Interview: Pastor Raul Ries—Part 1

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Blessed in the Ministry: Interview by Don McClure with Pastor Raul Ries—Part 1

Photos courtesy of CC Golden Springs, CA, unless otherwise indicated

Don McClure interviews Raul Ries, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Golden Springs, CA. Pastor Don has been serving in the Calvary Chapel movement since 1971; he is a leader in the Calvary Chapel Association and he and his wife Jean now lead the Calvary Way teaching ministry. In Part 1, the men discuss how Raul accepted Jesus as his Savior, the beginning of his ministry, and the founding of his two churches.

Follow the series… Part 2: Raul shares the beginning of CC Golden Springs’ South American outreach and explains some of the challenges of serving God in ministry; and, Part 3: Raul discusses faithfulness and discipline in ministry, as well as his family’s health struggles throughout.

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Raul and Sharon Ries, back in the early days of his ministry after he accepted Jesus as his Savior. He was radically saved after watching Calvary Chapel founder Chuck Smith on TV in 1972.

Don McClure: Raul, first of all, tell me a little about you coming to Christ.

Raul Ries: Well, it was 1972 as I was watching a man, who actually turned out to be Pastor Chuck Smith interviewing the hippies on TV, when I was broken by the Lord. I accepted Christ and from that point forward, my life was totally different from what it had been. And [then] the Lord just put me together with Chuck.

Don: There’s a little more to it than that, in the sense that you and Sharon, your wife, were going through some tough times, right? 

Raul: Yes, we were. As a matter of fact, I believed she was leaving me. In a blinding rage, I knew I could probably kill her and my kids as I was so sick and tired of my life. I wasn’t going to live by myself or let someone else have her or my children. In uncontrollable anger, I destroyed my house, and got ready to confront her when she returned home. Then the cops could shoot me. That is when God decided to come into my life. I never thought that would happen, but God’s perfect timing is incredible. 

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After Raul was saved, he never looked back, eagerly leading many to Christ.

Don: You’re saying that here, you wanted to [kill] your wife? But you've had a  pretty brutal  life yourself, and you  served with the Marines in Vietnam? 

Raul: Yes. What happened is I went to Vietnam, and I was 18 years old in 1966. When I got over there, I got put into Alpha 1/7, a company that would go out and do major operations and set up night ambushes. And through that I began to learn things that I never thought that I would do; it was just hard for me because my mind got pretty messed up. One of our guys, Pete Silva who I have known for 47 years, was with me in Vietnam. One day, we went out to a village and Pete tripped a wire and both his legs were blown off. So in my documentary, Taking the Hill, I shared how I carried his boots with his feet still inside, to the chopper. My mind broke. We stormed into the village where the VC were. We did these things that we should have never done. That was my life in Vietnam.

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Before he was saved, Raul served in Vietnam in 1966. He was in ALPHA Co., 1st Bn, 7th Marines, a highly trained group called the Bounty Hunters. He served for two years before being honorably discharged in 1968. During his tour of duty in Vietnam, Raul earned two Purple Hearts.

Don: So  you had already seen a lot of death and a lot of blood.

Raul: Yeah.

Don: And so it sounds like you would say that walking away and losing your family was just another loss in a world of bloody losses already.

Raul: I was 18  years old, and anybody can tell you when you go [to war], it was so different than being trained here at Camp Pendleton and serving. When you go [to war] everything changes, because you’re in constant combat day and night. Real stuff is going on. Some airplanes come in, and they bomb, and then you’re out there and you have all this fighting going on; then you’re firing and then you have dead bodies. You gotta pick them up, wrap them up, put them in choppers—those things really ruin your mind, and it hardens your heart. And it makes you bitter.

Don: That’s something people just born and raised in the United States have no familiarity with at all.

Raul: No, not really.

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Sharon and Raul 

Don: So you watched  Chuck Smith. You came to Christ. Sharon came home and what happened then?

Raul: Well, I actually went to look for her. I accepted Christ and went down to the church where she was; she saw me come in, got my kids, got in the car, and left. I saw Don Popineau, Sharon’s Sunday school teacher, praying for people at the altar. He laid hands on me, anointed me, and I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit right there. Then I went home and asked Sharon to let me in the house. She was fearful but slightly opened the door keeping the chain on. And I said laughingly, “You know I can kick the door down.” So she finally opened it. I said, “Sharon, I am born again! And I just totally blew her away.”

Don: And did she believe it? 

Raul: She didn’t really believe it. She had to watch my life change. The next day, I went to a bookstore, bought a huge family Bible, and I started reading [it].  So, every morning she would watch me, and she would watch me doing not only the reading, but she began to see my life change. I now wanted to go to my old high school, Baldwin Park, and I wanted to share the Gospel there with my teachers and the principal who was my baseball coach. Immediately, not only had my life changed, but my heart began to change rapidly—I was totally blown away that it could happen.

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Shortly after giving his life to the Lord, Raul returns to share Christ with the students at his former high school.

Don: What happened at the school when you would go share? 

Raul: Well, the principal, Mr. Barnhold, allowed me to go and talk to the kids, so I would go to the kids at lunchtime and talk to them about Jesus. The teachers allowed me in the classrooms (you know, it was back in the ‘70s), and I went to the whole class and would share the Gospel with them. I went to several high schools: Northview, Azusa, Bassett, and Glendora. I wasn’t really grounded and rooted in God’s Word. I was going to Calvary [Chapel]. I was just a young Christian, and these kids would look at me, and they couldn’t believe what I was sharing. So, at lunchtime I go out by the flagpole, and these kids were unruly—they actually threw milk at me. I mean they threw at me chocolate milk; I go, “Oh Lord, give me one more chance; otherwise, I’ll destroy these kids.” It was really cool, because God used that to show me that I wasn’t in charge anymore, but God was in charge. 

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Raul was well-trained and became highly proficient in Kung Fu and martial arts. He started a Kung Fu studio in 1970.

Don: And during this time you had a Kung Fu studio.

Raul: Yes, that was my god. You know, [I’ve had] almost 40 years of training since 1964. I was training with Jimmy H. Woo, a Chinese instructor that was very famous.  And so, I trained for two years in high school. I was a senior. Then I went in the Marine Corps, hooking up [again] when I came back from Vietnam in 1968. I went right back to Jimmy Woo, and I started training four times a week. I would go on Saturdays; my family, of course, suffered because I was there all the time, not knowing that I would become an instructor. 

Don: And  so, when did you start your Kung Fu studio?

Raul: I think it was 1970.

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Raul leads a Bible study at his Kung Fu studio. He’d play a cassette tape of a Pastor Chuck teaching and then share God’s Word.

Don: I remember coming to your school maybe in ‘72? Would that be when, because it was just packed out with kids.  OK, you’ve got the school going. So you had an evening Bible study that you  opened up at your studio? 

Raul: I started a Bible Study in my home, and when we got packed out, we eventually moved to the Kung Fu studio. We [sat] in a circle, put Pastor Chuck’s [teachings] in the center, and we listened to his Bible studies.

Don: And  so,  you were not teaching at first, you were just having [studies].

Raul: No. I don’t think I could teach [then]; I’d never taught in my life, and I was kind of self-conscious, you know, because I wasn’t a teacher of the Bible. So I went to Pastor Chuck, and I asked, “You know, Chuck, there’s these kids coming. I don’t know how to teach them. We put you in the center to hear your Bible studies.” He told me, “Well, step out by faith, and just share Christ with them.” So, that’s exactly what I did. I shared my testimony over and over again, then the Lord began to use my life. You Don, were one of my teachers. 

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Raul joyfully baptizes new believers.

Don: Well, you know, I remember going up there and  you,  kind of like us, said, “Hey, we need to get somebody to come and be their pastor.” And I remember saying, “Raul, you’re their pastor and they look to  you”—and they did. They were really looking to you.  They could see enough in you that you were the “living epistle.” You were the one they were watching. And when did you sense that the Lord was calling you to  be a pastor?

Raul: You know, Chuck invited seven of us to attend his Shepherd School. You were one of our teachers.  I guess, [it was] like a week of seminary for me where God really spoke to me, not only to be a pastor but an evangelist. It was so cool because you encouraged me, and I began to see the hand of God on my life because people were getting saved. The church was growing, my Kung Fu studio was packed out. Then we went to the Fox Theater, that got packed out. Then we went to West Covina to a Safeway market and that got packed out; then we ended up here at Diamond Bar.

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Raul teaches at Calvary Chapel West Covina, CA, the fellowship that began with the Kung Fu studio Bible study. Here, the church is meeting at a former Safeway building. Many gather around the podium for prayer.

Don: OK, you went to the theater and then where did you go after the theater?

Raul: The Safeway market.

Don: Now, did you lease that or buy it first? 

Raul: No, no, we bought it. An old Safeway market, we bought it, yeah.

Don: And  then the strip mall with it? I remember you got a lot of it, but then there was a liquor store right there.

Raul: We rented four of the buildings.

Don: So immediately once you got that facility, the church really took off, didn’t it? 

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Many gather outside of CC West Covina, eager to get in to hear God’s Word.

Raul: Yeah. For 12 years the fire department was across the street, and they would come and count people. I had four services on Sunday morning, two on Wednesday night and two on Sunday night. I was teaching all the time. And then after 12 years, I told [my senior assistant pastor Dale Goddard that] my ministry was done here. We had all these people, and I say, "You know what, God is calling me to go somewhere else." I thought I was going to San Clemente to open a church there, but the Lord opened the door with Richard Snyder, President of In-N-Out Burger. So, he came to me. He says, "There’s a property in Diamond Bar that you need to look into." "Well, we didn’t have [any money]. I went over there, and we could not believe the size of the property [and] the building; so Dale and I went there and prayed every day. Then I called Chuck and said, "Can you come and see this property and this building?" So he and Greg, myself, and Dale went over. We walked through this whole property. We walked through the building, and then we were leaving. Chuck was outside the building, and he goes, "Oh my, isn’t God so good?" And I go, "Well, what do you mean, Chuck?" He said, "Look what God is doing."

And so, he left. Then soon after, I had an appendix attack, so I had to go to the hospital. They took my appendix out that night, and the next day my wife, my mom, my dad, my brother, everybody was to come to my bed—[doctors] found leukemia in my body, and so they were kind of giving my last rites. Well, three days later, I called Chuck and said, "You need to pray for me." Three days later, the Lord healed me completely and fully. I could not believe it. 

Don: Wow!

Raul: Yeah, crazy things have happened in my life, man. 

Don: What was involved in  actually getting  the property in Diamond Bar?

Raul: They wanted $22 million, and we would give them $16 million; we didn’t have $16 million, [but] they took $17.5 million. So, Chuck loaned us $2.5 million plus we had $1.4 million when we sold [the old] Safeway [location]. I mean, we had no money at all the whole time. Then God provided the money through the Church to pay back Chuck the $2.5 million in one year; and every day since then, we have never asked for money even to the present time. Chuck taught us, "Where God guides, He provides.” Every month God is providing for us by faith. 

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After years at West Covina, Raul moved the church to Diamond Bar, CA. Here, he teaches his flock at the newly named Calvary Chapel Golden Springs.

Don: So here you get going, now down in Diamond Bar because you’re forced to make a new decision. And at the same time, you’ve got the Bible school that you started there back in West Covina.  And there you’re just training and equipping young men for ministry.  Do you have any idea how many have gone through your school through the years?

Raul: Oh man, so many, I really don’t know—we’ve trained a lot of people even at the present time. You know we send these guys out. [We’re sending] another guy right now into Oregon to start a church. You know what’s really neat with God? I never thought that we would send people from the church. I had a real burden to train people. I still do, to train young guys, to get them rooted and grounded and then kick them out so they can go out and do something for God.   

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In later years at Diamond Bar, Raul prays at his pulpit. 

Don: Everywhere I go all over the world, I’m running into people that came out of Calvary Chapel, either CC West Covina or [as it’s now called, CC Golden Springs, in] Diamond Bar, and  you look at their lives. I was just  in  an interview with Pastor Lloyd Pulley, and you see all that God has done. Not only that he and Karen [were trained at CC West Covina] there, but then all the fruit that has come out of [their ministry] when they are really the fruit of CC West Covina, and  how these stories are so wonderful.

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Raul works out at his Kung Fu studio in Covina. 


Visit Calvary Chapel Golden Springs; and, Calvary Chapel Association

Follow the series… Part 2: Raul shares the beginning of CC Golden Springs’ South American outreach and explains some of the challenges of serving God in ministry; and, Part 3: Raul discusses faithfulness and discipline in ministry, as well as his family’s health struggles throughout.



All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

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