Ravi Zacharias, the India-born Christian evangelist and apologist whose intellect, winsomeness and grasp of diverse cultures helped him gain a global hearing for the Gospel, was remembered during a May 29 memorial service as a “gentle giant of our faith” and the “C.S. Lewis of our day.”
Zacharias, 74, died May 19 after a brief battle with cancer. He was a featured speaker at numerous Billy Graham Evangelistic Association events, beginning in 1983 at the inaugural International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists in Amsterdam and most recently in 2017 at the first-ever World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians, hosted by BGEA.
A testament to Zacharias’ broad appeal was evidenced by the friends who eulogized him, among them Brooklyn Tabernacle Pastor Jim Cymbala, former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow and hip-hop recording artist Lecrae, as well as Louie Giglio, pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, which hosted the livestreamed memorial service. Vice President Mike Pence also spoke at the service, noting that he and second lady Karen Pence “mark his passing with a sense of personal loss as well.” The vice president said that in their last conversation, Zacharias, riddled with cancer, expressed concern for people suffering from COVID-19.
Franklin Graham, who knew Zacharias for decades through his long involvement with BGEA, described him as “one of the great Christian apologists of our time.”
He has “stepped into the streets of glory and into the presence of the King of kings and Lord of lords,” Franklin said on Facebook. “Don’t feel sorry for Ravi—his fight with cancer is over, and he has placed his crowns at the feet of the One who deserves all glory and honor. For those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ, we will see him again on the other side of the river. Ravi shared the truth of God’s Word with millions worldwide, ‘so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (Philippians 2:10-11).”
Zacharias grew up in a nominal Anglican household in Delhi, India. His father was influential in the Indian government, and much to his father’s displeasure, Ravi neglected his studies in favor of playing cricket. But at age 17, Zacharias was converted to Christ in a hospital bed after attempting suicide by poisoning. That week, he was visited in the hospital by a Youth for Christ worker, who asked Zacharias’ mother to read to him John 14. As she read John 14:19—Zacharias said that the words of Jesus to Thomas, “Because I live, you also will live”—penetrated his heart, and he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ.
“I walked out of that hospital a different man,” Zacharias recalled.
Soon, he was leading classmates to faith in Christ and excelling academically. Several years later, his father took a job in Canada, and Zacharias moved there to continue his studies, eventually surrendering to the Gospel ministry.
For 49 years, Zacharias traveled the world as an evangelist and apologist, beginning in Vietnam in the summer of 1971. Zacharias and his translator traveled the war-torn country by helicopter gunship, preaching at military bases, hospitals and to Viet Cong prisoners. Zacharias also preached in Cambodia in 1974, just prior to Pol Pot’s communist takeover. After the nation fell to communism, Pot’s regime executed both of the men who had served as Zacharias’ interpreters.
In 1983 at Billy Graham’s invitation, Zacharias addressed the first International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists in Amsterdam on the topic of building Gospel bridges across cultures. In mid-sermon, the 3,800 evangelists from 112 countries in attendance gave him an ovation.
Zacharias went on to speak at numerous BGEA events and appeared multiple times in Decision magazine as an author or interview subject. In addition to his Amsterdam appearance in 1983, his BGEA speaking engagements included:
Amsterdam ’86 (a condensed version of his sermon “The Lostness of Man” is printed on pages 20-21, and its content is used in BGEA’s Schools of Evangelism Online).
North American Conference for Itinerant Evangelists (NACIE ’94) in Louisville, Kentucky.
The Global Mission Christian Workers Conference, in March 1995, which was translated into 50 languages and transmitted by satellite to more than 160 countries.
- Amsterdam 2000, where he spoke on evangelism challenges in a new millennium.
- Seminars at The Cove in 1997 and 2006; he was scheduled to return in 2021.
- BGEA International School of Evangelism in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 2006.
- Prescription for Renewal, a Samaritan’s Purse event held at The Cove in 2015.
- The World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians in Washington, D.C., in 2017.
In 1984, Zacharias launched Ravi Zacharias International Ministries as a way to “meet the thinker where they were” and “to train cultural evangelist-apologists.” Today, RZIM has more than 100 affiliated speakers in dozens of countries. Its flagship podcast, “Let My People Think,” is popular on audio streaming apps.
Zacharias also wrote dozens of books, including his memoir “Walking from East to West: God in the Shadows,” “Can Man Live Without God?” and “Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message.”
In eulogizing Zacharias, Giglio remarked that Zacharias “never sought to win an argument; he always sought to win a person.”
“Who would put an open mic in the middle of a coliseum on a university campus and invite all skeptics, all antagonists, all seekers and searchers to come and ask their question,” Giglio asked, “but a man after the heart of Jesus and a man filled with the compassion of a Gospel that didn’t just change his mind but totally changed his heart?”
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.
Above: Left to right—Franklin Graham, Lebanese pastor Sami Dagher, and Ravi Zacharias at the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians in 2017.
Photo: Tommy Berry/©2017 BGEA