“Our young people are overwhelmed with questions. Non-stop questions.”
Today’s students, believers, and skeptics are seeking truth and answers to life’s toughest questions. “Are science and faith at odds?” “Is there really such a thing as objective morality?” “Can I really believe Christianity?”
Statistics and surveys indicate that many young people walk away from their faith during their college years, confused and disappointed no one addresses their honest questions and doubts.
Many are hanging on to their faith with a thread, or finding that the thread has already unraveled for them. Far too often, secular professors – intent on teaching students what to think rather than how to think – use their positions to indoctrinate students and rattle the foundations of their core beliefs. Some students have never heard the Gospel.
“We oftentimes think of university as being a mighty bastion against the Gospel,” says Callom Harkrader, a graduate of Oxford Centre For Christian Apologetics (OCCA) where men and women receive evangelism and apologetics training from Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM). “Indeed there are many things fighting against knowing Jesus on universities, but it’s amazing to me to see how just clarifying and sharing the gospel–because so many people haven’t actually heard it–is the simplest and, sometimes, the only thing you need to do.”
RZIM prioritizes reaching colleges and universities because of the potential to influence leaders of the next generation, to explain the gospel to skeptical audiences, and to equip believers on campus to share and defend their faith in the academic arena. In the last year, our speaking team has visited over 30 different campuses in the U.S. and dozens more around the world, addressing students and faculty in open forums, meeting with university leaders in closed-door settings, answering tough questions students wrestle with, and training Christians to effectively communicate the truth in higher education.
UNIVERSITY OPEN FORUMS
Open forums have quickly become one of the distinguishing features of RZIM. It’s a public event consisting of a 30-45 minute lecture by an RZIM speaker, followed by a 30-45 minute question-and-answer (Q&A) session with the audience.
These open forums are unique opportunities: students get to challenge RZIM speakers by asking direct questions about anything and everything.
“We are finding a genuine openness and a willingness to engage among the students,” said Andy Bannister, Director of RZIM Canada. “Please pray for the follow up of those we meet, that’d we find ways to partner well with churches and other ministries so that those we meet can be further engaged or discipled.”
Ravi Zacharias has recently addressed several, high-profile schools including Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, Texas A&M, West Point, and the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn).
The audience at UPenn was a satirical one, with students eager to mock Ravi, Christianity, apologetics, or all three. Some incorporated a parody BINGO game into the mix, turning certain apologetic key words into game points.
Several students showed up to protest outside the prestigious Irvine Auditorium as Ravi spoke on, “Is Truth Real? A Conversation on Science, Ethics, and Philosophy.”
Although the atmosphere was tense, God worked in powerful ways. Nearly 1,000 people attended the 2.5-hour forum and over 2,000 watched from online. In addition, several major universities hosted simulcasts of the forum including Harvard, Cornell, and the University of Rhode Island.
In these Q&A sessions, students from a wide range of worldviews frequently ask crucial questions pertaining to objective morality, absolute truth, and the person of Jesus Christ.
Islam is also a hot topic at universities, and students are especially intrigued by Nabeel Qureshi’s conversion from Islam to Christianity. Nabeel has received numerous speaking invitations from student groups and campus ministries, and spoke on “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus” at an open forum at Georgia Tech in November 2013.
RZIM live-streamed the open forum, which generated an incredible response.
The video has received over 200,000 views on YouTube.
Nabeel has been able to publicly share the differences between Islam and Christianity and engage with many Muslim students who attend his talks.
Students also soak up Nabeel’s insights from the medical field. He was able to present evidence of Jesus’s resurrection to hundreds of students at Emory University, as well as to medical students at Hong Kong University and at Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
Ravi has spoken on the subject of science, medicine and God, as well, at the renowned Christian Medical College (CMC) in Vellore, one of the most prestigious and well-respected medical institutions in all of India. He addressed over 2,500 medical school faculty, students, and hospital staff for two open forums on the topics, “What does it mean to be human?” and “Science and God: is it irrational to believe in God in an age of science and reason?” The Scudder auditorium was packed and over 1,000 people watched outside in overflow each night.
“We want to impact our community with the Kingdom of God, and we see our hospital as marketplace ministry,” said CMC Director Dr. Sunil Chandy. “We as a community soaked in every word and phrase. Ravi’s sessions reinforced our faith in God as the driver of the science we practice,” adding that the faculty and students face constant bioethical concerns and challenges related to the sanctity of life.
“I was amazed at how respectful and attentive the CMC audience was, as there was pin drop silence in the auditorium with the crowd seated in focused anticipation,” Ravi said. “I told this distinguished audience that science had no answers for the questions of the spirit. Only God is big enough for that. And He has provided His Son, the ultimate answer.”
RZIM-India itinerant speaker Neil Vimalkumar uses his own academic background in science and engineering as a platform to address some of the best and brightest students and professors at India’s leading universities.
Neil spoke at several Christmas events at a leading medical school in Northeast India and another at one of India’s leading business schools.
“For many students, this was the first Christmas program they had ever attended,” Neil said. “They may have come with an intention to party, but the message was loud and clear that Christmas is about God’s revelation, redemption and relationship.”
In Canada, God is opening incredible doors on university campuses for Andy Bannister and Nathan Betts to speak to and engage with the academic communities. In the past year, the two have spoken at 11 universities across Canada.
Stuart McAllister and Cameron McAllister recently went to three universities in North Carolina, using the dynamic of a father-son duo to answer many students’ questions on absolute truth, relativism, and ethics.
“I’m not here to ram my views down anyone’s throat, I’m simply here to bear witness to the truth,” Stuart said in a radio interview prior to an event in North Carolina. “We must let truth contend in the marketplace of ideas.”
Cameron’s focus has recently been on helping students distinguish true faith in a culture of nominal Christianity.
“There comes a crucial juncture where you have to own your own faith and ask yourself, ‘Do I really believe this?’” he said to a group of students, using his own testimony to share candidly about his journey to faith. “I came to the conclusion that the only thing that would satisfy me and my longings was an infinite God.”
Faith is often challenged by the evil and suffering seen all over the world. It’s a sobering topic that many students are eager to find answers to, and many RZIM speakers have tackled answering the hard questions concerning the problem of pain and evil.
In November 2014, Ravi Zacharias was invited to speak at National Pedagogical Dragomanov University in Kiev, Ukraine, a country recovering from a recent civil war. With the topic, “God and the Problem of Violence,” Ravi took every opportunity to point people to the truth of the scriptures during some difficult days for the nation of Ukraine.
“God is the one who gives you dignity, not the state and not the culture,” Ravi told a packed lecture hall. “You are created by an infinitely worthy God, you and I are made with essential worth, and therefore I have no right to violate you and you have no right to violate me.”
John Njoroge has approached some of the toughest questions pertaining to the character of God, violence in the Old Testament, and the existence of evil, as well, using his own experiences and perspective from helping orphans in Kenya to explain God’s love and presence in the midst of suffering.
John recently teamed up with RZIM adjunct speaker Abdu Murray for an outreach event at the University of Michigan Law School. The two spoke and answered questions on whether God was a crutch for people to lean on, or truly sovereign.
John, Cameron McAllister, and Margaret Manning Shull also recently participated in the conversation of suffering at an open forum at West Texas A&M. Margaret was able to share deeply personal insights with students on reconciling human suffering with the goodness of God.
In contrast to suffering, Margaret has teamed with Jill Carattini to talk about beauty and the arts in light of Christianity, as well. The two have spearheaded a focused approach to reveal the role of beauty and creativity in presenting the Gospel message.
There have been hundreds of topics and thousands of questions over the past year on campuses all over the world. Topics from searching for significance to shaping worldviews, questions from “what if God was one of us?” to “where is beauty in the face of so much suffering?”
RZIM gives glory to God as India has increasingly becoming a global education hub, and God has given RZIM speakers unique access to over 20 campuses across the country there, including several high profile institutions. Students are eager to discuss the intersection of faith and science as well as the notion of success in a highly competitive environment.
The RZIM-Asia team has also seen amazing access on campus, and in the past year they have been primarily engaging with universities in Hong Kong as well as cultivating strategic relationships in Singapore and Indonesia. God is also working in England, as the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (OCCA) partners with the Christian organization on campuses to evangelize to students and answer questions in February each year (see below for more information on OCCA).
There is so much to praise God for as RZIM speakers and team members all around the world interact with students and prepare for hard questions and difficult questions.
Thank you for praying with us and standing with us as RZIM seeks to impact the academic arena: a place where brilliant, young minds are seeking the authenticity and truth that can only be found in the Bible.
Please continue to pray for more and more open doors, strategic opportunities, and boldness for our team to contend for the truth of the Gospel on campuses around the world. The doors are opening, students are listening, and the truth is being kindled on every continent.
SPOTLIGHT ON THE OCCA
The OCCA Fellows are graduates of The Oxford Centre For Christian Apologetics, trained in evangelism and apologetics by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. OCCA Fellows are strategically placed by RZIM in key locations around the world for up to two years, where their responsibilities include serving their local communities through evangelism and outreach, exploring avenues for future outreach, coming alongside ministry leaders, and participating in events and initiatives on behalf of RZIM.
Fellows Nathan Rittenhouse and Alycia Wood have been ministering in Boston for the past two years, which has led to incredible opportunities for evangelistic outreach and training on college campuses in the region. In 2014, Nathan and Alycia spoke over sixty times in the New England area, including at Harvard and MIT.
“I’ve been wanting to explore Christianity and this really inspired me to DO it,” a student remarked after one of their talks.
This year, RZIM has also placed OCCA Fellows Michael Suderman and Callom Harkrader in Washington, D.C., with major outreach events planned at Georgetown University and George Washington University as well as several training events for Christian leaders on D.C.’s campuses.
In the evangelism and apologetics training OCCA students receive, missions week in February is a highlight.
OCCA speakers, professors, tutors, and students will come alongside different universities in February to help Christian organizations on different campuses reach their particular student population. During the week, days begin with early morning prayer meetings, then move to evangelistic outreaches on the campus, free lunches combined with a talks (called “lunch bars,”), and then evening events. 200-300 students may show up for the free lunch bars during the weeklong event, which are paid for by university students with the Christian organization on campus or by the support of a local church.
Universities all across the UK anticipate the week when Christians flood the campus, and new students are often told in advance about the expected events. Last year, the OCCA toted big, red, sparkly question marks around campuses, inviting questions from anyone. It’s a time on UK campuses for students and professors alike to ask Christians questions and for Christians to boldly share the Gospel.
University missions can seem daunting, as the world sends “their brightest and best” to universities, according to Amy Orr-Ewing, Director of Programmes for the OCCA and UK Director for RZIM Zacharias Trust. Universities, however, provide unique opportunities for the advancement of the Gospel.
“Those who meet Christ in these mission weeks [in the UK] may well go back to home countries and become significant Christian leaders,” Amy says.
It can be an exhausting week and full of physical taxation and spiritual battles.
“Attacks take different forms,” Amy says. “For example, rooms that had been booked for an event are suddenly no longer available and we need a space for the meeting with three hours to go.”
One year, there was snow on the ground, and both the heat and the sound system broke. The CU and OCCA were in a tent, minutes away from starting a talk. They prayed, crying out to God. Then, someone found a fuse and an student climbed into the roof to fix the power. Two minutes before the event started, they had heat and sound. Five people made commitments to Christ at that meeting, including a Muslim friend.
Despite any difficulties, the weeks are glorious as God is infinite and unhindered.
“Sometimes Christians think they need to be armed with the best apologetics, as if they’re preparing for war. We sure enough do experience [warfare], but at the same time, I find just sharing the gospel in its simplistic but profound beauty is a massive victory in many ways,” says OCCA Fellow Callom Harkrader. “People do recognize its beauty and want it to be true. As Blaise Pascal said, ‘We must make people wish Christianity were true, and then show them that it is.’”
Students are meeting Him every day, and often in the least expected ways. Two OCCA fellows were sharing the Gospel with a professor at an art gallery when a girl walked by and overheard the conversation. She asked to join in the conversation, and ended up coming to that night’s talk with a friend. She and her friend both gave their lives to Christ that night.
“We meet the broken-hearted and the hard-hearted, and Christ breaks in in wonderful ways,” says Amy.