Remembering Ravi with RZIM President Michael Ramsden
This week on the Ask Away podcast, Jo and Vince Vitale share reflections on the life of Ravi Zacharias with RZIM president Michael Ramsden. Join us to hear Michael talk about his first impressions of Ravi, their decades of friendship and partnership in the gospel, and Ravi’s vision for the future of RZIM.
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Jo Vitale: Hello, and welcome to Ask Away. So, for those of you who've been listening over the last couple of weeks, you'll have joined with us as we've been sharing some memories and stories about Ravi Zacharias. I'm sure many of you tuned in to watch the memorial service on Friday, and so you'll have heard even more reflections on him. But part of the reason that we've taken the time to do this, and sort of break from our usual format on Ask Away, is because we had so many people writing in just saying how much it's meant to them personally to have the opportunity to get to know the man behind the scenes a little bit, having heard him so many times on the radio or on a platform or through a book, just to get to know “Who is Ravi, the man?” from the different friends and ministry partners who have gotten to know him well over the years.
I know for many of you, it's been a grief you've been walking through, but perhaps by yourself. You've listened to him for years on the radio, and now he's gone and it feels like there isn't a grieving community, perhaps, to process with. We're hoping in some way just to provide a bit of that space for you during this time on Ask Away. And so today, we are so delighted to have with us Michael Ramsden, who is the President of RZIM, or R-Zed-I-M, where Michael and I are from. He has known Ravi really the longest of any of us. You'll get to hear more of Michael's story in a minute and how he first got to know Ravi. Michael also had the misfortune of being the person to initially bring Vince and I onto the team. He's probably been regretting it ever since. I will say, if you have complaints, you can direct them to him. But Michael, thank you so much for joining us today.
Michael Ramsden: Thanks for having me.
Jo Vitale: Oh no, it's our pleasure. For those of you who haven't...And if you haven't had the opportunity, go in, look up Michael on YouTube and watch some of his talks and his material. You will love it. But for those who haven't had the chance to get to know you or haven't heard you speak before, or just don't know your story behind the person on the platform, can you tell us a little bit about your own background, where you were growing up, and how it was that you first came to know the Lord?
Michael Ramsden: Yeah, sure. Thanks, Jo. Well, I spent most of my childhood in the Middle East. We moved over there when I was very young, together with my two younger brothers. Growing up at that point in that part of the world in the mid-70s onwards, there was no church over there. My parents didn't have particularly strong convictions, necessarily, so I grew up really hearing very, very little about the Christian faith. We were initially in Sharjah, just outside Dubai in the UAE, and then we moved to Saudi Arabia in the early 80s, and of course that's also a place where there just aren't churches. You're not going to hear about the gospel.
So I grew up having very, very little Christian experience or an understanding. I mean, close to zero. I mean, I knew what Christmas was and the presents came, and so obviously I was invested in that. And I do find it interesting in such a secular time where people are panicking about, "Should we celebrate Christmas?" or, "Are you allowed to have a Christmas tree?" We had Christmas trees in Saudi Arabia, though by law, churches weren't allowed. So it was really quite interesting just...Anyway, that's a whole other thing. But we moved, eventually, to Cyprus, which is where my mother's from, and that was the first opportunity I had to go to church. And very sadly for me, I figured out if I went to church occasionally...because my parents would go to meet other English-speaking people. But if I occasionally went, I was considered to be very respectable and then I could get away with everything else. And so for me, it was about creating an image to make adults think that they could trust me when maybe I wasn't as trustworthy as I first appeared, sadly.
Anyway, through that, I met some missionaries. I then was talking with my brother and we thought, "We should set up a group to talk about these big questions of life." So we approached them and said, "Would you set up this group?" And they were quite hesitant at the time. The guy we were speaking to, his name's Bob Moffitt...I still know him. He was the area director for Youth for Christ Middle East/North Africa at the time. I said, "Look, we'd love to have a group." He said, "What do you want to do in the group?" And I said, "Oh, I don't know." Then he said, "Well, have you been in one of these youth groups before?" And I'd never heard the term youth group and I said, "Well, no."
And so, anyway, he agreed to set this group up and we brought our friends along. Then we realized on the first week, it was going to be a Christian thing, which hadn't occurred to us, but that's what it was. But it was actually interesting and we kept going back and it kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. About six, nine months into that, I remember he looked a bit sad one day when I was talking to him and I said, "Is anything wrong?" He said, "I want to take you guys away for a camp but we need government permission. We can't get it." Now, my mother's from the island. We know a lot of people. So I said, "Well, what do you need?" And he said, "Well, the chief of police and the minister for interior need to give personal permission for us to use a government-controlled campsite." So I said, "Leave it with me."
I went home, spoke to my mother. I said, "Do you know the chief of police?" She's like, "Yeah, of course." I said, "Can you ring him, get this permission?" So she did and then I said, "Right. Now we need the minister for interior." Rang him, got his permission. I rang Bob up and said, "Okay, it's a go. Let's go." And my brother and I went up a day early to help set the camp up and then all of our friends came, and on the second day of that camp, I became a Christian. So I actually helped organize and plan my own conversion, which...But that's how it happened. And the turning point was coming to this moment thinking, "Crumbs, this is true," and I didn't want it to be true. That was a very big realization for me. I'd come to the conclusion the Christian faith was true and I didn't want it to be true because I thought it would make my life worse.
And so then I was debating, "How long can I hold off making this decision?" Because I thought that would be better for me. That was a real time of wrestling. I was on a mountainside, I chain smoked my way through 40 cigarettes, and at the end of it thought, "I'm going to have to say yes." And I remember coming to...So some of my friends, all of my friends who were there together with my brother, getting this small group of them together and saying, "Guys, I'm going to become a Christian this evening. I'm going to ask them to pray with me. And the reason why I'm telling you is from now on, I won't be enjoying myself anymore." And that's exactly how it felt. I honestly felt I was sacrificing on the altar of truth my only shot for happiness in the world. And I remember using that phrase word-for-word. "I'm sacrificing my happiness on this altar of truth." It was the only image that came to mind.
So I was so surprised after I became a Christian not to sink into depression, which I thought was going to happen, but to actually experience this joy. I got the opposite of what I thought was going to be coming my way as a result of going that route.
Vince Vitale: I was going to say, having known you for over ten years now and the laughs that we've had together, I'm glad that you were not prophetic in that understanding of what the Christian life would look like. But that is quite amazing. I mean, I guess...I was just thinking about the way that Ravi always spoke about the way God would weave together people's stories, but it's pretty amazing the way God had given you that...You wanted to ask questions, you wanted to set up a group for questions. That was already there, even before you were a Christian, but then you set up the youth group and got permission for the retreat upon which you became a Christian.
Michael Ramsden: Yeah. And I think as soon as I became a Christian, I can remember thinking, "I want to give everybody the opportunity that I was given." So someone was very gracious to me, and the youth leader at one point...I remember Bob coming to me. He would do a talk and stuff and then say, "Right. Any questions?" And my hand was the first one to go up every single time. I remember he took me aside at one point and said, "Michael, do you mind just holding back from asking the question?" Because as soon as I got in, I'd be like, "And what about this?" And I would just keep going. So he said, "Do you mind not asking the question to allow other people to ask questions, and then I'll call on you?" And the room we were in was packed, and so sometimes I'd sit behind him, because he might be in the middle of the room, so he couldn't even see me. And he would say, "Any questions?" And then at some point, even without being able to see me, he'd say, "Okay, Michael," and then I would just be straight in there.
So I can remember after I became a Christian thinking, "I want to give other people that opportunity. Someone allowed me to ask all of the difficult, awkward, great, stupid, weird questions, and that helped me," and I can remember thinking, "I want to extend that same courtesy to everybody else that I was given."
Vince Vitale: Oh, that's wonderful. So now, tell us how Ravi Zacharias intersects with this story.
Michael Ramsden: Wow. Okay, so October 1, 1988 was the day on that camp I gave my life to the Lord, and on October 3, 1988, I was given a whole bunch of audio cassettes by this guy, Ravi Zacharias. I listened to it, and having had very little church experience...I'd been occasionally, like I said, for reputational reasons, and found it incredibly boring. I mean, really, really boring. I remember Bob Moffitt giving me these cassettes saying, "Listen to these. I think you'll like them." And I put the first one in and I was just hooked. And I had nothing to benchmark it against. I knew the church I was attending at the time...As soon as I became Christian, I realized the guy who was in the pulpit didn't know who Jesus was.
Vince Vitale: Wow.
Michael Ramsden: It was just a formal thing there. And so now I'm hearing someone who knows Christ clearly, and I thought, "This is what Christians do." And I'd always coasted through school. I didn't have to work particularly hard to do reasonably well, and so I didn't. And I was listening to Ravi Zacharias and I can remember thinking, "I better start working harder because these Christians know a lot." And I just thought that was normal. I really did. There was nothing I could compare it to.
Vince Vitale: You're just thinking Ravi Zacharias is your average intellectual Christian.
Michael Ramsden: Yes. Yes. Yeah, well-
Vince Vitale: You're thinking, "Okay, this is going to take some serious effort."
Michael Ramsden: Yeah, because the other guy mentoring me was a guy called Dr. Kenneth Bailey and I would go to his house at least twice a week, sometimes more than that, and he was the one who got me interested in New Testament Greek and biblical languages and all that kind of stuff. And so between Ken and Ravi, I can remember just thinking, "Well, that's the benchmark." It had a huge impact on me. I can remember just...I would sit and listen to the cassettes by hand. And actually, in 1989, a few months after that, there were a couple of guys working with Ravi right then. I mean, the ministry was quite young at that point. And they were visiting Cyprus. They were doing a tour of the Middle East. They were looking to him to come over and speak in various different places, and I got to speak with these guys who were working with him and were helping set up this trip.
So that was my first contact with the organization, was in 1989. And then in 1990, I wrote this long letter to Ravi, and, I mean, just so gracious. Because I can remember thinking, "This guy should be speaking at universities." Of course, it hadn't occurred to me that he'd already had that thought. So I wrote, I don't know how long a letter. We really should see if we can dig it up. I bet it's been kept, because Nancy Bevers was working with him at the time and she was so organized. So I faxed her this long letter explaining why, in my humble opinion, obviously, I thought Ravi should consider speaking at universities and saying, "Why don't you come and speak to some in the UK? I'll help set it up for you," because that's where I studied at that point. I was now a law student. And Nancy Bevers read this four-page letter I faxed through and rang me back...
Jo Vitale: Wow.
Michael Ramsden: ...which I wasn't expecting.
Vince Vitale: Wow.
Michael Ramsden: And she later told me, "I just read it. I thought there was something significant in what you were saying." She said, "Ravi's in the country, would you like to meet with him?"
Jo Vitale: Wow.
Michael Ramsden: "Can you get to this following airport hotel?" And that's when we first met, sitting in an airport hotel. He was flying out of the country the next day. I was now a student and I was now hearing the voice which I was so used to hearing come out of a cassette player coming out of a human being. And I just couldn't stop smiling because I just...And I had to apologize. I said, "Look, I'm not smiling like this because I'm crazy or anything like that. I'm just so used to being able to press pause every time you say something that I want to write down, and I'm sitting here thinking, 'There's no pause button.' I'd give anything for a pause button right now, just to hit pause and take a note." And so that's when we first met.
Jo Vitale: That's wonderful. How did you go from there to then...well, yourself receiving the call to be an evangelist apologist, and was that part of joining the team, or did you receive that call first and then the invitation came after?
Michael Ramsden: Wow. Yeah, so I remember three days after becoming a Christian, I was in my first ever Bible study group and I picked up some language very quickly because...I became a Christian, it was a Saturday evening. My first Bible study was on a Thursday evening. And when I became a Christian, I was just filled with an appetite for the scriptures. So I went to my first Bible study on Tuesday, four days after, and by that point, I'd read through the New Testament twice and I was halfway through the Old Testament. I just couldn't stop reading it. I just wanted to ingest, take on board as much of it I simply could, just immerse myself completely in it. And at the end of that Bible study, the guy who was leading it said, "Okay, if you could ask God for one thing, what would you ask Him for in prayer?" And I said, "Well, I'd like Him to make me an evangelist." So that's what they prayed for me.
Vince Vitale: Wow.
Michael Ramsden: So that desire to tell other people came right from the very beginning. I think when I was listening to Ravi Zacharias, I can remember thinking, "Hey, this is the way to do it. I can reach my friends with the gospel when it's explained in this way. It's going to make sense to them." I was listening to some other stuff, too, a lot of teaching material and stuff like that. But that seemed to be in house. This felt like something..."I can give this away. This is going to help me give it away."
So after that initial meeting, I wanted Ravi to come and speak in the UK. I was still a university student. We set up meetings in London and Sheffield and Nottingham and so on for him to speak, Cambridge University, and we did all of that and during that time, he then said, "Michael, I'd love you to come to this conference called Founders'. Our Founders' conference is where our major supporters from around the world all come together for a weekend, so I'd like you and Anne to come." And-
Jo Vitale: Anne is your wife.
Michael Ramsden: And Anne is my wife. Yeah, that's right. And I can remember thinking that would be great. I spoke to Anne, and she was in a school at that point and her head teacher wasn't the most easy person to get along with, and she was brand new in the job. And to get there, we were going to have to take a Friday off work and a Monday off work to be able to get the flights, and we didn't want to ask. So I was writing a letter back to Ravi Zacharias saying, "We can't come." And I said to Anne, "I can't send this letter. We haven't asked for permission yet." So Anne gathered all the courage she could, went to go and speak to her head teacher to say, "Look, I know the answer's no and I'm not expecting you to say yes, but we just want to ask ..."
Vince Vitale: Need to ask.
Michael Ramsden: "... so that we can just say...but please don't..." She completely gave them every out you could and then said, "We've been invited to do this thing." And the guy instantly said...he wasn't a Christian..."That sounds like an amazing opportunity. You go. I'll teach all of your lessons."
Vince Vitale: Wow.
Michael Ramsden: "Don't worry about it." So we flew over. Ravi introduced us to all of these people. Everyone was very friendly. And when we got back...this is in the early 1990s now. I'm trying to think. It's probably '93, '94, something like that. Ravi rang up and said, "Michael, we've been praying about getting a ministry going in Europe. Would you like to do that? Would you like to join RZIM?" And the answer to me seemed to be anything but obvious at that point because I loved this guy, I loved everything he did, and I thought, "I'm going to be such an embarrassment to this organization. I mean, what do I know? What can I do?"
And so, again...And I wrestled with that decision for months. I mean, I remember praying about it, fasting about it, talking with other people about it. I mean, to say I wrestled with it would be a massive understatement. Anne was always much more quietly confident that this is...She could exactly imagine me doing this, but it felt presumptuous to me to think, "Oh yeah, of course I can travel and speak and do that kind of thing." I was just scared. I was just thinking that, "I'm going to let you down."
So I wrestled with it a lot, and then I was actually invited by a guy called Michael Green, who's now also with the Lord, to speak at a conference for Eastern European evangelists. So I was still a student. I went out there. Michael Green was meant to be speaking four times a day. Well, by the end of day one, he was really tired, and so...And I'd gone with my Bible and nothing. I had a Bible and just a blank notebook, and at the end of the first day, he said, "Michael, will you do one of the talks tomorrow? I want you to give a talk on the development of philosophy in the last couple of hundred years, how it's culminated in the postmodern mindset, and how you believe that will impact Eastern Europe and what its implications for evangelism today are."
Jo Vitale: Oh no.
Michael Ramsden: And so literally I was up all night preparing for it. I was ringing Anne at home saying, "Go to my bookshelf. On the third shelf, a third of the way along, you'll find this book, it's got a blue spine. Take it off. I think it's around page 52 you're going to find a quote. Can you read it to me, because I'd like to quote it when I'm speaking tomorrow." And so in the midst of all of this, I'm wrestling with should I work with Ravi? He's extended this thing. I'm now at this conference speaking to these Eastern European evangelists and I have a talk with somebody, and at the end of it I think, "You know what? This is nuts. I'm crazy to think I should be doing this. I'm far too young. I'm far too inexperienced. I'm going to say no to Ravi. I'm going to offer to support the ministry. I'll do anything I can to help and I'll do something else." That's the decision I made. And I ran a very deep bath that afternoon and I got into it and I burst into floods of tears...
Vince Vitale: Wow.
Michael Ramsden: ...and I cried for two hours. I cried so much I ran out of tears. I don't know if you've ever tried to cry when you've got no more tears left to shed. It actually hurts. And all I know...even though I haven't told anybody I'm going to say no to Ravi...all I know is I'm in the bathtub and I'm thinking, "I've just made the single worst decision of my entire life." And I remember ringing Anne, and I was so upset on the phone I could hardly speak. I couldn't get the words out. Anne thought someone had died or there'd been some terrible accident.
And then I realized...And the words, "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel," took on a totally different meaning for me on that day, and I can remember thinking, "I have to say yes to this. And even though I don't feel prepared or..." I didn't feel any sense of, "I can do this." I didn't have that sense at all. I just felt, "This is what God wants me to do, so that's what I'll do." That's when I rang up Ravi and said, "Okay, we're in. What do we do now?"
Vince Vitale: Wow. It's amazing to think about the connection between...On the last episode, we spoke with Sanj and now this week, speaking with you, Michael, a couple of things that struck me. First, that the whole story begins with you faxing a letter to the ministry. And Sanj's story begins by him just sending an email to the general RZIM email address. And I have a sense how many emails and back then, faxes, come into this ministry. But Ravi's always had people working with him that understood the value of that spiritual discernment to be able to identify a letter and say, "There's something here. God's asking us to follow up with this specific individual." And then both for Sanj and for you when you were first asked to come to Founders', you both almost said no. And then when you were both asked to join the team, it was this real wrestle and ultimately an act of obedience, so it's amazing to see those commonalities.
Michael Ramsden: And I think Ravi Zacharias understood the importance of an individual and he was all about trying to spiritually discern what the Lord wanted. And as you know, my wife and I got to see him on the Wednesday before he went to be with the Lord and one of the things he shared was he said, "We need to pray for an anointed team. The team needs to be able to hear from God and to be anointed by Him to be able to share the gospel." And so he put a huge emphasis on the importance of study and preparation and all of those things, and he saw those as being vital disciplines that people had to go through, but not as a substitute for either reliance on the Lord or being led by Him.
It was a beautiful thing to see, and he was, as you know, very gentle with people. And when you spent time with him, it wasn't the gift a politician may have of making you feel valuable, but they're probably not thinking of you when they walked out of the room. He really spent time with you and he was thinking about you when he left out the room, and that made it all the more special. And he just didn't forget people.
I remember speaking in Thailand a couple of years ago and I got talking to the person in the security line behind me and they said, "Why are you here?" And I explained. And they said, "Oh, wow. I became a Christian 37 years ago. Ravi Zacharias came to my high school when I was twelve years old. He won't remember me. My parents were missionaries. I was in missionary school." And I saw him the next day and I said, "Raviji..." I often called him Raviji. It's an Indian term which is about respect, a bit like in the South people may address their father as sir. It's not a formal thing. It's sort of like an intimate thing.
But anyway, I said, "Ravi-ji, I met this person." I said, "Their first name was this." I couldn't remember their surname. "You spoke at their high school. Their parents were missionaries overseas," and named the country where the parents were. And she said, "Oh, I know." And then he gave me her last name and then he gave me her parents' names, and then he said, "I remember that. It was a very busy time and after I spoke, she asked if she could have ten minutes of my time. At the end of it, I said, 'Would you like me to pray with you?' And I prayed with her." And he was just able to recall...
Jo Vitale: Wow.
Michael Ramsden: ...this instance from 37 years ago, because this twelve-year-old girls was just as important to him who we talked to as when he was meeting with the leader of a country. That was a remarkable thing that was important to him, and I hope is also important to the team.
Vince Vitale: That's amazing. I always smile when I've been on the road with Ravi and someone approaches him and says, "You won't remember me, but..." I've always smiled because almost always he does remember the person and they're so surprised to see that. You've spent a lot of time on the road with Ravi. Can you talk to us about early experiences of that? What was your preconception of what being on the road with Ravi would be like compared to the reality and things that maybe stuck out to you?
Michael Ramsden: Yeah, I know. I mean, a couple of things really do stand out. I remember the first time I went to go and speak with him in India, and it wasn't that long after joining the organization. I landed in the middle of the night because all the flights from the UK to India arrive sometime between 2- 4 a.m. So I walk out into this very hot room. It's 3:30 in the morning and I'm looking for a driver holding my name because I don't know anyone, and there's Ravi Zacharias standing there. I remember going up to him and saying, "Sir, what are you doing here?" And he said, "Well, Michael, you're here. It can be a bit disorienting when you first arrive. I wanted to be here to greet you." He'd been speaking twice the day before, he was speaking twice that day. Everybody and their dog wanted five minutes of his time, and there he is standing at an airport, 3:30 in the morning to drive me to where I'm staying. I remember saying to him, sort of embarrassingly, "Thank you. Please, I'm fine. I can take a cab. It's not a big deal."
And I remember the next year, the same thing happened all over again. I walked out, about 2 a.m. this time, and there he was standing there waiting for me and I didn't even say, "Thank you," this time. I just said, "What are you doing here?" I just felt awful, that I couldn't believe it that..."What are you doing? You need a good night's sleep. You got a really busy day ahead of you."
So those kinds of things really stand out, just the way he treated everybody, from whether they were waiting on a table or cleaning the room. I can remember...very, very vividly remember, actually...he and I, we were traveling together and a group wanted to interview him. They were interviewing leaders. I don't want to give too much of the story because it's not about everyone else, necessarily. It is about him. But these students had been interviewing all of these different leaders. Ravi said, "Will you go down and let me know when they're ready to film? Because it can take them an hour to set up." So when everything was set up, I rang him. I said, "They're ready." He came down, the interviewed him for half an hour, he thanked them all, prayed with them, went back up to his room to finish because he was speaking in a few hours' time.
I was packing up the equipment with the guys because there was so much stuff, so I was just putting stuff in bags and zipping it up. One of the guys turned to the other one who'd done this interview and said, "Finally. We've interviewed 98 leaders and we finally met the real deal."
Vince Vitale: Wow.
Michael Ramsden: There was something else about him, too, which was, it wasn't about a show that you put on from the platform. The guy you had dinner with was the same guy who stood up there talking to you. And that shouldn't be rare and it shouldn't make you stand out in any way. I really believe that should be completely normal. Sadly, it's not as common as it should be, and it's what struck these guys.
And so, it was just moments like that where it was amazing to see the response to the gospel, it was amazing to see how people turned up to hear him preach, but the abiding memories aren't so much of that, as significant as all of that is. It was just his kindness with the people around him and how he treated them.
Vince Vitale: Yeah. A lot of people don't know that Ravi was less comfortable with bigger audiences. If there was an audience of 5, 10, 15, 20,000 people, he would often push back on that type of event initially to see how essential it was, how strategic it was, how important it was for him to be involved. And I think part of that was that with a smaller audience, he felt he could see each person. He could actually look into someone's eyes and model something of that conversation that he loved to have with an individual as he preached.
Michael Ramsden: Yeah. No, I think that's true. For someone who saw so many lives impacted for Christ, he wasn't about the numbers in that sense. It was about, "These people matter, and there are some people who have difficult questions and they're not happy just to hear. They want to be able to come back, so I'll go there. I'll go to the ones...There were other people in the kingdom who were able to reach all those people, so let's go where He sends us and let's be prepared to put ourselves in that more vulnerable position where people can actually come back against what you're saying and engage with it." It's one of the reasons he...One of the things he taught me was...and again, I didn't think it was unusual at the time, because I just thought that's just what you do.
And I remember speaking at an event in the UK and the organizer said...And I said, "Well, I'm going to speak for 45 minutes and then I'll do half an hour of Q&A." And they said, "No. You're a one hour and fifteen minute stop. We'd like you to speak for an hour and fifteen minutes." And I said, "Well, how about we just put a microphone out there and people can come up and ask questions?" And the guy said, "Well, you can't do that. People might ask anything." And I think I'd been with the ministry maybe a year and a half, but it was so normal to me. I just thought, "Oh, not everybody does that?" So in the end, I thought, "I'm only going to speak for 45 minutes." The guy then bounded up and said, "Hey, let's do questions," and that actually went on for over an hour, but it's what I learned from him. He didn't want to have necessarily pre-prepared questions.
I remember talking with him once saying, "Do you want people to write down their questions and send them in, and then we'll just read them out?" And if at all possible, he would always say the same thing. "I'd much rather have a microphone so the person can stand there and I can look them in the face and I can see their eyes and I can talk to them and I can see them so I know how the question's being asked, what it means to them, and so on." And so, it was more like...Q&A with him was not so much, "You've asked me a question. I'm now going to play to the crowd." It was, "You've asked me a question. I'm going to now speak to you. Everyone else can listen in."
The two phrases he would use over and over again were, "Thank you for your question," and, "Does that help?" And he meant both of those things completely. He was so glad they asked the question, and he wanted to know had it answered the question that they had actually brought or not.
Vince Vitale: And based on how the question was asked, the emotion behind it, the tone. Even a question with the exact same words he might answer very differently depending on what he sensed was behind it.
Michael Ramsden: Yeah. That's right.
Vince Vitale: Michael, you and Ravi always really enjoyed each other, and I always enjoyed watching that as well, laughing together. You could always make Ravi laugh. I mean, you kind of share this Eastern and Middle Eastern hospitality in terms of the way you are with people. What did that look like for you when you two just had a moment between things to enjoy each other and to rest? What did that often look like?
Michael Ramsden: Yeah. Well, sometimes when you're dealing with very serious things and very big things, the ability just to laugh and just to unwind a little bit...because the rest of it can be very intense and also very, very, very significant. People are asking real, heartfelt questions. They're struggling, they're wrestling. You want to pour yourself out into them. But then there is something really wonderful about being able to retreat to a place where you can start to talk about other things and just enjoy each other.
Matter of fact, someone sent me a picture just recently in light of everything that happened, which this meant a lot, and it really was him. I was been with the ministry for ten years, so I'd been sending him the occasional text just joking, thinking, "Hey, I've been with the organization ten years. Is this when I get my gold Rolex?" and stuff like this. He would write back. He was very quick off the mark. He would write something very, very funny back and we'd go backwards and forwards. The photograph someone sent me recently was he was walking through an airport on one of these moving escalators and there was a sign above it and it actually had the Rolex symbol on it. And so he's pointing, smiling at it, and he had whoever he was traveling with take the photograph and send it to me. That was just the kind of person he was.
I remember one year, I'd been having fun meeting people around the world. I mean, I didn't do this with complete strangers normally, but I would extend my hand and say, "I want you to know it's been a pleasure and I really mean that. It's been a pleasure for you to meet me today." And of course, the person on the other side, you could see them stumble or just falter for a moment thinking, "Wait a minute. What did you just say?" So I can remember thinking to myself, "When I see Ravi, I'm going to..." I was waiting to use this line with him.
And so I saw him and I remember running over to where he was and just hugging him and then saying, "Ravi-ji, I want you to know, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart with all sincerity, what a privilege it is for you to see me again." And he didn't even hesitate. He said, "Michael, the feeling's mutual." I mean, he was on it in a moment, like that. He just immediately...and there was something just very precious about that because that's some of the stuff that you could just do behind the scenes where you are just enjoying each other's company and that kind of stuff, and it meant a lot.
Vince Vitale: Oh, that's good. One of our favorites here in Atlanta was the Christmas dinner every year. This was just for staff, so it was kind of “in house” and just sort of an informal occasion, but Ravi would always get up...and as you know, you would always be there, Michael...and give some remarks to the staff. But we would go up to Ravi just about two minutes before he'd go up for his remarks and give him some word or phrase...the most random...
Jo Vitale: Obscure.
Vince Vitale: ...obscure word or phrase, and then Ravi knew that meant he had to somehow work that word or that phrase into his remarks to the staff for the Christmas dinner. And he would often go through his entirety of his remarks and it was coming to a close and you could feel he was landing the plane and we'd think, "Oh, he didn't manage it. He didn't do it." And then just in that last sentence or two, he would weave it in seamlessly. I always remember that.
Jo Vitale: That must have been...because we often talk about how much easier in a sense life might have been for Ravi if it hadn't formed a team, if there hadn't been a team of RZIM, if it was just a couple of itinerants on the road. But he did, and you were instrumental in that, Michael, and having such a key role and being somebody who built the team. Can you tell us a little bit about what was the vision there? What were you thinking?
Vince Vitale: You're right. That was a lot of trust there, because Ravi often put it in the terms of, "Michael's the one who built this team." He really handed a lot of trust to you, Michael, in terms of the development of the team over the last couple decades.
Michael Ramsden: Yeah. Well, and also, I mean, he...I mean, obviously, that's how he started. I mean, Ravi's vision was never to build an organization to support himself. He wanted to build an organization that would support a team. And I think if he were here right now, he would say the single most important legacy he's leaving behind isn't the books and the messages, although I know millions of lives will continue to be impacted and blessed by those. He would say, "No, it's the people we're leaving behind. It's the team. That's what really, really matters here."
So I think it was always in his heart, and when the ministry first began to grow, his very first thing was, "Right, let's start supporting people in India," because he thought, "I don't want to use all of this money to leverage my voice on radio and TV." That was never his goal. The goal was, "Okay, right now we've got this support coming in. We can now support other people who aren't in a position to raise that for themselves and release them. So that was always part of the DNA.
Then I think as we got to know each other...I think people looking from the outside would sometimes look at the organization and wonder, "Are you some kind of think tank? Are you some kind of philosophical society or theological society," or whatever it may be. And all of those things are so important, and he valued and treasured them so much, but he knew the ministry was to be first and foremost a voice that took the hope of the gospel to the nations, and that's what he really wanted it to be focused on. And so I think because we had sort of a mutual connection there, he was then happy to trust me to keep bringing people to him and saying, "Hey, how about adding this person in the team, how about growing these guys? I think these work really well." I remember doing that with you two, Vince and Jo, talking with him, saying, "Look, I think I've found some people we should really just think about what this could mean for RZIM.
And so I think he had that in his heartbeat, and part of my role, then, was just to help serve and then thinking, "Well, how can we see this thing grow, go globally?" And it's true. I think if everything was smaller, it would be easier to manage. But I think Ravi never had the desire to have a really easy life. I think, as I say, he knew what he wanted to leave behind and it wasn't going to be counted in buildings or books or different talks given. It was going to be counted in lives, people who'd come to love Christ and then people who'd been released to take that love of Christ to the corners of this world.
And so I think there was always that joy. It was always a sense of building together and with a common goal and a common purpose and a common name and a common desire. And so it was very, very easy. I remember when I was a young guy...when I was wrestling, "Should I work with Ravi?" Someone who knew me really well said, "Michael, is Ravi asking you to support his vision, or is he wanting to support yours?" And a guy asked it and I said, "You know, that's a really good question and I understand why you're asking it." I said, "But when Anne and I came to that first Founders' all those years ago in 1990, whenever it was, when we were going home, I'd written out my vision and stuck it up on the wall of my bedroom as an undergrad university student. And as we were flying back, Anne said to me, 'Michael, the vision they articulated was identical to what you used to have up on your wall when you were a university student.' And I said, 'Yeah, it is. It's identical.'"
And I think there was never that sense of differing visions or differing goals or differing things. It was, we'd just been given the same desire to see the same ultimate goal, and that made it therefore easy to navigate an awful lot of other challenges that came our way down through the almost three decades, because of the way the Lord had joined our hearts together.
Vince Vitale: I think it's really significant what you said just a bit ago. Ravi didn't desire an easy life. That wasn't the filter through which he made decisions. I remember a couple years ago, I heard Ravi on the radio. I can't remember what the show was, but the interviewer asked the question, "Do you enjoy your ministry?" He kind of asked it in a casual way, and Ravi, always quick off the mark to formulate what he would want to say in response to a question...I don't know if I've ever seen him take such a pause before he answered the question. There was a really significant pause and then he said, "There have been many moments of deep joy."
And what occurred to me was that that filter was never the filter through which he made decisions about his ministry, his calling, how he was going to spend his time. The question stopped him because he had never asked himself, "What's going to be the most enjoyable way for me to spend my time?" He asked questions about what God was calling him to and what it would look like to be obedient and to do something of eternal value and worth. It just really...You can be impacted by silence. That silence between when that question was asked and when Ravi answered really impacted me to think about what it was that he had as his filter as he was making these decisions. I think it's really brought some comfort even to me to think back over the last couple of years and how often Ravi would say, "I'm not done, but my work is finished."
I think he had a sense of that even, Michael, with you, moving into the presidency role as well when there was no need that it had to happen when it did. Ravi wasn't ill. There wasn't any health crisis. There wasn't any sense that, "We need to make a change now." But this was just the natural outgrowth of the way the ministry and the team had developed and it just seemed like it was part of our continued obedience to how God was leading. But those words bring some comfort now, Ravi saying, "I'm not done but my work is finished." And I think what he meant by that was he felt, actually, "I've been obedient to the major things that God has called me to do and have left a team that will continue for many years to come."
Michael Ramsden: Yeah. And he'd often talk about you guys, Vince and Jo, and other members of the team, and he would take real delight in thinking, "I slept for eight hours last night," or six hours, or however long it was, "And while I was asleep, there were various people around the world doing this, this, and this, and the message was still going out."
I think especially at a time like this, with the world asking so many questions, with so many challenges, with so many struggles that we're going through right now...I mean, for many around the world right now, this is the first time societies have collectively had to face the reality of their mortality and they don't know what to do with the question or with the challenge. And I think he took a huge delight in thinking, "Yes, I want to see this team going out there." I think at the same time, I think maybe the reason for the pause, is there's a cost with that, too. Because then you have a lot of different personalities involved and a lot of different people and a lot of different giftings, and how do you see those marshaled well, and how do those fit together well. And of course, that brings other challenges with it, as well.
There were times down through the years where you thought, "Okay, how are we going to handle this or negotiate that, or what's the best outcome of that?" So there can be heartache in that sometimes, but then also potentially great reward. And I think that's very often why both Ravi and Margie would talk about the family, meaning the RZIM family, because that's what it looks like. Those deep, close, committed, common relationships bring with them all other kinds of things in their wake, but hopefully if the basics are right, the overwhelming sense of joy and gratitude and who do you most want to be with in times of difficulty. Well, family.
But that doesn't mean, therefore, that there's nothing else that happens, too. It is true, it would have been the easiest thing for him in his world to remain a lone voice, by himself, with a support team around him and nothing else. Would have been the easiest life he could have opted for.
Vince Vitale: And never have to say, "What did Vince and Jo do now?"
Michael Ramsden: I think he said that about me maybe more often than he did about you.
Jo Vitale: I was about to say the same thing.
Vince Vitale: That's right. We-
Jo Vitale: Sometimes if we'd get up to speak, we'd be like, "Am I allowed to say this or not?" And if we were speaking after Michael, Michael would then say something from the platform and be like, "Oh, okay. I think we're okay. If Michael said that, we can say this."
Michael Ramsden: That's great. That's great.
Jo Vitale: Leading by example. Michael, I'm just thinking that...Because I know when you went to see Ravi for the last time that he actually hadn't been speaking much, up until that point, so we weren't even sure that he would have an opportunity to communicate with you.
Michael Ramsden: Yeah, I know. Yeah.
Jo Vitale: But he rallied when he saw you, and I think maybe part of that was because he just had such a longing for the vision, for the gospel to go forward and wanted to communicate that to you, that strength then came to be able to pour out his heart to you in those final moments. And so I guess our last question to you would just be, as you look ahead and thinking about the continued work of God through RZIM, what do you see as a sort of essential vision and what we want to hold onto that makes this ministry unique and that continues to live out the legacy that Ravi's entrusted to you and to the rest of the team?
Michael Ramsden: Yeah. Well, it was interesting because Anne and I, we spent some time with him and Margie was there, Sandra was in the room, too. We went to leave and then Margie called after us and said, "He wants you to come back." And you could see he was now trying to sit up in bed, which must have taken every ounce of energy he had. And there was a light that would come into his eyes and a certain type of expression he'd often have sometimes when he was speaking, and it sort of flooded back in, which was amazing to see. So that was a very, very precious moment. But part of what he was sharing was for the future.
I remember when I first started working with the organization, Margie Zacharias saying to me, "Michael, we're always told by inviting parties, if I wanted an apologist, I'd know who to invite, and if I wanted an evangelist, I'd know who to invite. If I want someone who blends those two together, then I really struggle to think who might be able to join these two." And I think Ravi's desire for the organization would be to say, these two things have to be married together here at this organization and we have to be focused on Christ and the gospel and taking that message of hope. And I think that absolutely, that was the vision, that continues to be the vision, that will be the vision so long as He gives us breath. That's what we will share.
I think, also, as we look ahead, we are facing this huge time of difficulty. And very often when we're trying to share the gospel, we try to do it by avoiding the difficult questions in the culture, the third rails that we don't want to touch. Whereas Ravi just instinctively knew the best way to share the gospel wasn't by avoiding those questions, but by preaching the gospel through those questions because then it would connect both to the heart and the mind and people would say, "This is speaking to me and this is now addressing me. This is the world I live in and this actually makes sense in the context of all of the mess and the struggles I have." And I think that's something that we'll always have to continue.
And it's interesting. He was using the phrase as he was lying there talking about Elijah and Elisha...and I'm sure it wasn't in the context of referring to any individual, but I think his heart's desire was that the multiplied impact because of having a team in so many different geographical locations speaking from so many different backgrounds, but with a common focus on Christ, was that there would be a doubling of the impact. And even more than that, not because a mantle had passed from one to another, but now because a team had been raised who could now take it forward. I think that was his heart's cry, and I think that's our heart's cry.
I mean, we are living in very difficult times now and we're watching some of the most challenging economic things that we've ever seen in the world because we've hit the emergency stop button on the global economy, so of course, it does look like everything's fallen off a cliff. But the reason we do what we do isn't because dollars come in. The reason we do what we do is because we're called. So even in the absence of that, the organization, we would all continue doing what we're doing because that's what we've been asked to do. It's just that that allows us to multiply and leverage the voice that does go out so it can go much further.
So I think the thing I'm so grateful for, having that time with him, but then also just knowing the heart and knowing the need that there is still out there. The cries of the heart do need to be engaged with. The brain can't be bypassed. It has to make sense in both the heart and mind, and Christ has to be glorified throughout it and people need to find that hope in Him.
And so that's even the bittersweet moment for us. We know that this voice is lost, but I think Ravi in that sense, may even have written his own eulogy when he was speaking for Billy Graham's. "We've lost a great voice, but the message will go on." And I'm sure if he was sat here behind this microphone right now talking about someone else, that's exactly what he would say, and those are the words that come to mind. We have lost a really significant voice, and the message will continue to go out.
Vince Vitale: Well, Michael, thank you so much for being with us.
Michael Ramsden: Oh no, thanks for having me, guys. It's lovely to see you.
Vince Vitale: Oh, yeah. Really lovely and takes us all the way back to that first Sunday brunch after church that we had in your home when we had that very first conversation about us maybe moving towards joining this team. It's been just a fantastic decade. And for all of you listening, we consider you part of this wider team as well. We pray for you every morning at our daily prayers, as we know that you're praying for us, and we're just so aware of the fact that nothing that's occurred in this ministry could have been possible without such a community of people praying for us all around the world.
So I hope you'll take encouragement from the things that Michael has shared, an in particular, just how important the individual was to Ravi. And each person listening right now, you have individuals in your life...questions, people like Michael once was. Take those questions seriously. Help them to set up their own youth group. Help them to get the permissions to go away on the retreat to be asked the question that maybe leads to them coming to know Christ. It's the best way that we can honor Ravi in this time, is by continuing to be involved in the sharing of the gospel and the lives of the people that God has intersected our paths with, until one day we will all be together and be able to enjoy Ravi again and have those laughs and those meals that we will always reflect on fondly. So thank you for joining us this week, and we will see you next time.
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