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In Memory of Randy Ziegler

6 Jul

Logo_5_cm_KopieBLOG-hawaii-wave-surf-picture71OneWay bibleI wrote the following article about Randy Ziegler approximately 35 years ago while attending UC Irvine. A sorority sister had invited me to a contemporary Christian rock music concert (something I had never heard of) at Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa, California. At the end of the concert, a guy with wavy, bleached-out, blond hair and surfer lingo began preaching the gospel to the crowd of about 2,000 young people. His style was what I would term as “hang loose” because of his creative use of the English language, which often included making up his own words. But he was captivating, with comments like, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to McDonalds makes you a hamburger.”

Pretty soon I was attending the concerts regularly with friends in addition to Randy’s Tuesday night Bible studies. During these times, we heard some pretty far-out tales about Randy’s life, and as a writer, I was intrigued. So, I asked Randy if I could interview him for a magazine article about his life and how he wound up as a preacher. He complied, and the following article is the result. With Randy’s blessing, I sent the article out to several potential publishers, but all of the magazines turned it down. Perhaps Randy’s testimony was a little too long or a little too wild for the periodicals of the day. Anyway, over the years I forgot all about Randy’s story until learning that he passed away on June 26 of this year. After mentioning the article at Randy’s memorial service, several people expressed interest in reading it, so here it is, in remembrance of Randy. Rest in Peace, Randy.

How I Found Peace, Joy and Freedom

By Randy Ziegler

As told to Veronica Young

     “Haole, we’re gonna get you, we’re gonna kill you Goldilocks!” These words haunted me my first night in a high security prison cell seven years ago in Hawaii.

Just two weeks earlier I was sitting in pre-med classes at a university in California. I had come to Hawaii to do some surfing and visit one of my sisters. But, six days after my arrival I was caught with drugs, arrested and sent to jail. Eventually, I wound up in Halawa High Security Facility, where most of the inmates were serving life sentences for murder.

I was the only white prisoner at Halawa, and gangs would sing each night about who they were going to kill next. My first night in, they sang about me. I was so scared that I couldn’t sleep.

I didn’t make a very good impression on my judge, partly because I had long hair and a beard, and partly because I had smuggled over 100 pounds of dope into the state. At my arraignment he told me that he was going to make an example of me, and he did.

My family tried everything they knew to get me out. My parents didn’t live in Hawaii so my sister rounded up some bail money, but even that didn’t help. I was told that I would never get out.

At Halawa many prisoners were insane and some were psychologically and genetically malformed, with scarred faces and eyes that couldn’t focus. The guards would lower them into a pit where they tried to break from their chains, screaming like madmen. I used to sit there watching them and think, “Wow, one day it’s gonna be me.”

I finally got released from Halawa by forfeiting my bail money as a bribe. Yet, the witness of murders and the memories of unsanitary, crowded jail cells stayed with me long after my release.

I split for California as fast as I could. But, when I got there I was paranoid. I was afraid that I might get extradited across state lines and wind up back in jail. So to avoid being traced, I dropped out of college even though I had a four-year scholarship and just a couple of quarters to go. I moved to Dana Point, California to live with a sister I hadn’t seen in three years.

My sister was really different. She had a strange peace about her that I wasn’t used to. And she was always smiling and happy. I didn’t know it when I moved in, but she had become a Christian since I had last seen her.

Although my sister didn’t approve of my lifestyle, she never got down on me for getting drunk and loaded or doing terrible things. Instead she was always loving and kind to me.

By day I shaped and glassed surfboards while getting loaded, and at night my buddies and I got more loaded, smoked hash and got drunk on top of that. I used to get so loaded on hash that I’d just pass out on the kitchen floor and sleep there all night while the dog lay on top of me to keep me warm.

My fears of getting arrested mounted as old girlfriends began calling me. Every old girlfriend I knew started calling, wanting to get back together with me. Then, people started calling from back east whom I didn’t know, wanting to do drug deals. I thought for sure the police were trying to set me up to send me back to Hawaii. I couldn’t sleep at night and I didn’t know what to do or where to turn.

Then, one day I agreed to pick my sister up from church only because her car wasn’t working. As I reluctantly stepped inside the church to get her, everybody sat down and a young guy got up and started reading from the Bible. I wanted to leave, but couldn’t because people were blocking the doorway and telling me to sit down. As I did, I noticed that the guy I sat next to was Brad McCall, United States Surfing Champion of the year! A film had just been made about him and his picture was plastered throughout every surfing magazine. I stared in awe as he sat there with a Bible in his lap. Then I looked around and saw Corky Carroll and several other famous surfers. As I wondered what was going on I heard the preacher blabbing about the resurrection and Jesus dying, “for you!” I felt very uncomfortable and was unable to listen. Finally, out of curiosity, I looked up and recognized the guy speaking. In high school he had been such a vegetable from doing LSD that he used to sit on the beach cliffs and drool for hours at a time. He couldn’t even talk and had to drop out of high school as a sophomore. As I sat and watched him I couldn’t believe my eyes. He had short hair, a nice white shirt, and he was talking in a collective and intelligent way. “There was an empty tomb and Jesus rose for your sins.” That’s all I could remember him saying. As his talk ended I was so disturbed that beads of sweat were dripping down my face.

Several people recognized me and came over to talk, including the speaker. They told me about various successes and how they had become Christians. The most unbelievable story came from the preacher, who was working on his Ph.D. after going back to high school and then on to college, completing both with straight A’s. When I asked them what had made the difference in their lives, they said two words, “Jesus Christ.” I was shocked. “That’s baloney!” I screamed. “I don’t want to hear it. That’s garbage.” And I stormed off.

From then on my life got more wretched and my paranoia grew. I couldn’t sleep and began thinking a lot. I thought about my sister and how she had changed into a loving, gentle person. I thought about the successes of old acquaintances. And I thought about death.

I had come close to death several times from car wrecks and illness. I had seen others die. I even witnessed a girl I knew commit suicide. For all practical reasons I should have been dead, too. But, I wasn’t. Why?

I thought back to 1970. My mother was crying her eyes out, the doctors were shaking their heads and a priest was putting ashes on my forehead. I had contracted hepatitis, paratyphoid and a water leech from drinking water on a surfing trip to Mazatlán. As I lay in intensive care after surgery, a series of tubes ran throughout my entire body keeping me alive. The doctors felt that the operations had been unsuccessful and that I would soon die, so they sent for a priest to give me last rites. As the priest leaned over to smear ashes on my forehead, I opened my eyes and was struck by the sight of a cross dangling from his neck. I knew at that moment that I was going to die and that I wasn’t going to heaven. Then I slipped into a coma as a terrible sense of evil gripped me. My skin turned icy cold and I couldn’t move. I felt sicker than ever before as I lay there day after day until eventually I woke up and slowly recovered.

Why did God allow me to live? I was a physical and emotional wreck. Most of my large intestine and much of my stomach muscle had been cut away. I was weak, I couldn’t surf – I couldn’t even sit up! I finally became so depressed that I fell into despair where I didn’t even care if I hurt anymore.

As these memories came back to me in 1974, a bizarre incident came to mind. I was on my way to Del Mar on a beautiful, sunny day when I noticed some thin, wispy clouds far off on the horizon. As I stopped my car to talk to a girl, I saw that they were drawing closer and closer together until they formed a thick layer over our heads. Suddenly, the sky darkened all around us and a sheet of hailstones hammered down on us. The girl ran inside and I stood there watching the sky grow darker and darker until a huge black cloud stormed around me in a circular motion. I felt death in the air, as if somebody had just died. It was the sickest feeling. I ran to my car and quickly drove to a friend’s house, nearby. As I drove, huge hailstones pounded my car and wind swirled above me like a tornado.

I felt sick to my stomach as I ran into my friend’s house. When I sat down, I noticed a clock which read five minutes after three. I didn’t move until a quarter after, when the storm suddenly stopped and the sky cleared instantly. I thought, “Wow! I’ve just had my first flashback from drugs – unreal!”

I decided to go surfing where I met another friend who lived up on the hill above Del Mar. He asked me if I’d seen the mini-tornado down in the valley by the racetrack. I told him that I had been in the middle of it but he still had trouble believing what he’d seen.

As we started down the cliffs to the beach he said, “You know what? Today’s Good Friday.” I mumbled, “So what? What does that mean?” He answered, “That’s the day Christ died.” As we started to go in the water he said, “The Bible says he died at three o’clock and darkness covered the whole land.”

My knees started to shake. I felt like God had re-enacted the death of Christ from two thousand years ago to show me what He had felt and how He had to give up His life for our sins. And I felt like it was for my sins.

Then my friend said, “I’m goin’ home,” and he left. I paddled out and the waves went flat. As I sat out in the ocean I thought and thought about what had happened.

Maybe God really was trying to tell me something. I remembered another strange experience, this time at the Sawdust Festival in Laguna Beach. An old teammate from high school approached me saying, “How are you? God bless you!” Then he threw his arms around me in a bear hug and said, “I really love you.” I freaked out.

During high school this guy was probably the person I hated most in my life. He was about a foot taller than me and eighty pounds heavier and he got his kicks by beating people up – smashing them in the showers, stuffing them into trash cans. I was glad when he started taking drugs because he couldn’t do that anymore. He became so drugged out that he couldn’t even talk. Eventually, he moved to the North Shore of Hawaii, where he lived in a tree fort off a steady diet of LSD.

And there he was in front of me sharing how he’d become a Christian in a kind, intelligent way. I was conscious of people staring, so I tried to get away but he kept hugging me and wouldn’t let me go. Finally, I was so embarrassed that I shouted, “Get out of here; I don’t want to talk to you!”

What was making the changes in these people’s lives? I focused on my own life. I was 23-years-old, depressed, fearing the law and unable to sleep. Finally in desperation, one night in August 1974, I went into my sister’s bedroom, got down on my knees and prayed, “God, if you’re real, be real to me. And if you’re not, I don’t ever want to hear about Christianity again. I’m gonna slap every Christian’s face that I see.” And right then I felt Jesus literally step into the room, and reach right through my body into my heart. I started crying and crying. I felt like all my sins were lifted off me and I felt free. I couldn’t lift my face to look, but there was a glow in the room all around me and I felt like Christ was literally standing in the room. Then, I felt Him leave and I understood for the first time that Jesus was really God and a soothing peace fell upon me. I went to bed and slept like a baby for the first time in years.

From that moment on my life changed dramatically. I could sleep at night. I had peace and joy in my heart and my entire internal character had changed. I felt like I knew God and I wanted to please Him. Instantly, I stopped drinking, cussing and doing drugs. Instead of being bitter, wrathful and vindictive, I became more forgiving, loving and accepting.

My desires changed completely. I wanted to be a Christian and follow Christ. I wanted to go to Bible studies. I started going to my sister’s church on Wednesday nights, then Mondays, then Thursdays, then Sundays and pretty soon every night of the week. People were on fire for the Lord and lots of people were getting saved. Many hot surfers and people my age went there and I really felt at home. Shortly afterward, I moved into a house with six other Christian guys.

Today, I organize and host contemporary Christian rock concerts at Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa, California. I also lead several Bible studies throughout the week in between counseling and speaking engagements. Now the most important thing in my life is serving Christ. If it’s at Jack-in-the-Box, scrubbing floors, then that’s where I’ll be.

After all those wasted years I finally discovered what God had been trying to tell me all along and why He had allowed me to live when everyone else thought I would die. He loved me and sent His son to die for me so that I could know Him and spend eternity in heaven with Him. I only wish I had listened sooner.

God really loves you too and He wants to know you in a personal way. But you have to get right with God by praying and asking Jesus to come into your life and make you a new person. If you’re sincere, you’ll spend eternity with God in heaven. It’s a free gift, but you have to make the decision to accept it.

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