Pence joins others in paying tribute to evangelist Ravi Zacharias

Evangelist and Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias was remembered Friday as a “gentle giant” who crisscrossed the globe leading people to Christ.

Zacharias, author and founder of an Alpharetta-based global ministry, died May 19, after a brief battle with cancer.

He was 74.

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A memorial service was held at Passion City Church in Atlanta and included Vice President Mike Pence, athlete and philanthropist Tim Tebow, Passion Movement founder Louie Giglio, hip-hop artist and author Lecrae and Jim Cymbala, senior pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle.

Calling Zacharias a “man for all seasons,” Pence, who was there with his wife, Karen, said, “God put him at my side at just the right time. The words of wisdom and kindness and encouragement that I will never forget.”

Pence said Zacharias’ passing comes at a time when many people around the world are grieving the loss of loved ones who have died during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As our nation begins the process of healing and recovering, we will miss Ravi’s comforting voice and his insights as we pick up the pieces of our national life.”

He recounted a conversation the two had as Zacharias lay in his hospital bed.

The India-born evangelist was more concerned about those suffering during the pandemic than his own health, said Pence, who then asked those gathered to pray for those who have endured such heartbreak during these “unprecedented times.”

The service, which included about 315 people, was livestreamed.

COVID-19 guidelines were put in place that included attendees wearing masks, either their own or one that was provided; temperature checks (if someone had a reading above 100 degrees, he or she was not allowed to enter and was asked to leave); staggered arrival and dismissal; social distancing; and attendees were asked not to have physical contact.

Zacharias spent nearly five decades addressing questions of origin, meaning, morality and destiny. In 1984, he founded and led Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM).

It was a year after Zacharias was invited by the influential televangelist the Rev. Billy Graham to preach at the first International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists, held in Amsterdam. Known as one of the world’s most outspoken Christian apologists, Zacharias defended religious doctrine and philosophy.

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He was known to treat everyone the same, whether you were a head of state or the waiter at a restaurant. Speakers recalled that Zacharias made it a point to remember people by name.

He had a sense of humor and loved good food, cricket, shopping and his family, many said.

He also never shied away from sharing how he tried to commit suicide at 17 and discovered his faith while recovering in his hospital bed.

Giglio, global pastor of Passion City Church, was recently with Zacharias in Southeast Asia on an international ministry trip.

“Today is all about Jesus, but today is also about honoring a life lived well,” said Giglio. “The key word being life.”

“Ravi is home. Ravi is healed. Ravi has finished his race and Ravi is free,” said Giglio. “We know this because Jesus said because I live, you also will live. Our story today is the story of resurrection.”

There were moments of levity.

Tebow talked about how excited he was to meet Zacharias during a faith-based event in Washington, D.C., some years ago and how he told the evangelist how he was once traveling on an overseas flight and had listened to one of his recordings for 15 hours.

“Oh, brother Timmy, I’m so sorry,” said Zacharias.

The Grammy-winning artist Lecrae, who also performed, said people might wonder why Zacharias, a scholar, came to hang out with a rapper.

“Because he was actually working on his rap album,” he said to laughter. “He was teaching me apologetics. I was teaching him rap.”

Lecrae, a former atheist who became a Christian as an adult, said he would go on tour and rush back to the bus to “devour” Zacharias’ videos and lectures.

“I wanted my peers in the culture who didn’t believe to have answers to hard questions.”

Zacharias was buried May 21 during a private ceremony, which was officiated by Sam Allberry, a pastor and global speaker with RZIM, in a casket built by inmates at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.

Billy Graham’s pine plywood casket, with its simple wooden cross and lined with a mattress pad, was also made by inmates at the prison.