One Man’s Journey from Prodigal to Pastor

From a rage-filled young man to a thriving church pastor, the story of Raul Ries is filled with one remarkable miracle after another.

“I came home to kill my wife and kids. Why? Because my wife had had enough of me.”

These are words once spoken by Raul Ries, now Senior Pastor of a thriving church in Golden Springs, CA. To understand the depth of hatred and anger that led Raul to that point in his life, we must go back to the beginning—back to a fearful six-year-old who waited outside local bars while his father engaged in all sorts of drunken activities.

Raul grew up in Mexico City with his brother and sister. After ten long years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his father, Raul’s mother decided to pack up the children and flee to the United States.

Raul was deeply affected by the rage and anger his father displayed openly to his family. These experiences led him to rebellion towards his mother and a hardened exterior to those he confronted in the streets. At the age of 19, God would intervene with a life-changing course correction.

Prison or War 

“After getting into a fight with an 18-year-old and almost killing him, the judge told me, ‘You’re either going to go to jail, or you can sign up and go to Vietnam.’ So, I went and signed up for the United States Marine Corps. After being shipped out with five thousand other Marines, I began to think to myself, ‘How many of these men aren’t going to be coming home?’ Men that I had gone to boot camp with. After that, I began to think differently about life.”

After two years of active combat service and two near-death experiences, Raul was discharged and sent home where he married the girl he knew only through letters they exchanged while he was on the front lines. A young Marine, filled with anger and rage passed down by his father, Raul began to manifest that behavior to his new wife, the daughter of a missionary family who dreamed of being a missionary herself one day. 

On Easter morning 1972, Raul came home in a panic-fueled rage thinking his marriage was over. That’s when he went into his room, grabbed his rifle and planned to kill his wife and family when they got home. That’s the moment God revealed that he had other plans for Raul’s life.  

Pierced to the Heart 

Raul flipped on the television while waiting, only to see a man he describes as “a slightly older, balding man talking to the hippies about Jesus. I wanted to shoot the screen so that this preacher would stop talking, but I couldn’t pull the trigger. It was like there was an archer on the other side of the television who was shooting arrows that pierced my heart. Chuck’s words became God’s words to me.”

He kneeled there in his living room as Chuck Smith, founder of Calvary Chapel, preached from the Bible, and Raul gave his life completely over to Christ. In a hurry, he then rushed out of the house on a search for his wife. This time it wasn’t with malevolence in his heart, but because he wanted to share with her that he had given his heart to Christ and was a changed man.

He searched all over town only to come back home and find that she had returned while he was out. Knocking on the door with excitement, Raul wanted to share the good news with his family only to have the door latched in his face. His wife and children afraid to open the door and slightly shocked by the words they heard next:

“I’ve given my life to Christ. He changed my heart!”

From that moment forward, Raul began to be wholly invested in reading the Bible and sharing the good news of Jesus with anyone who crossed his path. Soon his wife and friends started to trust the changes that God was making in his life, and God began to do a new work in his heart and his family.

From Prodigal to Pastor

God has written a remarkable story of a rage-filled young man turned pastor whose churches consistently serve more than 15,000 members every weekend. The heart behind each one of his messages consists of a straightforward statement:

“You have one life, don’t waste it. Jesus Christ has given you one life, live it for Him.”

Raul and his family are thriving. His father also came to have a personal faith in Jesus Christ and became a similarly transformed man. The fact that there’s hope for a person like Raul, who was on the verge of murdering his own family, vividly reminds us again that hope is available for anyone.

Do you have a prodigal son or daughter who you’ve been praying for? Are there families in your congregation who are walking through some overwhelming trials and you’re not sure how to help them through? We have on our pastoral care staff men who have been there. They would love to speak with and pray with you as you continue to seek God for guidance in shepherding your congregations.