Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias passed away Tuesday morning after a two-month long battle with cancer. He was 74-years-old.
Zacharias was born on March 26, 1946, in Madras (now Chennai), India, to Oscar and Isabella Zacharias. His father, an Indian civil servant, moved the family to Delhi. His family belonged to the Anglican Church, and his family had a long faith tradition, but Zacharias did not believe.
At the age of 17, he surrendered his life to Christ following a suicide attempt. Zacharias recounted, while in the hospital recovering, a Christian minister gave him a Bible and encouraged him to read John 14. He was struck by Jesus’ words in John 14:19, “Because I live, you also will live.”
“This may be my only hope: A new way of living. Life as defined by the Author of Life,” he said, he thought at the time. “Jesus, if You are the one who gives life as it is meant to be, I want it. Please get me out of this hospital bed well, and I promise I will leave no stone unturned in my pursuit of truth,” he recounted praying from his hospital bed.
In 1965, Zacharias won a preaching award at a youth congress hosted by Youth For Christ in Hyderabad. His family then emigrated from India to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in 1966.
His passion for sharing the Gospel to all nations was confirmed during a missionary trip to Vietnam in 1971. While in Vietnam, Zacharias preached to U.S. soldiers at military bases and hospitals, and the Vietcong in prisons.
He earned his undergraduate degree from Ontario Bible College in 1972 and married his wife, Margaret. Afterward, he began an itinerant preaching ministry through the Christian & Missionary Alliance Church, where he served in Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge took over. He graduated from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School with a Masters of Divinity in 1977 and was commissioned to ministry through the C&MA.
In 1983, the late evangelist Billy Graham invited Zacharias to preach in Amsterdam at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s annual evangelists conference. While there, he first noticed a lack of focus on Christian apologetics, which was confirmed during a trip to India.
This lack of attention to apologetics led to the creation of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in 1984 with the mission of “helping the thinker believe, and the believer think.” During the 1980s, Zacharias started the weekly radio program, Let My People Think, which is syndicated in over 2,000 stations in 32 countries and has also been downloaded 15.6 million times as a podcast over the last year. He later founded Wellspring International, the humanitarian arm of RZIM.
Zacharias’ life and ministry were not without controversy. Some evangelicals criticized him for preaching at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2004 at the invitation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. In 2017, Christianity Today reported on accusations that he embellished his academic record and used the title “Doctor” when he received honorary, not academic, doctorates.
Zacharias has preached all over the world, at college campuses, Christian conferences, churches, military bases, prisons, and spoke at prayer breakfasts at the White House and the United Nations. This writer heard him speak in person on two occasions – once at a pastors conference for the Evangelical Free Church of America and the Iowa Prayer Breakfast in Des Moines in 2013.
He is survived by Margie, his wife of 48-years; his three children:—Sarah, the Global CEO of RZIM, Naomi, Director of Wellspring International, and Nathan, RZIM’s Creative Director for Media; and five grandchildren.