Nurturing/ Teaching Courses
Spiritual Formation Institute
Ravi Zacharias (with R.S.B. Sawyer), 2006 Walking from
East to West: God in the Shadows (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan)
Dr Alex Tang
This autobiography of the world renowned apologetic-evangelist reads more like a
memoir rather than an autobiography. This may be because it was written by Scott
Sawyers rather than Ravi himself.
The book starts and ends with Ravi’s home town in Chennai (Madras), India. He
started his autobiography with his earliest religious memory of an encounter
with an Indian mystic, one who rolled himself down his town’s main street. The
street was unpaved and was covered with dust and animal excreta. His reminiscent
about his childhood in Chennai before they moved to Delhi.
A major portion of his childhood memories revolved around his father. His father
was a government servant to rise up in ranks to become a high ranking officer in
Delhi. For some reasons, he was very hard on Ravi compared with his brother and
sisters. He had a very bad temper and would often beat up Ravi physically. Than
and his verbal distain resulted in Ravi developing a very poor self image. He
found it impossible to please his father.
That he wanted to was very obvious from his account. One of the causes for his
punishment was his poor school performance. Ravi did not explain why he did so
poorly in school and yet in later life he was able to excel in apologetics and
philosophy. His devotion to his mother, a school teacher was obvious. Ravi
wrote,” I suppose I was afraid of losing her, as she was my only hope in a young
life stalked by failure and haunted by shame.” (p.61)
His only escape from this life of poor self-esteem, which he described as
meaninglessness, is watching Hindi movies and sports, especially crickets. One
day, he found life so unbearable that he decided to commit suicide. He was
unsuccessful. During his convalescent he was given a bible by Fred David, one of
the directors Youth for Christ (YFC) worker and told to read John 14:19 “Because
I live, you will also live.”
This marked a turning point in his life. He became involved with a bible study
organized by Fred and gradually came to a personal encounter with Christ. About
that time, he discovered that he wanted to study Hospitality at the University
of Delhi. He found that he liked it and his grades began to improve. He was
given opportunity to preach and won a youth preaching competition. This gave him
courage to organize a preaching team to four cities in India and confirmed his
It was about this time that his father grew near the retirement age for
government servants (55 years old). His father was given an opportunity to
migrate to Canada and they did. Ravi said that it was a sacrifice on his
father’s part for the sake of his children’s future. Ravi found work in a hotel
in Toronto and enjoyed it.
However he felt the call to seminary and left to study in Ontario Bible College.
He was given an opportunity to preach on a mission trip to Vietnam in May, 1971
which defined the scope of his ministry. He discovered the empowerment of the
Holy Spirit through his “persuasive preaching”. On his return, he was sure that
that was the direction he wanted to follow. He married Maggie Reynolds soon
after his return after a courtship of 5 years.
On his graduation from Ontario Bible College, he went on to study at the Trinity
Evangelical Divinity School on Deerfield, Illinois. Ravi was also invited to go
on staff with the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) which in 1977 sent
him to preach in various countries around the world. On his return he was
offered and accepted a teaching position with a C&MA seminary on Evangelism. He
soon discovered that teaching was not what he wanted.
It was around this time that he was involved with world evangelist conferences
organized by Billy Graham. He began to discover that there is a need for a
“cultural evangelist-apologist” (p.195). Most evangelists were not equipped to
evangelize intellectuals. Thus was the beginning of the Ravi Zacharias
International Ministries (RZIM) in August 1984. He was convinced and was later
reaffirmed to him when he spent his sabbatical in Cambridge that the “important
task in apologetics, namely, (is) to unmask the skeptic because his problem with
God isn’t an intellectual one, it is a moral one” (p.207).
As in Billy Graham autobiography, “Just As I Am”, there are numerous interesting
facts and observations we can make about his life.
First, we are all naturally curious about Ravi Zacharias. Who is he? What was
his life story? What makes him ticks? In this short autobiography, we were given
a short glimpse into his life. It is interesting that the subtitle of this book
was “God in the Shadows”. He sees the hand of God behind all the events of all
life including his suicide attempt. He also alludes to his cultural heritage as
a son of India and how that had influenced his life for the first 20 years. His
struggles with his father were as prominent as his Indian cultural heritage.
What was missing was how has the West formed him? Ravi Zacharias being who is
today cannot be just a product of his Indian heritage.
Second, there are numerous accounts of how relationships formed him. His early
group of friends when he was a teenager, the work of Youth for Christ when an
older Christian spends time with him and his many mentors along the way. There
is always someone in his darkest hours send to help him and many others along
the way to help him grow. Again this autobiography reinforces the need to
Christians, especially older Christians to reach out and mentor younger ones.
Third, the account about the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries was rather
brief. He does make a note that he was not an administrator and that there were
certain regrets and that if given another chance, he will not repeat again.
However we could learn more from his life if he shares more about his failures
rather than his successes after he migrated to Canada. It seems from his account
that after he left India, one success follows another until RZIM was formed.
Overall this is an interesting overview of Ravi Zacharias’ life until a more
definitive biography comes along. The choice of the poem by James Russell Lowell
from The Present Crisis (1844) seems appropriate:
Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne,-
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above his own.
|posted 7 October 2006|