Ratio Christi: Nothing Short of Providential
by Meridith Cheek (Ratio Christi alum)
We have all had those moments that remind us just how big God is. Sometimes it happens while standing outside at dusk, engulfed in the beauty of a warm sunset. Sometimes, though, it happens when, through a series of perfectly coordinated events, we see very clearly God’s hand at work. In those moments we remember that although we have a part to play, the plan is not ours. The men and women who have been instrumental in Ratio Christi’s development have shared a similar feeling since the beginning. It is nothing short of the providence of God that has gently guided each of this young organization’s steps, enabling it to experience nearly 500% growth in the first nine months of independent operation. These leaders are faithfully playing their part and have been continually amazed at the vastness of God’s plan.
Simon Brace, missions director at Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES), was there at the start. In the summer of 2008, two university students, Randy Hardman and Brendan Helms, approached him requesting SES support for their on-campus student apologetics club idea. Simon agreed to take the ministry, which soon became known as Ratio Christi, under the wing of SES. “We had a good idea but no skills, no marketing strategy, and no experience with campus ministry,” Brace said. “The Lord provided and we are so grateful for the ordinary people who made an extraordinary difference in the early stages, like Norm and Rose who gave money to start the website, and Tim Entry’s donation to host a debate.” Although SES had a large group of well-trained people, Simon knew it was not enough. He quickly began building relationships with other ministries. Reasons to Believe, William Lane Craig, and others were supportive from the beginning. Brace knows that none of this would have been possible without God’s guidance. “We are thankful for the prayers, donations, students, scholars, and regular people who saw something valuable in Ratio Christi,” he said. “Using our own strength, it would never have happened.”
Soon, Ratio Christi was growing beyond anything SES could manage. They knew they needed someone with fundraising experience and financial expertise to step in and take over. This was their prayer.
In May of 2010, Rick Schenker ran into the Ratio Christi website. He immediately felt a pull towards this organization and its mission. “At the end of 2009 and early 2010, I started getting the impression that the body of Christ was heading into a new age, the Age of the Apologist,” Schenker said. “When I saw Ratio Christi online, I immediately knew it was a mass movement waiting to happen.”
Rick soon talked with Simon and Blake Anderson at SES about his desire to work for the ministry, but for a while nothing happened. Rick, who had considerable experience working in government and in growing grassroots movements and non-profits, was looking for work and, after not hearing good news for a while, began to doubt Ratio Christi was an option. “I was thinking of giving up on Ratio Christi,” he recalled. “One day I was out for a walk and prayed ‘Lord, I just can’t do this anymore. I need my phone to ring with an offer’.” Only a minute later, Rick’s phone rang. Ratio Christi was becoming an independent organization and they wanted him to run it. “It was purely the providence of God,” Rick said. “I waited to see if the Lord worked it out. There were so many obstacles with the government jobs I had looked into; nothing was working out. I knew Ratio Christi was where God had placed me in his perfect timing.”
By late January 2011 Ratio Christi was an independent organization with Rick leading the way. From that point on, Rick saw God at work constantly.
Rick told one gentleman that his first task was to raise the $5,000 necessary to pay for all the legal work to set up the corporation, file the tax exempt paperwork with the IRS, and start the process to trademark the Ratio Christi name. That man immediately offered to donate the $5,000.
Brian Auten of Apologetics315 invited Rick to do a podcast about the vision of Ratio Christi. The interview for the podcast was scheduled for early March 2011, the same day Rick was in North Carolina to have a few meetings about setting the strategic direction of Ratio Christi. Just prior to doing the podcast, Ratio Christi was offered a $25,000 matching gift with a $5,000 up front payment to help get things started. Rick actually did the interview with Apologetics315 on the phone at the home of the man that offered the matching gift.
On March 25th, Rick was trying to figure out how to promote Ratio Christi on Twitter. He noticed Blake Anderson, who he had originally talked to at SES, doing some work on Twitter. Rick emailed Blake asking for help. At the time, he had no idea how that message was a part of God’s plan.
Blake Anderson had been out of work for 8 months. He did not know where God was pointing for the future, but in the past God had equipped him in the area of apologetics. After several fruitless months looking for work, Blake told his wife, “These days we have to trust the Lord for our daily bread anyway, so I’m going to start working on some projects in apologetics.” That week, he received an e-mail from Rick. The note was an encouragement. Although it was not a paid position at the time, Blake felt it was something God had brought along. He told Rick he was happy to help out doing communications and social media work for Ratio Christi. Several weeks later when Rick called to offer Blake a full-time position, Blake described it as “totally providential.” He had been there from the beginning at SES and felt his passion coming back full circle, a confirmation that this was a step in the right direction.
Things were falling into place, but a solid strategic plan for the organization was still needed. Blake introduced Rick to Tom Gilson, a strategic planner with Campus Crusade for Christ on loan to Chuck Colson at BreakPoint. Tom agreed to meet with both of them soon about establishing that kind of plan for Ratio Christi.
At the end of April, Rick and Blake attended the International Society of Christian Apologists (ISCA) conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. Between this conference and all the interest generated from the Apologetics315 podcast about starting chapters, Blake was already flooded with chapter growth administration duties.
By mid-May, news of this young ministry was buzzing. Commendations came from well-known scholars like Wayne Detzler and Mike Licona. SES and Biola University sent out information to current students and alumni, and Stand to Reason posted about Ratio Christi’s work on their blog. All of this served to confirm Rick’s notion that they were all part of something bigger – a true move of God. Things were moving beyond their ability to keep up with them.
In early June, Rick and Blake met with Tom Gilson in Yorktown, VA and discussed a fundraising strategy similar to the model created by Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC) and other campus ministries. In the end, they decided to implement a “supported missionary model” in which Ratio Christi would hire apologists to work on campuses and raise their own support just like many national and international missionaries do. They had interest from the first potential full-time Ratio Christi missionary only a week later.
During all of this, Rick felt the need to start developing a relationship with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM). He sent an email to Rick Pease, their CEO, suggesting a partnership would be beneficial to both organizations.
There were more pressing matters at hand, however. Rick realized that he needed to find an accounting firm to help him write a detailed supported missionary handbook. On the morning of June 17th, Rick searched for an accounting firm on the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability web site. “I was looking for a smaller firm that might be willing to help Ratio Christi without charging consulting fees,” Rick said. “I figured that we wouldn’t have a chance getting that type of help from a big national firm.” He found a small firm in North Carolina and sent an email outlining what was needed. The owner of the firm said that this type of work was not in his area of expertise, and suggested the national firm of CapinCrouse LLP, started in Indianapolis. He copied Gregg Capin on the email, who responded that he was interested in talking about Ratio Christi’s plans and that he would call Rick later that afternoon.
Rick checked out the firm and thought that there wasn’t much chance of talking them into consulting work for free, but thought they could at least recommend someone to help. Much to Rick’s surprise, about 1:00 that same day he got an email from someone at RZIM; Stuart McAllister wanted to talk to him about the proposed partnership. Rick emailed back and asked about the best time for this to happen. The email that came back said, “Now.” Rick thought about asking to try to have the conversation on another day because he didn’t want to miss the call from the accountant, but he also didn’t want to interrupt a conversation with Stuart McAllister to take the call. After a quick prayer, Rick decided to make the call to Stuart.
Stuart McAllister became very excited about the work of Ratio Christi and the proposed partnership. After about 15 minutes of conversation, Stuart offered to have his new assistant, Matthew Roberts, work out the details and investigate the concepts being proposed. Rick was blown away. “Wow—to hear someone like Stuart from one of the most prestigious apologetics ministries in the country say that they were interested in a partnership with Ratio Christi totally amazed me. We had only been in business since February, and all this was just falling together so well.”
About fifteen minutes after hanging up with Stuart the phone rang. It was Gregg Capin, the accountant. During their conversation, Rick discovered that Gregg worked out of their Atlanta office, not in Indianapolis. He asked if Gregg knew about Ravi Zacharias Ministries. Gregg said, “Yes. We are their accounting firm.” Rick then told him about the conversation he just had with Stuart McAllister, and about the proposal for a partnership. Gregg, interested in what Ratio Christi was doing, said he had talked with RZIM’s president and other ministries about the need to deploy apologists at the local level. He specifically said, “There is a great need to put boots on the ground.” While he was still talking, Rick sent him an email with the Ratio Christi newsletter called “Boots on the Ground in the Age of the Apologist,” and told Gregg to look at the email he just sent. When Gregg opened it up, he said, “We are glad to help you at this important stage of ministry development.”
Near the beginning of July, Rick talk to Jerry Burgess, a contact recommended by Gregg Capin to deal with Human Resources issues in the supported missionary handbook, and found Jerry at home after several months on the road. He was taking a break, had time, and wanted to help. Jerry’s words were heartening. “I am not on this earth just to make money for a big HR firm,” he said. “I want to do everything possible to help.” Jerry also told Rick, confidentially, that he was considering leaving his position to do more work with smaller and younger ministries like Ratio Christi.
After many hours of reading, writing, and scribbling through rough drafts, the handbook was ready to go to the Board of Directors for approval. Jerry said that he decided to give his employer notice that he would be leaving them because of his desire to work with smaller ministries like Ratio Christi that couldn’t afford their services, but that his employer said that he should just go ahead and do the work and they wouldn’t consider it a conflict. God continued to provide.
On August 15th, six months after Ratio Christi incorporated, the supported missionary program was passed by the Board of Directors. This made Ratio Christi the first organization to seek to hire apologists to work at the local level, but on a national scale. The announcement that day in the “Boots on the Ground” newsletter read, “Ratio Christi is Now Hiring Apologists!” Interest in this opportunity started to create even more inquiries from trained apologists all over the country. Once again, things were moving too fast to keep up.
In September, Ratio Christi had finally raised enough money to purchase fundraising software (eTapestry) to help their missionaries. On the day they were about to make the deal, their sales representative called with information on a new pricing package that dramatically reduced the cost over the next several years. Perfect timing!
By the end of October, Ratio Christi had met the entire $25,000 match for the gift offered in March. The final $2,000 came in the day before they did their first ever national meeting on October 27th. At this symposium on “Changing Academic Culture Through Campus Apologetics Movements”, they had in attendance a wide variety of people interested in the on-campus apologetics movement. On the day following the symposium, at the National Apologetics Conference, the collaboration and talk about this movement of God continued.
November 2nd marked the ninth month of Ratio Christi’s operation. Even though they are still overwhelmed with more interest in starting Ratio Christi chapters than they can handle, they feel blessed for the opportunity to see the hand of God move. In mid-November Blake and Rick attended the Evangelical Philosophical Society meeting in California, and saw even more interest and more growth.
From the timing of each step to the financial provision at each critical moment, the story of this Christian apologetics ministry’s development turns out to be an testimony in itself. Each instrumental leader in this movement shared a similar sentiment: all of this has been accomplished solely by the providence of God, and it is He who receives all of the glory and honor for it.