Today, she’s a retired police officer with 34 years of distinguished service. But in 1974, she was a scared, pregnant teenager. And she says Ravi Zacharias pressured her to get an abortion.
On this edition of The Roys Report, Julie speaks with Shirley Steward, who says when she was 17, she became pregnant with the child of Ravi Zacharias’ younger brother, Ramesh Zacharias. Distraught and scared, Steward said the two sought advice from Ravi, who at the time was an up-and-coming preacher in the Toronto church they both attended. To her shock, Steward says Ravi urged her to get an abortion.
For all these years, Steward says she’s lived with not only the devastating consequences of her decision, but with the shame of being called a liar when she’s tried to expose Ravi for what he did.
On this episode, you’ll hear Steward’s gut-wrenching story. You’ll also hear how Ravi responded to Steward’s accusation in a personal letter to her.
And hopefully, we’ll all gain a better understanding and compassion for the vulnerable who sometimes become casualties of the vain aspirations of others.
JULIE ROYS, SHIRLEY STEWARD
JULIE ROYS 00:04
Today she’s a retired Ontario police officer with 34 years of distinguished service. But in 1974, she was a scared pregnant teenager. And she says Ravi Zacharias pressured her to get an abortion. Welcome to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. And today we’re going to be discussing a tragic story that happened nearly 50 years ago. It involves a woman named Shirley Steward, who was dating Ramesh Zacharias, Ravi Zacharias’ brother. The two were sexually active and as often happens in these situations Shirley got pregnant. And what happened next is absolutely heartbreaking. According to Shirley, she and Ramesh went to Ravi Zacharias for advice. Ravi was an up and coming preacher at the time and Ramesh was his younger brother. Shirley attended the church where Ravi would often come and speak. And both she and Remesh looked up to Ravi. But Shirley says the advice Ravi gave was not only shocking, it led to the death of her unborn child. And it’s affected the entirety of Shirley Steward’s life. I read Shirley’s account about a year ago. It was published in a blog called The Spiritual Sounding Board, and it ravaged me. Just totally broke my heart. But I know many people will say, “Why hear this story now? What good can it do, Ravi’s gone?” I understand these objections. I do. But I also feel a great deal of compassion for all the women who have been victimized by Ravi Zacharias. Also, if Ravi’s predatory behavior was just an anomaly, maybe we could just move on. But friends, it’s not. We have scores of Christian leaders preying on the vulnerable and it’s not okay. And it’s not going to stop until the Christian community listens to the victims and begins to develop compassion for the victims and begins to understand the behavior of these wolves in sheep’s clothing. Another reason I wanted to record a podcast with Shirley is because I want you to hear from her directly. I often say there’s a credibility in victim’s voices. You can tell if they’re lying or telling the truth. So I’m going to give you the opportunity to judge for yourself. I think this is a very important podcast and I’m so glad that you’ve taken the time to join me and to listen to Shirley Steward’s story. But before I speak with Shirley, I want to thank the sponsors of this podcast, Judson University, and Marquardt of Barrington. Judson is a top ranked Christian university providing a caring community where students can thrive and grow. The school offers more than 60 majors, great leadership opportunities and strong financial aid. Judson is located on a beautiful 90 acre campus just 36 miles northwest of Chicago. Judson University is shaping lives that shaped the world. For more information, just go to JudsonU.edu. Also, if you’re in the market for a car, I encourage you to check out my friends at Marquardt of Barrington. Marquardt is a Buick GMC dealership where you can expect honesty, integrity, and transparency. The owners there Dan and Kurt Marquardt are friends of mine. And I’m confident they’ll do right by you. For more information, just go to BuyACar123.com. Well again, joining me today is Shirley Steward, a retired Ontario Provincial Police Officer, but also someone who tragically got an abortion nearly 50 years ago. And according to Shirley, Ravi Zacharias is the one who counseled her to have that abortion. So Shirley, thank you so much. And thank you for being willing to talk about what I’m sure is a really, really painful time of your life. So thank you.
SHIRLEY STEWARD 03:40
You’re very welcome. And thank you for having me.
JULIE ROYS 03:43
Shirley, let’s start at the beginning of this story. As I understand it takes place in 1974. You were a high school student and Ramesh, Ravi Zacharias’ brother was your boyfriend. Would you describe the nature not just of your relationship with Ramesh, obviously, he was your boyfriend and you two were intimate. But with his family, the Zacharias’s
SHIRLEY STEWARD 04:05
Well, actually the actual abortion took place in 1974 in January. So the advice preceded that in the year prior 1973. Ramesh and I had been dating. While we were thought of as a couple when I was 15 and had started going to the church that he and Ravi attended. And we sexually became active after I turned 16. Ramesh is four years older than I am. And he was in university at the time of this relationship.
JULIE ROYS 04:42
And one quick question. You say you began going to church with him. Were you from a church going family? Or was that kind of something he introduced you to?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 04:51
No, actually I was raised in a very religious home. My parents had gone to different churches. At the time when I left their church, there was no youth group. And really nothing for me in that particular church. It was in the east end of Toronto known as the Guildwood area or Scarborough. And my brother, who was five years older than me had started going to the first Alliance church on young Street, which is the church in question. And he told me about, you know, that they had a very engaged youth group and quite a large group. And with his help and encouragement, my parents allowed me to go with him to that church, because it was quite a distance away.
JULIE ROYS 05:40
Mm hmm. And so you got to know, I would guess, the entire Zacharias family, correct?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 05:46
Yes. His parents didn’t attend that church. Or if they did, it wasn’t very often. But I was invited to their home where I did meet his parents.
JULIE ROYS 05:53
Did you know Ravi as well?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 05:55
I did just peripherally he would attend the church too. He would address the church in sermons. He had headed the youth group, just prior to my attending there. So I, I didn’t know him well. I went to family functions, like when one of his sisters got married I attended the wedding. So I saw him and Margie on occasion.
JULIE ROYS 06:20
Okay, and what was your impression of the family?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 06:22
I was very honored to be part of the family. They were very warm and welcoming at the time. His parents were lovely people. But as I said, I didn’t see them very often.
JULIE ROYS 06:33
Mm hmm. So here, you are a 17 year old girl, I can just imagine what it must have been like to find out that you’re pregnant. Describe how you felt at the time, and how you were processing or trying to process that you were maybe going to be a single mom.
SHIRLEY STEWARD 06:52
Well, yeah, it wasn’t anything that we talked about. It just, it was not something that you did, like it was a very shame based, you know, you didn’t even talk about having any sexual activity. And I didn’t see Ramesh very often because he lived at the far west end of Toronto. So it was just, you know, maybe twice a week, I would see him at the youth group meetings, and then at church on Sundays. And so it wasn’t the first scare.It did happen before. And because we always prayed for forgiveness and prayed for guidance, and it wasn’t something that you know, you prepared for in advance. So when I did get pregnant, I went for the test. Of course, the testing wasn’t as good in those days. It took, you know, you had to be far enough along and it took a few days for the results to come back. And I couldn’t go to my doctor, because then my parents would find out. And anyways, when I did find out I phoned Ramesh and told him. Then he invited me to, he said, he suggested that we speak to Ravi for guidance as his brother and as a minister.
JULIE ROYS 08:19
So the two of you, you ended up going to, was it Ramesh’s parent’s apartment at the time, where you made this phone call? And nobody was home but the two of you?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 08:31
JULIE ROYS 08:32
So he calls Ravi. And as I understand it, you’re, you’re on the other phone line. You’re listening to this. You’re not just like, you know, getting this second hand, you actually heard this conversation firsthand. Is that correct?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 08:42
JULIE ROYS 08:43
SHIRLEY STEWARD 08:44
I was on an extension phone in the master bedroom.
JULIE ROYS 08:47
Okay. So what did Ravi say when he found this out?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 08:52
Well, he was very annoyed with Ramesh I gathered from the conversation that they had had previous discussions, maybe because there had been a prior scare. And I just remember utterances like, “This is going to kill our parents.” And, “This is this will, you will lose your career as a doctor,” because that’s what he was going to university to become. Of course, he suggested a lot of prayer. And, but he said it just, he felt that the best thing would be if it was terminated.
JULIE ROYS 09:31
And when you heard that, what was your response?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 09:35
I was almost numb–like I couldn’t–with disbelief. I couldn’t believe that somebody in his position would be suggesting an abortion. Like there was no talk of anything, no other options like not about, you know, giving the child up for adoption or that was just that one option that he was suggesting because of the ramifications to Ramesh and his family if the pregnancy went to term.
JULIE ROYS 10:08
Before this time, had you thought of getting an abortion?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 10:13
No, I hadn’t even, it hadn’t even entered my mind. I was just barely into my 17th year and I, I was painfully shy and painfully naive in those days. I really hadn’t thought of the ramifications of getting pregnant. I just, maybe my frontal lobe hadn’t developed yet of consequences. I, I just hadn’t given it any thought past that.
JULIE ROYS 10:40
How far along were you at this point?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 10:42
I think I was probably pregnant in maybe late October, early November. So when the discussion took place, it was just maybe a month.
JULIE ROYS 10:55
So following this discussion with Ravi, my understanding that you and Ramesh went to talk with your parents about it. And at this point, had you told your parents? Did they even know you were pregnant?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 11:10
No, I don’t have, I didn’t have the guts to tell them.
JULIE ROYS 11:17
So the first they heard of it was when you and Ramesh said, “Hey, we want to sit down and talk with you.”?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 11:24
JULIE ROYS 11:26
Can you describe that conversation?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 11:31
Oh, I remember it so well. We were sitting in my parents dining room. And they looked very confused as to why we would want to speak to them. So Ramesh did all the talking I was I was crying. And he he told them that I was pregnant, and that they had done a lot of soul searching. And he had that we had talked to Ravi and because they he knew that my parents thought a lot of Ravi. They knew of him, I think they’d seen him once at the church. Of course they’d heard a lot of him from my brother who had known them for a lot longer than I had. And so Ramesh kind of played that up that, you know, like if, if a minister a man of God suggests this, that must be the best option.
JULIE ROYS 12:24
I do want to say that I did reach out to Ramesh through email and also called him and gave him an opportunity to tell his side of the story. You know, I always do that want to give the anybody who’s a part of a story, an opportunity to speak into it. He did not respond. So I just want people to know that I have given him that opportunity. So at this point as I understand it your abortion was somewhat arranged by the Zacharias family. Can you discuss that how that went about?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 12:58
Well, it wasn’t the Zacharias family at the time other than Ramesh. He needed my parent’s permission, because I was under 18 years of age. So another parishioner from the church, Vicki, she was a nurse, and was best friend of Margie Zacharias. And they work together at Wellesley hospital. And, according to Ramesh, Vicki had made all the arrangements. I found out afterwards from Ramesh, that he was also dating Vicki, at the same time that he was dating me. Anyway, she made the arrangements and my parents took me to the hospital. I had to stay in overnight, which I thought was long, you know, in hindsight now, I think was strange. But it was, Wellesley was a teaching hospital and associated with the University of Toronto, I remember I was so frightened and because they had to leave me there overnight. And outside my room was two of the staff, two female staff members. And one of them commented. Sorry.
JULIE ROYS 14:13
SHIRLEY STEWARD 14:15
She said, “Oh this poor girl, she’s so frightened.” And the other one said, “Well, maybe next time she won’t be so quick to get pregnant.”
JULIE ROYS 14:24
I’m Sorry. I’ve talked to a number of women who have had abortions. And this is the aspect that so few people talk about. They talk about an abortion like it’s a procedure like getting an appendectomy and it’s not. It’s, it’s devastating. And when you when you deliver a baby, you have a lot of people around you supporting you. When you get an abortion, you’re often alone and you deal with it yourself. And emotionally, it can just be unbelievably traumatic. I’m guessing you felt some of that in the even immediately in the days and weeks after that, and long term as well. Can you describe what that was like?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 15:13
Yeah, the loneliness and, and despair. Because this went so against my upbringing and beliefs, that and it was so wrong. And I, I really wasn’t made part of the decision making. Nobody asked me what I wanted. It was the adults–because I really was a child–that made those decisions. And you put your faith in adults. And in the case of Ravi that, in the Minister of God, that they were making the right decision for you. And it wasn’t until much later, of course, that I realized that it was, it was a very selfish decision on their part.
JULIE ROYS 16:07
And in so many cases, when I speak to post-abortive women, and it’s amazing how many cases, the woman feels disenfranchised, feels like she was pressured to do what she did. And it’s something that’s just hardly ever talked about. This isn’t empowering to women. Half the time, it’s completely disempowering. In fact, I would say all the time, because we’re being convinced to do something that women aren’t meant to do. And it’s, it’s just absolutely tragic.
SHIRLEY STEWARD 16:35
And to find out afterwards, that the person that arranged it, and the person that was the father of that child, were conspiring. And, and just dismissed me and threw me out like yesterday’s trash.
JULIE ROYS 16:53
SHIRLEY STEWARD 16:54
I couldn’t have felt any worse about myself.
JULIE ROYS 16:57
Did your relationship did it continue with Ramesh at all after the abortion? Or did it pretty much end then?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 17:03
No, it pretty much ended then.
JULIE ROYS 17:04
Okay. And you mentioned that Vicki was best friends with margay. Do you have any reason to believe Margie knew about what was, what happened?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 17:14
I don’t have any proof that she knew. She was married to Ravi at the time. And she worked with Vicki, so I, I would find it hard to believe that she didn’t know. But I have no proof.
JULIE ROYS 17:35
You mentioned to me that after your abortion, at one point, you returned to the church where Ramesh went, and it was I think, like a midweek service, or maybe a choir practice or something going on. And you did encounter him then, and describe that and the impact it had on you and your belief about the church and about Christians.
SHIRLEY STEWARD 18:01
Well, yeah, I had gone, I’d arrived early at church, as I say, I had quite a ways to go. So I had to take the subway. And it took quite, quite a long time. And so I arrived early. And I was in the basement of the church. And Ramesh came in. And there was never any apology. Oh, my goodness, I just think back and I think how cold he was about it all. And he motioned that there was a couch there in the basement of the church, and he wanted to make out with me. And I was just so flabbergasted and angry and, and I just said, “If this is what Christianity, what Christians are, like, if you are an example of what Christians are like, I want nothing more to do with with a church.” And I walked out. And I still believe in God. I didn’t stop believing in God. But I’ve stopped believing in the church and Christians.
JULIE ROYS 19:14
It just makes me sad. Obviously, you moved on with your life. You became a police officer. You got married. Did you ever, did you have kids?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 19:26
No, I didn’t. It was a few months later, and I had some, I ended up having had to have emergency surgery because there was a cyst had formed on one of my ovaries and had to have it removed. And I remember my father asking the doctor if an abortion could have created that issue, and he said it very well could have. I don’t know. But I ended up because I had no self esteem left I, I felt less as a person, I didn’t feel I deserved anything good in life because of what I had been party to. I ended up in a very, an abusive relationship–my first marriage–I couldn’t even turn to my parents for support, because their attitude was, “You make your bed, you lie in it.” Yeah. It was four years before I was finally able to find some support. And it was actually a nurse where I worked at the time. So I finally got out of that relationship, out of that marriage. And then that’s when I became a police officer. And I thought, you know, what I want to be there for, for victims.
JULIE ROYS 20:56
And it sounds like you had a very fulfilling career and were able to help women and be there for victims. And I’m sure, it may be little consolation in some ways, but in some ways, a great consellation that you were able to use that pain and what you’d gone through to help other victims. Am I right?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 21:15
It was actually, from that point of view, really gave my career a boost, because when I would attend a domestic situation, actually, my fellow male officers would, would often ask me to come along with them to a domestic situation, because I had, because of my history, and because, and of course, when it came to children, too, because they always felt that a female might be able to associate better with a female victim, and with the children. So, and I remember attending a Victims of Crime symposium, and I remember one lady in particular, telling me that there’s healing in the telling And I’ll never forget that to this day. And I thought, you know, what, when all this came to be, I felt that the Lord was telling me it was time to tell my story.
JULIE ROYS 22:21
I’ve heard that can be incredible. So many women who have had abortions just suffer in silence. They never tell their story. And they never receive the forgiveness, the love the support that’s available to them. What was that, like when you told your story for the first time?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 22:37
it was actually very liberating. Because I think victims in general, like to feel that they’re being heard. And that they’re being believed. I was very grateful for that opportunity.
JULIE ROYS 22:55
So I don’t know if this came before or after that event. It was in 1998 is my understanding. So it would have been 24 years after the abortion. You saw Ravi and Margie Zacharias featured on a Christian magazine. And when you saw that, it triggered some pretty strong emotions. Would you tell me about that? And what was this after what you just described? Or was it before?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 23:21
Ah, it was in 1998? Yeah, I had to, you know, talking about the victim symposium?
JULIE ROYS 23:26
SHIRLEY STEWARD 23:27
Yeah, that would have been in about the late 80s that that, so in 1998, I was at my parents, my parents had moved down, I had moved to Napanee, which is a small town in Eastern Ontario, kind of halfway between Belleville and Kingston. Anyways, my parents had moved down here and they were, I had happened to be over at their house. And on their coffee table, I noticed a magazine called Christian Reader. And it’s kind of looks the same size as Reader’s Digest magazine. And featured on the front cover was a picture of Rave and Margie Zacharias. And the title was Ravi and Margie Welcome the World. And I just, it was almost like a panic attack. I mean when I, when I saw that. And so I asked my mom and she said, “Yeah, sure, take it with you.” So I I took it home and I read the article and I was, it was just, oh my goodness, they just went on and on. It just did not gel with, with what the experience was that I had. And they were talking about their open door policy and how they were so warm to everyone. And like the last paragraph, “With the help of the Holy Spirit, the Zacharias’s are offering such a haven in hopes of introducing others to the greatest friend of all.” I didn’t feel like they were offering me any kind of a haven. If anything, they threw me to the wolves. And well, I won’t say Margie. But certainly Ravi did. I just, I was just so incensed with how he was portraying himself as, that I just felt I had to write him a letter.
JULIE ROYS 25:20
And you did write him a letter. Would you like to share any of that letter that you wrote to him?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 25:27
I wish I had kept a copy of it.
JULIE ROYS 25:28
iOh, you don’t have a copy?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 25:29
JULIE ROYS 25:30
SHIRLEY STEWARD 25:30
Cuz I didn’t expect a reply at all, either. You know, and I didn’t know, I just wanted to get it off my chest for what I thought of him. And I did that. And I said, I don’t know how you sleep at night, knowing that the advice was, to Remesh and I, was to terminate my pregnancy and kill an unborn child.
JULIE ROYS 25:54
And, surprisingly, Ravi did respond. And he wrote you a letter which you’ve sent me the screenshots of the handwritten envelope that it came in. And also the contents of this letter. And I know that this is something that people do complain about. They say, well, these allegations are coming up now that Ravi’s dead Well, you actually, this was published, your story was published in 2019 before Ravi Zacharias died. And he did not choose to address publicly. He just ignored, is my understanding, what had been published. But this time, he didn’t ignore it. When you send him this letter, it’s dated January 18, 1999. And he writes, “Dear Shirley, I received your letter last week. And since I’m about to embark on an extended set of meetings for nearly two months away from home, I felt I should reply before leaving so that I could at least acknowledge the receipt of your letter. Certainly, this is the first time in 26 years since the incident that anyone has even spoken to me about it. Some of the things you have mentioned are absolutely brand new to me. As you well know, we have had repeated contacts with your brother Mike, and never once has anything like this been mentioned.” My understanding you didn’t tell Mike till much later, is that correct?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 27:09
Much, much later.
JULIE ROYS 27:12
“In fact, he has always been very warm and helpful to Margie and me. And whenever we have needed help, the one time your parents met me their clear displeasure was with Ramesh and never hinted that I had anything to do with this tragedy,” which is interesting. He doesn’t say that the tragedy didn’t happen. So I take that as confirmation that he’s admitting he knew that the abortion happened. “They too have always been very kind to me. So your letter, Shirley, came as a complete surprise. I never once to you or Ramesh suggested what you are implying in your letter. More than half of a lifetime after the fact it is hard to even remember the details. But I well remember the exact route I took. As you well know, Shirley, they were the last days of my mother, who was going to die so prematurely. And I was carrying the brunt of that situation, having been so close to her. When Ramesh told me of the possibility of what you and he were facing, naturally I was shocked and disappointed, doubly so Shirley, because you may not realize but months before I had warned him.” It goes on, I’m not going to read the whole thing. It’s it’s kind of long. But essentially, he’s saying he denies that he had any role in this. He ends it I will read just the end of the letter. “I pray from the depths of my heart Shirley for the healing and restoration in both Ramesh’s and your heart. I have no doubt the anguish has been deep. The God of mercy and grace will graciously forgive the mistakes of youth for the pain you felt. A am truly sorry. So many years have gone by for all of us since we first came to know Christ. Over the years and facing countless experiences we have all faced many tragedies. I have learned one can either be hardened or softened and always prayed for the latter to the God of all grace. Thank you for the candor and the willingness to talk about it as painful as it was. I admire your sensitivity. Sincerely, Ravi.” So when you get this letter, what’s your response? How do you feel?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 29:09
Well, I just felt like that was the twisting of the knife that he would he would lie about his, his involvement and his advice to us.
JULIE ROYS 29:21
So I’m curious. I don’t know if you remember exactly what you said to him. But I’m guessing you did recall the phone call that you had the conversation that you had.
SHIRLEY STEWARD 29:34
JULIE ROYS 29:35
And he says it never happened.
SHIRLEY STEWARD 29:38
And yet in his letter, he talks about giving Ramesh advice. So if it didn’t happen how is he giving Ramesh advice but he’s, then denies that he did it in the same letter. Like, it just was, you know, like the old saying, “thou protesteth too much.”
JULIE ROYS 29:59
Yeah. Yeah, he does say in the letter I didn’t read this particular part. But he said he gave him the name, Ramesh, the name of two respective pastors in town to whom he could go and get counsel. So that a godly decision would be made, and you both cared for through it. So he’s saying he counseled him to go to other pastors, but he didn’t give any counsel himself. Yeah, I can imagine how that must have felt. So that was in 1999. You also sent him an email in 2014. What prompted that email to him?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 30:33
You know, I’ve always believed that if information is meant to come to you that it will. And there was a couple of things that had happened in the summer of 2014. And it just, you know, for years and years, you go on, you never hear the name, and then all of a sudden, it comes up in conversation. And lo and behold, I move. I ended up being transferred. I started my career in Toronto, and then I ended up getting transferred down to the small town of Napanee. And lo and behold, this parents of the, the woman that was to become Ramesh’s first wife, and the person who made the arrangements for the abortion, her parents live in Napanee, like the odds are astronomical. And I was golfing with my neighbor one day, and she happened to mention that Vicki’s parents went to her church. And she started going on about what what a lovely family it is, and, and I lost it. I don’t know where it came from, but I lost it. And, and then my, my cousin who lived in Kingston at the time, sent out a blast on Facebook, that Ravi Zacharias was coming to speak at the K-Rock Centre, which is like an arena, I think they hold about 6,700 seats, and that she was invited because she went to a church in Kingston and they were asked to, you know, let people know about this and to encourage others to go to this. So I, I wrote to my cousin and I, I told her my experience. She went to her pastor who and explained why she couldn’t encourage people to go and see Ravi. And her pastors said that I was a liar. And anyway, so I appreciated her support. But I felt that I should, again, address the letter. And so I sent a message or an email to, while I couldn’t find a personal email address for him, so I sent it to [email protected]
JULIE ROYS 32:57
Would you read that email that you sent to RZIM?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 33:00
I addressed it, “personal and confidential.” But when I guess it goes to a main inbox it may not have stayed that way. “Ravi, Over the last three months, I have been reminded/triggered poignantly about the abortion 41 years ago, when I was 17 years old. When your brother, my boyfriend Ramesh, then 21 years of age, arranged along with his other girlfriend, unknown to me, of course, and now his wife Vicki, for the abortion to take place. There have been at least four reminders triggers since the beginning of July 2014. And when my cousin notified me last week that you’d be visiting my neck of the woods at the K-Rock center, I prayed and asked for guidance about what all this meant. The message from God was clear. “Get it off your chest, and carry the burden no further.” A confidant put it in perspective for me today. So I choose to be grateful. Grateful that Ray,” which is what we called him, Ramesh, “didn’t do the Christian and proper thing, for I would be part of your unconscionable family. My life would be ethically and morally in ruins. I understand now when I wrote to you about this in the latter part of 1998 why you would deny that involvement in writing. The profitable empire you have built, speaking to people as a man of God could have been jeopardized if you told the truth about your self-serving yet still profoundly inappropriate recommendation to Ray and I to terminate in the fear that if we didn’t, the news would kill your already ailing mother. She was a dear sweet soul and I was very sad upon hearing of her passing not long after. Your denial, however, only served to rub salt in my wound. Unfortunately for me, this trauma and can never be forgotten. It is like a videotape on loop. The betrayal by your brother, the shame and degradation that I had to endure as a naive child at the hands of your family, all adults at the time. It took a long time to regain some self worth. And not only accept God’s forgiveness, but to also forgive myself. I now have a happy home entering into retirement after many years in an honorable profession. So with dignity and my head held high. And while I cannot bring myself to forgive you, Ramesh, or Vicki, I thank you all.” I don’t know if you expected a response to that. But I’m sure it was still disappointing when you didn’t get one. I wasn’t surprised, because what could anybody say? He’d already written me a letter denying it. And, but I just, I had to say my piece.
JULIE ROYS 35:49
So I referenced this one before, but in 2019, you told your story publicly, at The Spiritual Sounding Board, Julie Anne’s blog, which is, I mean, it’s been a wonderful outlet for a lot of abuse survivors to tell their story. A lot of people who have been spiritually abused or sexually abused or in your case, you know, encouraged to do something tragic that has impacted the rest of your life. What motivated you at that point to say, “I want to tell my story in a public forum”?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 36:24
Just prior to that, I actually I had never heard of Steve Baughman, or his investigation into Ravi Zacharias. And I had through Facebook, I had reconnected with a gal that I had been part of the youth group with, at the Young Street Alliance, the First Alliance, and she was also the daughter of the minister of the church at the time, Reverend Dietz, and we talked for hours on the phone, it was like we had, you know, we reconnected after 40, whatever years, and it was, I told her my story. And we cried together, and and she said that actually, Ravi had lived with her family when he first got into the ministry. So she knew him very well. And she wondered what had happened because I all of a sudden disappeared, and nobody had, you know, nobody seemed to tell her, well nobody did tell her because nobody knew what had happened. And nobody was going to confess to what happened. So she believed me. She knew that he was very capable of that. And she’s so she sent the link to RaviWatch.com. And that’s how I connected with Steve Baughman. And I wrote to him, and I said, “His hypocrisy that Ravi’s hypocrisy goes back decades.” And I told him my story. And we talked on the phone. And and so he put me in touch with Julie Anne and asked me to tell my story, which I did.
JULIE ROYS 38:08
And for anybody listening now, probably almost everybody who’s listening to my podcast, because we’ve talked about it. I had Steve on my podcast, but just in case you don’t know, Steve Baughman wrote Cover Up in the Kingdom, a book in 2017, exposing so much of what now has come to light about Ravi and about the not just the abuse of Lori Anne Thompson in a sexting relationship, but also now, allegedly, women in the spas, which Miller Martin, who has done an investigation for RZIM has said, these are credible allegations. And even RZIM has admitted that it appears that Ravi was a serial sexual abuser. Let me just ask you now, so much has happened. I mean that since September, I think was when I published my first series of three stories, telling facts that had never been disclosed about the sexting relationship with Lori Anne Thompson, which Ravi tried to paint as Lori Anne Thompson and her husband as the predators when the truth is actually the reverse of that–that he lured her into a sexting relationship with him. And then we have also now these women at these spas that he co owned, saying that he had abused them. All of this is coming to light. For someone like you, who, for you know, decades, has seen a man on a pedestal, adored by the entire Christian community and even called by Mike Pence, you know, VP at the time, “The greatest apologist of the 20th century,” to have the truth come to light, how does that feel for you?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 39:56
When I read the article, I think came out, was it the 23rd of December, the initial report from RZIM?
JULIE ROYS 40:04
SHIRLEY STEWARD 40:05
I felt some relief, a little bit of vindication. But also some anger. Because they knew. I don’t know what it was, whether it was maybe that Margie’s mother had just passed away a few months before that, you know, that now that she’ll be spared that knowledge, are they now? I had so many questions. By I was also I was also happy for those victims that they were heard and that they were believed. Which is something that I never got.
JULIE ROYS 40:47
So now, what would you like to hear from either the Zacharias family or even from the public? I mean, for someone like you that’s lived with us your whole life been told by a pastor, “Oh, you’re lying.” To have people not believe you but believe, you know, obviously, Ravi at the time was a big, credible, credible figure. What do you think would bring you the greatest healing?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 41:14
For them to take responsibility. I mean, it’s too late for Ravi. Obviously, he’s passed away. He is never going to admit any wrongdoing never did. I just hope that they will allow Lori Anne Thompson, release her from her NDA so that she can get some healing from telling her story. Take responsibility. And apologize. Publicly. Not just, you know, write me a little quick note saying, “Yeah, we’re sorry.” But to actually come out and accept the report and accept the responsibility of what has happened.
JULIE ROYS 41:54
You weren’t part of the investigation, though. Is that right? Did anybody contact you?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 41:59
No, I offered. And I believe it was Steve Baughman contacted the investigators and gave them my my information to contact me. But they never did.
JULIE ROYS 42:10
That’s got to hurt.
SHIRLEY STEWARD 42:12
It does. Because now it’s they’re still not acknowledging what they put me through.
JULIE ROYS 42:19
Well Shirley, obviously, there’s, there’s nothing I can, I feel like there’s nothing I can do or say, other than, I’m so sorry. And your bravery and telling your story is commendable. And I will be praying for you and for your healing. And I know even after so many years, these things can be so raw, because they just go so deep. But thank you, thank you for being willing to tell your story and set the record straight and allow people to know the truth. And, you know, one thing I would love for you, just before we go to speak to is speak to the rest of the Christian community who they’re not a part of this story. But they may be a part of another story. Or someday they may hear from a victim who says, “I was abused by this person.” What did you long to hear from Christians, when you told your story?
SHIRLEY STEWARD 43:23
That they believed me. And that they cared about me, and that they would pray for me.
JULIE ROYS 43:30
Well, I do believe you. And I do care for you. And I know a lot of people listening care for you as well. And I know they’re going to be praying for you. You know, I think of that there’s the one verse where it says that the Lord will restore the years that the locusts have eaten. And I pray that for you that God would restore those years that the locusts have eaten. Again, thank you. And it’s been just really an honor to speak with you.
SHIRLEY STEWARD 43:58
Thank you so much for allowing me to speak.
JULIE ROYS 44:01
And thanks so much for listening to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. If you’d like to find me online, just go to JulieRoys.com. Also, we’d appreciate it if you’d subscribe to The Roys Report on either Apple podcasts or Google podcasts. That way, you’ll never miss an episode. And while you’re at it, we’d really appreciate it if you’d write a review. Help us spread the word by getting it out on social media. We always appreciate those things. Again, thank you so much for joining me today. I hope you have a great day and God bless.