A few years ago I went to Singapore to speak at a two-day conference on generosity. Christian business leaders from all over Asia gathered and the speaker everyone wanted to hear was Ravi Zacharias.
What I didn’t anticipate was how Ravi’s message would overlap with mine so beautifully. He shared the surprising story of how one businessman’s generosity launched his international ministry. Here’s the story as Ravi told it that night.
God Would Guide Us
I had just finished speaking for Billy Graham, and flying back after being to India I looked at my wife and said, “Honey, I just cannot face the need that I see without doing something about it. People are asking questions, I’m going to train to become an apologist to answer their tough questions.”
I was a professor at that time, head of the department. She said, “What do you mean?”
“I’m going to start a new organization in Christian apologetics.”
She looked at me and said, “Ravi, we’ve got three kids. How are you going to do this?”
I said, “If somebody gave us $50,000 from somewhere, God would guide us.”
That was 1983. That’s a lot of money. I said, “Honey, please do me a favor and don’t tell your mom and dad about this. They’ll wonder who on earth have you married. Don’t tell anybody.”
I resigned and had to give one year’s notice. That was August 1983.
I Will Stand Behind You
In November I was speaking outside of Cleveland to about 250 business people. And in my last message I said, “I want you all to do me a favor. Go back into your rooms and before you check out would you say a word of prayer for Margie and me. I can’t tell you what it’s about. Ask God to give us wisdom.”
So we go back, pick up our bags, Margie and I are walking out, and there’s a man standing there; he’s in his 60s. He says, “Can I talk to you?”
I said, “Yes, sir.”
He said, ‘I went back to my room, got on my knees and said, ‘God what’s that young couple looking for?'” He said, “All I know is God impressed me to give you a check for $50,000.”
I looked at him and I said, “Sir, you don’t even know me.”
He said, “I’m going to trust you.”
I said, “I’ve never received a gift like this and I cannot accept it. I don’t know you. You don’t know me. I’m taking a check for $50,000 from a total stranger. Do me a favor. Tell me where you live. Sometime in the next two months I can come and see you and then we can talk about this.”
He said, “You’re a busy man. Tell me where you live. I have a plane; I’ll fly in and see you.” He flew from Youngstown, Ohio to White Plains, New York.
My wife and I went and spent the day with him and his wife. As I shared with him my calling to be an apologist and take on hostile audiences and adversarial settings and non-Christian worldviews and stand in front of audiences that despise the gospel, I said, “I want to go to those who are haters of the gospel and have questions.”
Tears ran down his face and he said, “You know what. I never went to school. I ran away from home when I was 18. I will stand behind you. Go do it.”
He Trusted Me
I said, “Mr. Davis.”
He said, “Call me, DD, my name is DD Davis.”
I said, “Mr. Davis, I have one question for you: What do you want from me? If you say you’re going to get behind me and your going to support me, my heart is beating so hard right now because I’m moving my family out from here. What do you want from me?”
He shook his head and said, “Just one thing…your integrity.” He was asking me for everything. He said, “Let your yea, be yea and your nay, be nay.”
DD Davis passed away 12 years ago, suddenly in Youngstown, Ohio. For those 18 years I watched a man who expected nothing from me, not even a phone call. Whenever I called him, he’d say, “Why are you wasting your nickel?” But he would always sit there whenever a sermon was preached and he’d stare at me like a father to a son and just give me the nod when it was over. I miss him so much because he trusted me.
Where A Man’s Treasure Is
His daughters asked me if I would preach at his funeral. He was a WWII veteran, so his casket was draped in an American flag. But on his suit was a Gideon’s Bible because he never went anywhere without a Bible in his pocket. He always gave those Bibles out. When the flag was folded up the two sisters asked the veterans to hand it to me as a gift. And it’s in a box in my office.
A few days after he died, his chief accountant phoned me. He said, “Mr. Zacharias, I want to tell you something. I know who you are even though you and I have never met. But I managed Mr. Davis’ books for all these years. You know the Bible says, ‘Where a man’s treasure is, there is his heart also.’ Have you been to Mr. Davis’ home?”
I said, “Yeah. A tiny little bungalow in Youngstown.” The driveway was so narrow he didn’t have room for two cars. And he gave millions away, millions! He never locked his house. He said, “If anybody wants it that bad they can have it.”
And here’s what his accountant said, “Mr. Zacharias, I’m just calling to tell you how much he loved you. And it dawned on me that the first time Mr. Davis ever had a mansion of his own was the night he passed away.”
An Army Of Men Like Him
I spoke the following day, after Ravi had told this story, and I asked the question, “What do you call a man like DD Davis?”
1) He gave generously and sacrificially.
2) He personally came alongside the man he supported.
3) His primary purpose was to see the gospel proclaimed.
I call DD Davis a Gospel Patron. And if God were to raise up an army of Gospel Patrons like him in our day, this world would receive an incalculable blessing.