The untold story of Pastor Ray Ortlund’s beautiful home-going

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By Mark Ellis

Ray & Anne Ortlund

Ray Ortlund, a beloved pastor, author, and radio broadcaster — who touched the lives of many through small-group discipleship – bravely endured the complications of pulmonary fibrosis, an insidious lung disease that also claimed the life of Campus Crusade Founder Bill Bright.

Ray and wife Anne founded Renewal Ministries after he led two of the most prominent churches in Southern California.  Together they authored more than 25 books and traveled extensively throughout the world speaking on behalf of renewal and revival among God’s people.  For 19 years, Ray was the speaker for the “Haven of Rest” radio broadcast.

Ray went to be with Jesus on July 22, 2007. Five years after his home-going, his wife and daughter recount the untold story of the months and final days of his glorious life.

In the progression of pulmonary fibrosis, normal lung tissue is replaced by scar tissue, which causes the sufferer to slowly suffocate to death. “When these growths cover your lungs, the air is all around you but you can’t take it in,” notes Anne Ortlund. “It’s like drowning, a very hard way to go.”

Ray fought his disease at the same time Bill Bright suffered with the malady. ‘They talked about it over the phone,” Anne recalls. Bill encouraged Ray to seek the same therapy he was receiving in Florida, however, their disease had advanced far beyond what the therapy could offer. In the often difficult days before their passing, the two families shared encouragement and prayer.

In the last six months of his life, Ray periodically had 10 – 15 minute emergencies when he fought desperately to get air. “When those periods were over, more than once he said, ‘This is God’s gift to me.’”

In January 2007, Ray was invited to preach his final sermon at a church on the verge of a split. “The pastor had gone into heresy and he invited people to follow him after he was kicked out,” Anne recalls.

Ray, concerned about his breathing and physical stamina told Anne, “Pray I won’t cough when I’m preaching.”

In the service, Ray climbed the stairs as soon as his introduction began, so he could regain his breath before he began to speak.

“It was a powerful sermon about love in the body,” Anne recalls. “The Lord was so kind. He never coughed once and nobody left the church.”

“The Holy Spirit used that sermon to convict then that they needed to stay together.”

A month later, Ray suffered a stroke and a heart attack almost simultaneously. Because Anne was ill, daughters Sherry Harrah and Margie McClure had to make the decision to put a breathing tube down Ray’s throat.

“Due to the stroke, he couldn’t write. He couldn’t speak because of the tube,” Sherry recalls. “It was a very hard family time.” Ray — one of the great communicators of all time — was reduced  to conversing with a nod.

After nine days the breathing apparatus was removed. His vocal chords were damaged and he could only speak with great labor for about two months. One night, he woke up and told Anne; “Glory to God!” By God’s grace, his vocal chords healed and he was able to speak well until the day he went home with Christ.

One week before his passing, Ray and Anne had dinner with Sherry and her husband Walt. While Anne and Sherry were in the kitchen, Ray voiced an inner concern to Walt. “I’m dying,” he told Walt. “Mom doesn’t get it and she doesn’t want to get it. I need your help to make her believe that.”

“We had a heavy conversation at dinner about his death – he brought it up,” Sherry recalls. It was clear that Anne was struggling with the concept of life without her husband and best friend of more than sixty years.

After Anne voiced her concerns, Ray offered his calm assurance. “Anne,” Ray said wisely, “God will provide for you without me. This is a new reality.”

A few days later, Anne woke up abruptly to find Ray sitting on the edge of the bed, fighting for breath. “He was in such agony,” she recalls. She immediately called 911. A normal oxygen count in the blood is 100. When paramedics arrived, Ray’s count was 37.

He arrived at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, California on Thursday, and for the next two days, family members began to gather. “They didn’t know this was actually the end because he had been in and out of the hospital so many times,” Anne notes.

“I was alone with him and Ray started singing, ‘Shall we gather at the River.’ We sang it together – it was a precious moment.”

“Shall we gather at the river,

where bright angel feet have trod,

with its crystal tide forever

flowing by the throne of God?

“Yes, we’ll gather at the river,

the beautiful, the beautiful river;

gather with the saints at the river

that flows by the throne of God.”

When Anne left the room, Ray shared some inner fears with his nurse, Patrick.

He conveyed that he had another friend, besides Bill Bright, who had pulmonary fibrosis and that his death was agonizingly painful. He told Patrick that he did not want to go that way. “I want my family to be around me and I want to be in my right mind.”

Ray made it clear he wanted no drastic measures to prolong his life. He emphatically refused the insertion of another breathing tube.

“With the Lord being my helper, I promise I’ll keep you comfortable,” Patrick said.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, the Lord impressed on Ray’s heart that it was time. He awakened abruptly at 4:00 a.m. and called for Patrick. “I’m going,” he said with certainty. “Phone my Anne and tell her to come and tell the children to come.”

“There were eight of us around the bed and we had three hours of the most precious time,” Anne says. Ray sat up and Patrick removed the oxygen mask from his face so he could talk.

“We would give verses of Scripture and we sang hymns,” Anne says. “We remembered things that happened in the family and would thank each other.”

Ray stayed true to his calling to the very end. “Ray was leading it all like a pastor leading a service,” Anne recalls. “He was really in charge.”

“We sang everything we knew – ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’ and even ‘Jesus Loves me.’”

“Like Jacob, Ray went around the room from one person to the next and gave an admonition and a benediction.” With tears flowing freely, each member of the family kissed him or held his hand.

He came to Anne last, who sat next to him. He looked at her as she held his hand, “Obey your children,” he said.

In the final moments of Ray’s life on earth, the family recited in unison the Aaronic benediction, found in the Book of Numbers, chapter six:

“The Lord bless you and keep you;

The Lord make His face shine upon you,

And be gracious to you;

The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,

And give you peace.”

Then Ray said by himself, “Amen and amen.”

At that moment, he looked up and raised his hand, as if greeting the Lord. His head fell gently forward on his chest and he slept, not to wake again on this earth.

“When he said ‘Amen’ his head dropped forward and he was with the Lord,” Anne says. “His death was as glorious as his life.”

“It felt like such a gift from the Lord and a gift from daddy to bless us in the way he did,” Sherry says. “He died as he lived his life. He was always thinking of the Lord and of others and trying to connect the two.”

“He was being who he always was, loving the Lord and loving on us.”

 

24 COMMENTS

  1. The last time I saw Ray was in 2005 when my wife, my youngest son and I ran into them at the Honolulu International Airport. They were just returning from ministering in Southeast Asia, and we had just arrived to start a vacation. I did not know Ray well, having only met him a few times when he was a guest preacher at Lake Avenue Church, since we came to the church after his 20 year ministry there had ended. Nevertheless, we had been in a small group with his son and daughter-in-law, Nels and Heather, and he never forgot me for that connection. He was so gracious and energetic, even though it was clear he was tired from the traveling. Anne was equally bright and loving. They were a couple who pastored wherever they went, and it was a memorable meeting notwithstanding its brevity.

    • Thank you, Ortlund family, for this encouragement by example. Karen Butler has written well –
      “We need to be reminded about the Christian tradition of ‘dying well’, and Ray Ortlund has certainly gone before us and modeled it beautifully.”

  2. I was nineteen when “Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman” was released and it impacted me so. I felt I knew the whole Ortlund family through Anne’s humerous and inspiring books. I devoured them all and used them for women’s groups, as a young pastor’s wife. Even my website, on the about me page, mentions Anne Ortlund, because she has been such a spiritual influence in my life. I’ve always wanted to write her a letter and tell her the ways she impacted my direction, and about the people I’ve been able to disciple, including my own 5 grown children (all serving Jesus!) and now 7 grandchildren.
    Oh my goodness – the rest of the story, a glorious home-going. I LOVE the altars the Ortlunds build and invite the rest of us to gather round and worship there with them. This story is beautiful, hopeful, joyous. I mainly “knew Ray Ortlund” through his wife’s greatly honoring eyes and heart in her books, and all she ever said was true and more. What Sherry said at the end of the article – I truly pray can be said of me someday. Beautiful!

  3. Ray spoke once on radio about parenting being a task that is rarely praised and honored. I think Ray meant at the time when we often have to discipline our children. Ray was a godly man. His son taught many of us at Trinity EVANG
    DIV School in Deerfield, IL I had to read ANNE’s book for missionary training. Ray’s son, Ray, Jr., told me once, “YES!” , when I asked him
    if he listened to his dad’s radio program. ONLY GOD knows the impact of the Ortland family on the nations, as they honored CHRIST. JOHN 14:6

  4. I am moved beyond words to read this story of Ray’s suffering before his home going. I had the great honor to be in Ray’s covenant group during 1988 and was changed from that 10 months together. His service at St. Andrews on the warm summer day in 2007 will not soon be forgotten. It was not about the details in this story but about Ray’s love for the Savior and his life sold out for Jesus. It seems that no higher honor could be paid to a person than testimonies of Ray’s life of faith from his family that day.
    Glory to God

  5. Having been discipled every Tuesday evening about 11 years ago by Anne, I knew the Ortlunds well. I had no idea just how much Ray suffered at the end of his time here on earth. I wept when I read this. Thank you so much for a life so well lived. You both have made such a difference to me and my husband. Thank you for sharing.

  6. All I could do was sit and cry. . .over Ray’s homegoing. What a beautiful recounting of his last days on this earth. We shall forever be indebted to his leadership and faithfulness in the Body of Christ.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story of life that was truly for Gods glory! It’s been so encouraging and so touching to read this and see clearly Gods work and power in Ray’s life. Soli Deo Gloria! I’ve met you family through reading “The Gentle Ways of the Beautiful Woman” and so thankful to God for such an opportunity. Thank you Anne so much for such wonderful books, for showing me true beauty of life in Christ and using your life and your commitment to Christ to show me true values of life. I’m a young mom of 7 month baby and so thankful God allowed me to read your books now and apply Gods principles in my life. Thank you again.

  8. Precious! May God be praised!
    I knew him through the writings of Mrs. Ortlund, who is my spiritual mentor. . . tho we only met once, but corresponded a few times. What a gift your books are to me! One day on the other side, we will all rejoice together!

  9. I have read Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman and grew to love Anne! I wanted to google her I now have information of her husband and family. I so much loved their testimony of their life together with God centered happiness. How wonderful that they have touched so many lives. I wish all marriages could know the joy of knowing God and have Him the center of their marriages. Thank you for sharing!

  10. I grew up at Lake Avenue Congregational Church from cradle to college. Pastor Ortlund was the only Pastor I knew even tho it was from afar. I remember thinking, he is the one that is friends with Jesus. He goes and talks with Him during the week while I am at school, then he comes back to church every Sunday and tells us what they talked about. He was so gentle. I remember he and Pastor Jacobs waking together, they both had a very distinct walk. I respected both these men as just a little girl. I hold wonderful memories and am forever grateful for the respect and honor they both taught me at an early age. I never knew how he was taken home. I am so touched to have read this. Thank you for sharing this, even many years later it touches me and brings back wonderful childhood memories of Pastor Ray.
    Thanks,
    Faith Jacobs

  11. I was so touched by this short story, that I am still wiping away the tears. I remember Brother Ray Ortlund’s radio broadcast when I first arrived in California from Pennsylvania in 1983. It was a joy to listen to such a man of God! We reside now in southest Florida (Naples)…..Thank you for sharing!!

  12. Ann’s book “Disciplines of a Beautiful Woman” was on our “free” bookshelf in the church library. Written years ago, it will always be timely and very helpful! Will certainly pass this book on for other women to glean from Ann’s teachings.

  13. I have just rejoiced in such a beautiful home going celebrations that has ever been told, and didn’t even have to book a air flight to be there in person. I feel like I’ve known them both for so long. Thank you God for sharing with us two of the most beautiful jewels that have ever been made.
    See you at the top!

  14. I remember listening to the Haven of Rest laying on the floor by the radio in the family room when I was a child. Every time I heard the program I would ask Jesus to save me. The lonely sound of the ships bells made me think of being lost in eternity without God. Thank you brother Ray for your faithful service to Jesus. Now you are resting from your labors.

  15. I remember Ray and Haven of Rest as one of the finest Christian programs EVER on broadcast radio. He is greatly missed. Our prayers and condolences to his family and near friends. I just want to add that I and my wife are missionaries here the Philippines for some 25 years now; we still listen to Haven with Ray Ortlund via some old cassette tape recordings, and every time we listen to Ray and The Haven Quartet it is a blessing and encouragement in the LORD.

    • Thanks for your message. You can lift up prayers for Ray’s wife, Anne. She has bone cancer and is not doing well, physically.
      Spiritual and mentally, she is still remarkable, a true inspiration, like her husband.

  16. Thank-you for the articles and interviews you have shared with us about the Ortlunds, Mark Ellis! I read via Twitter that Anne Ortlund died today and what a loss for the Body of Christ, the family of God she so loved and discipled to be like Jesus. She impacted my life powerfully through her books and I am so grateful that the stories of spiritual giants like these are still around to be told and learned from!

  17. I just finished reading The Presence by Ray and Anne Ortlund and WOW! I decided to look up their bios online and found this amazing article! I was totally humbled. Thank you for sharing this. May the Lord continue to use these two mightily, as He is! To Him be all the glory. What a great God we serve, in life and in death!

  18. I only knew Ray Sr. through listening to the Haven of Rest while in late high school and college. Ray’s encouragement helped me and my family through the most difficult times of our family. His messages on forgiveness and grace helped me help my family through this time when I didn’t know how to help them in my young faith. Now, as a father of three, hearing how died, leading his family in blessing, praise and support I am again helped by his example and love for the Lord.

  19. I remember back in 1982, 83, and 84..
    I was stationed at GFAFB in North Dakota. And being a native of Los Angeles, CA., felt very out of place. It was a lonely time, and I had recommitted my life to the Lord.
    …Were it not for listening to Ray Ortland and the Haven of Rest radio broadcast everyday at noon during my lunch break- in the car, with below zero temperatures, I would have probably gone AWOL.
    God bless you, Family Ortland .
    Rob

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