The Man Who Died, Went To Hell, And Now Leads Young People To Jesus
Ray Thomas sold drugs, did time in prison and went on the run for seven years before attempting to take his own life. He believes he died, experienced hell, and came back to life. He told Christian Today about his journey to faith, and how he's now mobilising young people to be the change in their communities.
"I say I'm living the dream now, and I am. I have a wonderful wife, a gorgeous daughter, a job I love and a wonderful relationship with the Lord," he says. "But it wasn't always like that."
Thomas left home as a teenager and began experimenting with drugs. When he moved onto selling them, he ended up in prison and spent a year in jail; an experience he says was "horrible".
"I don't believe people want to go to prison, they end up there because of bad choices or circumstance. I made lots and lots of mistakes and lived with the consequences of those," he says.
After leaving prison Thomas got back into drugs and went on the run for seven years, before eventually handing himself in and going back to jail. "At 35 I was a broken man. I'd done everything the world says you should do – girlfriends, parties, travel – and I was so unfulfilled, so empty and broken that I came off the phone to my mum absolutely heartbroken and in tears and said if this is life, there's got to be more. If this is it, I don't want it," he explains.
"I remember looking up, I didn't know why at the time, and said 'If you're really there, God, save me.' Two weeks later there was a knock on my cell door, and they said someone was there to see me, which was weird because I didn't get many visitors. When I walked into a holding cell, a little old lady was sat there. She smiled at me and I smiled back, and she said 'You have a lovely smile, God's got a plan for your life'."
Thomas read a copy of John's Gospel and gave his life to God. "I prayed that prayer twice, to make sure he was listening," he says.
"I felt a change in me, something shifted inside of me, and that point was the start of my Christian journey. But I left prison not knowing what it was to be a Christian, not understanding fellowship, family, community and definitely not mentoring or discipleship or journeying with people, so I was out there on my own."
After falling back into drugs, he almost died several times. He fell on a live railway line and 720 volts went through his body, but thankfully the train was late. "I remember coming off the railway line and someone said to me, 'God must have a plan for your life,' and I thought that rang a bell," he recalls.
However, despite extensive counselling he remained depressed and attempted to kill himself twice. It was only upon a third attempt, in a bathtub at home, that he succeeded.
"I took half an ounce of cocaine, which would kill anyone, and I died. On my last breath, as my organs were failing and I was catastrophically overheating, I said 'Lord would you give me one more chance?' and then I went to a place that I would describe as hopeless nothingness," he says.
"What I understand theologically as best as I can, is that it was utter darkness and separation from God. I existed in a place of darkness; I can still see that picture in my head. I was there and there was other there, I don't know what the other was but it wasn't nice, and I knew the anguish of being there, and I knew there was no way back. Now I understand that was separation, and I wonder whether that's the weeping and gnashing of teeth – when you know what you were created for and that's taken away... it must be eternal torment."
Thomas believes God "allowed me to see what he saved me from... I didn't have 60 minutes in heaven; I had probably a few seconds in hell".
"In that place I said 'Tell my brother I love him', and I don't know why, but I was pulled back," he recalls.
"I sat up in the bath and my organs were all working fine. I was in my right mind, I had no side effects of drugs, and I heard God's audible voice saying, 'Go back and save your brother'. I saw the face of Jesus [in front of me], and that was the start of another part of the journey."
Now, Thomas leads Rise Up, a mentoring programme in the South West which this week was part of the TAG youth conference in Exeter.
Alex Yarlett, who heads up TAG, says "We're barely touching the surface, but God's been doing stuff. God's here, he's present, and on the move, and we get to play a part in that. We want young people to be awakened and inspired to step into what he has for them.
"In the Bible you see these disciples who are basically average Joes, and Jesus calls them ... He says 'Follow me and I'll make you fishers of men'. There's a call on their life, and Jesus gave them significance, and those 12 transformed what we know as the early Church. We believe that same calling is for all of us today, and for all young people."
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