The first time I met Ruben, I thought former drug addicted ex-convict who led a motorcycle gang with an iron fist radically saved in a blinding flash of light. The cliché “looks can be deceiving” explains why I was wrong. He never fell prey to the excesses of the hippie counterculture. While many young people rebelled against the government and sent themselves on drug induced trips, Ruben attended church and worked. He grew up sweeping the floors in his father’s barbershop as men discussed sports, politics, and religion. His father’s example taught him to stand up for his beliefs as he listened to his father’s testy conversations with his clients. His family sat at the kitchen table monthly to pray for America and for his brothers, who served in the military. He learned to love God and country, but he did rebel against complacent religion.
In the late 1960s, Ruben and his father exited the Los Angeles landmark Clifton Cafeteria. At 7th and Broadway, they observed an unusual site. A man wearing checkered pants, striped shirt, with his hair in disarray, stood on the corner holding a Bible. He preached as though he held the attention of a stadium filled with mesmerized listeners. Ruben looked up at his father. “Street preacher,” said his father.
Ten years later, Ruben gently picked up his newborn daughter. He gazed into the face of innocence and thought, how do I want to raise this child. He reflected on his own life and concluded his life must be right to raise his daughter right. A serious, systematic study of the Bible provoked questions about his faith, so he made an appointment with his priest.
“The Bible will confuse you. You should not read it. Your job is to come to Mass. My job is to tell you what it says,” said the priest.
The priest stood to escort Ruben out of his office. “Will you be at Mass next Sunday?”
“Yes,” said Ruben.
The following Sunday, a friend tapped Ruben’s mother on her shoulder. “Ruben is outside screaming at everybody.”
His mother walked outside to witness her son standing on the steps in front of their church preaching his first sermon–Know the God of the Bible. Ruben pointed to their neighbor. “You have the biggest family Bible I have ever seen on the coffee table in your living room. The pages are stuck together. You have never read it.” Mrs. Smith hurried inside. “Mr. Johnson, you have been coming to this church for 20 years, and you can’t quote one Bible verse. Mr. McDonald, you don’t keep Sunday holy. After church, you sit in front of the TV with two six packs of beer.”
At a young age, Ruben’s mother felt God had called her to a life of Christian service. She joined a convent and was studying to become a nun when she heard rumors about the decadence of Mardi Gras. Even though Mardi Gras had its roots in Lupercalia, an ancient Roman festival, the church had incorporated the pagan celebration into its faith. Her church did not endorse Mardi Gras, but they winked at the belief one could sin with abandon without consequence. Troubled by her church’s practice, she often prayed for New Orleans and her church that refused to confront sin.
Two weeks before graduation, she already had doubts about serving a church that winked at sin when her sister came to visit. She held her sister’s baby and pondered if she really wanted to live a life of celibacy or have a family of her own. Many tears and prayers later, she laid a fleece before God. She had never seen a yellow rose in the convent’s garden. She told God if she saw a yellow rose before graduation, she would accept it as a sign he had released her to leave the convent. One morning, she went to the garden to pray and saw a yellow rose. Convinced God had released her from full time Christian service, she left the convent, married, and bore five children.
Ruben never lost interest in his evangelistic activities. A Bible study he attended developed into an international network called Bible Believers. Initially, they set out signs declaring “Trust Jesus” at intersections before they left for work. As they grew stronger in their faith, they began preaching to small groups on the streets. Eventually, they moved on to larger crowds drawn by events held in Los Angeles.
A man who attended Ruben’s Bible study, coined the name “confrontational evangelism”, and made huge banners that now mark Ruben’s ministry. The first banners were canvas and metal. Today, they use vinyl to confront sin with bold declarations. If boisterous crowds drown out their voice, they can’t miss the message on the signs.
Ruben brought his ministry of confrontation to New Orleans in 1982. After returning from his second evangelistic campaign at Mardi Gras, he had dinner with his parents. During dinner, his mother revealed the burden of prayer she carried for New Orleans when she studied to be a Nun. Ruben and his mother realized God his ministry had answered her prayer. Every year thereafter, to the day she died, Ruben’s mother laid her hands on her son’s head and prayed for him before he departed to do what her church failed to do. Boldly confront sin instead of tolerating it on Tuesday and absolving it on Wednesday.
Confrontational evangelism is a point of controversy in the Christian community. Some believe it does more harm than good. Others applaud Ruben’s boldness to confront sinners and announce their guilt loud enough for a city block to hear. Whether you love him or hate him, his motivation to confront sin is strong, and he won’t be dissuaded to stop.