Raul Ries: he faced a choice of prison or Vietnam


By Mark Ellis –

Raul Ries

He was raised in Mexico City by an abusive, alcoholic father and a mother originally from New York.

“My father had a very bad habit,” says Raul Ries. “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. As little kids we would scream and yell because we were so scared.”

When Raul was only five-years-old, his father took him into nightclubs and bars. “My father was a brawler; he liked fighting,” he recalls. “He had a good job with the Bank of Mexico, but the drinking led him to violence.”

They usually left the bar on his father’s scooter, with his father driving “drunk” and arriving 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.”

One night his father came home drunk and passed out. Early the next morning, his mother took Raul to the airport and they flew to Los Angeles, where she arranged for them to live with Raul’s aunt and grandparents. “I remember how happy I was because we were rid of my dad,” he recounts.

A year later, however, his father began writing letters to them expressing his unhappiness, saying how much he missed them. He promised he had changed.

“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.”

“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.”

Raul’s inner rage became “a consuming fire” in his 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.”

The ugly pattern continued during Raul’s four years at Baldwin Park High School in Southern California.

By the time he was a senior, Raul had been in and out of jail. One night he went to a party in a neighboring town, and saw another guy with his girlfriend.

Overcome with jealousy and rage, he left and got all his friends. “We went back to the party and ripped people apart,” he recounts. “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.”

Angry young man

At 18, he was about to graduate. The judge gave him a stark choice: either go to prison or go into the military. At the time, the Vietnam War was reaching a boiling point.

I’ll just go to Vietnam, he decided. It’s a license to kill and I can do whatever I want.

Raul entered Marine Corps Boot Camp, scored highly in physical fitness, and was made a platoon leader.

Leaving for Vietnam

He left San Diego with 5,000 other Marines on the USS Gaffey. After two weeks, they arrived in Da Nang, Vietnam.

Immediately he was sent to Alpha Company, patrolling the outskirts of Da Nang.

In the military

“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.”

When he shared his inner thoughts, others became concerned. His commanding officer sent him in for psychological evaluation. As a result, he was sent home to Oakland Naval Hospital for further observation and treatment.

But there was a dark side to his violent thoughts that went beyond mental illness. “Satan had taken possession of my life,” he confessed. “I spent the next six months of my life under psychiatric care, group therapy counseling, because I was so violent.”

Despite his disturbing mental state, doctors recommended an honorable discharge and he reentered civilian life.

Re-entering civilian life

Sharon Ries

Raul married his former girlfriend, Sharon, who had become pregnant. He found a job in L.A. at Union Bank.

“I started going back to my old life,” he admits. “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.”

Sharon’s quiet faith began to touch him. “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.”

Sadly, he began to repeat a familial pattern, undoubtedly intensified by PTSD and satanic strongholds. “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.”

After 4 ½ years, Sharon told him she was leaving. “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.”

A murderous plan

He planned the massacre for Easter Sunday, April 2, 1972. “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.”

Pastor Chuck Smith, the founder of Calvary Chapel, happened to be a guest on Katherine Kuhlman’s program, talking about “The Jesus People.”

Kathryn Kuhlman with Pastor Chuck Smith

“I was listening and I wanted to shoot him with my gun, but I couldn’t pull the trigger. It seemed as (if) he was talking directly to me. It was like a bow was being pulled back, the arrows were letting go and they were stabbing me in the heart.”

“Man, why don’t you shut up?” he yelled at the TV. “What are you trying to say?”

Suddenly, Raul fell to his knees and began to cry like a baby. Then he cried 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.”

By faith, he prayed a simple prayer of repentance, surrendering his life to Jesus as His Lord and Savior. He was born again by God’s grace!

Immediately, he felt something was different. “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 he got home, he knocked on the door and could hear his wife weeping and crying inside. “Sharon open the door, it’s me.”

She opened the door slightly, with a chain still latched in place. “What do you want?” she asked, cautiously.

“I’m born again! I accepted Christ.”

With utter disbelief, Sharon slammed the door in his face.

Raul knocked again. “Sharon honest, I’m born again.” She finally opened the door.

It took almost two years for her to trust in his salvation, as she watched his life change.

Raul and Sharon Ries after his conversion

The day after his salvation he bought a Bible and began to attend Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California. He immersed himself in studying God’s Word.

Led by the Holy Spirit, he returned to his former high school and began a lunchtime outreach. “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.

One day, he got up on a picnic bench, and began to speak: “Hey, for God so loved the world man, that He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, that whosoever would…”

“As I was talking, 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.

When he finished speaking he asked, “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 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.”

Pastor Raul Ries

“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.”


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  1. Thank you for sharing this beautiful testimony. My husband is also a U.S. Marine combat veteran of the Vietnam war. He was angry and violent, too, before he fell on his knees and became born again. Now my husband is a chaplain, a very loving, gentle man, and the most generous person I know. Only Christ can do that!

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