Sunday, March 22, 2009

‘Evangelical Frustration’ The Early Days of Ray Comfort in Christchurch

1972: April 25, Ray Comfort was converted to Jesus Christ.

1974: He began open air preaching and continued to do so, almost daily, for the next 12 years.
During that time he started a free evangelistic newspaper called ‘Living Waters,’ and to write and publish gospel tracts.

1977: Ray published a book called, My Friends are Dying (now called, Out of the Comfort Zone). It received national publicity, and this opened an itinerant ministry.

1980: He began to suffer from a disease he called “evangelical frustration.” The symptoms were that few listened to the gospel, and few genuinely came to Christ. He also found statistics that showed that up to 90% of those making decisions fell away from the Church.

1982: Ray discovered “Hell’s Best Kept Secret” (then called “Evangelical Frustration”)—an eye-opening teaching about an almost forgotten biblical principle to reach the lost—one that was not only rooted in Scripture, but that was the essence of the gospel proclamation of men like John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon and George Whitefield.

1989: He and his family were invited to leave their native home of New Zealand and to relocate in the United States, particularly to bring their ministry to the American Church.

What you see above is the official autobiographical ‘time-line’ of Ray Comforts ‘coming to America’.

It tracks the beginnings of his notoriety, from street preacher in Christchurch, to house-hold name, not only in his new home - but around the globe.

Ray, now head of a U.S based the multi-million dollar corporation ‘Living Waters’ , assisted by his Kiwi-born son Daniel, constantly speaks of these ‘humble beginnings’.

Comfort (TV3 ‘Sixty Minutes Interview 2nd March 2009) claims to take little in terms of income from his own Corporation, lording over the disciples like in a benevolent spiritual guide, tending to chickens he keeps in his suburban back-yard for sustenance.

‘Gods Beverly Hillbilly’.

He bikes to work and outwardly, has none of the normal material trappings of conventional evangelists of his ilk.

But ‘making a living’ selling God has been important to Ray for 30 years, from the early days operating his Living Waters Publications out of his house in Christchurch, through to today’s corporate offices in California.

In 1977, Comfort described himself to one Christchurch newspaper as a Businessman, and now the title he uses is Chief Executive Officer.

The pond just got bigger, and the title to go with it, as well.

When you visit his web site you are greeted by the rather cool animation of a bank-vault opening and the accompanying term: ‘Money Tracts’.

Folks are encouraged to train for ‘The Way of the Master’ (I’m guessing Ray dreamed that one-up after retrieving memory-bites from the 70’s western kung-fu/western classic ‘Kung Fu’ ) going-up in steps.

All I might add, at a nominal cost.

Training is the backbone to Ray’s re-launched ministry, but evidently New Zealand is no longer on his radar.

Since leaving New Zealand, the first place he started Living Springs Publications, his founding mission has been inactive.

Ray is not listed in the New Zealand Companies office, as having any business interests in ‘home territory’.

So back to those early days, in Christchurch.

In 1978 I was employed by a Government Department located in Christchurch’s central ‘Cathedral Square’. The job was one in which you ‘lost the will to live’, but did come with some fringe benefits – namely 4 out of 5 employees were female (fond memories, indeed)

The Square in Christchurch was my normal lunch-time hang-out point and listening to the speakers broke the monotony of daily existence at my desk in the 3rd floor.

Given the opportunity to ‘spread the good word’ in an open-forum such as Christchurch’s Square, attracted, as it tends to, Christian evangelists of all persuasions.

There was Renee Stanton (I think she passed away last year?) who was dubbed ‘The Bible Lady’. Even on the top of chair she spoke from, ‘The Bible Lady’ was five foot nothing, and when things got rough she employed a unique defense mechanism – she’d start playing her violin, badly. For those of you that know ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy’- think Vogon poetry.

The arch-nonconformist Ian Brackenbury Channel (1932-) arrived from Australia in 1973. At one point he was a lecturer in Sociology & Psychology as well as being an amateur theologian. Brackenbury-Channel subsequently became a star attraction in Cathedral Square, calling himself ‘The Wizard’ after winning a battle with the City Council over the right to speak in public, and numerous complaints by christians and other targets of his aserdic tongue & black humour. Femininism was one of his many pet hates, and wo-be-tide any woman from the crowd who challenged his view.

Barry Smith (1933-2002) , was a New Zealand eschatologist and born-again preacher, who was another regular visitor to Christchurch’s Square. Smith was the stereotypical Christian Conspiracy theorist, plugging away at his belief One World Government and Armageddon. An intriguing combination for a couple of lunchtimes. It’s fair to say yelling at the top of his voice about an impending nuclear holocaust whilst clutching an over-sized bible, proved not to be a crowd pleaser. Even his fellow prophesiers looked upon him as a ‘loony-tune’. At one point Smith blamed The Wizard for an infestation of insects and saw him as the devil incarnate. On a visit to Wales, Smith made ‘friends and influenced people’ by telling the locals their state flag was the work of the devil.

There was also a preacher called ‘Wally’ who’s name befitted him, who use to keep company with Comforts crew, and wasn’t let’s say ‘the brightest tack in the box’ [readers are welcome to expand on this Wally bloke by contacting me, this was after-all 30 years ago and my memory is fading along with my hairline]

Into the mix, we now need to add one Ray Comfort.

Ray was a proverbial ‘fire and brimstone’ character, who was and still is, a guy who could take the verbal blows.

This ability to get up off the canvas, was a trait that has served him well on his travels. The Christchurch Square was never an easy place to speak. Kiwi’s are renowned for not suffering fools lightly, and avoiding social eloquences of the more refined and polite cultures, thus many a time, a speaker would be pelted with the remains of someone’s lunch (I myself plead guilty of this act on one occasion, but Ray was not the target, something that haunts me to this day)
Ribald abuse was fairly standard fodder.

Respect was earned, not a given right.

On one occasion, a troubled spectator appeared, can of petrol in hand, and threatening to set himself and Ray alight as well. Police intervention saved all parties from harm.

Ray, lived permanently in the shadow of The Wizard.
As a soap-box orator The Wizard, was second to none, and tourists loved Christchurch’s quirky eccentric, dressed in his distinctive pointy black hat and cape.

Photo of The 'Wizard and The Bible Lady in Christchurch Cathedral Square 1977.

The well read Wizard, was more than a foil for evangelist crew of Ray Comfort, Renee Stanton and Barry Smith’s of the time.

The Wizard was not only on an intellectual level above his contemporaries, he was bloody funny to listen to, an entertainer with no peer.

At one stage The Wizard hosted a ‘talk-back’ show on Radio Avon, and I can remember him arguing with callers, on the proposition that light-bulbs sucked the light from the room when you switched them on.

Christchurch’s public, loved the humour-ridden intellectual oratory of The Wizard and tolerated the Ray Comfort’s, he shared The Square with.

Living Water Publications began producing leaflets, for its prolific, sole author in the mid 70’s and continued till he departed our shores for the bright-lights.

Photocopied handbills, progressed into 20 page to leaflets, cassette-tapes and then finally fully-fledged books. Living Waters Publications went from a garage/room in Ray’s house to occupying a shop in New Brighton Mall. The last location for his fledgling publication company, was ironically in The Square itself - 'The Dome' of The Regents Movie Cinema.

Ray began selling the leaflets and books, rather than handing them-out to lunchtime gatherers.
He also found another gap in the local market, manufacturing display packs in 1977, so parents, teachers and employers could visually identify drugs. These were sold from a Christian bookshop in High Street.

These early crude publications from his Christchurch day’s, bear the same hallmarks of future material, but in the age before political correctness, Ray was able to more freely vent his spleen on a number of his pet hates, as well as using the publishing vehicle to assist his notable charity work, in the field of drug rehabilitation.

His cure for drug dependency - a good liberal dose of Christianity - did naturally attract its detractors from those involved in the professional health sector.

‘My Friends are Dying!’ (re-branded ‘Out of The Comfort Zone’ for an American readership) came-out in 1977, is the work he is best known for in New Zealand, particularly outside Christchurch, in the pages of which continues the theme that Christianity was a cure for addiction.

In my follow-up articles we’ll look at inside these early, lesser known publications from Ray Comfort.

These early pieces of journalism from his time here in New Zealand are very interesting, to say the least.


TobyRicketts said...

Yes, Ray really has hit the ceiling of the American evangelical movement. Last time I saw him was when he was utterly destroyed alongside Kirk Cameron by the Rational Response Sqaud on YouTube...

felix said...

A great read, thanks. It's not every day that I find really interesting information on a blog I hadn't known about before. Sheds some (a lot actually) more light on Ray's character development. I wonder if he ever gets the feeling that the invitation and new business in California have softened him or even that he's been just a little bit corrupted by success. Or if he maybe longs for the firey preacher he once was, only that he realizes this would throw him out of his market niche.

word verification: hydra

now isn't that fitting. uncanny.

Protium the Heathen said...

Wow.. I remember those days vividly. I remember water pistoling Ray a few times as a teenager. The Wizard was a hoot.

I remember helping steal Father Christmas's finger one year from the Farmers building :)

Ahhh.. Good old Christchurch... unfortunate name, great place.

Neph said...

Thanks.Interesting read.God be with Ye!

Brian said...

Wally was killed in the New Zealand earthquake in Christchurch in February, 2010.

May he now rest in the everlasting arms of Jesus christ, his Lord and Saviour.

The Irreverent Mr Black said...

I had the misfortune to endure Barry Smith's bombastic eschatology and shocking theological ignorance in 1999, as a ministry student dragooned into attending one of Barry's "win 'em by telling lies and frightening 'em" meetings.

I found you account of the early days of the Christchurch nutters quite amusing and well-written.

A friend tells me you yourself were a casualty of the 2011 quakes. I'd like to have said thanks while you were still around. Wit like yours will be missed.

Centauri said...

Oh shut up, Brian. Keep your fantasies to yourself.

tmoa said...

For a non-believer 'God's blessing' is often mistaken or harshly mocked as mans own efforts at getting rich and gaining more for himself. As a believer I know that the will of God for our lives is 'rich' (and not in economical terms). Ray is a true man of God with a powerful message that every atheist should examine with an open mind and above all an open heart. (:

Anonymous said...

Wally Tai Rakena died in the earthquake.
He played in Steve Apiranas band, who wrote the song all my friends are dying.