Ralph Burden – Saved by a Bus!

Ralph’s family were typical British ‘nominal’ Christians. 

“We attended church if there was a wedding, a Christening or a funeral. My parents also sent us to an Anglican junior school because it was renowned to be ‘a good school.’ Apart from that, my parents, my sister and I had just a vague concept of what it is to be a Christian, and it was based upon the fact that the country we were born in (England) was known as a ‘Christian country.’ “

Miracles

But extraordinary things can happen to ordinary people. At six years old, Ralph contracted a rare form of Sepsis, a serious blood infection with a mere 3% survival rate for young children back in the 1960’s. The symptoms were very alarming. He could not eat, suffered severe pain, and became very weak. Despite examinations by two experienced doctors, they did not initially detect what was wrong, but a newly qualified GP, Dr Nancy Watts, noticed a strange rash and asked a senior physician from the hospital to see him. He came straight away, and her fears were conformed, it was Sepsis. Immediate hospitalisation and treatment with a high dose of antibiotics were essential for any chance of survival. With a death rate of 97%, partly due to the difficulty in detecting the disease, getting through this would be something of a miracle.

“My Grandmother was a Christian and people said she was ‘always at church.’ She was praying for me, and no doubt her church (St Aldhelm’s) would have been as well. I attended the church school, and my teacher Miss House was also a Christian. and my Mother’s sister and family in the USA were devoted Catholics, so I reckon a lot of prayer was going up for me! It was said at the time that it was “amazing”, and “miraculous” how this young doctor spotted what was wrong with me when the experienced doctors had missed it. The power of prayer, Divine intervention, and the perception of this outstanding General Practitioner saved my life. It seemed that God had a reason to keep me alive when so few children survived this condition.” 

This was the first of of a number of extraordinary incidents which changed Ralph’s entire understanding of the physical world. As he grew up, Ralph began to realise that there is also a spiritual world, and a God who loves us all.

“The next miracle episode happened a decade years later when I was sixteen. Riding my bicycle into the town centre, I experienced something which was quite uncanny. I was waiting in a traffic queue near the kerbside on a busy main road in the town centre.  There was no space to cycle inside of the queue of cars as cyclists often do. The road curved to the left as it approached the town centre roundabout.  A huge 30 ton articulated lorry stopped beside me.  As it began to move forward with the traffic, something, or someone (I later realised it was God) ‘spoke’ a warning – deep inside of me. ‘Spoke’ is the nearest I can get to a description as it was a strong, urgent impression deep down inside. I knew that I had to move immediately off the road and onto the pavement. I somehow just knew that it was crucial that I acted straight away. I leaped off my bike and dragged it with me onto the pavement. A second later the wheels of the articulated lorry ploughed through exactly where I had been, even mounting the pavement/sidewalk. Had I not obeyed and moved, I would have been killed instantly.” 

Saved ‘from’ and ‘by’ a Bus!

Just two years later, Ralph was again saved from a disastrous accident.

“By the time I was eighteen I rode a trials motorcycle both on and off road. Just as I had loved on and off road cycling, I now transferred that passion to motorbikes. It was around two years after the bicycle incident when I skidded in the winter snow and was sent hurtling at high speed directly in front of a large red bus full of passengers. I likely took the left turning into the side road too fast for the icy road conditions, but I really wasn’t thinking of the dangers. As I skidded around the corner and shot across to the wrong side of the road, the bus was almost upon me. I knew that we would collide head on in another second. Instinctively, I yelled out, ‘Oh God, Jesus, help me!’ And he did – immediately! One second the bus was bearing down on me, the next moment I had hit the kerbside and had come to a stop on the opposite side of the road. How can anyone explain that? It was a miracle, an impossibility in human terms. I knew that this was a supernatural event, a divine answer to my desperate prayer, and I was safe.”

Every Person is Important to God

“People often say that time goes very slowly in near-death situations, but for me, I was moved out of harm’s way in an instant. I knew that God had again intervened supernaturally to save me. As I sat there recovering from the shock, I was shaken up and my heart was racing. My mind was running through the fact that I was so close to being killed. I finally woke up to reality. There is a God, and he had warned me two years prior to this that I was about to be crushed by a huge lorry. I realised that God had engineered events to save me as a six-year-old, and now He had just saved my life for the third time in twelve years. Like many people, I considered myself pretty insignificant, but God showed me in an instant that every individual is significant to him. He showed me that he was most certainly interested in little old me!”

Ralph had been attending a Baptist church youth group and the teachings of Jesus Christ had been gradually changing him. He asked Christ to come into his life, and began attending church regularly on Sundays. He had been praying and reading the Bible a little haphazardly, but he now began to take it all more seriously.

“In the Book of Jeremiah in the Bible it says;

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5), and

“For I know the plansI have for you,” declares theLord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.’ “ (Jeremiah 29, 11-13)

Ralph writes that God showed him that there was a specific plan for his life. In fact, God has a plan for every person’s life, but the gift of free will means that many miss God’s plans for them because they do not believe, pray and read the instruction manual (the Bible). Ralph sees life as an intended partnership with God.

He has given us all free will. His plans for us are good, but we face a spiritual enemy who wants to ruin our lives, even to kill us! Later, God ‘called’ me to start an international outreach ministry. Within a few years it was reaching over one million people every year.  God also clearly showed my wife and I that we were to move to New Zealand. I then realised the significance of Jeremiah 1 verse 5 and how it applied to us quite literally.” 

Musical Ambitions and God’s Faithfulness

At sixteen, Ralph purchased both a second-hand bass guitar and a six-string electric guitar with money earned in part-time job stacking supermarket shelves on Friday evenings and Saturdays. He had some lessons on the bass guitar and taught himself to play the six-string electric.

As a child, I learned some keyboard basics on my Grandmother’s piano, and a young guy who lived in her road showed me some basic beats on his drums. I purchased my old Hofner bass guitar from a second-hand shop about three miles from my home and I cycled home with the instrument attached to my bicycle crossbar and the guitar neck sticking right out the back! It must have looked quite comical because it was difficult to cycle with my legs straining around the guitar to reach the pedals. It was when I was playing bass that I was asked to join a ‘proper’ band playing in pubs, so I stuck with the bass as my main instrument at first.”

A friend who was in a band was impressed when he heard Ralph playing the bass and he was asked to join a local blues/rock group. The number of gigs and size of audience began to grow until the band was offered a weekly residency spot in a popular family pub. But by now, he was attending church on Sunday mornings and the residency was an hour’s drive away with a Sunday lunchtime slot. The timing was all wrong. The band were excited to take the offer, but Ralph knew he had to choose between the music and worshipping God.

“Church did not finish until midday. There was no way I could get to the pub and to set up in time. Unfortunately it just couldn’t work for me. As I was now the main singer, it meant we couldn’t do the gig unless they got someone else in, and they didn’t want to do that. It was a difficult decision, but I knew I had to choose between God and the music in this instance. I loved the music and didn’t want to hurt the guys, but I also knew I had to put God first. He had saved my life, literally, and I had now given my whole heart to him. I just couldn’t do both on a Sunday morning — but I can’t pretend I was not sorely tempted.”

Although the band continued to play together, tensions were developing. Eventually the band broke up. Ralph took a break for a few weeks. He was already writing songs with long-term friend Mark Barnett, who was also a Christian and also guitar and bass. They soon drafted in two more musicians and formed a new band to play their own songs. This was 1980 when new wave/retro style music was popular. So, it was decided. The music would be contemporary but the song lyrics would have a clear Christian slant.

God is faithful. Within a year, the new band were playing to bigger (mainly secular) audiences and were gaining a local following. They won a prize for the best new band and came second overall at the Wessex area music contest, and were soon playing to packed pubs and clubs. Ralph realised that God never lets us down when we put him first.

Jesus said, ‘But seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” People who had seen us play would stop me in the street, and it felt good to be noticed. I thought I was doing ok, but in those alone times that we all have, I had to admit that despite all of the fun I was actually still not satisfied. I was, in some ways, still sitting on the fence. I did love God and had given my life to him, but the music was almost a god to me as well. Something had to change. I knew I needed to get closer to God, so I started to pray more seriously and concentrate more on reading the Bible.”

Eventually, music took a definite second place and God became a very definite first. When that happened, things started to fall into place.

“I had a few relationships with girls, but I hadn’t found that special one. So, I prayed. I had seen married couples who were not compatible and I did not want that. I wanted God’s choice for me, but only if that was what he wanted. I said to God that if he wanted me to be single, if I could serve him better that way, then I was prepared to accept his will. But I asked that he give me the ability to cope with being alone if that was his plan for me. I sensed strongly that I would end up in some kind of Christian work, and I really wanted a wife alongside me, but more than anything I wanted to serve God. It was as if he just wanted me to be fully surrendered to him. A few months after I prayed that prayer, I met Heather. I knew almost immediately that she was God’s choice, and she knew that I was God’s choice for her.  

Since that time Ralph has been more clearly aware of God’s plan for his life and his constant presence each day. He married Heather, and they went into full-time Christian ministry shortly after the birth of their first child.

“There have been some big challenges, especially when we first stepped out ‘in faith’ and went into Christian ministry. There certainly is a devil and he has made sure life has been really tough at times, but there is a fantastic promise in the bible that I have found to be so very true. Jesus said: I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33)That is such a fabulous promise. We all get challenges, problems and some big disappointments in life. But Jesus promised to help us through them all if we will trust him. I don’t know how I would have survived without Jesus in my life, he is just amazing. I also thank God for four people who had such an influence on me as a teenager. My school friends Dave Chapman, Mark Barnett and Andrew Leakey, who all helped me to find Jesus; and Youth Leader Pete Cuthbert who faithfully prayed for me for many years. My sister met Pete soon after I had become a Christian and he told her that he had consistently prayed for me because I was the most disruptive one in the youth group. I had no idea! I thought I was pretty good! Pete said that he prayed, ‘If you can save Ralph then you can save anybody!’ God answered, and from that point on Pete was convinced that God can save literally anyone who is willing to respond to him.”

Ralph continues to write songs, play and record music, and to write articles and books. His dabbling in a number of instruments and previous work in rock groups, an acoustic duo, and church worship teams served as a good apprenticeship for the years he spent working as a Musician in Residence in UK prisons for the Christian organisation Changing Tunes.

WATCH Ralph Burden: ‘Without You’

Ralph’s music is available on Spotify, Apple Music, and other major streaming services, and on Youtube.

 

Spotify link: https://open.spotify.com/artist/2BgwPmnylFGs6sIioLhxwa

Website: www.ralphburden.com

No Coincidence is available from Amazon –  books

 

photo-6               no_coincidence

* above photos:  (1) 2015 album ‘Get Ready’,  (ii) book cover for ‘No Coincidence’

* feature photo: Ralph playing at a charity concert (for Prison work) in Bristol, UK, 2010.

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