Twin City native and current Statesboro resident Ray Braddy has found a unique way to share his faith. He shares with people all over the globe - folks he's never met face-to-face - without leaving his living room. How?
"Xbox Live; playing games online," he said, with only the slightest hint of a smile.
"I used to hunt or fish, but I don't have any hobbies left, except for spending time with my wife, Melanie, enjoying our empty nest," Braddy said.
He said he used to play games online a long time ago, but his interest piqued again once his children left the home.
"According to something I read, 26 percent of people who play Xbox Live are 50 and above," said Braddy, who is 55.
"As I've gotten older and wiser, I've come to realize that a lot of broken people spend a great deal of time playing online games," he said. "The ministry opportunities abound. I don't preach or lecture. I'm just there as an ear to listen, to give my thoughts."
Braddy said one of the first opportunities he had to share his faith while talking with one of his playing buddies took place with a 35-year-old Seattle, Washington, online game player.
"His life is kind of a wreck - drinking, drugs," Braddy said. "He asked me one time if I'd seen some cartoon where they talked about Jesus, and when I told him 'no,' he replied, 'I think Jesus is going to be OK with me. I mean, I haven't killed anybody. I'm a pretty good guy.'"
Braddy said his heart quickened as he realized this was his opportunity to share the gospel with "G," as his online friend was nicknamed.
"Jesus is not a hippie, dancing around in a garden saying all you gotta do is love, G. His is a perfect love, and he wants our highest, our best. I used to be you, G. You're missing the mark."
G then asked the question Braddy was hoping he would: "Well, how do you get to heaven?"
"I chose to go straight to the heart of the matter," Braddy said, and he responded to his friend, "G, Jesus said nobody goes to heaven unless they're born again. It's a matter of surrendering to God. Stop fighting. You don't have to get all this perfect. That's the bottom floor, the first step - surrender."
Braddy said he admitted to his gaming friend that he didn't have it all figured out for himself, either, but said he'd willingly walk through the journey with him.
"We're flawed - we'll do this together," he told him.
Braddy's ease of sharing the gospel has morphed over the years.
"In the past, I used the Bible as a hammer. People didn't hear me when I talked to them that way," he said.
Through his own family trial, Braddy had to come to a point of total surrender, too.
"I grew up in church, drifted some in college, but was back in church as a family man," he said. "But I didn't have the personal relationship with Christ that I should."
Helping his son
When Braddy's teenage son struggled with an issue that led to time in a juvenile detention center, Braddy didn't know what to do.
"I prayed. I had the support of family members, friends and my church," he said. "I didn't have the answers. I told Melanie, my wife, that I'd support whatever decision she made about the situation with RJ."
Braddy said that five words from his wife caught him off guard: "I need you to lead."
"It drove me to my knees," he said. "I prayed, 'I gotta believe your word in Romans 8:28, God, that in all things, you work for the good of those who love you and have been called according to your purpose. I'm going to hold on to that, even if the worst happens. I will get up off my knees and praise you.'
"I gave my son to God at that moment, and I meant it," Braddy said.
It took some time, much prayer and a year-long Teen Challenge program for RJ, but the family - Ray, who is completing his 33rd year with EM-Co Metal Products in Twin City; wife Melanie, who is a registered nurse; RJ, who works in Jacksonville, Florida, with a private security agency; and Megan, a freshman at Georgia Southern University - is on the other side of the difficulty and thriving.
"My marriage and family are stronger than they've ever been," Braddy said. "Melanie and I have grown closer; we've molded together."
RJ has accompanied his dad on a couple of occasions for Braddy to give his testimony.
That difficulty and Braddy's total surrender to God changed the way he shares the gospel and the ease in which he does so.
Guido Bible College
Braddy said that the family trials brought him to a personal relationship with God, but his studies at Guido Bible College in Metter solidified his understanding of the Bible. Braddy completed the four-year Biblical Studies program at the college and later became a board member.
"I used to think I had to be a preacher to know what to say, to share the gospel," he said. "I wasn't relying on the Holy Spirit to lead me in conversations. But my willingness now, that's the difference in the equation.
"Whatever you're doing, it can be a ministry. You don't have to be a preacher. Whatever you're doing, ministry opportunities abound."
Referring to Romans 10:14, Braddy said: "How are they gonna hear? How are they gonna hear without a preacher? That's the verse, but the word is a verb, not a noun. It's an action, not a pastor. We read that verse and we default to a pastor.
"But no matter what you're doing, it can be a ministry," he said.
In Braddy's case, it's playing Xbox Live games with men all over the globe who hunger for the love and word of God.