Evangelist, bestselling author Ravi Zacharias dies in Atlanta at age 74

Sanj Kalra and Ravi Zacharias met nine years ago, and the two soon found they had much in common.

Both were Indian immigrants who at some point lived in Canada and later came to the United States.

And the two men shared a deep love of God.

“For some reason, God gave us a connection,” said Kalra, vice president of strategy and one of the speakers for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

Tuesday, though, was a “very heavy day” for Kalra.

His mentor and his best friend, Zacharias was gone.

Zacharias, head of a global ministry and bestselling author, died Tuesday morning at his home in Atlanta, following a brief battle with cancer.

He was 74.

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 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.

“I’m not an intellectual,” said Kalra, who converted to Christianity a decade ago. “I barely got through college and here’s this giant of a man around me and for some reason he trusted me and we began to have these wonderful talks.”

They talked about sports and food. And faith.

“Faith was the center of his life,” said Kalra. “It was a calling. He loved his family and his wife so much and they knew it, but they shared him with the world because he had to go out and share the message of Jesus Christ.”

From waiters to vice presidents, everyone was treated with the same respect, he said.

Just recently, the faith leader received a call from Vice President Mike Pence. The two had known each other for a number of years.

Zacharias “saw the objections and questions of others not as something to be rebuffed, but as a cry of the heart that had to be answered,” Michael Ramsden, president of RZIM, said in a statement. “People weren’t logical problems waiting to be solved; they were people who needed the person of Christ. Those who knew him well will remember him first for his kindness, gentleness, and generosity of spirit. The love and kindness he had come to know in and through Jesus Christ was the same love he wanted to share with all he met.”

Pastor Louie Giglio, global pastor of Passion City Church, knew Zacharias for many years.

“With the passing of Ravi Zacharias, we have lost one of the most respected voices for the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our generation,” Giglio said in a statement. “Kind and compassionate to anyone genuinely seeking truth, no matter their faith perspective, he never seemed to want to simply win a debate. Ravi wanted to win over people’s hearts to the grace and truth of Jesus.”

Giglio, founder of the Passion Movement, which includes the Passion Conferences that bring together thousands of young Christians, was recently with Zacharias in Southeast Asia on an international ministry trip.

He watched Zacharias “love people of every culture and nation so beautifully. Though I will miss his friendship, I know Ravi now sees in full the One he loved above all else.”

David P. Gushee, a professor at Mercer University and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life, said Zacharias was “a towering figure on that niche, a rather large niche, of doing Christian apologetics and defending the faith by making rational arguments for Christianity’s plausibility and truthfulness. This approach was intended to deal with the loss of belief because of contemporary intellectual challenges.”

Harry Hargrave, CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Museum of the Bible, called Zacharias “a gifted and passionate communicator with the unique ability to engage academics and laypeople alike. Though he will be dearly missed, his legacy lives on in the 25 books he wrote and edited, the international ministry he founded and the lives he impacted.”

Zacharias was also known for his philanthropy. He is survived by his wife of 48 years, Margie; daughters, Sarah and Naomi; son, Nathan; and five grandchildren.

The Zacharias family has asked that in lieu of flowers that gifts be made to the ongoing work of RZIM.