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From Migrant Refugee to Politician, now an Evangelist

Max Jeganathan was once a refugee - he became a lawyer and served in the Australian government before taking on the role of an apologist-evangelist with Ravi Zacharias Ministries. Max has a special interest in relating how believers can still be involved in the political sphere in a way that is faithful to the Gospel.

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Many Christians may feel that faith and politics have nothing in common. But for Max Jeganathan, his strong background as a lawyer and a political adviser found an interesting match in his role at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM): defending and unpacking the Christian faith in an intellectually compelling way.

How did he find his way from an active and enjoyable time in Australian politics to become a full-time apologist-evangelist? We had a chance to sit down with Max and find out. 

What made you decide to pursue this kind of work with RZIM? How did God call you to this ministry?

I never really sought it out or looked to do it. I’m a lawyer by training: I practiced law and worked  in professional politics in Australia. All of those were things that I knew I wanted. The call into ministry (into this kind of ministry anyway, I think we’re all in ministry) was much more gradual, and more involuntary, if I may say so.

My wife is the vehicle that God used. I was struggling a little while working in Parliament House, being a believer and follower of Jesus Christ. There were a lot of questions and attacks on the gospel in the public square. I knew there must be good answers to these questions, but I didn’t know what they were.

It was really my wife who introduced me to this ‘random guy’ speaking on a podcast – I found it compelling and interesting. He was really honoring the mandate to love the Lord not just with our hearts but also with our minds. He was meeting the questions of culture with the credibility of the gospel in an insightful and powerful way.

Of course, that ‘guy’ was Ravi Zacharias. I started reading his books, and his mentors’ and colleagues’ books. That led my wife and I to start thinking and praying about what the Lord had for us outside of our professional lives at that time. One thing led to another and I went to study a one-year program at Oxford University, partially taught by the Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics. The call began with that – inch by inch, God called me into this.

Max Jeganathan with Julia Gillard (Former Prime Minister of Australia) and team during his time as Senior Social Policy Adviser, Canberra, 2012

 

So, how did you come to follow Christ? How did your past career in law and politics help prepare you for this kind of work?

I grew up in a Christian home and I was really blessed by the strength of the faith of my parents; they really raised me in the ways of the Lord. I think that’s the driving reason why it’s never left me.

I didn’t make a decision for myself until I was about 15 years old. I gave my life to Him, and got baptized in Perth when I was in high school. I’ve been a believer for 20 years now. It hasn’t been a smooth or a linear journey, but what has happened over the last 7 or 8 years has helped to lock down my faith.

It was during the time I was studying in Oxford that Ravi and members of his leadership team suggested the possibility of taking on an Asia-Pacific leadership role with RZIM. Initially, I was very confused why God had led me through my legal and political journey. But the more I do this work as an apologist evangelist, I see how perfect the fit actually is.

The capacity to deconstruct arguments, break down concepts to their first principles and analyze them, debate, discuss – I was blessed with the education for those things through my study and practice of the law and politics. I’m very grateful for that.

I didn’t investigate the faith before giving my life to Jesus. I gave my life to Jesus first, and then I investigated. I don’t really think it matters in what order you do that. But my journey through law and politics certainly played a big role in strengthening my faith.

What are your current views on politics? How should Christians interact with the political arena? 

I really like politics – the travel and the adrenaline, the camaraderie and the teamwork. I do miss being actively involved in politics, that was part of the sacrifice when I started working with RZIM.

I believe politics allows you to have the maximum impact on the quality of life of other people, outside of evangelism. I also enjoyed the combat of ideas, very intelligent people, ideally not attacking each other. I think you really can do good things for society, just being able to help people that are really struggling.

“Government, as we understand it, is a gift of God to which we are called to promote and maintain— whether we like it or not we are called into political community.”

There are two problems we have in the kingdom of God; either we write off politics and the political sphere as being evil and adopt the attitude “Christ is coming back anyway, so who cares?” That is an unbiblical view of politics. Government, as we understand it, is a gift of God to which we are called to promote and maintain— whether we like it or not we are called into political community.

The flip-side is when the church goes too far the other way, towards a theocratic approach. We incorrectly think our job is to legislate the kingdom into our government. But that’s not the case. We do need to stay involved, we do need to advocate for certain things and be a passionate voice in the political system, advocate for reforms and all that. Some of the biggest human-rights movement, like the abolition of slavery, are all anchored in a Judeo-Christian political framework. We have a duty to bring Christian moral reasoning, but we shouldn’t get antagonistic if people refuse to embrace it. Ultimately, the kingdom of God isn’t about the invasion of nations, but the invasion of human hearts.

What is it like to debate on a stage in front of crowds?  Have you ever been surprised or “ambushed” by your opponents? 

I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to do debates. As my boss, Michael Ramsden, always says, we have to be careful with debates – “that we don’t create more heat than light”.

I was doing a debate last year in Johannesburg, South Africa. I was part of a debate panel where it was supposed to be me, an agnostic, and an atheist on stage at the biggest university in Johannesburg. There were about a thousand people there.

Within the first 5 minutes of the debate, one of the other participants effectively changed his position and said he was actually an atheist. So the other two participants in the debate agreed that they shared the same views. It was two on one for the rest of the debate.

That was tough. I feel like I fought them to a draw that day. But that was tough.

However, if that’s as tough as it gets, I’ve been pretty blessed.

Max speaking in Kasterlee, Belgium, 2016

 

What is the most difficult things you’ve had to do so far in RZIM?

That’s a really good question.

The hardest thing I’ve had to do, alongside these debates, was going back to Sri Lanka and speaking on justice and forgiveness. This happened last year in July. That was very difficult, as it was the first time I told my story in public.

What it made me realize, and not just as a refugee myself, was that humans are primarily self-interested. When we are the ones wronged, we cry for justice, and when we are the ones who wrong others, we cry for forgiveness.

When I considered what the men did to my family, burning down our home and chasing us and tens of thousands of others out of our country, I found the same darkness in my own heart. It is so obvious. The only hope for humankind is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Perfect mercy, perfect justice, perfect compassion. All these things are natural yearnings of the human heart, and the cross is where we can find them.

“The only hope for humankind is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Perfect mercy, perfect justice, perfect compassion. All these things are natural yearnings of the human heart, and the cross is where we can find them.”

And who but God could have orchestrated the talk that I gave alongside Ravi in Sri Lanka—which took place just 1,500 meters from the hospital where I was born? The trip was a tender moment for me, as the Lord showed me, “Do you know that your father was 35 years old when you were chased out of this country, and you were one year old?” That really struck me, because at the time of that talk, I was also 35 years old and my own son, one!

It’s complete generational symmetry. Maybe He let us go through all of that just so we could come back here now and share the gospel with these people. My heart for Sri Lankan people has been revived, and I’ve been back since. I’m slowly understanding what Joseph felt when he said, “What men meant for evil, God meant for good (Genesis 50:20).”

Come back for part 2 of this conversation with Max Jeganathan next week, as we discuss God’s sovereignty in the everyday world and how believers can prepare themselves to influence their world for Christ.