SALT LAKE CITY — Ravi Zacharias traveled 240 days last year and at least 200 every year, but each time he returns to his native Delhi, he visits a hospital.
It is where he went after he tried to take his own life at age 17, and it is where he said the power of God cracked open his heart after a man with a Bible came to his hospital room. Zacharias said Saturday that his mother tried to send the man away, citing her son's critical injuries.
"Your son needs this more than anything else," Zacharias recounted the man saying.
That man died last year, he said, and felt his life's purpose was delivering that bible to Zacharias, now a revered evangelical minister and leader.
On Saturday, he brought his message to the Tabernacle on Temple Square for an event called "Freedom and Friendship," presented by Standing Together, a network of evangelical congregations along the Wasatch Front and hosted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"Tonight is another night for us to meet … not as warring factions, but as friends," said the Rev. Gregory Johnson, president of Standing Together. "We have significant theological differences. We don't undermine that, but tonight is an opportunity to hear from a great Christian leader to hear about a topic we all care about — freedom of religion."
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke and welcomed the attendees to the historic building, which he said has served as a center of "worship, inspiring music and sharing the word of God" for 150 years. He also welcomed back Zacharias, who in 2004 became the first evangelical leader to deliver a major address from the Tabernacle's pulpit in more than 100 years.
"While thus standing together, we also stand for our love of and need for the religious freedom that guarantees our right to teach and live by the truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ," Elder Holland said.
Calling him a "powerful, persuasive voice," Elder Holland said Zacharias shared a faith and testimony to counter a minimization of religious faith and expression "unprecedented in American culture." He said those in attendance were united in their belief of Jesus Christ.
"In an increasingly secular world, and facing the attack on religious faith and religious freedom that we see all around us, it is imperative for the extended Christian community to acknowledge that what we have in common is so good, so far-reaching and so potentially powerful in addressing the ills of society and of the soul that the very least we can do is know and understand each other better than we do," Elder Holland said. "Above all else … we are unequivocal that it is our shared love for the Lord Jesus Christ that brings us together in true brotherhood and sisterhood tonight and always."
Zacharias read the story of Manasseh from the Bible and the lessons that can be learned from it. He stressed the dangers of relativism and lost morality.
"When you only do whatever works, really nothing works," he said, noting that it is in the eternal that the temporal becomes relevant. "We must build our lives upon things that are eternal."
Society has increasingly leaned on a "pragmatic philosophy with no accountability," Zacharias said, and lives beyond its financial, moral and spiritual means without realizing that it will come back to them in the end.
"We talk so much about one's rights, that we talk so little about what is actually right," he said. "It's an alarming trend. … There is only one angle at which you can stand straight and many, many different angles at which you can fall."
Zacharias urged those present to focus first on themselves, to read the Bible and pray for the Lord to "make you right with Him."
"That's where it begins," he said.
Zacharias said people can find safety in the hands of God and should seek to have their hearts changed through redemption in Christ. The world may be a vortex that seeks to teach that "nothing is sacred anymore," he said, but that no one can change the outside until they have been changed within.
"Once we do that, the world will see the beauty that is Christ's and want to follow him," Zacharias said. "We have our deep theological differences, but I think it's commendable that we find a common cause in trying to create a good moral soil in this culture and in this time."
Cytel Schults and Jennica Jaramillo, friends from West Jordan, attended the event together. Jaramillo heard about the event through her church, Lifechurch in Taylorsville, and upon hearing that it would be at the LDS Tabernacle decided to invite Schults, who is LDS.
"I thought, 'What a perfect date night for me and my bestie,'" she said, adding that it made her want to teach her children to rely on God. "It made me want to work on having more of God in my life."