A man is created in the image of God. He is supposed to look like God, but for whatever reasons, none of us really do. Our would-be-perfect lives are malformed by our experiences, our education, our upbringing, and countless other influences. Even the very, very best we can do never comes out perfect. We are only legitimized by His grace and His call, certainly not by our own credentials.
However, when God lays His hand on you and says, “Tag! You’re it!” He has His own plans for your life, and He expects you to respond to His call with complete and absolute surrender. And that is what happened to me. From my childhood, I have seen and felt the hand of God on my life. It is inescapable.
Slavery in modern society is considered the worst taboo, but in spiritual matters, every true believer is a bond-servant of Jesus Christ. He is our Creator and our Master, and He holds absolute, albeit benevolent control over our destinies. We will either be love-slaves to Jesus Christ, or we will be wretched slaves to sin and Satan. I chose, from a very early age, to serve the Lord.
I learned that a servant has no rights of his own, and the only enduring happiness comes when we are in total compliance with His will. 99.9% won't do. God wants our all.
I am not a hero or a super-achiever. I am not rich or famous. I do not hold myself up as a model for anybody. I, like you, am only legitimized by the grace and the call of God. I am here to serve the purpose of God, like a wick in a candle.
He said that we are made overcomers by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony. I certainly want to be an overcomer - so here is my testimony.
Long Winding Road
A Personal Story
By Ken Raggio
Johnny Appleseed, the legendary apple-tree planter, must surely have had a pecan-planting cousin who passed through the coastal plains of Southeast Texas near the turn of the twentieth century. Huge old pecan trees stood every fifty feet over hundreds of acres of land in my home town. Old-timers called it “the Groves.”
In stark contrast to the pastoral nature of the pecan trees stood scores of ugly steel towers inside the local chemical plants, hissing and groaning as the oil and gases of a jillion gushers flowed through their bowels. Automotive and aviation fuels and countless petrochemical products and by-products were being derived from the 'black gold' found so abundantly in the oil fields of that region.
Home was in the heart of oil refinery territory on the Gulf Coast, near the Louisiana border. Thousands of blue-collar refinery workers dominated the work force in the "Golden Triangle" of Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange, even more-so than in the world-renowned oil kingdom of Houston only ninety miles to the West. Because of a strong Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, and their demands for high wages, good benefits, and guaranteed contracts, the standard of living among ordinary working men without a college education was far better than that of many white-collar workers outside the petrochemical country.
Giant oil and chemical refineries such as Gulf Oil, Texaco, Mobil, DuPont, Shell, Unocal, Fina and many others filled the night skies with the luminous glow of thousands of flickering lights. The foul odors of scores of peculiar chemical concoctions permeated the air day and night. Via pipelines and tanker trucks, river barges and ocean-going ships lined up in various local ports, their products inspired Port Arthur's motto, "We Oil the World!"
And this was home to me.
Daddy was at work in one of the local refineries the day I was born. Grandpa Raggio called to tell him that mother just had twins. Grandpa was always full of mischief like that. Daddy left work in a rush to go to St. Mary's hospital where his anxiety was relieved when he found that I was not a twin. On September 26, 1951, the Raggios had a baby boy. About forty years later, Daddy retired from the same refinery.
Both of my grandfathers spent years in the refineries. My mother's dad, Granddad Thompson, was killed in a refinery explosion at Fina in 1973. Before I finally broke away from the area, I did my own time working briefly in four refineries (Jefferson Chemical, Neches Butane, Unocal and Fina); in the labor gang, janitorial pool, lab tech, as an insulator's helper, a pipe fitter helper, carpenter’s helper, and finally as a journeyman boilermaker. I even worked on the docks at the Ports of Beaumont and Orange as a catch-out longshoreman for a short time. That just may have been the hardest work on earth - throwing 110-pound sacks of flour, deep in the hull of a ship on 12-hour shifts!
Two blocks north of our home lived my mother's parents, Carthol Cozelle (C.C.) and Lizzie Thompson - Granny and Granddad. Two blocks south of our home lived my dad's parents, John and Margaret Raggio - Grandma and Grandpa.
School was directly behind our house. From the first to the ninth grades, all I had to do was walk through our backyard gate onto the playground of the Groves Elementary and Junior High Schools. Then, for the three years of high school, I caught the bus on the corner to the Port Neches-Groves High School. Every morning, the bus rolled down "Sara Jane Road," a spooky, foggy road that crossed a mysterious bridge near the Neches River, where the locals said the ghost of Sara Jane lingered.
Most of my childhood memories include experiences in and around church. Church was the center of everything.
In the 1950s, the Groves Assembly of God Church was a huge old wooden structure on Main Avenue. Its congregation of about a hundred and fifty folks included our family of five, both sets of my grandparents, and two or three of my aunts. Going to church was a family affair, and we went to every service.
Our pastor, C.T. Owens, was a tall, wide-framed country-style preacher who hollered and marched up and down the aisles when he preached. He always preached hard, and against sin, and rarely concluded a meeting without an altar call where everybody swarmed down to the front and prayed and cried and worshipped God.
Music at the Groves Assembly was a big part of every service. A.J. Duplissy, the song leader, always opened the Sunday services with the invitation, "Let's all come to the choir!" A faithful crew of fifteen or twenty untrained singers voluntarily filled the choir benches for Sunday song services. The bindings on the old MELODIES OF PRAISE song books would practically fall open by themselves to "When We All Get To Heaven" (page 111) or "Victory in Jesus" (page 164), because we sang them nearly every service.
Brother Cecil Ritchey played a big upright bass fiddle. Mona Lou Reed played the piano, and my aunt, Norma Raggio played the spinet Hammond organ. We heard solos and duets and trios regularly. "I Bowed On My Knees And Cried, Holy," and "You Can Have A Song In Your Heart," burned permanent memories into my mind. And along with the singers, there were shouters and worshippers. It was not uncommon for us to stay as late as ten or eleven o'clock on Sunday night as some got carried away in the Spirit, praying and worshipping God.
Only in recent years have I realized where one of my deepest beliefs about God and heaven came from. It began with the death of my mother's Granny when I was ten years old. Granny Hayes was in her late seventies when she died of cancer. All the family traveled to Mabank, Texas, just southeast of Dallas, to attend Granny Hayes' funeral.
She had lived down a red-dirt road far out in the country, in a small, unpainted old farmhouse that had a simple porch all the way across the front of the house. It was covered in brown asphalt shingles, and had a lean-to on the back of the house that served as a kitchen.
Scores of family members crowded into that little old house for several days during the wake. The coffin was set up in one of the only two rooms in the house. Each room had an old metal-framed feather bed. The little, low-ceiling kitchen had an old Hoosier kitchen cabinet, a large metal pan for a sink, and a homemade kitchen table. Out back was a chicken yard and an outhouse. Right beside the back door was a huge galvanized tank that served as a water cistern. It caught the rain water from the roof of the house, and that water served the entire household. There was no running water. Everybody drank water from a large metal dipper dipped in a bucket drawn from the cistern. During Granny Hayes' funeral, the funeral parlor sent out large water-tanks for drinking water.
When it came time for the funeral, they carried her farther out into the country to an old cemetery. There was a tiny community church beside the cemetery. The preacher from the Assembly of God church conducted the service, and a little choir sang.
It was their song that opened my eyes to another world that day. I was just a ten-year old boy, but when they began to sing, "I am going to a city where the roses never fade," they really captured my imagination. The words said, "I am going to a city where the streets with gold are laid, where the tree of life is blooming, and the roses never fade."
I became a believer right then and there. As just a child, I caught a glimpse of heaven that has endured for a lifetime.
As time passed, the music of the church became a deep love, like blood in my veins.
My parents gave me an old upright piano at Christmas time when I was about seven, and I immediately began to play gospel songs by ear. By the time I was nine, I could play nearly every song in the songbook. I sang my first solo in church at eight - “There Shall Be Showers of Blessings.” Aunt Norma accompanied me on the piano.
I soon found my way into usefulness at church. Every Sunday evening, before the main service, the Christ's Ambassadors would conduct a youth service back in the fellowship hall, and they called me out of Children's Church to play the piano for their service. After the song service, they made me go back to Children's Church.
The old ladies had a morning prayer meeting once each week. I went to prayer meeting with Granny, and played the organ while they prayed. I softly played “Sweet Hour of Prayer” and other songs.
When I was eight years old, Aunt Norma left our church, and became the organist at the United Pentecostal Church in Port Arthur. So at Brother Owens' request, I became the church organist. I sat at the little Hammond M-3 organ and followed along as Mona Lou played the piano.
At first, I did not know all of the keys, so I fumbled around until I found each chord. After lunch on Sunday afternoons, I would go to Grandma and Grandpa's house, and I would show Aunt Norma the chords I had used that day. She then told me the name of the chords I was playing, and showed me the other chords that went along with them. After a few weeks, I could play most of the songs in the right key.
In those days, I wrote my first song; it was called "Eternal Life." I remember singing it for Brother and Sister Owens when they came to visit in our home. I sent a copy of it to the Library of Congress and had it copyrighted. It was a good song, and I still sing it occasionally. Another song I wrote when I was about ten years old was called “Peace Be Unto You,” and I still sing that song.
Reading The Bible
It was in Sunday School that I first was motivated to read the Bible. A lady named Estelle asked permission to speak to the children, and she told us all about the American Bible Society. She said that if any of us would read the New Testament during the summer months, she would reward us with a new Bible. So for the first time in my life, at age 9, I read the entire New Testament, and received a new Bible. It was an inexpensive little black Bible printed on cheap paper, with red edges, but I carried it for years, until it wore out. The greatest reward of that experience, however, was not the new Bible I received, but the Word of God that was planted in my heart at that early age. What a priceless experience! I loved that Bible, and to this day I can still recall the smell of its pages as I read it in my bed at night.
When I was in the sixth grade, Daddy started selling Thompson Chain-Reference Bibles, and I got one of my own. I loved that Bible and often carried it to school among my other books. I wore it out completely over the years. That Bible probably played as big a role in my learning all about the ways of God as anything in my life. I was fascinated by the topical chain reference system that helped me follow a topic all the way through the Bible. I studied it constantly and learned enormous amounts of things about God in those days.
During those days, I had another defining moment in church. For years, I repeatedly became sick with tonsillitis. During my elementary school years, I often missed school because of tonsillitis, infection and high fever. Missing school wasn't so bad, but I didn't want to miss church.
We were in the middle of a series of revival services with Evangelist Melvin McKnight from Houston, one of the best-known evangelists in the Assemblies of God at that time. For three or four weeks, services were held every night but Saturday. A lot of sinners were coming to the altars, and many were receiving the Baptism of the Holy Ghost. It was very exciting!
Unfortunately during that time, I came down with tonsillitis. I was so sick, I felt like dying. My fever reached 105 degrees, and I was nearly delirious. I was nauseated and dizzy, but I begged Mother not to make me stay home from church. After much pleading, and promising that I would lie on the old homemade pew and be still, she consented.
All through service that night, I lay there. I was wretchedly miserable and sick. I couldn't sit up even when I tried. But I listened to the singing, and then the fiery preaching of the evangelist. That night he called for a prayer line. Everybody who had a need was invited to come through the line, and the Pastor and the Evangelist would pray for God to meet their need.
I determined that if I would go through the prayer line, God would heal me. So I got up and dizzily stood in line. I waited and waited. Finally, the preachers laid hands on me and prayed. I guess that since I was just a little kid, they figured a short little prayer would suffice, so that's what I got - a short little prayer. I was so disappointed, because I didn't feel a thing. As I turned to go back to my seat, I felt worse and worse. It didn't make sense. I was supposed to get healed, but I wasn't healed!
So after deliberating a minute or so, I decided that they didn't pray well enough, so I went back to the end of the line, and waited again. I don't remember the look on the preacher's faces when they saw me again, but I distinctly remember Brother McKnight's response when he laid his hand on my forehead and felt my high fever. He exclaimed, "My God, this boy is really sick!"
He then entered into a diligent prayer for the Lord to heal me. Instantly, my fever vanished, and I broke out in a cold sweat. As I walked back to my pew, I felt myself becoming well. The dizziness and nausea vanished. I immediately felt normal again. I went home that night feeling fine, and got up the next morning and went to school without any sign of sickness.
All these many years later I can testify that that miracle made a very profound impact on my life. It convinced me once and for all time of God's ability to perform miracles. I am still convinced today of God's miraculous healing power.
When I was about the age of eleven, the church experienced some turmoil, and the pastor resigned. Due to some conflict in the congregation, we began seeking out another church.
We visited several churches, including the First United Pentecostal Church in Port Arthur, where Brother J.T. Pugh was Pastor. There was a tremendous revival going on at the time. The church was completing a new building, and a few times my dad and I went to help the workers who were building it.
When they had their dedication services, we went. The place was packed with six or seven hundred people. The special singers were the O’Brien trio, from Starks, Louisiana. I had never heard anything like it in all my life. They sang "Lead Me To That Rock That Is Higher Than I." The congregation came to their feet as the trio sang, and sang, and sang. The sight of that worshipping crowd was awesome to behold.
My little brother and I sometimes sang together, and Brother Pugh invited us to sing at one of the dedication services. I played the big Hammond organ, and David stood beside me as we sang, "I Wouldn't Take Nothing For My Journey Now," and "It's Different Now" in front of that huge crowd. I was eleven and David was six.
I didn't know a lot about what they believed, but I remember that they made a big deal about some people that were being baptized. The baptistry was built so that it came down the left side of the platform, and across the front a little ways. The preacher didn't even have to leave the platform. He merely stepped over a few feet from the pulpit and baptized the candidate. Everybody was very enthusiastic with praise and shouting any time someone was baptized.
Still, we continued to visit other churches in the vicinity. A small Assembly of God church in Pear Ridge seemed to really need someone who could help out, and it appeared that we could be more helpful in a small church than in a big one. At least, that is the reason I thought we decided on it. I learned later that the big Pentecostal Church was preaching different doctrine than we were accustomed to and different teachings about holiness, especially regarding outward appearance.
Right after we settled in the Pear Ridge church, a distant cousin of mine was invited to come preach a revival there. Donnie Bell and his sister, Patricia (we called her Trish) traveled in trio with a widely-known evangelist at that time, Paul Emerson. Donnie played the electric guitar, and Paul and Trish each played accordions, while the three of them sang together. Donnie's strong preaching was very exciting to hear. I loved to hear him preach.
On a Friday night, the little church was full. A youth group from Pastor Andy Radke's church in Vidor came to join us. Donnie did a very moving one-man musical skit based on the song, "A Child of The King" which was about a rich lady and a poor ditch-digger. Then he preached a moving sermon.
When the altar call was given, I went to the organ as was my custom, to provide music during the prayer time. Within minutes, several young people had responded to the call, and were kneeling in the altar, praying. Some received the baptism of the Holy Ghost and began speaking in unknown tongues.
As I sat on the organ bench observing the tremendous response, I was suddenly overcome with desire to receive the Holy Ghost experience for myself. Three singers were standing beside me around the organ, singing worship songs, and I thought that I was duty-bound to continue playing. But the more I saw what was happening to the people who were praying, the more I knew that I wanted to be baptized in the Holy Ghost "tonight!"
With tears rolling down my face, I turned to the singers and made some flimsy apology. I stopped playing and jumped up off the organ bench. The silence was deafening for a few moments, but the sounds of people praying soon compensated. I hurried around to the altar bench, fell on my knees, lifted my hands, and began to worship the Lord. In about two minutes, I found myself speaking in tongues, laughing and crying simultaneously, as the Spirit of the Lord filled me for the first time in my life. It was an incredible experience. I must have talked in tongues for at least half an hour. When I finally stopped, I really didn't want to leave.
All the young people who came that night had planned to go out to the country after church for a "moonlight hike." After all the prayer and praise calmed down, several carloads of young people struck out for Beaumont. We stopped by the Holsum Bread bakery and went inside and bought a few dozen loaves of fresh, hot bread that hadn't even been sliced yet. Then we went down Railroad Avenue to a grocery store and bought several sticks of butter, and everybody ate hot bread and butter.
We then headed for a deserted old farm road outside Vidor, and we all went for a "moonlight hike." In spite of all the activity, however, I couldn't get my mind off the fact that I had just been baptized in the Holy Ghost! As we walked down that old road that night, I looked up at the star-filled skies and the shiny moon, and began to cry and worship the Lord all over again. "I got the Holy Ghost tonight!"
I couldn't get my mind on the rest of the goings on. I was no good for anything else. So I just thanked Him for filling me with the Holy Ghost.
I believe that night in 1962 was the most defining moment of my life. God began something in me then that would impact everything about me for all of time to come. Not only that, but I also believe that being filled with the Holy Ghost had everything to do with my being preserved and protected through many unspeakably difficult trials throughout my life.
Speaking of the Holy Ghost, Jesus said, "He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water," (John 7:38).
That night, I got The River.
"Long Winding Road - Chapter 2 - The Call"