I’ll never forget meeting Ravi for the first time.
Before I met him in person, I had been following his work. As a budding missiologist, I appreciated watching a modern-day apologist deftly leverage his platform to unify instead of polarize. It was intriguing and refreshing to hear a voice speak truth drenched in grace.
I especially appreciated Ravi’s ability to help us make sense of the headlines, especially global. He was able to infuse timeless truths into what was happening in the world on a daily basis. Somehow, even though he was imparting deep insights, he was able to make them feel relevant and timely.
It was in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida where I finally met Ravi in person. He was speaking to a group of businessmen, and I marveled at how a Christian apologist was able to completely engage them in his communication. I thought to myself, “What an incredible leadership trait.” It’s one I’ve been working on ever since. It’s harder than you would think, but Ravi had such a thorough understanding of a wide and diverse range of people that he could adapt to any audience.
After he spoke, I had a chance to have a conversation with him. We talked about my work with OneHope, reading the Bible, and the power of Scripture as the primary tool of evangelism, particularly among youth.
My next interaction with Ravi was at a conference in Russia, where we were both keynote speakers. It was there that I realized his exceptional ability to speak into the Western Church as well as the global Church like no one else ever had before. Born in India, Ravi had the rare experience to, “arrive into the world swimming in religion.” 1 This gave him the gravitas to speak hard truths from a depth of understanding, and we were able to accept them because we all loved and respected his unique and cultivated point of view.
Ravi understood that his background was merely a training ground for his work in the Kingdom. Later reflecting on his incredible conversion story after a failed suicide attempt in his teens, Ravi mused, “Only now do I fully understand what it meant to be immersed in a culture of religion without asking questions, yet encountering Jesus Christ, who rescues us from the illusion of religion to the promise and hope of receiving life from our Creator and Savior.” 2
When I was Chair of the Board at ORU, we invited Ravi to speak at graduation because we wanted the next generation to experience an apologist expertly model powerful, timely, and relevant communication. He didn’t disappoint. Ravi shared deep biblical truth with the graduates, but he didn’t lead with it and he didn’t compromise. He was an apologist and Bible scholar, yes, but also incredibly capable of positioning his point in a real and tangible way to these students.
As a global missiologist, I am thankful for the incredible work he did to educate us on other religions. Ravi’s approach was so Christ-like, in that he wanted you to understand the other person and see the image-beared in them so you understood you didn’t have to agree with their beliefs, but you did have to be respectful of them.
“In certain strands of evangelicalism, we sometimes think it is necessary to so humiliate someone of a different worldview that we think unless we destroy everything he holds valuable, we cannot preach to him the gospel of Christ…what I am saying is this, when you are trying to reach someone, please be sensitive to what he holds valuable.” 3
Much of Ravi’s legacy work equips every one of us to be able to have an educated, healthy, and hearty dialogue with a person of any religion. His legacy is that of teaching us how to retain our orthodoxy without becoming pluralist. We need this now more than ever.
Ravi, while we will miss you immensely on this earth, I am so thankful for your life and legacy. I have learned so much from you, countless souls have learned so much from you. You studied Jesus, you knew Him, taught about Him, and now you are just beginning your precious time with the living God you loved and served so well during your time on this earth. I will miss you my friend, Ravi, and look forward to reunion day.
3 From Ravi Zacharias’s appeal at Billy Graham’s first International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists