A Tale of Two Men

Actually this is mostly the tale of one important man. But since I have discovered many parallels with his life and my own, I will use this opportunity to tell his story, along with bits of my own. This is in fact a book review, but one which interweaves some of my own journey along the way.

The book being considered here is Walking from East to West. And the man behind the story is Ravi Zacharias, the international Christian apologist. I admit to being a bit slow here. This autobiography has been out since 2006 (published by Zondervan), but I only bought it yesterday and read it last night. But as I read the story of Ravi Zacharias, on numerous occasions I said, “That’s me”, or “That’s my story”.

Image of Walking from East to West: God in the Shadows
Walking from East to West: God in the Shadows by Zacharias, Ravi (Author), Sawyer, R. S. B. (Primary Contributor) Amazon logo

Of course he is light years ahead of me in every department, so I am not claiming any equivalence here with the great man. But we have in a number of ways followed similar paths. The differences are greater than our similarities, but we have both been on somewhat parallel paths leading up to the work that we now do.

Of course Zacharias was born in India, while I was born in the US. That makes things pretty different to begin with. But we had somewhat similar childhoods. Zacharias never did very well in school, and he never tried very hard to succeed in his education. While his brothers and sisters and peers were all doing very well, he was not. Thus by the time he was a teenager he had become very depressed and lonely.

Although good at sport – especially cricket – and surrounded with many great friends, he still felt very alone, and was constantly saddened that he had not pleased his father. His dad grew impatient with him, telling him he would never amount to anything. This growing sense of failure and despair, coupled with his father’s disapproval, and his inner struggles and searching which he could not freely share with others, took its toll. So suicide was the only course of action for young Zacharias.

I too did not so well at school, and I also was greatly depressed as a teenager. I too was suicidal. I explored different religions, and political ideologies, but none answered the deep questions of life. Life held no meaning for me, and suicide seemed to be the only way to escape the pain and loneliness.

Although about 6 years older than I, Zacharias became a Christian at somewhat the same age: he at 17 and me at 18. Both of us were desperate for truth, hope, meaning and purpose. Indeed, we both longed for acceptance and a reason to live. Shortly after his suicide attempt some Youth for Christ people helped to lead Zacharias to the Lord.

The first half of this book details his years as a non-believer. The second half of the book chronicles his time as a believer, as a Christian evangelist, and as a renowned apologist. Indeed, today Ravi Zacharias is perhaps the premier Christian apologist. He has spoken in over 50 nations; he has spoken at almost all the major universities of the world; he has discussed the big questions of life with political leaders, academics, religious leaders, and even military leaders; and he has written a number of excellent books on apologetics over the past 25 or so years.

His early days in the faith were helped along in various ways. He devoured Christian biographies and stories of great believers, missionaries, evangelists and revivalists. He also came to love the writings of people like CS Lewis and GK Chesterton. Reading of these great men, said Zacharias, reminded him of the old adage: “fire begets fire”. He said, “The standards these Christians set by their examples set the bar for me. . . . Their examples stoked my conscience as to what the Christian life could be”.

Bible commentaries were also a favourite read for Zacharias. And one of the things that attracted him to his Canadian wife was her love of reading. His new found love of reading and study meant that when he now undertook university courses, he did very well indeed, unlike his earlier days.

I too grew strong early on in my Christian journey as I read all the biographies and autobiographies I could find of mighty men and women of God. Thus I went through many books featuring such great men as CT Studd, Adoniram Judson, Hudson Taylor, William Carey, John Wesley, George Whitefield, etc. And I loved theological works and biblical commentaries as well.

I had to laugh when I read Zacharias say this: “I was spending most of my money in those days on books. My mind was hungrier than ever, and books had become my biggest expense; I quickly learned to look for newspaper ads for used books and would end up first in line.” My wife knows exactly what that is all about. She once did our household budget and told me – with a stern look – that more money was being spent on books than on food!

I too was introduced early on to great Christian thinkers like Francis Schaeffer and CS Lewis. They in turn led me to George MacDonald, GK Chesterton and others. I too fell in love with a woman from another country, who also loved to read. My voracious appetite for reading served me well as I went on to obtain several university degrees, all with rather high marks. And like Zacharias, I also ended up living in the country of my wife’s birth: Zacharias ended up in Canada (later, the US), and I ended up in Australia.

Zacharias eventually undertook theological studies in Canada and the US. He did his seminary training at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago. He loved the professors there, including Old Testament scholar Walter Kaiser and apologist Norman Geisler. And he loved the ministries of evangelisation and missions.

I too was at Trinity, but at their liberal arts college across the road. But I often would sit in on various seminary classes, and enjoy soaking up all that Kaiser, Geisler, and others had to offer. I too became involved with missions, going to Europe with YWAM. Interestingly, when Billy Graham hosted a conference for itinerant evangelists in Amsterdam in 1983, my wife and I volunteered to be stewards for the conference. Ravi Zacharias was also there, as one of the major speakers.

It has been during the last three decades or so that he became convinced that there was a pressing need to reach intellectuals, academics, university students and others with the claims of Jesus Christ. He thus undertook further studies at Cambridge, and has since devoted his life to reaching sceptics and those of other – or no – faiths.

When I was back at Trinity College, taking an apologetics course, and engaged in a mock debate with unbelievers, one student came up to me afterward and said that he felt I really had a gift for that sort of work, and should make it my life course.

That is pretty much what I am now doing on a very small scale. Of course Zacharias is doing this on a grand scale, but we both have a passion to see the lost reached, and to see honest answers provided for honest questions.

In this moving autobiography Zacharias speaks of many hardships and difficulties along the way, and the costs of serving our Lord. But he sees with hindsight the ways God was directing his paths and using past hurts – even his suicide attempt – as means to bring greater glory to God and to reach many who also are lost, struggling, hurting and in despair. And he notes how strong friends, mentors and counsellors have helped him along the way.

I too have seen how even my wild and rebellious youth is now being used by God for his purposes, and I also see the great value in godly friends and spiritual mentors. I even have a spiritual mother and father in the faith here in Australia who are of Indian origin.

It is wonderful to know that God can take a broken, messed up and insignificant person such as myself and use me for his purposes. Indeed, little did I know when I was a stoned-out hippy in the US, that one day I would be speaking to Prime Ministers and others in foreign lands, making a small difference for Christ and his Kingdom. As Zacharias says, “There is no greater discovery than seeing God as the author of your destiny.”

Numerous other parallels could be mentioned. We both have three children, both are living outside of our land of birth, and both have apologetics ministries that involve much travel and lots of speaking engagements. Of course my work load is nothing compared to his. But I do take inspiration from him, his passion and love for Christ, his concern for the lost and the poor and needy, and his willingness to seek to reach out to the intellectuals, the educated and academics of life.

Like Zacharias, I often ask, “why me Lord?” I often feel most unqualified for this work, and wonder why God has chosen me for this task, when there are so many others far more qualified than I. Says Zacharias, “As I work on a speech, some old familiar but fleeting feelings come back: ‘I am so unfit for this. I am unsure of myself. Why do these people want to listen to me? I would never have wanted this. It’s not my natural inclination’.”

We both can grow discouraged and think we are not sufficient for the job at hand. But others will come along, as one man urged Zacharias, saying, “Please don’t give up on what you’re doing. It is making a difference.” Such encouragement means a lot.

And persevere we must. For I am fully convinced that Zacharias is absolutely right when he says, “Outside of the gospel, there are no answers for humanity’s most fundamental questions”.

[1680 words]

24 Replies to “A Tale of Two Men”

  1. Hey bill, my husband and I just want to encourage you for your incredible work! We are in ministry (full time senior pastors in Perth) and appreciate your work. When it comes to researching topics/subjects for ministry, your writings always are a great ‘source’ of research as well as prayer points and ‘evangelism’ aids. I love it! God bless you Bill.
    Trish Botha

  2. Bill, I have learnt much from you and I often recommended my friends to your website.
    Lyle Hutchinson

  3. Thanks Lyle. Much appreciated.

    And may I also draw everyone’s attention to the Zacharias book. His book is the main focus here. It is well worth getting, and can be purchased in Australia from Koorong books. He is a real inspiration.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  4. Hi Bill,

    Recently discovered the RZIM web site and have been listening to Ravi Z. audio downloads.

    His insights on worldviews and clear explanations from a Christian perspective have been a great aid in my witnessing. I’ve just finished reading Beyond Opinion by Ravi and his team and it was again, a great blessing helping my spiritual growth. I’m going to give my Vicar a copy of the book for his birthday!

    Christian apologetics is a very important issues for me now, having been a lukewarm Christian for more years than I care to remember. Currently reading “Understanding the times” by David Noebel, I had so much muddled thinking on all manner of things. Noebel is a great resource for those searching for “real truth”.

    Interesting to hear your journey Bill and similar walk as Ravi. I regularly visit Culture Watch and appreciate all your hard work for the kingdom. God bless.

    Dallas James

  5. Thanks very much Dallas

    Yes Ravi is fantastic, as is David Noebel. If every Christian read a few books by each of these two men, they would be more than able to take on most challenges to the Christian faith. And we would be well on our way towards turning our world around for Christ and his Kingdom.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  6. Thanks Bill, very much look forward to reading this book.

    Ravi’s, and your work too, is so very much needed in times of great deception as these. We are beset on all sides. May God continue to bless you both, as you seek to establish his heavenly kingdom here on earth.

    Garth Penglase

  7. Bill, I’ll be ordering that book … and who would have known you never did that well at school! Do you mind me asking how old you were when you started to enjoy reading?

    Annette Nestor

  8. Thanks Annette
    Actually I was reading a lot early on, well before becoming a Christian. So that was there back in my youth. But my conversion meant taking my reading, studies and everything else much more seriously, and for the Kingdom of course.
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  9. In other articles you say with regret that you were once a radical hippy. In this article you mention your conversion at the youthful age of 18. Did the transformation of your life take some time, or did you have a conversion similar to Paul?

    Annette Nestor

  10. Thanks Annette

    Yes my radical hippy days were a bit earlier than most: from about the age of 15 to 18. As to my testimony, well that is certainly not the stuff of a brief comment! A much longer piece would be needed for that.

    I know, you just want me to write another article! Well, perhaps I will get to that sometime in the near future. Thanks for your interest. My story could actually be turned into a book!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  11. Many thanks, Bill, for that honest and moving account.
    You’ve overlooked another parallel – there will be the vultures, who will be looking to critique, destroy and pull apart both of your ministries.

    Stay strong, as Ravi did…to the end, my friend.

  12. Thank you Bill for writing these comparative notes of both your lives.
    I believe you do full justice in making these comparisons.
    Ravi Zacharias truly was a most inspirational men, I would say so are you.
    Bill Heggers.

  13. Many of the Christian writers you speak about have been influential in my life too. I too was very depressed as a teenager. The only thing that held me back from suicide was that of falling into the hands of God who I saw as judgmental and therefore the likelihood of ending up in hell. I am glad to say I did meet the real Jesus in my early twenties and have been a Christian ever since. What a blessing people like CS Lews, John Stott, Ravi Zacharias and others have been on my Christian journey. I pray that your ministry might grow and particularly influence people in Australia. I long to see strengthening and renewal in this country.

  14. Thanks Thaddeus. When “Christians” can only find fault and make ugly criticism of those who were clearly men of God who were greatly used of God and did so much for the Kingdom, you know they are carnal, fleshly, arrogant and not worth spending any time with. They think they are doing God’s work in exposing error, but all they expose is the darkness of their own hearts and the paucity of their own spirits.

  15. Bill, thank you for sharing the above story, l think you called it The Tale of Two Men. So many similarities as you each have taken your journey in life in God. I want to say to you the words someone said to Ravi.

    ‘Please, don’t give up on what you are doing. It IS making a difference!’

    I believe you are one of thousands from around the world speaking out, challenging cultures and belief systems. Your ministry is at the ‘coal face’ and it is dirty and dangerous there and the cost has been great but your ARE dismantling principalities and powers. You are a sower of valuable seed that holds back corruption. May God give you a fresh anointing in your ministry as we farewell one of God’s servants. Love and blessings to you and that amazing woman named Averyl who partners with you in your ministry and gifts.

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