BRIAN BASHAM, HOST: Today is Wednesday, May 20th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Brian Basham.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: remembering Ravi Zacharias.
ZACHARIAS: May I please close in prayer? One day we will all stand before you, and Lord, I have absolutely no doubt—we will be silent. Because everything about you will transcend anything we could say.
That’s Zacharias speaking at the Passion Conference in Atlanta earlier this year. The well-known Christian apologist, author, and broadcaster died Tuesday morning at his home in Atlanta. He was 74.
BASHAM: His family announced earlier this month that Zacharias would be suspending treatment of the cancer first discovered in March.
News of his imminent death brought tributes from all around the globe. WORLD correspondent Katie Gaultney has this remembrance.
KATIE GAULTNEY, REPORTER: Well-wishers included Christian musician Matt Redman and Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the Minister of Tolerance for the United Arab Emirates, among many others. Well-known Christian athlete Tim Tebow reflected on Zacharias’ impact in an emotional video posted to Twitter.
TEBOW: He is an absolute inspiration, a hero of the faith. He will absolutely be in the hall of faith…
Zacharias was born in Chennai, in southeastern India, but around age 4, he moved with his family to Delhi, where he grew up. He was often physically and verbally abused. That led him to develop a sense of worthlessness. His parents considered their family Christian, but Zacharias said he was “without any spiritual instruction.” The only evidence of Christianity in his home was in the food they ate and the holidays they celebrated.
When he was a teenager, he attended a local Youth for Christ—or YFC—rally with his siblings. The promise of refreshments lured him to the meeting, but when Sam Wolgemuth of YFC gave an altar call, Zacharias was the only person who responded. Drawn by Wolgemuth’s gentle demeanor, Zacharias recalled desiring a change in his life.
ZACHARIAS: So here I was as a young teen, just finding a hero, and saying “Whatever it is he has, I want to have it.”
But a few months after responding to that calling, Zacharias found himself spiraling under his father’s scrutiny. He attempted suicide by poison at age 17. A YFC minister named Fred David visited him in the hospital and gave him a Bible. After hearing John 14:19, where Jesus said, “Because I live, you also will live,” Zacharias committed his life to Christ.
ZACHARIAS: I just cried out, it was a prayer of desperation. I said, “Jesus if you are who you claim to be, take me out of here. I will leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of truth.”
He said he walked out of the hospital five days later “a changed man.” He began sharing the gospel publicly at age 19, even winning a preaching contest.
A year later, the family moved to Canada. Instead of going into business, as his father hoped, he earned theological degrees from Ontario Bible College—now Tyndale University College and Seminary—and Trinity International University.
After graduating, Zacharias joined the Christian and Missionary Alliance. That allowed him to travel the world preaching. In South Vietnam, Cambodia, Europe, and India, he was struck by the lack of Christian apologetics ministries. That void led him to begin Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, or RZIM, in 1984. It was his calling.
ZACHARIAS: A job is something you choose, a calling is something for which you are chosen. God has placed you where he has placed you by design.
Today, RZIM includes about 75 Christian apologists who defend the faith and train Christian leaders around the world. Zacharias’ “Let My People Think” broadcast aired on more than 2,000 stations in 32 countries. He was also a prolific author. His 28 books have sold millions of copies worldwide and been translated into over a dozen languages.
Zacharias was at his best when answering skeptics and atheists at forums he hosted around the world. He used his vast knowledge of world philosophies and religions to keenly break down why Christianity is the only faith that stands up to intellectual scrutiny.
ZACHARIAS: I think Christianity, when the tests of truth are put, is the only system that coherently brings the answers to the four fundamental questions of life—origin, meaning, morality, and destiny—and correspondingly in each case will measure up to the truth.
Like many prominent Christian leaders, though, Zacharias was not immune to controversy. He faced criticism for occasionally going by “Dr.” Zacharias because his many doctorates were honorary. He was also caught up in a scandal that involved inappropriate texts sent by a Canadian woman he met at a conference. Zacharias said the explicit photos she sent him were unsolicited and unwelcome. He even filed a lawsuit against the woman and her husband, since they attempted to extort Zacharias over the photos. He apologized publicly for not drawing stricter boundaries that would have protected him from the appearance of impropriety.
But Zacharias will be remembered for his many decades of ministry and discipleship. One notable RZIM speaker and Zacharias acolyte was Nabeel Qureshi, a convert from Islam, whose book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus became a New York Times bestseller. Qureshi died in 2017 of stomach cancer. Speaking at Qureshi’s funeral, Zacharias reflected on having a heavenly perspective.
ZACHARIAS: For the first time in his life, he is seeing reality as God wanted him to see it. He looked through a keyhole all along, and now he’s seeing the whole panorama…
He concluded his remarks by reciting lyrics from a favorite hymn, “The Lost Chord.”
ZACHARIAS: It may be that death’s bright angel/ Will speak in that chord again/ It may be that only in Heav’n/ I shall hear that grand Amen.
His wife of 48 years, Margie, three children, and several grandchildren survive him. Today, the many believers who have grown through the work and ministry of Ravi Zacharias grieve with hope and cling to the certainty that Ravi has now heard that great amen.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Katie Gaultney.