Singer and pastor RAY BEVAN was once blown and buffeted by the restless search for stardom. Then he let Christ in and slowly and painfully learned to go where the Holy Spirit was blowing. Tony Cummings went to Newport to meet Ray.
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Jesus wasn't a happiness pill. The first thing he did was bring me too reality. The local Pentecostal church hadn't seen anybody saved for the last five years and then somebody like me gets saved. It caused quite a stir. I was quaint for the first year. I was asked to give my testimony. 'This boy used to be on drugs!' I was quite a celebrity. It didn't do me any good really because after I stopped being flavour of the month, I couldn't understand why I wasn't being asked to speak at meetings any more. I learned a lot of lessons through that. The pendulum swung. I was told 'long hair... it's a shame for a man to have long hair', all this stuff. So I cut my hair, bought a three-piece suit, and a Bible the size of a flippin' coffee table. I just tried to be really spiritual. We all go through it. I wanted to be holy. I was down in my cellar at four o'clock in the morning praying with a candle. 'Cause I used to read in books that these Puritans used to pray in cellars lit with candles. I didn't realise they didn't have electricity in those days!
His efforts at finding the deeper things of God through his own efforts were destined to failure. "I was a bag of nerves for about two years trying to make myself like Jesus. Then the Lord said,' Ray, I love you just the way you are' and I began to be less extreme.' But there were many painful experiences to go through. Ray had married nine months after his conversion. It was far from happy.
What I didn't know was that my wife wasn't born again. She went to church. Things began to go wrong, really bad. It was like darkness, the reality that came out, and it got worse and worse. I'd come home from church one Sunday after singing with my guitar when my wife got my guitar and smashed it on the wall. Life at home was awful. Satan tried to destroy our marriage. Finally in 1979 just 10 years ago, 11 years ago, we separated for five months. That's a long story. It was an awful time. To cut a long story short we came back together. God saved my wife miraculously. She had a vision, God gave her a vision of Hell. Shook her to the roots and she got saved. But we had a horrendous time. The first 10 years of my Christian life were not very nice. But it built character and steel into me. I was working. I had some excellent jobs. I was in charge of picking up scrap metal in a factory and putting it in a bin. When I was working in the factory I could witness to the boys on the floor but I thought 'how can I witness to the people in the office? That's the thing.' 'Cause I was a floor man, couldn't go in the office. So when the timesheets used to come around I used to write little texts on them and I knew they'd have to read them in the office. I used to write "The wages of sin is death" on the timesheets. I had a passion to win people for Jesus.
In the early 80s Ray made his first tentative steps into Christian music. "I went to work in a local youth club for one year, it was a job creation scheme, and I had a great time saw a lot of young people saved in that year. Then one guy came into the club one day and said 'Ray, will you sing at our assembly?'
I literally knew only chords on the guitar and the only Christian song I knew was the one I wrote myself. I changed the words to the Everly Brothers' 'Bye Bye Love, my words were 'bye bye sin, bye bye loneliness, hello happiness, I've let my saviour in.' He said 'Oh come down, they'll love that.'
I was in the toilet for a few days before that and I tell you my stomach was off. Really nervous; I went along and there were about 250 people in this hall. I walked on, they started laughing. I thought I'm going down really good here.' I didn't realise till I went home that I was wearing black velvet flares. You don't do that in a school, you don't walk into a school with black velvet flares. So anyway, I got through the assembly and then I said, 'I'm going to be in the Christian Union this afternoon, if anybody wants to come, turn up.' They normally had five that afternoon there were 130 there and I sang and preached again and about 40 got saved. And I went back and the headmaster - he's saved, Holy Ghost-filled headmaster, said 'Ray, the Lord's told me to ask you to stay down here for the whole week and take all the RE lessons.' He said 'Just go and tell them about Jesus in the classrooms'. We had revival in that school.. Scores got saved. A lot of them are still going on. Ray realised that, unasked for, a ministry was opening up before him. I could see God had given me something. And then another school asked me to go, then another school and I started working in schools basically, and I was preaching in different Churches. It kept growing. A team came down from Nottingham with a 3,000 seater tent. The Lord said to me 'They're going to ask you to join them.' So I went back to my wife that night and she said, 'Oh don't be so stupid.' I said, 'They are.' As the team were travelling home they said 'There's a guy in that church going to join us.' We hadn't talked. They rang me up the following week and asked me to join them and I took that step and joined in 1980. £175 a month and never looked back.' The music group within the International Outreach ministry were called Frontline. In 1980 the group decided to make an album I was invited up to the studios just to do backing vocals for the group. When I got into the studio they turned to me. and said 'Ray, we've been praying and the Holy Ghost told us you've got to sing lead on all these songs.' I said 'What? You haven't heard me sing. I can't sing.' Anyway, I said 'OK, I'll give it a shot' I went into the studio and I started singing I was amazed at what came out of my mouth. I could not believe it. I took it home to play to my mother. She said I was lying. She said 'That's not you.' I said 'It is. That's me on there'. And from that day to this I don't know what happened. It's a gift from God. Absolutely. That was my first album. One of my favourites too.
The album had rather an unfortunate title. Alluding to Jesus' saying that the stones would cry out if the people couldn't praise the Lord, less spiritual types saw the album title 'I Will Keep The Stones Unemployed' as a cocky comment about Mick Jagger and co. In 1982, Frontline recorded another album, 'Frontline', produced at Chapel Lane by Mark Williamson and released by Kingsway. The album contained some early Christian dance funk, and one gem, 'Emmaus Blues' resplendent with crying saxophone. But within six months of the album's release Frontline were no more. Ray initially had no thoughts of solo ministry.
"l went home and thought...back to work time. I never dreamt that God could use me on my own. The Lord had other ideas. My wife said to me 'why don't you just ring Rob and ask him to give you some backing tracks and let's see what happens,' so I said alright. So Rob gave me about five backing tracks and I said 'Lord, there's the telephone and there's the letterbox. If you want me to minister then you are my manager. You sort it out. I'm not going to push, not going to send out demos, nothing.' And the engagements started to come. Bit by bit. Youth groups, churches, schools. "We trusted God, we literally trusted God. We never asked anybody for a penny. Never charged and I never said 'I will not come unless you pay me'. I don't want to sound super spiritual and I don't want to knock those who do, it's just a personal thing. God is a good God. He has provided."
In 1984 Ray released his first solo album, cassette only,, for Chapel Lane Productions. 'Somebody Loves You' set the pattern for the four Chapel Lane albums that followed, budget line mixtures of inspirational ballads praise and worship songs, black gospel numbers (he's used the Highgate Gospel Choir and Jones and Co on sessions) and occasional more upbeat pop gospel numbers. Ray is very choosey about his material.
"Sometimes I write songs myself. When I travel if I hear a song I like I'll include that.
"I've been to Australia three times and sung in big youth rallies with thousands of kids. I've also worked a lot with Reinhardt Bonke and am privileged to see how God has used the man. We are very good friends now and the whole team. I work with the team as often as I can.
In 1989 this man with an international music ministry took a step which to some must have seemed like lunacy. He agreed to pastor a church. "I'd often spent hours with pastors of churches, ministering to them, and I'd be coming home and thanking God, literally out loud, 'Oh God, I thank you you've not called me to pastor a church.' I've learned a lesson to shut my mouth in future! Never, never in a million years did I think I'd be called to a pastorate...dedicating babies, you must be joking!
"The King's Fellowship in Newport was formed in 1987. My wife and I we were there just as members. It was a good church. But unfortunately things did not work out and the leadership split. I'd already left the church about three or four months before that happened and then some people came to me after the split and said "Please Ray, we don't know who's going to be there next Sunday morning but would you be there to preach?' So I said "I'll come for three Sunday mornings, I'll help you out for three Sunday mornings and then that's it.
The King's Fellowship is housed in a beautifully refurbished building in the centre of Newport with a seating capacity of 1000. Ray hardly looked forward to his preaching stint. "I was terrified. The usual thing -- the Gideon thing, the Moses thing -- 'Send somebody else.' We all do it, we can preach faith quite eloquently but when it comes to doing it...