Pic: Ravi and his son, Nathan, at our home
Once again, we have the privilege to hear from Ravi Zacharias via an interview I did with him. Though done years ago, his answers are timeless, interesting, and applicable for us. This time, we take personal and insightful look into his life and ministry.
For those of you who missed Part 1, Click Here . Ravi was a precious friend and hero who has had an immeasurable impact in my life as well as thousands of others. He was widely considered as the finest and most impactful Christian apologist/evangelist in the world before his passing on May 19, 2020.
We have used the last two weeks to honor his life and legacy and to help inspire you to have a greater perspective on life and your calling in Christ:
Ravi: A Poetical Sketch – A Tribute to Ravi Zacharias by Daniel Hsieh
Enjoy and glean from this titan of the faith! – Arthur
Arthur: You said at Founders Weekend (an annual weekend retreat for close friends of the ministry), with respect to the ministry, that God gave you a vision without giving you omniscience. I knew what you were saying because if you really knew what lay ahead, in your human mind, you would have been overwhelmed and felled before you even started. But what was it that you did see? I’m sure you never envisioned the grandness of the impact that RZIM (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries) would have. What was it that you were looking to do when you started the ministry?
Ravi: The need. I saw the need . That’s about all I could see . . . that the need was incredibly vast to reach the mind and that we were going to be committed. What I did see in my mind were university open forums, businessmen’s luncheons, international conferences where we are reaching the thinker; and so I very clearly envisioned these audiences coming in large numbers to listen to a defense of the Christian faith but I did not envision, say, the growth of the radio ministry, the growth of our team, . . . the marvelous opportunities that have come are extraordinary. I mean we have a full time staff of 18 here (Atlanta), 14 or 15 in Madras (India), and now with Oxford (England), and Canada . . . we have contained growth in our planning. We have made every effort to limit growth.
[Note: It was in 1984 that Zacharias founded RZIM, which today has 16 offices throughout the world in the United States, Canada, Peru, Kenya, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Austria, Spain, Romania, Macedonia, Turkey, Singapore, Hong Kong, India, and the Middle East. Through its global team of more than 90 full-time speakers and nearly 300 employees worldwide, RZIM seeks to impact the heart and intellect of society’s thinkers and influencers through evangelism, apologetics, spiritual disciplines, training, and humanitarian support.]
Arthur: That’s a new approach! Everyone else seems to strive to do it the other way (i.e. strive for growth rather than limit it).
Ravi: (chuckling) This is the truth. People sort of chuckle at it in our meetings but I think one of the most difficult decisions in life is to know when you are at your maximum and not to go wider but to go deeper.
Arthur: That’s something I came away with at Founders. Let me tell you that that has been so profound in my life. Not only the messages but the people I was around . . . talking to different people and listening to the testimonies, I was there humbled . . . It was kind of scary for me because I had never thought in such grand and deep terms. It seemed that everyone I was meeting had that kind of deeper vision for ministry. I was kind of scared because I think, as you would say, Aslan is on the move; something was going on in my heart, like I was approaching a next step [in my spiritual life] or something. That was so enriching. We appreciate that (being included) very much.
Ravi: I appreciate that, Arthur. That was a special weekend, no doubt.
Arthur: Back to the ministry, how did it come about that the vision came to mind. [Weren’t] you in the business world before you were in ministry? How did God bring you to this point?
Ravi: When I came to Canada (from his homeland, India), I worked in the hotel industry. I trained in catering technology and hotel management. My whole goal was to be in the hospitality and hotel industry. I enjoyed that very much and still miss it a lot because I like the hospitality industry, my focus mainly being food and beverage management; but after working in it for two years, there was no doubt in my mind, that as each day was going by, God’s voice was getting clearer and clearer. By that I don’t mean an audible voice but a tug at the heart to get myself into theological training and into ministry because that was where I was most fulfilled – in sharing my testimony or speaking to audiences. It was very obvious to me where it was going but I just did not know what form it would take. I knew it was going to be ministry but I didn’t know whether it would be as a missionary or an evangelist. I just did not understand those terms very well, coming from India. . . . I finished my undergrad and then worked full time for the Christian Missionary Alliance (CMA) for one year. I then felt I needed graduate level education in philosophy if I was to truly wrestle with the questions people were asking. I did my graduate level work at Trinity and after that became a professor for the Alliance . . . When I finally left the professorship to form RZIM, it was with the goal of reaching the thinker and training men and women to be able to think again for the glory of God.
Arthur: Going back to [your early life], you were converted in India. You said you were very sick or something?
Ravi: Well, I was on a bed of suicide when I was 17.
Arthur: Oh, that’s right. Was it really that meaningless or seemingly so at that point?
Ravi: I think so because of the kind of culture in which I lived. There’s a lot of pressure to do well in your studies and if you’re not going to do well, there’s no hope.
Arthur: The Chinese kids that I work with have a strong feeling of that.
Ravi: Exactly. I talk to them here at Georgia Tech. I’ve had them come to the office. A Chinese youngster understands that very well [and] an Indian youngster understands it very well. There’s a great similarity because of the size of our nations and the emphasis that is placed on scholarship, and then limited opportunities . . . it’s not good enough to do well, you have to be at the top of your class. That’s the pressure. If you don’t make it, there’s a lot of shame.
Arthur: That’s right. So, you said your mother brought the Word in to you?
Ravi: Yes, somebody brought a Bible into the hospital room – a friend of mine whom I didn’t know that well – and he gave her John 14 to read to me. In the hospital room, when she read it, that’s when [I made my commitment]. I had heard the gospel before but I didn’t have full understanding of the terms.
Arthur: When she was reading the words, did something happen?
Ravi: When she came to the verse when Jesus said, “Because I live, you shall live also” I said, “Lord, I don’t know exactly what this means but if this means that You’re the giver of life, then I want it, and I want Your life because the life I have I do not want. I will leave no stone unturned in pursuit of truth if You will just change my life for me.
Arthur: Afterward, then, was there an immediate difference?
Ravi: Yes, an incredible difference. I left the hospital room a brand new man. I got involved in Bible studies with Youth for Christ and they became my nurturing agent really.
Arthur: You told me in your letter to me last year that you thought the Chinese people had a special role in God’s plan in the next century. What did you mean by that?
Ravi: Well, I think they are a very, very uniquely gifted people. If you look at the Chinese culture, there’s almost nothing, in terms of human capacity, that they as a culture do not possess. [They are] incredible artists, very competitive in athletics, very gifted musically. They know the diligence of thinking [and] scholarship – the Chinese scholar and so on. They’re very, very gifted in business acumen and learning to make the best out of difficult situations. They have an incredible survival instinct . . . through thick and thin, somehow they have managed to keep the home fires burning. There’s a lot of courage in Chinese culture . . . If the gospel takes hold in China, I have no doubt that they will be the agents of change in the twenty first century . . . the key is going to be how the gospel takes root.
Arthur: Are there any plans for RZIM to (minister in China)?
Ravi: I think so, Arthur, I think so. We generally wait for things to come about naturally; we seldom construct a specific plan but the way God has opened up doors for us in the past, I think something will happen because of the impact we had in Hong Kong and in Singapore.
Arthur: In your last statement here, what is your life’s passion or purpose?
Ravi: Oh, to receive the divine accolade, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant”; I think to win the applause of God rather than anything else; that God would be pleased with my life, that is my goal without a doubt.
Arthur: Ravi, this has been a great time for me. Thank you so much!
Ravi: Oh, I appreciate that, Arthur. We appreciate you, too, very much. Give our love to Sandra . . . and thank you for taking the time. It’s good to talk to you again.
Arthur: You and your family have a great Christmas.
Ravi: You too, my brother. The Lord bless you.