After struggling with ‘bitterness,’ Ray welcomes restoration

Ray* was raised in Irvine and said he grew up “with Jesus on the wall, but not ever going to church.” His childhood was riddled with abuse at the hands of his father. “It was the real definition of abuse,” Ray said. “There were bruises up and down my back, black eyes, busted lips.”

Ray said he was basically a third-grade drop out. He became a third-generation car salesman and eventually owned and operated a used car lot with his dad. “As lying, cheating individuals in business together, we clashed,” Ray said of him and his father. “I wasn’t living for God—or even thinking of God—except, ‘God, get me out of this’ or ‘God, get me more money.’

“The car business is notorious for drugs and alcohol and all the things that go with that. I basically went from the palace to the pit. I had a major drug addiction that really engulfed me.”

Ray ended up on the streets of Pomona. “I was shooting dope in my arm,” he said. “I’d been in mental hospitals. I cried out to God at 3 in the morning: ‘If you are who you say you are, if you exist, help me or kill me … I can’t take it anymore. Help me get out of this and I’ll do whatever you say.’”

Ray was saved in 2004. He entered sober living. “I started moving forward and I had this burning desire to preach the word,” he said. “I came back up the hill, and the only local church was a Foursquare church. I talked to the pastor and I started washing windows and cleaning bathrooms.  Then I started helping with the homeless shelter. I was taught how to put together sermons. I was studying. I felt this enormous desire to preach the Gospel, to give back, to do whatever the Lord wanted me to do.”

Ray went back to school, got his diploma, and then went to Bible College. He got his master’s in divinity with an emphasis in drug and alcohol counseling. He became a certified counselor, and started doing recovery ministry. He taught at the college he graduated from, and was eventually given grant money to train counselors with a curriculum he developed. He also started dating the pastor’s daughter, and after a few years, they were married.

Ray and his wife got pregnant and welcomed a daughter early after some complications. “My wife was diagnosed with a rare disorder,” he said. “My daughter was a preemie and she had emergency open heart surgery. We spent seven months in the hospital.”

Ray’s wife also suffered from postpartum depression with some psychosis. “I was doing a lot of travel and ministering a lot, but not taking care of my first ministry—my marriage. I wasn’t there as much as I should’ve been. I was trying to save the world, but was losing my family. She left and wanted a divorce, and I was brokenhearted. I was a broken man.

“I felt betrayed by her and her family—my pastor—and was rejected and ostracized by the church. I pulled out of everything. I broke, completely. I went through an extreme grieving process, which causes a lot of anxiety and depression.”

Ray started dabbling in alcohol and drugs. “I was doing things that aren’t me,” he said. “I was making decisions that weren’t honoring me, my daughter, God. I was looking for temporary anesthesia to numb my feelings and emotions. I was led astray on my lifestyle.

“I had, more than anything, broken fellowship with God. When we have bitterness to other people, God is no longer our advocate—he’s our adversary. I was bitter toward my ex and my ex-in-laws. I had so much hurt and pain. I had severed fellowship with him. My emotional state was not healthy. I even pushed back away from my daughter—I didn’t want her to see me that way.”

From his work in ministry, Ray knew Bill Edwards, the Mission’s director. “I reached out to Bill one day and I told him I was looking for a bed. He said, ‘Sure, for who?’ And I said, ‘For me.’ I needed to get ‘home,’ where God is. I knew God was here.”

Ray got to the Mission in January 2021. “The church is infamous for kicking the wounded while they’re down,” said Ray, who was happy to learn that Pastor John Schmidt, the Mission’s program manager, was not that way. “He met me where I was at. He saw where I was and met my needs. He pastored a pastor. It’s beautiful. God was breaking me and Pastor John was so gracious, such a pastoral leader. I needed someone who I could confide in and who could be that loving guide. I humbled myself and submitted.”

Ray graduated and is now in the Transitional Living Program. He is back to work in a counseling position. His daughter is now 10. “She’s my everything,” he said.

“I didn’t need education—I needed restoration. I needed to be restored with God. I needed to rest, and build up that spiritual man again. And now I have.”

*The client’s name has been changed at his request