A Different Q&A: World Famous Apologist Speaks About His Life

Stuart Stuart McAllister is currently the Vice President of Training and Special Projects for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. He was general secretary of the European Evangelical Alliance and is involved with the European Lausanne Committee. Stuart has developed an evangelistic mobilization called "Love Europe" that sent several thousand team members across Europe with the message of the Gospel. He also founded the European Roundtable to bring together a diverse group of ministries and interests; they united to foster "Hope for Europe." Stuart began his ministry with OM and was imprisoned by communist countries for doing the missionary life. Mary McAllister, his wife, has been a formidable support and an unvarying companion for Stuart all through his life, while in prison and out of prison. This is an interview of Stuart and Mary with George A Paul.


On a sunny day, George A Paul caught up with  Stuart McAllister and Mary McAllister at Taj Krishna in Hyderabad. Stuart and Mary were in Hyderabad to train RZIM resource persons and to address an open forum. Though hard-pressed for time, they graciously gave time, and unassumingly answered the questions that were about their life. The following are the excerpts of the interview.  

George: What was your life like, before you became a Christian? 

Mary: My mom was an Italian and a strong catholic at that; my father was an American Baptist. Since my mother would not marry outside the Catholic Church, my father became a Catholic to marry her. All their children – all five of us – were raised in a catholic home. My parents, especially my mother, taught me great fear and respect for God but there was no personal relationship with God. My father was in the army and later worked for the government, which made us keep moving every two or three years. That became difficult as I became a teenager; it grew harder and harder to leave friends and to start all over again in a new school.  MaryWhen I was 16, I met with some people who took me to a bible study for the first time in my life. Even though I had grown up in a religious home I did not understand that part of faith of having a personal relationship with God. After attending the bible study for six weeks an older lady stopped me and said, “Stuart, you know enough now and you need to make a decision.” Having understood that commitment to Christ would mean the complete surrender of every area of my life to his Lordship,  I made the decision then and prayed. My life just completely changed after that.  This became a big issue in our family. It really hurt my parents because they felt I was rejecting everything Catholic that they taught me, but in four or five years after my conversion they too came to know the Lord. Very early in my conversion I knew that I wanted to be involved in missions. I realised that would probably involve my leaving America. I had a great interest in far away places – a book with pictures of India had fascinated me a lot and I always wanted to go see such places.  Later, I joined a mission college in Alberta, Canada. I graduated from there in four years and then went on to join OM – where I met the man I would get married to: Stuart!   

Stuart: I was born in Glasgow, Scotland. My mom’s was a Christian family but there weren’t any Christians in dad’s – in fact, his father was a very committed communist. My father – he was a good man – grew up as the product of the World War. .  I grew up in the natural culture of Scotland, with a lot of fighting, rough sports, and drinking – and I was just 14! Possibly as an extension of that, I got into a physical fight with my father which made me leave home and start living on my own – when I was still 15. I started working at a dance hall as a bouncer and also with the car business which included Glasgow’s criminal underworld. Life, I thought, was just fun. I was living with a girl then, but she became a Christian through her own search. That’s when I first heard the gospel. 

George: Was she the cause for you to convert to Christ?   

Stuart: Probably, in a way. She had started to share with me about Christ but soon, we split up. After being incommunicado for two weeks, she suddenly called up one day. I thought she was coming to her senses but no – she had gotten deeper into the Christian faith and wanted me to meet with her Christian friends. I went – with the intention of beating them up – thinking, “Who are these people messing with my life?” But there, I heard the gospel and ended up giving my life to Jesus! It certainly was new beginning for me, in Glasgow, 1977. 

George: Stuart, you’ve had a life of fun – as people call it – filled with great freedom, and Mary, you’ve come from a conservative religious family. Yet, neither of you were able to find satisfaction in your respective lives. How did Christ manage to satisfy you? 

Stuart: My mother loved us very much, but Christ’s love is really something else. In the Christian faith, the key issue in the beginning is to know that God is real, alive. This realization meant a lot to me. Because till then, I believed that the whole of supernatural realm was about its dark side – the only ‘real’ things were the demons, possession and such evil. But when the image of good and loving God became real, it changed the world for me. This reality changed my relationships, because I realized that I need not solve problems with arguments or violence or by treating people like filth, but I can solve it by love! I also realized that one could seek forgiveness and even forgive. These things made a real difference for me – a real transformation from the inside rather than being polite or

politically right. 

Mary: I went to a catholic school and to mass every day and had a real reverence and wonder for God, but there was no real relationship- you know what I mean? I was seeing God as someone far away, but when I heard people say, “When I was reading my bible, God spoke to me,” it dawned on me that such a personal relationship with God was possible. And that drew me closer to Him. Moreover, ever since I had prayed that prayer of commitment at the lady’s house that day, there was a great difference in my life. There was a miracle of regeneration – something happened within me that enabled me to have a personal relationship with God, and my whole life was changed.  

George: That’s great! So do you say Christ transforms lives and has transformed yours?  

Stuart: Oh, Yes! 

Mary: Certainly. 

George: So Stuart, is it true that all the pleasures that you had were not able to satisfy you, but the love of Christ and relationship with him did? And Mary, did you say that religion could not satisfy you but Christ did?  

Mary: Yeah. 

Stuart: That’s right.  

George: So what where the changes after Christ transformed your life ? 

Stuart: Because of Christ, the way I looked at relationships changed drastically. Moreover, my hunger to read and obey the Bible grew. The more I read the Bible, the more I wanted to read it. 

Mary: I had just started experimenting with drugs back then in the 70’s – maybe  because of the influence of the hippy age. . But all that changed when Christ transformed me to become a Christian. My hunger to read and obey the Bible grew like never before. I still remember my struggle with the book of Romans – I call it the math book of the Bible (laughs). Though I did not understand it I kept reading till by God’s grace, it started making sense. Later, I also went on to teach the Bible, and that is something I still do.   

George: Stuart, since you claim that Christ changed the way you deal with relationships, what about that fight you had with your father – did you sort it out after your conversion?  

Stuart: That fight happened when I was 15 and I had to wait six more years to become a Christian. My conversion gave him yet another reason to mock me. Still, when I asked my father to forgive me, he did. My father also became a Christian towards his end, and in appreciation, I presented him one of Ravi Zacharias’ books. My mother was able to stand with my decision though, because she has been to church. My brothers’ reaction was typically British – they though that I was an idiot to become religious because Christianity was disproved by science. However, one of my letters from a Yugoslavian prison where I was serving 40 days for distributing Christian literature in a communist country was able to correct this misconception. 

George: That’s an example of a fighter and bouncer becoming meek, patient and loving. What about you Mary? How was it with your dad? 

Mary: My father was very dominating, and I had always obeyed him. But when I was 17 and still under parental control, my father wouldn’t give me permission to go to a Bible college. That was a struggle. I didn’t want to disobey, and so I prayed about it. And God did change my fathers mind! But history started repeating itself when I was 25 – my father didn’t want me to go to the mission field since it involved  the high-risk job of transporting Bibles. Miraculously, God changed his heart yet again, after I stood by my conviction. One of the earliest lessons that we as Christian believers have to learn is how to handle relationships.  

George:  Speaking about handling relationships, how did you arrive on the decision to get married to each other? 

Mary:  Right when Stuart and I started seeing each other, we had decided to carry on with it only if we would get married at the end of it. So when Stuart felt the Lord call him to be single, we moved away from each other. And the Christian mission we were with had strict rules regarding such meet ups. Thus, we broke up even before we got married!.

Stuart: (smiles) Ho! I was extremely idealistic then. Though I was eager for a relationship like all young men , I was struggling with those passages of scripture that spoke about singleness as an ideal. Hence, I didn’t want to marry, because I thought marriage to be second class Christianity. Moreover, I wanted to live by faith – whatever is not of faith is sin – and since I was doubtf

ul about this, I broke up with Mary. However God’s providence led us to the very same mission and to the very same place where we have been before in Austria. I tried my best to avoid her, but her very presence was distracting. We started having a conversation again. During that time the Lord changed my opinion about marriage. 

Mary: Stuart was in Greece speaking in various churches then. During this trip several older men commended him on his gifted speaking and told him with such a gift it would not be easy for him to remain single. He took this as a word from the Lord and settled the issue. This November, we are celebrating our25th anniversary. 

Stuart: I had to learn that it is not second class Christianity to be married. Once God clarified about that, I didn’t have the question of whom to marry. If God had wanted me to be single, I would certainly obey Him. But if I was trying to remain single just to prove how spiritual I was, I would be denying my sexuality, etc.  I would have been following just my imagination – not God’s. 

Mary: The joke is that he never asked me to marry him but when we got together the second time, we knew  where we would get married. 

George: What would be your response if someone said, “You changed your decision from ‘not to marry’ to ‘marry’ and hence, you are a second class Christian who can’t hear the voice of God or does not listen carefully”? 

Stuart: Say on a cell phone, sometimes we can hear the call clearly, but there are times when you hear just a scramble and can’t hear clearly, or the call breaks off – but something is still communicated. There are also times when you misunderstand. I think it is the same in our interaction with God. When we hear God we assume that we have heard Him 100% accurately, while we may have heard the message only partially. But God is infinitely patient with us – His speaking is a dynamic process, much like His will which is not static. There would be areas where His instruction is very clear, as would be there be areas where they are not When God gives us a command, He also gives us the freedom to respond to it – and that involves a time factor. Yes, there was the embarrassment of I thinking I was hearing God, while I actually wasn’t. But that  is part of growth, and it is all right to make mistakes.  

Mary: There were several people in our team who where really mad at him and very hard on him because they thought he was very trivial with my feelings. But I never thought like that: I was heart broken but I could come to terms with it through the realization that he was very serious about his faith. What I experienced was the difference between trying to hold onto something really hard, and leaving it open and saying, “Lord, my life is yours to do what you want.” It was difficult dealing with our break up and the possibility that we might never get married. But the second time, we were sure about it and God used His word and godly men to speak to us. 

George: So would you say relationships become all the more important once you become a Christian? 

Stuart: Absolutely, when Jesus was asked about the most important commandment, he said, “Love your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He pointed out that all the law and the prophets hang on these two relationship commandments. Which simply means that all relationships – with God, with self, with other people, with the environment  – should become the center and elevated. This is the heart of Christianity.  

Mary: And this is just what the devil attacks. He attacks our relationships within families, churches, societies etc. All realms are under attack.  

George: Stuart, coming back to your arrest in the communist countries, were you arrested while you were married? 

Stuart: No, those were still my engagement days.

Mary: His arrest in Czechoslovakia became a catapult in our relationship – because if you were arrested in the communist countries, you might simply disappear off the earth without any news. 

George: Stuart, would you relate your desire to work in the communist countries to your family background, especially to your communist grandfather? 

Stuart: I think I should owe it to a book I read, called Tortured for Christ by Richard Wornbrand. It spoke about what was life like for Christians who were persecuted for their faith. I got fascinated and became willing to work in such contexts. I was reading a lot on Karl Marx, politics and economics then. I understood the perspective, but couldn’t agree with it. As I grew in my understanding of communism there arose a real desire to connect my Christian belief with it. As a young Christian, I did not realize then that the two philosophies are incompatible – one was about imperialism and naturalism while the other was a metaphysical, supernatural and theistic view of reality. Once I got a clearer understanding and knowledge about this, I so desired to connect with these people. I returned to the communist countries to teach them how to engage people in their own contexts. 

George:  Do you relate your arrest in the communist countries to what is happening today in Islamic countries, since both deny the freedom of religion?  

Stuart: The Christians have grown, almost always under hostile conductions. When Christianity was born it first faced the hostility of the Jewish people who would not accept the revelation of Jesus as Messiah.  What resulted was a general religious rebellion. Christianity grew in Rome which had its own gods including the imperial Roman Emperor, to deny whose Godhood was death –So many Christians for the first 500 years where slaughtered until Constantine. Many people look at the west as Christian but it was entirely unchristian for first 500 years and then it was a mixture of paganism until about 1500 AD. So Christianity has gone under all systems, it has to deal with totalitarian or authoritarian powers yet God works in those systems and through them. The Acts of the Apostles is really the template for us for how to do ministry. In which they went out, they shared, they where arrested they where put in prison they did not seek any of those things, they sought to obey the authorities. Moreover, the Christians where often advance workers even when governments where hostile to people. Christians worked better had higher ethical standards even though they where put in prison they where people who loved their God and honored their country even though the country didn’t honor them as full citizens. That’s what you see today for Christians in some parts of the world are treated as second class citizens or they are barely tolerated they are actively persecuted and discriminated against as well as other groups not just Christians. But we Christians when we have to suffer we have to do it as Christ did with dignity and grace and to trust God, it’s not all that easy but that’s what we have to do.  

George: You worked for three organizations before you founded the European roundtable. What was the primary reason for doing this? How could this help the ministries? 

Stuart: The reason for the roundtable was precisely because there where the three words when we look to the mission field in Europe what we saw was crowded, competitive, and confused. There where many players on the same table who weren’t talking to each other, they where competitive, because one ministry will have one program and the other ministry will have something else and they where never talking to each other. Therefore for both Christians and non-Christians it was a confusing arena. There are programs with no sense of coherence or any sense of integration or communication. The roundtable was to bring all the generals of the army to the same table and say look there is something bigger then this. It is relationship and relationship means communication which involves love which should in turn lead to understanding and sharing the agenda. That was really the agenda of the Roundtable to see whether we could something together to do bigger. Out of the Roundtable grew something called the Hope for Europe, and it actually worked.  

George: How did all these affect you as a person and as family? 

Mary: In the early days both of us traveled a lot. After 9 months of our marriage, I was expecting our first child. Then we decided that somebody needs to stay back during the time when we bring up our children. Hence, I decided to stay back and I was very happy to do that. I see that I am a little different and I see that in Marge too, Marge Zechariahs and I have talked together and we did it willingly there was no grudge. We considered it part of our calling to do that. That was my ministry to raise children living in a different country. Language was a challenge for me. My children doing school in a different language was not easy. Stuart was gone on ministerial assignments but we learnt along the way. Specifically the parent teacher meeting was very stressful for me because it was in German and my German was not that good. So I asked Stuart if he could be home on these days. He started adjusting his schedules in such a way that he would be home and we started doing things together.  

The other thing I remember is my mother telling me, “You wait until dad gets home, and you’re going to be in trouble.” That built in me a dread of my father and never wanted our children to have that with Stuart. We talked about it and we agreed that I will handle the discipline while he was away. And we agreed that only if there is really something huge that they have done we would wait for him to get back home. In all the life that happened only two times once in each others life. This worked and I think we did the right thing. Now we ask our children tell us what you thought during those years. They honestly tell us that they missed dad.

That reminds me of an incident. When my son was really little- may be around 2 years old- I was doing the laundry he came up to me and said, “Mum can we go to Poland to see dad?” That made me cry but you need to get over it. I think my attitude affected them more in that. And it was ok since God was still taking care of us. I don’t think my children had much resentment towards his life balance.  

Stuart: I would agree, I think very early on we formed a diary committee; I would not put anything in my schedule until the diary committee decided. They would look at the goals and the responsibility and based on this they would decide. I have to go to the places that I have to go first which are non-negotiable and there where things which were obviously negotiable. The committee consisted of my wife Mary, the secretary also a women and a pastor. So it was two women and one male perspective. This committee will ask me, why I should go to a particular place and why I should not so and so forth. After if this committee agreed together, and then it was yes. But if this committee said no, then it was no. This committee was very helpful. 

Mary: This committee took away a lot of pressure of him, because after a given meeting many will come up to him and say, “Can you come to my place and address my group”. Once he was in Australia and a person from New Zealand came up to him and asked him to come speak to his group. Then Stuart had to say that you need to put that in writing and the committee will decide. This helped him a lot. Moreover, at that it was out question for me to travel with him. Now that our children are grown I am able to travel with him and also that he too is growing old. Not always because it is expensive.  

George: The cooperate world is working as synergy integrating strengths of various firms to beat competition. Similarly, would you like to integrate strengths of various apologetic ministries globally as Vice President of RZIM to beat the competing world views? 

Stuart:  I feel this is a huge issue; in fact a big fat portion of my heart is in networking, I find that networking is an art form. It needs facilitators who are committed to it. We need people who will run damage control between organizations, we need to do lot of communication and we need to win people to the ideas. So you may spend a lot of time investing in different groups to tell them about the ideas and to win them and finally you get them to move and then the actual meeting itself. So there are lot of complex dimensions to it but it is been learned by many people not just Christians and non-Christians. I think it’s a tragedy and it’s a shame that many Christians who believe in relationships are at the tail end of it and not at the front end, because of pride, because of pettiness, small mindedness; often arrogance and people would not put the effort necessary to get it. But once they get the effort they see the fruit of it and they like it. I have seen men who are charismatic on one side and reformed on the other who would never have spoken to each other for years. However, when they pray for each other they tend to say, I don’t like his ecclesiology but I see that he is in the family. Then they do things together. I like to see that in the global scale and even in India. Someone has to have a vision for it and must be willing to pay the price.  

George: What would you say about building such an apologetic network in India? 

Stuart: Don’t wait for other’s to do it, but go ahead and does it like other Indian Entrepreneurs have done it. Make contacts, bring people into it and rather than committee meetings and stuff like that- just by pass some of that. Moreover, most evangelicals would not listen until they see a model. So, cut the argument and build a model first. And once you do that then you can say ‘come and look at this’, and the model will speak. Moreover, if the model is from God it will have fruit and show results. That’s why we need models and we need more leaders. 

George: Do you plan to retire, since now a day’s people think about early retirement, what are your plans regarding this? 

Stuart: Cooperate model is based on the understanding of your life, your career and your retirement. It sounds very well but it comes from humanism and is a humanistic creation. In terms of retirement I don’t even think about it. As a Christian may be there are parts of that I can affirm. But as a Christian I want to make sure that I follow the Lord and if he directs me to do so I will do it and if he doesn’t I don’t. I do not say that people who are planning their retirement are doing something sinful. However, I am not following that model. What we see in the Bible is that many of the older people where used most powerfully right until the end. I just want to make sure that I am just listening obeying and following, if we have to rest on the way we would do that but people like us would not retire since we are wired to be useful and we are wired for eternity. We are not planning a retirement. 

George: So do you say that humanism and materialism does not offer vision beyond and bigger than life, but Christ does? 

Stuart: Yes, my retirement is when I go home and would live and do what the Lord wants until it is completed. When I get to heaven even there we would do what God wants. But that  is to come. While on earth it is to live the best life we can, to honor God, to raise a godly family and to die well. Dying is a big part of it since it’s unavoidable and it’s going to happen and I want to have a good death. Dying is part of Christian life, people don’t teach about it today as they used to in the past. I see it is very very important that we die well. That we die with heavens expectancy on our lips, with hope in our heart. We need to see that our relationships are good that we have forgiven people and we are prepared. 

George: Thank you very much Mrs. and Mr. McAllister for your time was a investment in his kingdom.  

Mrs. and Mr. McAllister: It was a pleasure George.   

Apologetics Messages and Articles of Stuart McAllister in Other Websites:
 

  1. Sharing hope in a cynical Age (Audio)
  2. Leading an Apologetic Strategy (Audio)
  3. The Pressure of Novelty (Article)
  4. The Church and Culture in the 21st Century (Article)
  5. Permanent Things (Article)
  6. What is Good and Who Says? (Article)

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One Response

  1. Very ifoarmntive post. Thanks for taking the time to share your view with us. (to Christine from jm love your photoblog)

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