Following a childhood of health problems and the tragic death of his father, Ray had decided there was no God.
Ray had contracted pneumonia at six months of age. This was followed by chronic bronchitis, which impacted on him for most of his childhood. He suffered with a speech defect and, on top of all this, he also had to wear plaster casts to correct bent legs.
If all this wasn’t enough to blight Ray’s early life, at the age of two his face was badly scarred after being hit by a car.
Schools during the 1940s and 50s warranted toughness and resilience and children then could be no less cruel than those of today. He was also ignored by teachers who considered him to have learning difficulties. Consequently, by the time he left the education system Ray had never read a book, and was barely able to write.
When he was seventeen Ray joined the army and it was not long before he began to drink heavily. By the time he was twenty he was on the verge of becoming an alcoholic. On the upside, the army provided Ray with an education the state had failed to provide. It was to be an education that would serve him and well, and benefit others in the years to come.
Ray, of course wasn’t alone in his excessive drinking habits – this was the army after all . One such drinking buddy was Mike, and the pair would regularly enjoy drunken binges together. Until … Mike found God. He quit his barhopping habits, adopting instead the life of a Christian.
Ray saw red.
So angry did he become that Ray warned his one-time friend to keep out of his way. Such was the anger boiling inside him that he knew full well it would be impossible for him to contain his rage should they be together. In the army, however, a long-term convenient separation was not an option. They were eventually placed in the same room with other squaddies, Mike praying and reading his Bible while Ray fumed inside. He recalls:
“I would throw things at him when he was praying and tip him out of bed when he was asleep …
… but he just kept on praying and reading.”
Ray’s anger grew.
One day he tied a knot in a thick piece of rope and began beating Mike, as he ordered him to curse Jesus or take a thrashing. Mike remained silent. Ray thrashed him.
Following this, Ray warned Mike, “If you ever talk to me about Jesus, God or the Bible, you’re dead.”
The very next day, Ray was put to the test. He entered their barrack room as Mike was speaking to a small group of soldiers. He was telling them about Jesus. He turned to Ray and said:
“You are one of God’s creatures.”
“I’M NOT A CREATURE,” Ray screamed back. He grabbed Mike around the neck and began strangling him.
The assembled soldiers were able to drag Ray off, and Mike was ushered out of the way. He was moved to another room and out of Ray’s life. For now.
It was to be some years later when the two men met again.
By that time, Ray was a Corporal and, having been bullied through his own childhood, had himself taken on the mantle of bully. As a result, he possessed no friends and was supplementing his isolation with drink.
When Ray did come into contact with his ex drinking partner again, despite the harsh treatment he’d suffered, Mike was companionable, giving Ray cause to reflect on his own way of life.
It was inevitable that he should compare their outlooks and regardless of his resentment, he knew his former room-mate’s life was having a powerful impact on him.
Ray had recently returned from the Middle East, where he had heard some of the fantastic, seemingly impossible aspects to Israel’s incredible victory against overwhelming odds in the Six Day War. This too gave him pause for thought.
He began to consider there may be forces at work in the world that he did not yet understand. Perhaps there could be something in this ‘God stuff’ after all.
Eventually, Ray found himself offering to give Mike a lift in his van. It was while on that journey that he finally admitted that which he’d come to to accept, and said to his friend:
“Mike, I want what you’ve got.”
Mike took Ray through the Bible, explaining that he was a sinner in need of the salvation offered by God through His Son, Jesus Christ, who’d died on the cross for him.
Ray asked Jesus into his life, and he was changed immediately. He stopped drinking, smoking and cursing.
It wasn’t long after this when an unexpected opportunity arose that allowed Ray to leave the army ahead of his scheduled term. This left him free to pursue his new-found ambition to serve the God who had given him a new life.