I spent roughly 4.5 years at Fort Bragg, NC serving in the Army, mostly with the XVIII ABN Corps and the 82D ABN Division. One of the local dives scattered throughout Fayetteville, NC where Bragg is located is Waffle House. Although founded in Georgia, Waffle Houses were everywhere in neighboring North Carolina. In fact, on Skibo road just outside Bragg there was one 4-way intersection with two Waffle Houses kitty-corner from each other, just to ensure that if you were headed North-South or East-West you couldn’t miss the opportunity to grab a cheap waffle and some greasy breakfast sausages. Waffle Houses were known for two things in Fayetteville: a place where you could get really cheap food, and that was open 24-7. Both these qualities made Waffle House a spot where local “Joes” (lower-enlisted) could gather early in the morning, either after a long CQ shift, or perhaps a night of alcohol-related, stress- reliving festivities, to quickly load up on all the kind of junk food they knew wasn’t going to help them max their PT test. I for one rarely went there, and that for one main reason. Having grown up in a restaurant family in Chicago, I just found the food, how should I say, underwhelming. It didn’t even measure up to IHOP as far as I was concerned, and that ain’t sayin’ much.
(I realize I may be putting myself in the cross-hairs of a lot of Southerners here, but I stand my ground. I just never understood the appeal of WH.)
In the next few weeks many around the world who were close to Ravi Zacharias, and many who only met him on a single occasion, will pay tribute to a life well lived. It was a life of faithful commitment to one goal, the demonstration of the love and grace of God to the world. Ravi Zacharias was a vehicle of the Gospel, a messenger rescued from near self-inflicted death at a young age to do the work of a harvester. He was one called to fish for men and women for the sake of Christ.
And fish he did.
I will not pretend, as many may be tempted to do in lieu of his passing into glory, that I knew Ravi personally. I met him only on two occasions, once at the RZIM headquarters where he addressed a small group of us who were learning to be good apologists, and again at a hotel in Tucson during a larger RZIM event. That latter meeting being in the men’s bathroom, and taking place in the way most meetings in men’s lavatories take place, standing shoulder to shoulder, looking straight ahead. But, even these brushes with the great one (and he was great), gave me a little insight into a man that many of us knew only from listening to the radio, or seeing on video.
When Ravi came to address our class in Alpharetta, GA, I had already had the benefit of getting to know many of the speakers and staff at RZIM. Folks like Shawn, Vince, Jo, Carson, Michelle, Michael, Krin, and Alycia had already made their impression on me. They were not only good teachers, they were incredibly kind, and personable. They clearly had embodied something that had been given them. Something they inherited from the institute’s founder. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it, but after Ravi came into the classroom and spoke to us, I knew what it was. They were the same people behind the scenes as they were on stage, or in front of the camera, or on the radio. They were just like me, and just like you, and so was Ravi.
Of course we are different, each in his or her own way. But when Ravi Zacharias, the world traveler, the ambassador to the nations, the confidant of CEO’s, politicians, entertainment moguls, and religious figureheads, the author of 30+ books, the man who shared the stage with other heroes in the hall of faith, the great communicator of the Gospel to the poor and needy across the globe, when this man came to talk to us, what was the first thing he told us about? His love of Waffle House! “Waffle House!” I thought. Imagine my shock. Waffle House?, that dive where “Joes” ate plates full of grease and grits at 3am? It seemed all too common for a man possessed of such great talents, and of such high standing in my eyes.
And when I reminded Ravi 6 months later in the bathroom of that Tucson hotel about how amazed I was that someone of his refinement could find Waffle House so appealing, what did he say to me, “Yes, but where else can you get so much food for under $5.00!” But that was Ravi Zacharias: he was a lover of Waffle House, a man of the people, a man whose identity was not caught up in his public persona, but was grounded in Jesus Christ. That is when I knew Ravi was a very simple man, a normal Joe so to speak.
And it was this character that clearly has shaped the entire team at RZIM, and that helps them to continue to stay grounded today. That team has since been a blessing to me in ways I cannot detail in a mere blog post. But, I can affirm with confidence that Ravi’s legacy rests not just in the treasure trove of content he leaves behind to posterity, but is also on display in the character of those who knew him best, and who have carried on his mission. His legacy stands on solid ground, because he stood solidly upon the Rock of Ages.
In honor of Ravi and this legacy he left behind, I offer up this small narrative. In the coming weeks and months there will be both praises and attacks on this young man from India. But I know that this was a man who ran the good race of faith, and succeeded in honoring His Lord in spite of the normal human stumbling along the way, including his bad taste in food.