Dr. Ravi (extreme right) with his parents, brother, and sister in 1974.
Denise Locker, Healing Lives Editor
We are excited to introduce you to MAI’s new President, Dr. Ravi Jayakaran. He opens his heart to you in his responses in this interview.
Healing Lives (HL): How did you come to a personal relationship with Christ?
Ravi: I was born in a nominal Christian home—though my grandfather was a Hindu priest, who came to Christ through a very dramatic conversion—but my dad raised us as nominal Christians. We went to church; that was just the routine.
Until I was at university, I had never heard anyone explain that one must be born again. So when I was at a youth camp in 1974 listening to the messages, I thought they were crazy because they were talking about being born again and meeting Christ and having their lives transformed. By the third day of camp I had this doubt: What if they are right and I’m wrong? So I prayed, “God up there, if I haven’t gone too far away from You, will You still give me a chance to respond?” That evening the speaker ended in prayer and said, “Raise your hand if you do not know the Lord and you want to receive Him as your personal Savior.” I had assumed everyone would respond because my heart was so pierced by what God was saying. He had really broken my heart. It turns out I was the only person to come to the Lord that day. God convicted me of my sinfulness, my distance from Him, my lack of knowledge of who He was, and as I wept before the Lord, He touched my heart in a unique way. I felt the calming presence of the Lord as His Holy Spirit took control of my life.
HL: What is a challenge in your life that you have overcome?
Ravi: In terms of our lives, my background has been a bit different. I grew up in a well-off family. My dad was part of the first group of Indian officers taking over from the British; we had all the colonial benefits. I never grew up with any kind of concerns for financial needs. But we often moved and would go from one place to another because my dad was in the army. He would get posted not just to the next state, but across the country. We learned to make friends quickly and to say goodbye quickly. Often in these new environments I had to learn a new language. But I soon got used to it, and the challenges became opportunities. We would land in a place and immediately go out and meet people and learn a new language and get to know the culture. Each was very different, but the habit to embrace the language and culture has continued with me. We have lived in many parts of India, Cambodia, China, and in the U.S.—Georgia, Texas, and now in California—they are all diverse environments.
HL: What motivated you toward mission work?
Ravi: My mission journey began when I moved from the corporate sector. In the corporate sector I had learned that interventions in communities are not vertical but integrated—horizontally. I had a pretty well-developed integrated approach to community transformation from agriculture, animal husbandry, human health care, education, cottage industry and so on. I suddenly realized all of these were only in the empirical realm—physical and tangible. The spiritual was not part of my work. At a personal level we were involved with student ministries and student outreach, but it wasn’t related to my work. This lack stirred an interest in learning about, and then joining World Vision as an associate director for World Vision in India. I grew to understand the holistic side of mission work, but World Vision was also struggling in those days with understanding the reality of holism. They talked about the mental, social, spiritual, and physical aspects of life as if they were in four different boxes. I did a lot of research work with Dr. Bryant Myers, who is one of the foremost people working on that issue, and I continue to connect with him. I worked very closely with Dr. Robert Chambers, one of the world’s foremost authorities on PRA/PLA approaches (Participatory Rural Appraisal with Participatory Learning Action). So together with these men God brought to me a better understanding of holistic development.
Then I discovered there is this whole group of people thinking the Good News is only about preaching the Word. Others think the Good News is about demonstrating it through deed. I slowly began to realize it is both. That is what brought me to mission work—the need to find a way to bring the proclamation through deed alongside the proclamation of the Word.
HL: How did you first hear about Medical Ambassadors?
Ravi: I had heard about Medical Ambassadors way back in 2002 when I was in China. I came down to Cambodia to train some of the leaders in PRA/PLA approaches. I developed several tools they are using in the CHE (Community Health Evangelism) program at MAI. When I went to Thailand to train people, I met Terry Dalrymple and Stan Rowland and later on, John Payne. I began to look at MAI more closely toward the end of last year when I had a contact from the board.
transformation is progressive, permanent, God-intended change
HL: That leads right into my next question. What was the defining point, action, or thought that caused you to be sure MAI is where God wanted you?
Ravi: It was a series of things, some of them deeply personal, but among the things that are easier to share is the sequence or the way things happened. Vimla and I were at a stage when we were looking for a change. I was reviewing my life to see what God was telling me. Then the more I studied about MAI the more I realized this is an organization I would like to be part of because there are many things the Lord has taught me, and many connections that could be used by the mission. Then there was a series of things that Vimla and I put out as a fleece. If this happens, then this is the way to go. If that happens, then that is the way to go.
I had certain commitments I had to complete by May 2017 with my previous organization. I had succeeded in helping some of the “die-hard” church planters understand that proclaiming the Gospel is about Word and deed. We made some really good headway. They came to realize combining Word and deed together was not drifting away from their mandate; it is through the proclamation of Word and deed that integral missions brings more people to the Lord and more effectively sustains them.
So it was just the right time to move. Our oldest son and his wife live in the Bay Area, so we were looking forward to being near them, but not breathing down their necks. It was just the right time. God confirmed this repeatedly in our souls and our minds through some of the things He had shown us.
HL: What message would you like people to know about Medical Ambassadors that you suspect they may not know?
Ravi: I have been giving this some thought because there are so many crossovers and similarities with other missions. MAI has the CHE program that I was also doing. We have integral mission with a focus on health which a lot of other people are doing. So I’ve been asking myself and asking other people, “What makes MAI unique?” I’ve got some initial thoughts.
MAI is unique—and people need to know this—because our approach is simple; it’s not complicated. It depends on relationships, not on resources. It’s also a biblical approach. What we do is soundly based on what the Bible talks about. Our approach is integral. We proclaim the Gospel in word and deed. That is how Jesus did it. In Christ’s coming He came right down and became one of us and brought that connection. It is that incarnational relationship that He is calling us to. So, it’s simple, it’s biblical, it’s replicable, and it’s holistic!
I think the strength of our program at MAI is that we have so many curricula, thousands of lesson plans covering every possible engagement in the community from microenterprise, Women’s Cycle of Life, Children’s CHE, integrating disability into programing, having a proper approach to relief and development, and community transformation. As stated earlier: it’s simple, it’s biblical, it’s replicable, and it’s transformational. It’s multi-contextual. It can happen in different places. It can happen everywhere!
I just got back from East Africa where I saw CHE in Uganda and Kenya. I also interacted with the Regional Coordinators from West, East, and Southern Africa. MAI’s approach fits in perfectly in any context. I would really encourage people to know about MAI’s simplicity, its biblical basis, its easily replicable nature, and it’s Christlikeness through relationships that bring transformation.
HL: What would you say is the bottom line for you?
Ravi: Engagement. I like to engage because it is transformational. I like to be involved. I like to interact because that’s the biggest joy for me—interacting and learning from people about their world. I’ve done a lot of work on worldview analysis. How do people perceive their world and how can I engage with them? What are they trying to do for their own survival to make things better? In this process I learn how to become a better person, a more caring person, and a more loving person. And, finally, transformation is integral, deeply combining the empirical realm and the spiritual. Transformation is progressive, permanent, God-intended change.