Ray Woodland found Jesus Christ at a Billy Graham evangelistic in 1956.
As Ray described it:
It was then that I threw off the shackles of religion and learnt what it really meant to have a relationship with my Saviour
The young Ray realised that religion is DEAD. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian. Being nice doesn’t make you a Christian. Helping at the local charity doesn’t make you a Christian. Trying to be a better person doesn’t make you a Christian. Reading a Bible doesn’t make you a Christian.
All these are DEAD and WORTHLESS without knowing Jesus personally and responding to His invitation to be with Him through accepting the Gospel.
Relationship, not Religion
The moment Ray met Christ that night and realised he could have a relationship with Him, the change was immediate. Before, he had a petty criminal and arsonist but now he returned home that night a different man. Soon the news got around Reading that “Ray Woodland had become a Christian” and Reading Fire Service would rest easy again. Like the Ben Cantelon song says, Ray had found “a love greater than life itself” and people noticed.
Ray’s newfound relationship with Christ spurred him onto to do amazing things in His life. When he finished serving in the Army, Ray became a door-to-door evangelist and in his time visited every house in Oxfordshire, North Hamps and Gloucester suffering more than a few physical indignities on the way from less-than-impressed locals. HERO.
Once, poor Ray felt called to roll on his ones to the local gang hideouts to evangelise to the local Hell Angels and switchblade gangs. He was terrified but then he remembered God’s words:
“…My strength is made perfect in your weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9)
And off he went, trembling yet empowered by the Spirit. True to form, God did his thing and Ray’s ministry saw loads of the local disaffected youth and biker gangs come to know the Lord. Ray wasn’t only hitting these people over the head with Bible, he was loving and taking an interest in their lives. Just like Christ, Ray practiced an evangelistic ministry that was loving, uncompromising, diligent and relational.
One day I went to make a call on a sick man who was bed-ridden in town. When I knocked on the door, his sister opened it…I ended up taking her to church the next Sunday
One of the [many] reasons why I love Ray is that not only does his first encounter with his wife Barbara validate my personal motto of “Flirt to convert”*, but they remain – 50 years on – an outstanding example of what a Christian marriage should look like. Every Sunday, Ray and Barbabra sit together, embracing warmly and snuggling, delighting in the their Lord and each other. Their love is not just inter-dependent upon themselves, but also on Christ and their relationship with Him. Perfect.
Ray is a legend at St Leonard’s Church, Exeter for being the most charismatic member – always shouting ‘Amen’ emphatically during the sermon and prayers when something touched his soul much to the amusement/chagrin of the more inhibited. I’d known Ray for five years but I’d never taken the time to hear his story or about his life.
Spending 3 hours in his company last Sunday whilst the boys tried to fix his DVD player reminded me of the worth of listening to our elders in church and outside. Too easily are we inclined to marginalize them, be embarrassed of them and see engaging with them as a chore rather than a privilege. Our evening with Ray taught me that whilst the elderly may not know about the showerman riddims of Lecrae or sexually explicit ministry of Mark Driscoll, they can still teach us a wealth of stuff that only spiritual maturity can create.
*Not strictly true.