Sumner resident Ray Berto survived a chaotic childhood marked by abject poverty, abuse and neglect. His early adult years included drug usage, drinking and two failed marriages. He eventually found salvation through Jesus Christ and found a spiritual home in a Milton church. He describes his personal struggles and how he overcame them in his book "The Old Man and the New Man." The title refers to how Berto divides his life, the part before he was saved and the life he is living today.
The first chapter, "Childhood," describes the dysfunction and chaos of his early years. His father was an abusive alcoholic. Berto's early memories of his father are of him coming home drunk from the tavern in a mean mood. He describes in some detail the cruelty his father inflicted on him and his siblings, as well as their mother. His father spent most of his earnings on alcohol rather than on supporting his family, so relatives would bring food and clothing over for the children.
At age 4 Berto was living in an old trailer, along with some rats. Relatives informed authorities of the situation and the children were placed in foster homes. Berto recalls the strict, stark environment he spent two years in.
His parents divorced and his mother regained custody of the children. She married again soon after, a marriage that lasted about a year. The step-dad was no improvement over the biological one. When Berto was in second grade he and his brother were molested by this man. Someone informed the police of this. When the step-dad learned the children were being questioned at the police station he fled the state.
All through his early childhood Berto moved constantly around the Puget Sound region – Algona, Redmond, Auburn, Woodinville. By eighth grade he had an opportunity to be on the wresting team at school, but the abuse, poverty and frequent moves had taken their toll. He turned down the chance.
This makes a nice segue into chapter two, "Teen Years." He looks back on dabbling in sniffing glue and using marijuana and amphetamines. He got in trouble in school on numerous occasions and was kicked out of junior high for hitting a teacher.
He describes his first run-in with the law at age16 when he and some friends were caught breaking into a laundry. Soon after he moved in with the family of a friend. They were Catholics and took Berto to mass, apparently his first exposure to church attendance. He dropped out of school during his senior year.
The third chapter, "Marriage," examines Berto's first and second attempts at matrimony and what caused both to end in divorce. He was 20 when he married his first wife, who was just 16 and pregnant. They eventually had four children.
He met his second wife in a tavern and they married soon after. When that marriage was heading to divorce he began attending a church in Auburn and became a Christian.
Berto was working low-paying jobs, with much of his income going to child support. Berto includes Bible passages that have inspired him throughout the book. One in particular is among the more famous, from John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believith in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
Berto tried different churches in different denominations. He got confused by some churches that considered their theology perfect and that of other churches wrong. After much searching, Berto believes that God led him to Milton Assembly of God Church. The pastor, his wife and the congregation made Berto feel loved and accepted.
Berto told his ex-wives about his spiritual transformation. The first said she was happy for him but had no interest in getting religious herself. "My second wife said that I couldn't afford to put gas in my truck, so Jesus didn't really provide."
Berto spent several years away from dating. He met his current wife, Karen, while they worked in a factory in Kent. He examines how faith has strengthened their relationship as well as the challenges that many couples face in making their marriage work.
In chapter 11, "Denominations," Berto offers his view of the squabbling that exists among some Christian faiths. "Brethren, we must stop devouring one another, falsely accusing each other, backbiting, whispering, gossiping and such … brothers and sisters, this should not be. How can we shine for Jesus? What kind of example are we showing?" In "Epilogue" Berto describes the deaths of his parents, noting his father sought salvation shortly before passing away. Berto also describes a letter written by one of his sons that delves into their rocky relationship, with the son requesting forgiveness for some of his past actions.
Berto lists contact information for Faith Family Church on Milton Way on the back cover. One topic not explained is how he got involved with this particular church.
Berto has written a compelling story, revealing difficult times in his past that many people would not be comfortable including in a book. Christianity is clearly a key component of his life, one he wants others to know about.
Reviewed by John Larson