Atlanta. Home of Margaret Mitchell, Martin Luther King Jr., Ted Turner, and Kanye West.
Coca-Cola, UPS, Delta Airlines and Home Depot are only a few of the Fortune 500 companies headquartered in this great city. Our town harbors the busiest airport in the world and is also home to the 1996 Olympic games. These facts are widely known and certainly contribute to the charisma of this beautiful metropolis.
But a fact that is not widely known outside of Christian circles is that some of the most influential Christian organizations and leaders of our time started their ministry in Atlanta. Names such as Dr. Charles Stanley (In Touch Ministries), his son Andy Stanley (North Point Ministries), Louie Giglio (Passion City Church) and Dr. Michael Youssef (Leading the Way) stand among prominent Christian leaders whose ministries flourished from the Peach State and into the world.
This week, we said goodbye to one of those men: Ravi Zacharias. The Indian-born Canadian-American Christian apologist established his worldwide ministry’s headquarters in our city, from where he led a team of nearly 100 speakers around the world. The primary mission of his ministry is “to reach and challenge those who shape the ideas of a culture with the credibility of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” with a vision focused on “a fivefold thrust of evangelism, apologetics, spiritual disciplines, training, and humanitarian support (…)”
Zacharias was born in Madras, India. He was still a young boy when he moved to Delhi. Although his family was Anglican, Zacharias identified as a “skeptic” until the age of 17, when he became a Christian after trying to commit suicide. While lying down in a hospital bed, a Christian worker brought him a Gideon New Testament. Zacharias was so weak from the dehydration after swallowing poison that he could not raise his arm. The worker directed Zacharias’ mom to read from John 14, which contains the words of the resurrected Christ to Thomas, one of the disciples. When sharing his testimony, Zacharias said that Jesus’ words in verse 19 touched him as an invitation to shift his life’s paradigm: “Because I live, you also will live.”
Zacharias often said that day was vivid in his mind: “The power of the word of God cracked open the encrusted heart of a young man who never had the wisdom to open it before. And I began to pray, ‘Lord, if you are the Lord of life, take me out of this hospital room. I will leave no stone unturned in my pursuit of truth.’”
With a renewed purpose and committed to his promise, Zacharias rose from the ashes to dedicate the next nearly six decades of his life to preach the gospel and equip others to defend the Christian faith.
My appreciation of Zacharias’ ministry is entirely personal. Like Zacharias, I was once a skeptic as well. I became a Christian at 25 by blindly putting my trust in Jesus, but (in my mind) that did not mean that I would accept every doctrine and belief indiscriminately. And so, the following years were dedicated to pursuing answers to many questions in my down-to-earth, pragmatic mind.
Zacharias’ ministry’s emphasis in apologetics and unwavering focus on spiritual disciplines helped many Christians like me to become “prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within us,” as the Apostle Peter admonishes Christ’s followers to do.
True faith is indeed blind. But sound and unwavering faith must be built on facts to thrive. Zacharias dedicated his life to showing the world that the same belief that saved a young 17-year-old from the miry pit of self-loath and despair can withstand the toughest philosophical attacks. In this day and age, when a biblical worldview is repeatedly assaulted and questioned at every turn, Zacharias stood as a man capable of debating life’s most profound existential questions with kindness, and yet tenaciously defending God’s word. It was a beautiful thing to watch.
May God bring the Zacharias family and friends peace and comfort, knowing that his legacy will remain as steady and alive as the faith he vowed to defend.
Patricia Holbrook is a columnist, author, blogger and international speaker. Her newly published Bible Study – Twelve Inches – is now available on her website www.soaringwithHim.com. For speaking engagements and comments, email pholbrook@soaringwithHim.com
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