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Remembering ‘Ravi-ji’: From Oxford to Kampala

The shoulder that I busted in a motorbike accident makes typing hard these days. However, the pain of awkward one-handed key hitting is nothing when set against the need to communicate what the great Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias meant to me and my ministry. The man I called Uncle Ravi (or Ravi-ji, paying homage to his Indian ancestry) passed away on May 19, after a brief battle with cancer. His death leaves behind a huge hole and an immense legacy, a legacy that I am proud to be a part of.

My First Encounter with Ravi-ji

I first met Ravi just over a decade ago, in late 2008. I made contact with him through Dr Frog Orr-Ewing and Dr Amy Orr-Ewing. Amy recently wrote a brilliant tribute to Ravi which I highly recommend. At the time Frog and Amy both led and served at the All Saints Church in Peckham, South East London. They were also teaching at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (OCCA). I was on an Urban Missions Placement Scheme in London, and our local church hosted students from the OCCA for a Mission Week on the streets of Peckham. This team sparked an interest in me.

Ravi’s death leaves behind an immense legacy, a legacy that I am proud to be a part of.

I admired what they were doing, especially their style of mission. The famous Michael Greene, even at 70, uncannily turned everything he saw on the street into a gospel conversation. So, before returning to Uganda in September 2009, I made sure that I left with some of the mission team’s contacts.

From Uganda to Oxford and Back

But why did Ravi have such an impact on my life? And how did I come to serve on the RZIM Africa Team? I usually tell people that the short answer is God, and that the longer one is God as well. But God uses people to bring about his purposes.

Just as they had been identified, trained, and mentored by Ravi, so Amy and Frog did the same for several emerging evangelists like myself. Trained in the spirit of Ravi’s own formation, we were urged to merge our passion with a determination to bravely triumph over the nuanced assaults against the gospel. So great was Ravi’s influence on Amy Orr-Ewing and Michael Ramsden’s generation that younger folk like me eagerly dreamed of meeting him. For we found that watching him on YouTube and DVDs simply didn’t cut it.

my British Airways flight from Entebbe to London was shorter than my journeys between Karamoja and Kampala.

As God would have it, in 2013, I got accepted into the OCCA and to Oxford University’s Wycliffe Hall to obtain a Certificate of Theology with Pastoral Studies. I will never forget how everything fell into place, including the scholarships. Amazingly, my British Airways flight from Entebbe to London was shorter than my journeys between Karamoja and Kampala.

Meeting the Legend Himself!

While at Oxford, I was spoilt with the finest tutors: Emeritus Professor of Mathematics and apologist John Lennox; the renowned theologian and intellectual historian, Professor Alister McGrath; the social commentator, Os Guinness; Amy and Frog; as well as Michael Ramsden; Vince Vitale; Sharon Dirckx; Tom Price; Tanya Walker; along with others based at Wycliffe Hall. In addition to these there were always visiting speakers, including J. John, Jay Smith and Richard Swinburne. But the cherry on top was the legend himself: Ravi-ji!

Ravi took people’s questions seriously. But he took people’s souls even more seriously

Ravi’s impact on me was as wholesome as it was awe-inspiring. From his faith, intellect and practicality to his immense love for family. His openness about his own brokenness, his humility and his love and commitment to the lost. He blazed a trail that I, and many others, have willingly followed.

Lose the Argument, Not the Soul

As a Christian, my patience was thoroughly tried by people who regarded themselves as atheists. I unreservedly called them fools. Ravi transformed that attitude. I learnt from him that I should desire to engage with non-believers, especially atheists. He would boldly and lovingly say to an atheist who felt like he or she was gate-crashing a Christian meeting, “It is for such as you that we are here! So, feel at home. Take your time and ask your question.” Ravi took people’s questions seriously. But he took people’s souls even more seriously. His passion was, “We would rather lose the argument, not the soul.”

So, when I got an opportunity to engage with atheists, in Uganda, I went all out. It hasn’t been an easy journey. But it has produced some great friendships and gospel conversations along the way. Some atheists have confessed to never have seen a Christian – let alone a clergyman – who lovingly interacts with them, despite their differing views; even their mocking.

Love is the Greatest Apologetic

One thing has been clear to me: I’m not yet like Ravi. I am a work in progress! I still make mistakes and I cannot count how many times I’ve failed to honour one or a combination of the charges found in 1 Peter 3:15-16. Being among opponents of the Christian faith has also exposed a lot of elements that I don’t like about myself. I sometimes don’t have the same love that I saw in Ravi. The Ravi you met on video, heard speaking, read in a book, was always the same Ravi you meet in the classroom, while shaking hands, or across the table over dinner. His passion, integrity, humility and love was authentic. “Love is the greatest apologetic,” as Ravi regularly emphasised.

Ravi’s Legacy in Uganda

Kampala was one of the few places where Ravi never managed to set foot. However, such physical absence did not mean spiritual absence. He had a huge influence and impact on many. Myself and many others have received an incredible investment in our faith through his podcasts and videos.

Perhaps Ravi didn’t need to visit Kampala, because he started a blaze that is still burning bright as evangelists continue the fire

Through his ministry, I became aware of the genuine questions that I had within myself and continued to learn that there were convincing answers to them. This, in turn, strengthened my convictions while on the frontlines of missions and church-planting that took me as far afield as Karamoja, into prisons, to the university campuses of Makerere, Kyambogo, Uganda Christian University, Makerere University Business School, Mbarara, and to many workplaces too, such as the Uganda Reserve Authority.

Building a Team of Apologists

In what is a true reflection of Ravi’s legacy, seven years since my time in Oxford, we are building a team of apologists in Kampala. I am an itinerant speaker and coordinator for Missions on the RZIM African team, as well as being fully involved in church leadership in the Diocese of Kampala. In that same spirit I inherited from the Orr-Ewings, who in turn had inherited it from Ravi, I am now mentoring many others.

He poured himself out for others, as he was humble enough to understand that God’s Kingdom was beyond himself

I serve with two other Ugandan RZIM colleagues. Racheal Mutesi, who is an Adjunct Speaker at the frontline of girl’s advocacy and leading Ufahari Girls’ Ministries in Kalerwe and Rev. Paulson Tumutegyereize who is the Coordinator of Education and Ministerial Formation in the Diocese of Kampala. His work also involves training Ministers and engaging headteachers of Schools.

A Blaze Burning Bright

Together with Denis Mugume, a Youth Pastor at St. Francis Chapel, Makerere University (which is Uganda’s number one and Africa’s fourth-best university) and other young evangelists passionate about apologetics, we have worked with numerous churches, such as All Saints Cathedral, Watoto, Calvary Chapel and others. Perhaps Uncle Ravi didn’t need to visit Kampala, because he started a blaze that is still burning bright. Even today, evangelists are feeding the fire, not only in Uganda, but all over the continent of Africa.

We grieve because we still desire to see Uncle Ravi’s tested wisdom locking lovingly with others. But when you see the global team of RZIM speakers growing to almost 100, that grief should be short-lived. Rather, let us rejoice in his incredible legacy of stewardship and mentorship, which is so clearly emerging across the world. At the time of Ravi-ji’s death, RZIM has a global team of cross-generational leaders, speakers and mentors. They will go on to continue that legacy of proclaiming the gospel message.

Because one man listened, obeyed, remained humble, and identified and nurtured a team, we too can continue in his legacy

Because one man listened, obeyed, remained humble, and identified and nurtured a team, we too can continue in his legacy. He poured himself out for others, as he was humble enough to understand that God’s Kingdom was beyond himself. That was Ravi-ji and his ministry, and that is what RZIM exists for as a whole.

Continuing Ravi-ji’s Work

Like Joshua had Moses or Timothy had Paul, we have Ravi to imitate. And we continue to trust the God who was with these great leaders who will also be with us. “An incredibly strong voice has been lost! However, we who remain, after grieving, must passionately continue with the message that those who ran ahead of us preached. Paul, Augustine, Luther, Wesley, Graham, and now Ravi-ji! The unstoppable, undying, saving gospel of Christ!” O what a debt and task he leaves behind for me and you.

Our deepest love, sympathies, and prayers go out to Mama Margie, Naomi, Sarah, Nathan and the whole Zacharias family, and the worldwide RZIM family. Because Christ lives, we all shall live.

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