Stories from the Road: RZIM's Sanj Kalra Reminisces on His Friendship with Ravi Zacharias
This week, as we prepare for the memorial service for Ravi Zacharias, Jo and Vince continue to reflect on the life and legacy of RZIM’s founder. At the request of many of our listeners, join us to hear more about Ravi Zacharias as our friend and colleague. In this episode, we share stories and behind-the-scenes reminiscences with Sanj Kalra, Ravi’s close friend and travel companion.
A memorial service honoring Ravi's life and legacy will be livestreamed on May 29 at 11:00 a.m. ET. Click here for more information.
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Jo Vitale: Hello and welcome to Ask Away. We just want to start out by thanking so many of you who have reached out over the last week. Obviously, it's been a really difficult time for all of us here at RZIM, and I know that for many of you it's been a hard week as well. Many of you are also grieving the loss of Ravi Zacharias. We had so many people reach out after our last podcast as Vince and I were reflecting on our shared memories of Ravi the person, not the person on the platform, but who he was, the man, what he was really like. A lot of you mentioned how helpful that had actually been to you as you were grieving yourselves, just to hear about Ravi, to be comforted, to know the stories, and just that that helped you in this state. Quite a few people had written in to ask if we could do some more of that and help you to get to know Ravi behind the scenes a little bit better. We really wanted to honor those requests, and so that's what we're going to be doing again on this episode of Ask Away today.
As we were reflecting on who is the person who could really speak the best to what Ravi is really like and someone who just knew him incredibly well, and so we wanted to invite in our friend Sanj Kalra this morning. Sanj is the Vice President for Strategic Partnerships at RZIM. He's also a speaker for the ministry, and another time we'll have to get him back on just to share his testimony with you all because it's a remarkable story of what God has done in his life. But in his role at RZIM, has actually been traveling with Ravi, unofficially for the last six years, officially for the last five. Ravi always referred to Sanj as his right hand man. And so Sanj has just so much experience of Ravi on the road, the real Ravi. Once you're up finding a restaurant, or in the car, or journey together and it was always a joy to be around the two of them together actually, just to see the way that they loved each other, the fun that they would have.
I know that ministry can be extremely draining when you're traveling a lot, when you're away from family and you miss them. And really stood out to me was the difference that we would see when our Sanj would be with Ravi actually, the joy and laughter that the Sanj would help bring out in him. Ravi had a hilarious sense of humor, but Sanj always helped bring that out. And I think just put a lot of joy at Ravi in this year. So I always felt like that, the friendship that you guys had, was just a real gift from the Lord to both of you. And so Sanj thank you for joining us today I know it's not easy at the moment to even talk about these things. But we really appreciate you sharing with us today. And I guess the starting question for me would just be, because what I find fascinating is the way that the story of how you came to know Jesus Christ and then came to new Ravi, they actually intersect in an amazing way. So just tell us a bit about who you are, and I know we don't have time for the whole thing, but how it all began.
Sanj Kalra: First of all, thank you for having me on your Podcast. I admire both of you and it's an honor to be here with you both, Vince and Jo. You are an example of Ravi's legacy that'll continue. So get to know these power couple, as you may.
Jo Vitale: Sure.
Sanj Kalra: I got saved 10 years ago, almost. I have an easy date and it's a date that I never forget. It's six, eight, ten. So that's coming up in about a week. I was living a very duplicitous life and wanted to end my life. I didn't find any meaning in it. And went to a church that I used to periodically attend and looked for an African American pastor that I had a connection with who I never met, but I felt they had a connection. God was pulling me towards this gentleman. And he ended up meeting me that afternoon and shared the gospel with me and I had never heard the gospel the way he explained it to me that day. And from that moment on, I wanted to let everyone know about Jesus. Everyone that was coming in my way, friends, family, neighbors, strangers, except for two people, which was my mom and dad because I came from a Hindu background and I was very afraid and worried about telling them. I come from honor, shame kind of culture and those kinds of things were going through my mind.
But it was a friend of mine who was actually a customer by the name of Russ Raymond from the Cleveland Clinic. He shared with me that I should be listening to a guy named Ravi Zacharias. And I remember that day he wrote it on a piece of paper and I went to a Christian bookstore and look for his book and I found his biography, Walking From East to West. And the only thing I wanted to do with that book was I wanted to turn it around to see if his picture was there. And it was a picture of Ravi and he was Indian. And I was so excited because he was Indian, I was Indian. And now I realized that they were at least two Indians that loved Jesus.
And so from there I began to read his book in the car. And then began to listen to YouTube. And then it was his CD that I received from RZIM, Jesus Among Other Gods, which I would listen to over and over again. And every time I would listen to it, and every little nugget that I got out of it, I kept saying, "I wish my parents could hear this message. I wish they could hear this message." And it was Ravi that started out for me as a Christian hero, because prior to that, I didn't know who he was, or people call him a spiritual father to them. But he was that kind of person to me, at first like, "Wow." I didn't even know this man existed. And the way he portrayed the gospel message in such a way, I knew my parents would not want to listen. And so he gave me confidence and I began to witness to my parents. Finally, I had the courage because of Ravi and apologetics and his team. It was a very tough conversation. And from there, my mom began to read Ravi's Biography.
I sent his book, and then she asked for another book and another book. And then she was open now to read God's word, she began reading the gospel of John and I knew that she was interested, but she kept saying, "I'm just here to prove that you're wrong." At the same time, my wife had a fantastic idea that maybe we should go and see Ravi speak live sometime. My parents lived in Ottawa, Canada, and then Kay and I lived in Cleveland, Ohio. And Ravi was speaking in Toronto. And so it was almost like a four hour difference in between us. So, I was able to write an email, at the time, Ravi's assistant was Krin Baer, who's on our team. He received my email and said, "Sure, love to meet you. No guarantees of meeting Ravi." Sort of thing.
Vince Vitale: And did you just write into the general RZIM?
Sanj Kalra: Something like that. Yeah.
Vince Vitale: Yeah, wonderful.
Sanj Kalra: So from there, Vince, they knew that I was coming. We sat up in the front because I got there early. My mom walks with a cane, so they were able to put her up front. So the four of us sat there and I'm going to tell you something, Ravi did something that he's never done since. I don't know if he's done it before that, but he had never done this since that evening. When Ravi walked out, I nudged my wife and said, "There's the guy, that's the guy I've been listening to." And he was about 15 feet away. And he was introduced now after the first speaker, but he didn't walk up on stage, Vince. What he did was he walked into the crowd. And he walked up to my mom and dad because his assistant told them that my parents had come a long way to see him. And he introduced himself and he talked to my parents for at least a minute, but he first talked to my dad out of respect, and then he walked back up on the stage and then gave a message and typical Ravi message, it was exactly for my parents or whoever was in the audience. But after that Jo, I got a tap on the shoulder from Krin that Ravi would like to meet us afterwards. So I was excited because I was going to get my book signed.
Vince Vitale: That was the extent of your expectation.
Sanj Kalra: Exactly. So we were invited in the green room, and if you've ever been backstage with Ravi. He's mobbed still with a lot of people that want to meet him. And we waited patiently and then they brought my mom and dad and my wife and I. And my mom began to talk with Ravi and my dad. But it was my mom that engaged and they began to have a lot of dialogue. And it started on the subject of India. And then the subject of her, her Hindu background. And then from that moment, Ravi shifted the conversation to Christ. And that's when there was silence actually in the room. There was several people in that room watching what was going to happen. And in fact, I remember looking over Ravi's shoulder, seeing Margie waving her hands for everyone to lower their voices right now.
Vince Vitale: She could sense what was happening.
Sanj Kalra: She could sense what was happening. And what happened was a series of questions that Ravi was able to answer for my mom and then he asked a question to my mother. It was all about the sacrifice. Where is the sacrifice? And that the sacrifice can only be found in Jesus Christ. And then my mother sort of looked up in the air and shut her eyes and said, “I've yearned for that my whole life, eternal life.” And then Ravi invited her to follow Christ.
Jo Vitale: And she said?
Sanj Kalra: And she said, "Yes."
Vince Vitale: Wow.
Sanj Kalra: And boy did she cry that evening on Ravi shoulders. And that's how I met Ravi Zacharias, just by first being in awe of his way of delivering the gospel and of reaching a seventy-year-old Hindu mother through his messages and through his dialogue. We all intellectually know the gospel, but it's the way Ravi did it. He met my mother where she was at, and then asked pertinent questions and what he did best was he listened and listened, and then he asked his questions. It was beautiful. We were shocked actually. Yeah.
Vince Vitale: You were hoping you might get your book signed.
Jo Vitale: Did you get your book signed?
Vince Vitale: It was a little better than that.
Sanj Kalra: He signed it. He signed the book.
Vince Vitale: And the signed book.
Sanj Kalra: And he signed the book. Hands down he signed that book.
Vince Vitale: Hands down, fantastic. Wow, okay. Continue, this is just wonderful and just beautiful to remember all of this Sanj, and continues the story for us from there. And so how you wound up on the team, you didn't make it overly easy on Ravi?
Sanj Kalra: No, no, no. Oh, it's good to laugh. Yeah, so we exchanged emails that evening and I wrote him a letter on how my mom was doing, and then he wrote me one long letter back and we met up in Washington D.C where he was speaking. And I sat next to Margie, and this is something I've never said, but I said to Margie, "Don't you get excited when he's about to speak?" And she said, "Sanj, Ravi is an anointed man." He and I just said, "Wow." And I was a new Christian, and I'm not going to lie to you. I didn't even know what that meant and I wrote Margie a letter before, you obvious passing on that story of just, her answer was just crystal clear of his calling. And so I sat next to her and then she whispered and said, "Ravi has a bit of a surprise for you, and he wants to ask you something afterwards."
So I was very excited, wow. And what he did was he weaved in his message, my mom's conversion story which happened about a month ago and how it is possible, because the message was, “has Christianity disappointed you” basically? And he always gave hope and he used that illustration of my mom. But afterwards, I was going to leave and she said, "No, he wants to ask you something." And he was mobbed. And I walked through the mob with Margie because everyone knew it was Margie. So they all moved away and Ravi actually was on stage and I was below the stage and he bent one knee down and was so happy to see me. And he said, "I would like for you to come and speak at our annual founders conference and share your story." And I'd like your mom to come.
Vince Vitale: Oh wow. And did you have any idea what he was going to ask you?
Sanj Kalra: No idea. No, no, no. And so my answer was, "No" right away.
Vince Vitale: The first and only person to say no to Ravi when asked to speak somewhere with him was Kalra.
Sanj Kalra: And my friend Bob Bevington was with me and he literally whispered in my ear and said, "You don't say no to Ravi Zacharias." And I said, "Okay. Just give me the details. I'll do it." And so from there I spoke at Founders.
Vince Vitale: And why did you say no, at first, the initial instinct?
Sanj Kalra: To be a hundred percent honest, I struggle with my speech and I have a stutter. So to speak publicly is horrifying to me. And to speak at that kind of level and at a conference. It wasn't even a thought. It was a, "No, I don't do that." Because I would have been so nervous to do it more than anything.
Vince Vitale: I'm just thinking of how beautiful it is to see the way that God weaves things together. There was a time in Ravi's life where that would have been just unthinkable, unbelieving teenager on a bed of suicide who hadn't performed well within his family, and the thought of what God was going to do with him would have been inconceivable. And now he's asking you to speak something specifically that you think you can't do well, and then you become a speaker as part of his team. That's really, really beautiful.
Sanj Kalra: Wow. Well, I didn't think of it like that, but, if you look back, yes. All of that is true. I am an encourager as all you guys know. So, yeah I spoke and then we kept in touch a lot. I was working in the Medical Device field, very successful at that. So things were going well. My marriage had been reconciled and many relationships were being reconciled, and I was falling every single day, madly in love with Jesus. But we just kept on writing to each other. And we met up in Chicago at the Moody Bible Institute, and he was speaking there. And being in Cleveland, I was able to drive. I went up with a friend named Jared Florian, and we went there and we had dinner with him the night before. And then the next day he said, "Why don't we have lunch together?" And I was like, "Sure, only me?" He goes, "Yeah, just you and I. Let's have lunch." And I was like, "Wow." And so again, he's this spiritual father, hero of the faith kind of guy to me right now. And we sit down for lunch and till this day, he always beat me. So he was there early. That's one thing you should know about Ravi. He will get there earlier than you, I promise you.
Jo Vitale: We would always have stressful conversation. We are like, "We can't be late for Ravi." But no matter how early we got there, he was always there first.
Sanj Kalra: That's so funny. And so I was like so early, because I'm also like that, but there he was waiting for me at the table and then we sat down and there was a quick, "Hello, how are you?" And he leaned forward and asked me a very poignant question. He said, "So Sanj, what is God telling you to do?" And I had an answer this time. It was, I said, "Ravi, I just want to tell everyone about Jesus." And he says, "Well, I can make that happen." And my whole back got wet. Began to sweat and I went, "What did I just say? What is going on here?" From that moment, something God was working us both that particular lunch meeting. I was talking to one of Ravi's assistants, Priscilla David, and she said a beautiful line about Ravi. And that day that line was pertinent for me. She said, "Ravi Zacharias finds gold in everybody. He sees it in everyone and that gold is grace." He saw something that a layman like me and said, "Well, I can make that happen."
And what happened was, a month later, I went to Malaysia and the Middle East and shared my testimony, my raw testimony prior to him when he would give the main message on that particular trip. And it was on that particular trip when we began to eat meals together, every meal together and we just got to know each other on that particular trip.
Vince Vitale: Wow.
Sanj Kalra: Yeah. And that was in 2012.
Vince Vitale: And what were your first impressions then, in terms of traveling with Ravi? Did you have a preconception of what that would be like and then how was it?
Sanj Kalra: Yeah, there was this...First of all, the celebrity thing, I guess you'd call it, wore off very, very quickly because he never made me feel like that. Being on the road was extremely organized and in high demand. His time was always, always in demand of meeting, after meeting, after meeting. As soon as a country or city found out that he was in town, they wanted to meet with him. They had skeptics they would like to meet with Ravi. Whatever it was, and boy did he, he always took those meetings and he took them seriously. So that's what I saw at first, the busyness of it. And then the actual blocking of time for him to prepare for the message. He studied, I promise you ladies and gentlemen, he's studied on the road all the time. Sometimes I would come up to his room for whatever reason, and his books would be laid out everywhere and his notes and all that, and he was always constantly reading and studying. So that was one part that I learned, that this guy was a veteran. I was very new and very green, and I was excited to be in these new places and when he'd study, I'd go sightseeing, because I'd never been to half of these parts of the world.
I was born in India but the highlights were always the meals, guys. And that's when we got to know each other. And I remember Chuck Colson saying that he only hired broken people at his organization. And I think that's what Ravi looked at, that he saw that I was a broken man that got saved. And that was my response that I couldn't believe I got saved every day till this day, it's still emotional, it still hits me and I think he saw that and it encouraged him that Christ is real, that he can take a man like me. And even Ravi himself, I don't think there's been one message where he doesn't put his testimony in there. I don't think he plans it, but it just naturally happens and if he doesn't, well, there's a reason that he calculated not to put it in there. He always reminded me never to forget where I came from.
Vince Vitale: Yeah. He never lost that sense of, "who am I, that God would be mindful of me? I feel like Ravi, no matter how successful he was at what he did, no matter how many people were responding, he never lost that sense of, "This was all God and what God had done and not a shred of it is something I could have done by myself."
Jo Vitale: What would you say were some of the greatest challenges for Ravi about being on the road? What were the struggles?
Sanj Kalra: Yeah, I think the main struggle for Ravi was being away from Margie and the kids, and then the grandkids in that order, and then the team. It is a very difficult calling. It's probably the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, is fulltime ministry and you two can understand it and now you've got a child and one on the way. Being away is very difficult. And then obviously rest, you have to get rest, otherwise you're going to burn out. And so we would get there at least a day before if possible and in between countries get some kind of rest, and a lot of it was on the planes. So we had a lot of fun in airports and on airplanes. Yes, we did.
Vince Vitale: And you mentioned the meals as well. I'm thinking of the first time I ever had a meal just the three of us, with Ravi and Sanj and myself. I was set, we were at a table for four, but one of the sides was up against a window. So it was Ravi, myself in between the two of them, and then Sanj. And they began this debate about certain types of cheese that Sanj will not eat and that Ravi really feels that Sanj should try and should eat and they must have gone back and forth for about ten minutes with me, kind of half joking, but really having fun with it, with me as sort of a mediator in between them. And I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard.
Sanj Kalra: Yeah. Boy, traveling was very hard, but doing it with someone else made it easier. But food was his love language. He even said that, "That was my sin, food." He loved food. And to have a meal with me in a particular time away from his family was something that we both look forward to. He yearned always to have a meal with Margie whenever he came home. And it wouldn't matter what the food is, when it was with Margie, but with me, it was fun because we enjoyed so much cuisine. But yeah. If there was something that I didn't like which has been said, was smelly cheeses. He just couldn't get over it that I didn't like the taste of parmesan. But I like mozzarella. But we would just be so comfortable with each other. And I think in a friendship it's...
There's something Bob Grinnell on our development team said, he said that, "Friendships are never forced, Sanj," is what he told me. They're just natural. And yours and Ravi friendship was a natural friendship. And if you're listening now, if you think of any one of your friendships. They're all pretty natural. You don't force yourself on it. The way I met Ravi was to sign a book. I never had any intention of having a friendship, I really didn't, and It just kind of naturally happened. But I think that shows with Ravi, he had many friendships. I remember leaving a very beautiful, beautiful home in a foreign country. It was massive, and I remember leaving it. We did a lot of those private talks in people's homes. And I remember saying to Ravi, "Boy, these people are so wealthy." And I said the word rich. And he said, "Sanj, we may not be rich, but we're rich in relationships." He says, "I can go in any country and pick up the phone and have a meal with the friend. And that's what matters the most."
Jo Vitale: I always felt like the richest relationship Ravi had is with Margie and well, after Jesus. But I have learnt so much from the two of them. And I remember Ravi saying that, I think one of our students in Oxford had asked in the questionnaire like, "What relationship advice do you have?" In terms of trying to figure out who to, if you're going to get married, who you spend your life with? And I remember Ravi saying that whoever God puts you with has to be twice as committed to the call as you are. And that really struck us because that was so true of Margie.
I felt like she was unwavering and in seeing, like you said, the anointing of God in his life and holding him to it, even at times when you might have been like, "I want to be home with the family." And she said, "No, it seems like God is opening this up for you." She was so for what the Lord had called them to as a couple, and she didn't see it as just his ministry, but something they shared, and they prayed into, and they walked in. And the faithfulness that always just amazed me, the faithfulness to the vision that God had given them and holding each other to that. I know that you and Kay have your own story of reconciliation in your marriage, that God worked in a beautiful way. And I was just wondering what would be your reflections on seeing the way Ravi did family? What did you learn from him?
Sanj Kalra: Yeah. I think the number one thing that I learned was our first dinner in Chicago. I was with my friend Jared Florian and Paul Kepes, one of our board members and Bob Grinnell and Ravi. And we were in Chicago the night before Ravi was speaking I think, and we were having dinner and Ravi's phone rang and he immediately answered it. It was Naomi, one of his daughters. And it was Naomi, I think was phoning from Colorado, and then he came back after he talked to her and he explained that she was about to speak and she was a little nervous and she wanted to hear some encouraging words from her dad. From that moment, he was no longer this big celebrity. He was a father. And I have two daughters and that he took the call no matter what. And something that I learned with that, that even though he was so far away, that he actually took the call in any country. So his family was the most important thing in his life next to his calling by Jesus.
I think it was a struggle between the two all the time. That's a fact and anyone in full time ministry but one that's in itinerant on the road for that many years, he's absolutely right. Your spouse has to be twice as much in it as the actual person. Yeah. He used to call the overseas trips “long hauls.” And on those long hauls you reminisce and you wish, and you yearn and you think of your family all the time. "When am I going to be home? And I wish I would have done this and I wish you would have done that." And so I learned to appreciate my wife and my kids and time. So that's my answer, what I learned the most is at every moment in every second is so precious and to glorify God in it. Every meal was a gift. Every time we came home, maximize it. But a man like Ravi was being pulled in all kinds of directions from people wanting time with him from the skeptic, to training, to recording, whatever he was doing to writing. But I know for a fact, his favorite thing was to have a meal with his wife.
Jo Vitale: Sanj, this is something that was written by Thomas, one of Ravi's travel associates, and I just want to read it to you. It's just a text message and you can just respond to it. He says, "Nothing made me happier than to see the visible shift in Ravi's mood when Sanj was around. Sanj brought lightness, humor and joy to Ravi's life and ministry these last number of years. I'm so grateful. Ravi had Sanj as a friend and feel so lucky that I got to tag along and witness that friendship."
Sanj Kalra: Wow. Boy, Thomas was Ravi's assistant for a long time and he was excellent, boy. He served him beautifully, beautifully he did. And boy, to hear those words, “our mood shifts when Ravi walks in a room,” but for him to notice that Ravi—his mood shifted when I walked in the room. I know I was called by God to work next to him. I know God gave me this assignment. I keep calling it an assignment to be next to him. He had a sabbatical in 2015 for about a month, and he was in India and he asked me to come and meet him there in Goa, India, on the coast, and we had about four days there of just doing relaxing and all that. And, we had become very good friends by then. The trust factor was very high, that's part of friendship and comfort. And so we really began to understand each other. We talked about our parents and all our struggles and everything like that. But when we were in Goa, India, he asked me, "Sanj have you been baptized yet?"
And I had not been baptized yet. And so the next evening in the Arabian Sea, Ravi baptized me. And that was an experience that I didn't expect. I thought it was checking the box, folks. But when you get baptized by Ravi Zacharias, it's not checking the box. He walked through why Jesus was being baptized by John the Baptist, and that was about fifteen minutes, I would say. And then about five minutes on why I should be baptized. And then he invited a family. A local family to watch and they all walked in. They rolled up their pants all the way up to their knees, and this family walked up and they photographed it. But he wanted them to witness it. The next evening we were on looking over the sea. I know this sounds so romantic, but we were in two rocking chairs, laughing, and we were drinking iced coffee and it was very, very nice. And he said, "Sanj, I'd really like for you to come and work with me at RZIM and be a part of the team and travel with me and I'd like you to be my confidant." Now, I barely got through college.
I had heard that word before and later on that night I had to look up the word “confidant” to really know what that meant. And I said to Ravi, "Why me? Why are you picking me?" I asked him that question and he immediately said, "Because you make my step lighter." And I said, "Yes, I would be honored." And then I said to him, "On one condition, that you correct me because I'm going to make a lot of mistakes." And he says, "Okay, then I have one condition for you." So you never one-up Ravi. And this is what he said, and I'm going to repeat this quite often during the week. He said, "Then I want you to remember to do things for people that can't do things for you." Do things for people that can't do things for you. "Because in this ministry,” he said to me, "Many people will want to do things for you. They're going to want to upgrade your hotel room or your flight, or they're going to want to do nice things for you. And you're going to want to do things back for them, but don't forget to do things for those that can't do anything for you. Tip the bellman Sanj, look them in the eye. Everybody is equal. Don't forget that Sanj, that's my only worry about being in fulltime ministry."
And so from being a spiritual father to this spiritual hero, he began to mentor me in a way, in the very beginning, and then it became a friendship, not a mentorship at all. We began to minister to each other, and friends are there for the good, but especially the bad, and life is up and down. For me also, I had some tough times and for him and he was there for me and I was there for him, and that was friendship. We began to get very, very close. Yeah.
Vince Vitale: And I know we were so thankful for the depth of your friendship with Ravi. Ravi, as our close friends, Sanj, as a brother to us, and seeing the way that you blessed our friend, that has always meant so much to us. And especially even in this last season as well. I know you were in consistent touch with Ravi even when he was out of state getting treatment. And I always feel like you learn a lot about how someone lived by how they die. I know it's difficult, but I wonder if you could reflect with us just a bit about what you saw in Ravi in those final months and even final weeks and days about the way he approached death and how his faith and his relationship with Jesus made an impact on what that looked like?
Sanj Kalra: Yeah. You know that's a great question. One thing that I used to always say to him, was, three things almost on a weekly basis. Either I'd say it to him or I would text it. I would say, "Ravi, don't be surprised. Remember your assignment and remember who's doing the work." And I would always remind them of that. And our roles began to change. I began to really pour into him and he needed encouragement because being on the road is lonely. And so you need laughter. You need all of that. But in his last days, I began to remind him of that, and we began to say the verse all the time. “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Everything was about Jesus with him. He studied God's word, he knew scripture, he was a hundred percent sure all the time. We got to talk about how amazing God was in his life at the end. He told me lots of private things that I will always cherish. But when a friend says to you, "You were there when I needed you the most." As a friend that has a mentor or anything like that, or I was not his son and I wasn't his wife. None of that thing, I was his friend. I learned how to be a friend and I think he's a man that I miss daily. It's very difficult when you're attached to someone. Priscilla, our assistant said that we were on the road over 300 days last year. That's a lot of time together and I loved him. I was honored to serve him. And that's what you do when you have friends. And he served me. Some of the things he did for me are unbelievable, but it was all about cherishing our time together, Vince and Jo. But I got to a level where I would do anything for him. And that's friendship.
He had a very bad back. And I've never said this, but I don't mind saying this because it was an honor. I would help massage his back sometimes on the road. And towards the end, especially the back of his leg was bothering him and that, but the first time that I massage his back, I wept on his back. I began to cry. I just was like, it was a mixed emotion of, "How did I get here, God? And I'll do anything for you, Lord, even if it means to rub someone's back and make them feel better." And for me it's been an honor and it's still surreal that he's not here. As we were earlier talking, I was talking to his daughter earlier.
I think everything reminds me of him. I had to put all my luggage away in a closet because every week we were on the road, repack, pack, get new toothpaste, get new floss, repack, get your laundry done, fill up the suitcases for how many days we're going. We had so many suitcases that we had a ten day, we had a nine day, a seven day, a four day, a three day, a one-nighter, so many suitcases for each kind of thing and so I just had to put those away. They were just such a reminder. I miss him dearly. And again, his central message for me would be grace. The grace that he gave me because he received that grace and even as he's nodding his head up and down, because I think that's how he was with everyone.
Then he really taught me that every human being was the same, from getting a call from a Sheikh from the Middle East to the Indian restaurant where we would eat. The waiter, when I recently went to pick up food for him, already knew about his sickness and he knew Ravi's name and Ravi knew that guy's name. He would always tell me, "Make sure you tip that guy. Make sure you tip him. Sanj, did you give him some money? Did you give that person some money?" Everyone knew his name in every hotel that we would frequent too. Why? Because of the man that he was and he looked at everyone the same and treated them. And we would have to bring books on the road, as you know. And I would say, "Who are all these books for? We're only going to one or two meetings." And he goes, "Oh, this bellman I said I'd give him this book or this waitress that I met last time. Maybe she'll be there this time. I spent five minutes with her and she has broken story, Sanj," I was like, "Wow." And so, "Do things for people that can't do things for you," has been my motto that I've learned from him.
Vince Vitale: That's wonderful. We've always felt like Ravi's public ministry was a natural overflow of what God had done and continued to do in his heart and it's just always been so encouraging hearing about the stories from the time on the road from you, because you saw Ravi in the most difficult spaces. You saw him after three or four legs of a flight and completely exhausted and having spoken four times that day and the three meetings that weren't supposed to be on the schedule that were thrown in. And then do you still remember the bellman's name? And to give that person a tip. You saw those things, and I think it was that integrity that Ravi trusted God to live with day by day that allowed him to have the public impact that he had.
And one of the things you said to me, Sanj, which I loved was that, in those last months and weeks, Ravi was always asking the question, "God, what are you trying to teach me?" Not that he was making a direct correlation between what was happening and then, the cause and effect, but he just always wanted to learn from God. He had that humble spirit, he never thought that he was done learning, and I just loved that. A man who taught so many through his life as he came to his final days, he was continually asking, "Jesus, what do you have for me to learn even in these days?"
And there is joy and thinking about Ravi now in the arms of the one who was always on his heart and mind and lips and just how much he's learning right now directly from Jesus himself. And I don't think we're ever going to lose those emotions of what we feel when we see the suitcases or when we go to that restaurant. And in some ways, in an odd way, I'm, I'm thankful for that because Ravi has left us with so much and taught us so much and pointed us to Christ in such a significant way. It's going to be the greatest honor of our lives with whatever time God has left for us to continue to uphold the vision that God entrusted to Ravi and that we feel, as you've said, Sanj, so strongly that we were given an assignment to step into that. One pastor said recently, Ravi not only blazed a trail, he also paved a path for a team that's coming behind him and what an honor that's going to be for however many years God gives us here and I know you'd join me in saying we already can't wait until we're with Ravi again. And who better than him to show us around when we get there. And I'm sure he's going to have a reservation already in place for a great Indian restaurant.
Sanj Kalra: Oh, yeah.
Vince Vitale: To spend some time and maybe even the smelly cheese will be good enough in heaven for you to enjoy.
Sanj Kalra: Maybe. I was actually thinking he's still next to Jesus, still asking questions probably. "What about this and what about that?" I could see him doing that but the man was not perfect and he knew it, but his, the message matched him, I can honestly tell you. When you're attached to someone like that for about six years, 250 days on the road, everywhere you go, you're almost attached to him. Eating almost every meal, he matched his message.
Jo Vitale: Sanj, thank you so much for being here with us today and sharing. Is there any final word of encouragement or something you want to share with the listeners?
Sanj Kalra: Yeah, I think, what I'd like you to know is that everything was never about Ravi, but it could have been. It was always about the team, the team, the team, the team, and it's what he left. He left a legacy of speakers and a ministry that'll go on for years, that'll have his DNA, that will continue on. I was actually thinking, there are a lot of people that have never met Ravi. They have not met him, but you can still listen to all his messages. They'll never be irrelevant. The other day I was with the family and it was a tough week, and I was with each one of their children. We were all in the same room. There was Nathan, his son, Naomi, and Sarah, and I looked at all three of them and I felt Ravi there. So if you ever want to meet Ravi, you're going to have to get all three of them in one room and if you're able to do that, you'll see Ravi Zacharias in all of them because they portray certain personality and traits and looks and everything and the way they are, but they all have his heart, which is full of grace.
Jo Vitale: Sanj, thank you so much for being here with us today. And so I do encourage you all if you're praying type, please be praying for Sanj and the family in these coming weeks as we mourn together, but also celebrate the life of someone who loved Jesus and what God can do in a life like that. We are very grateful, thank you for being here with us today. Thank you all for listening and we'll catch you next time.
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