As most have already heard, on January 4, 2022, Ray Bentley, founder and senior pastor of Maranatha Chapel in San Diego, California, passed away from complications due to COVID. This sad event has taken us all by surprise. Just last week I had heard that Ray wasn’t feeling well, so I contacted Vicki (Ray’s wife), and she told me they had COVID but were putting up a good fight. I was stunned today when I got the word of Ray’s passing. Ray was not just another pastoral acquaintance; he was a dear friend and partner in the gospel. We traveled the globe together, preaching and teaching at outreaches, conferences, and tours to Israel—Ray’s favorite place on the planet.
Our friendship began in the early 1980s when we found ourselves pastoring churches in the same county (San Diego). At the time, we were both in our mid-20s, and it was great to have a friend and ally on a similar path and age to talk, pray, and figure out ministry with. We did that from around 1984 right up to the present day.
Ray was an amazing person in so many ways. A lady in our church had a brother who had known Ray in grade school. When they were young, her brother would always tell her about the smartest boy in his class—the one who studied the World Book Encyclopedia in his spare time. That boy was Ray.
Ray was a brilliant conversationalist. He was well-read and could talk about most anything. His favorite subject, though, was Bible prophecy. He was so immersed that the prophecies in Scripture and the world events that related to them just flowed from him as fluently as the English language. One of the things I loved about our friendship is that we could passionately and often humorously discuss our differing views on things like Bible prophecy or the ministry of the Holy Spirit, but these differences never, for one minute, interfered with our relationship. We would disagree, smile at each other, and move on to the next thing.
Ray was a great Bible teacher. I remember two distinct occasions—one in Austria, the other in Western Australia—where Ray preached messages so profound, I still tell people about them to this day. It was such a privilege to minister alongside such a great man.
Anyone who knew Ray knew that besides loving Jesus, Vicki, his family, and the church, Ray loved Israel most—both the land and the people. Ray believed that because the church had received spiritual blessings, such as the Messiah and the Scriptures, through Israel, it was the church’s obligation to bless Israel materially. This Ray sought to do and did in many creative ways. His love for the Holy Land would lead him there many times throughout the years, and he met and befriended many of the key leaders from both Israeli and Arab communities.
Ray was humble; he didn’t have a problem exalting others, never expecting anything in return. Every once in a while, he’d call me out of the blue and just begin to speak words of encouragement over me. Ray was humble, so he never had a problem exalting others while never expecting anything in return. He would tell me how much God loved me and was pleased with me. He would tell me how God was using me in his life and the lives of many others. He would always end the conversation by praying for me. As he prayed, I often sensed the sweet presence of Jesus. And that sweet presence is what Ray is experiencing now.
The last time I saw Ray was when we did a radio program together in November. Of course, Ray’s favorite topic of prophecy and the Second Coming of Jesus came up in conversation during the program that day. Before Ray left to head back to San Diego, he emphasized the Lord’s soon coming. Ray was sure that it was not far off. He was right, and for him, that great longing for the return of Jesus has been fulfilled. Jesus came and received Ray to Himself as He promised He would. He will also come to receive us at the appointed time. Until then, let’s be busy about our Father’s business so that when He comes for us, we too will hear the words Ray undoubtedly heard when he entered the presence of the Lord: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord!”