“God in the Shadows”
Ravi Zacharias is known the world over as a modern-day patriarch of Christian apologetics, including inside some of the less-open nations in Asia. A friend of ours in one such area asked if we had any of his resources to share, claiming she had heard that “Ravi had once been a strong Muslim” and wanting to learn more. Now, I’ve known of Zacharias for a many years, and while he’s written and preached against Islam in the past, due to his Indian background, it would seem far more likely for him to have Hindu roots than Muslim. Curious now myself, I found his memoirs, Walking from East to West, in audio format and listened to it before I shared it with our friend. As it turns out, Ravi Zacharias grew up in a nominally Christian home at a church with no life, though his community almost exclusively Hindu.
This book covers a number of important experiences in Ravi’s early life, both in India and in Canada, and how God faithfully traced His very own fingerprint into that young boy’s life. Growing up in the home of a government officer, Ravi’s life was not that of “the poor Indian lad” that might come automatically to mind, as if from a scene in Slumdog Millionaire. Instead, his family was one of privilege, though Ravi himself admits that, among all his siblings, he was the one who was treated most like an outsider by their temperamental father. Often feeling the brunt of his father’s anger for his perceived inadequacies, Ravi lived through his teenage years considering himself a constant source of disappointment and embarrassment. It was in such an atmosphere that he made the decision to commit suicide by swallowing poison. Miraculously, God spared Ravi’s life, and from that great turning point on, the man that the world has come to love began to grow.
The book then takes the reader through the accounts of Ravi’s conversion, his earliest preaching opportunities, his new life in Canada where he eventually met his wife, and the growing strength of ministry with which God has blessed him, up to the point of forming Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM). While Ravi stops here, sharing virtually nothing about the ministry itself or any of his countless opportunities to speak in some of the most prestigious venues in the world, he does provide some key insights about himself. Two stand out. First, he shares why in the world they would choose such a name for the ministry. Isn’t that a bit arrogant to make oneself a brand? In fact, he himself felt the same qualms, but understood the wisdom after a partner shared with him this important fact, in essence: The ministry you lead must rise and fall upon your own character. If your character is soiled, then so is your name, and the ministry must not continue. This is as much a challenge to you as it might be an ego boost, for your entire life now hangs upon your own integrity.
Second, he emphasizes his own sorrow to his family and yet commitment to his Lord when he discusses the time which running an international ministry demands. He is saddened by missed opportunities with his children growing up, and yet he also recognizes that God is faithful, even where he himself is not. All of his children have gone on to become faithful servants of the Lord, not holding their father’s commitment to the Work against him, but rather drawing from his example inspiration to live better, more committed lives themselves. This apologetic passage at the end of the book is a rebuke to fathers everywhere: Are you committed to Christ’s work or your own? Are you an example to your family of a “disciple indeed” or merely a hard worker? I myself am challenged to look at my own role as a father and to ask myself the same questions.
I’m very happy that our friend’s new interest in my old favorite, Ravi Zacharias, inspired me to read through his memoirs. It was an informative and challenging book, and I highly recommend it.