because that’s what God can do. But one thing that I have learned in 25 years is 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 tarries, or maybe more, depending whatever He has.

But 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 the 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 let you do that. You know why? Because He loves you. He loves you so much that He’s not 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 thing. I believe God is gonna 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: This is Focus on the Family, and we’ve been hearing from Raul Ries. He’s is senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Golden Springs and president of Somebody Loves You Ministries.

Jim: What an amazing testimony, John, of how the Lord can change a person. If you wanna know if God is real, when you hear somebody tell a story like Raul Ries just has, that should convince you that God is there. Pastor Ries went from wanting to kill his wife and kids to being an evangelist and the pastor of a large, thriving church. And man, all I can say is God is good! I 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! That sounds like a God thing, doesn’t it?

John: Divine appointment.

Jim: Right there, on that television set, was Pastor Chuck Smith, the founder of Calvary Chapel, talking about the love of God. That’s a church Jean and I attended in Southern California - Calvary Chapel Churches. And Chuck’s words knocked Raul right to his knees. I’d say it was God. 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 and that you’ll give your life, not halfway, but completely to the Lord, Jesus Christ. He has the answers that you’re 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 eBook called, Coming Home: An Invitation to Join God’s Family. It will give you all the information you need, and there’s even a prayer included if you’d like to ask Jesus Christ into your heart as your Savior.

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 this radio program on the air every day. So please, support the broadcast if you can. Pastor Ries’ testimony is living proof that Christian media can make a big difference in a person’s life. In fact, in the past year, over 200,000 people said they made decisions for Christ because of Focus on the Family. So join us. Be part of the team working in concert with the Holy Spirit to draw those people into a relationship with Jesus Christ. When you give a donation of any amount, we’ll send you the CD of this powerful testimony from Pastor Raul Ries. And if you can’t afford it, just let us know and we’ll get into your hands one way or another. 

John: Yeah, that’d be our privilege, just call 800-A-FAMILY - 800-232-6459 - or donate online and request the CD. Our website is

I should mention that Pastor Ries has asked for prayer as he’s been struggling for a number of years with some pretty serious medical issues that affect his speech. So please, continue to pray for him and his family and their church.

Join us next time when you’ll hear a lively discussion about the relationship between romance and finances in your marriage.


Brian Lowe: If arguments about money pulls apart, then agreements about money can push us together.

End of Teaser

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Raul Ries

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Raul Ries is the senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Golden Springs in Diamond Bar, Calif., and President of Somebody Loves You Ministries. He is the author of several books including Fury to Freedom (translated in to six languages), Seven Steps to a Successful Marriage and Raising a Godly Family in an Ungodly World. His films include Fury to Freedom, A Quiet Hope (Vietnam War documentary) and Venture in Faith (documentary). Raul received two Purple Heart awards in Vietnam. He has an eighth degree Black Belt in Kung Fu San Soo, teaches Kung Fu, and uses martial arts as a ministry tool. Raul and his wife, Sharon, have three grown sons. Learn more about Raul at his website,