MARCH 2022: RAY BENTLEY
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My pastor, Ray Bentley, went home to be with the Lord on the 4th of January, and the world would lose a great ambassador for the Gospel. Ray had been on my board of directors for many years. One thing you knew with Ray was that he was not only a man that loved Christ but also all those around him. Ray had been very kind to Vicky and me and went far beyond what most pastors do. He would regularly call me up and say, “Hey, let’s take the wives and go down to La Jolla and meet for breakfast.” Or we would go to a steakhouse for dinner. He even invited us over for Christmas Eve one year, which was extremely special to Vicky and me. Whenever I called him and said that I needed to talk, his door was always open. Ray would travel many places in the world with me and always represented the Lord well. I remember that I took him to dinner once to a Middle Eastern restaurant and ordered lamb’s tongue. Ray looked at me and said, “Brother, I do not think I can do the lamb’s tongue.” I just laughed and explained it was the best thing on the menu. I truly do not remember if Ray ate it, but he would always go with me. We vacationed one year in Italy around Christmas, and it was a special time. I remember going to a walled city that has about a dozen castle towers around the walls. We found an old-world restaurant that was from a time when there were knights and ladies of the court. Because it was not tourist season, it was only us and two other couples. We had this beautiful place just to ourselves, and we had a great evening of fellowship. I remember that I had ordered the wild boar ragu. Everyone else was a little less adventurous. Ironically, both our wives are named Vicky. So, when Ray was joking with the ladies, he would say that Wes, I have a problem with Vicky Bentley, which always made me laugh. I knew that Ray loved the Lord more than anything, and I think the Lord took him to heaven earlier than most of us were ready for. The last time we spoke, he called me to find out about the Afghanistan evacuation, and I told him that I thought we would have over 1,000 out and he said, “Fantastic.” I never dreamed that this would be our last conversation. As a tribute to my dear friend and brother in the Lord, “Ray, I will miss you for the rest of my life. It is extremely hard for me to think about another 20 years of ministry without your friendship and council. You were deeply loved by the family at Maranatha Chapel and Vicky and I.” We have a medal that is reserved and only awarded to those people who helped to greatly advance the Gospel in South Sudan. We call this the Praetorian Guard medal. It is given for those who have lived as knights for Christ’s Kingdom and is the highest award we give to a civilian by Far Reaching Ministries. The medals were made by the same company who makes the awards for the Royal Family in England. We had ten red ones made so that they could only be given to ten individuals. We also had a single white one made so that it could only be awarded once. The white Praetorian Guard medal will be given posthumously to Ray’s son, Daniel. I think Ray would have wanted it that way. Till we meet in heaven, farewell my brother. I was in Russia on the Eastern Orthodox Christmas which is celebrated on the 7th of January. I was preparing to walk up to the pulpit to teach a Christmas message and was praying, when I felt a strong impression from the Lord. The impression that I felt was that it is time to open a base in Europe in order to take the fight for the Gospel deep into enemy territory. I called Luke, who was coordinating our operation to extract 850 more people out of Afghanistan. I told him to start looking for a castle in Europe that we can purchase. Luke took to the task like a storm, and we have found several really good options that we are praying through right now. It is hard to believe but many castles in Europe are extremely reasonable, not costing much more than a fine home. We have hopes of turning this castle into a Calvary Chapel Bible School and a mission training base. Our desire is to also make it a very exclusive hotel so that all expenses related to the operation of the Bible school and mission training base will be covered. Please pray with us as we seek to find the right location. We estimate that the base will cost between $1.5 million and $2.8 million to purchase. If you would like to be part of this endeavor to bring the Gospel to Europe, mark “Castle” on the enclosed gift card along with your donation. I am rotating back to Afghanistan this week, as I write this update. We currently have over 850 people in safe houses who are in the final extraction stages. I have spent so much time writing about Afghanistan and Burma that I need to stop for a month and update you on all the other things that are going on. I traveled back to South Sudan between trips to Afghanistan to meet with the senior chaplain staff and celebrate Thanksgiving. We gathered at the farm where our school, Christ’s Crucible, is located for children in Uganda. Richard, who oversees the project, has an incredible eye for landscaping and has turned the farm into a little piece of paradise. We brought in about a dozen senior staff to meet and plan operations for the next year. The staff cooked a wild turkey and had the usual Thanksgiving fixings, like French fries and pizza, well, at least the usual for Africa. The turkey was wild and tough, but everyone enjoyed it. I had bought a small fake Christmas tree in Uganda because it was all they had, and two colors of bulbs: red and silver. The great thing was that the bulbs were plastic, so when you dropped them, they did not break. All the guys wanted to help decorate the tree as it was something they had heard of but had never seen or done. They were like a bunch of kids, being the first time, they experienced this tradition. As I watched them, it gave me real joy at the happiness it brought. I do not think a man there did not have multiple battle scars from war–everything from bullet holes to shrapnel wounds, and scars from knives. Yet, for a moment, they were just big kids enjoying the holiday. When they finished, we had a real-life Charlie Brown Christmas tree. But, for the guys, it had been the most beautiful tree they had ever seen. One of the great moments was when Duncan came to show us his diploma. Some of you may remember his testimony from years past. He was orphaned by the time he was seven and had run from rebels since the age of five when they tried to shoot and kill him. He had traveled across Uganda and come to the farm where Richard and Suzan raised him as their own. Duncan, from youth, has had a heart for the Lord, so Vicky and I sent him to college, where he graduated number one in agriculture for the entire nation of Uganda. He has become part of our family and like a second son to Vicky and me. What I love about this young man is that he wants to be at every Bible study and really wants to learn the Word. He is always sharing his faith. I told Duncan before he went to college that he would experience many temptations but to remember that he was there to serve Christ. Duncan did have many young women that liked him. Not only because he was a good-looking young man but also smart and very respectful of others. With each attempt by some young girl, they left not with a relationship but a full presentation of the Gospel. Duncan went to the school with a great testimony and left with no blemish to the name of Christ. In South Sudan, we would lose three chaplains this year, not from the war but illness at the front. In a way, the war still claimed their lives because they had not been near proper medical facilities. Had they been, they would have most likely survived. While we will miss them, we know that the race they were created for was completed, and they now sit in the Kingdom with all of the brothers that have preceded them.
This brings the total to 65 men that have made their final journey. On a personal note, my father passed this last year. I had prayed with him to receive Christ about 10 years ago, but he was in the beginning stages of dementia, and I never saw fruit. So, I hope that I will see him again. My father was orphaned when he was six years old and was never taught to be a proper parent, but as children, we knew he loved us. He was captain of the football and basketball team, voted the most popular guy in his school, and most handsome. He had received a scholarship to college for both athletics and intelligence. He had played a season of minor league professional baseball. He met and married my mother at Harding College then joined the Air Force. We would be transferred to Germany, where I partially spent my childhood. What felt most like home to me was growing up in Germany, which was wonderful. But when my parents divorced, he moved to Alaska and lived in the wilderness for 35 years. I saw him a few times over the years, but we never really had a father-son relationship. I visited him the year before COVID and would go to the retirement home where he lived every day. I would bring him coffee and chocolate donuts which he loved, but he did not know who I was. I wanted so much to hug him and tell him that I loved him, but that was not possible because I was a stranger. I asked him if he knew who I was, and he said “yes,” but I could tell that he did not. I said, “Dad, I am your oldest son.” For a moment, he stared, and a tear came to his eyes, then it was gone. This last year, 2021, was probably our most fruitful year of ministry. The chaplains made a tremendous impact on the nation. The silent-drill team traveled across South Sudan. They gave performances at every military unit and school, then shared their testimonies and presented the Gospel. Hundreds of hands went up at each performance to give their lives to Christ. The young men all want to grow up and join the chaplains. So many of them really shined for Christ. Two chaplains, Daniel Dau and John Chol started ministry in the cattle camps and led so many men and women to Christ. When rebels were raiding the area, they also organized groups of men to stand guard through the nights and protect people in the villages from being killed. The rebels left the area after realizing that there were watchmen on the wall. In one hand, they carried God’s Word and the other machine guns. Vicky’s women’s ministry continues to grow. At times, she was teaching 13 studies a week. Each study was a different book of the Bible. She also led many discipleship groups with half a dozen women that she really invested in. I can really see the spiritual growth in the women, and so can their husbands. At every study, women want to stand and testify to what God has been doing; the ladies have a real excitement for Christ. Far Reaching Ministries grew, adding five new staff members in the American office.
But we had one staff member retire, Ed Gauntt, who was my personal assistant and had traveled with me for 21 years. Ed has been a tremendous blessing to the ministry and me personally, but he feels that the Lord was telling him that a new and younger generation was coming up, and it was time for him to step aside. He shared that he felt that the Lord had one more ministry for him: to be faithful before his time is up. Ed will travel with me part-time, as he has time to do so and feels led. He will be missed for the 21 years that he has been responsible for helping the ministry grow. He has also been one of my closest friends. In the 21 years we worked together, we never had an argument but just worked and served Christ together. He will be missed. The ministry is changing with the Lord putting us in more war zones and radical Islamic countries. I do not know what the future holds, but I see many storms on the horizon with battles to be fought and won. I would ask personally for prayer for Vicky and me for strength. The days are long and filled with many and great obstacles. But we are holding on to the Lord.
Far Reaching Ministries