Zachery - Dr. Christian Articles
and his wife,
Riva, seemed to have it all. They
co-founded a Florida megaohurch
and had four beautiful children.
But before long, there was infidelity,
divorce and his untimely death
under mysterious circumstances.
B Y M A R C E N A A . CHRISTIAN
he was a greeter when they met in
1992 as members of Baltimore's
affluent Living Word Christian
Center. "He was straight from the
street, and I was straight from
the church," Riva Tims says with
a lau^h as she I'eminisces about
Za<'hei\ Tims Jr., thefatherofherchildi'enandtheman
she called her husband foi 15 years. "We dated about
a year and a half before we ^ot married. That guy had
some charisma f)Ut of this world. He was a newly converted Christian and e\citpd about the word of ÍTod. I didn't
know a dark '.KK> < xislod w hen we first got together."
Th" attractive joung couple co-foundtd ISew Destiny
Christuíii Center (JNDCC) in June 1990 with only four
wni-'.bippeis ni c' downtown hotel in Orlando, Fla., and
topethei the_\ helped grow the nondenomuiational congregation to 8,000 members. Zacheiy, a populai host of
th( Trmih' Broadcasting Netw ork's show Prai.se the Lonf,
w a s a sti eet-sawj pastor w ho connected well w ith j oimif
adults. Thej were ruling high, bringing souls to Ch'ist
and keeping coiupanv with the rehgious "elite," <i circle
of \diunis megapastors
On the suitrici', the Tinises appeared pictuie-peifect,
but Zach( ry was hidiag .i seciet. Tiaces ot the dark life
hed led as a teen had resurlaced. One Octoljer 2007
Sunday mornuig, he shocked his congregation with the
udmissjon of "an indisc lfücin." Bul hi offered no detaiK
ahont the e\otic daiiiei lie met m Pans WIKKI begun to
disclose facts of thei. li-iu-mtii iftaii 'm social media
and news outlets after he abruptly ended the relationship. The re^ elation nearly toppled NDCC and ultnnateh contiibuted to the Tunses* 2009 divorce. "Ni.)\ember
¡2007] was thi iasi month I went to the church," sa\s
JSua "1 didiit want to put on the i'lce kke everything
Wd-. OJv It wasu'1. We needed help. Eveii thing [for him]
was aboirt uiakmg the church OTv. It was all about the
tithes c oming m. But what about the family?"
Less than four 3 cars later, Zachery was dead.
'Just 'Cause I Die Doesn't Mean
God Doesn't Have a Plan'
How Zachery Tims died is a mystery. The only thing certain is that
the 42-year-old pastor was found dead at 6 p.m. in room 3711 at the
posh W Hotel in New York City's Times Square on August 12, 2011.
The door's security bar, which could only be put in plaee from the
inside, was locked. When the hotel staff broke into the room, there
was Zachery, lying on his back between the bedroom and living room
area. Police reports revealed no trauma to the body, and all of his
jewelry and other belongings were in the room. A plastic bag filled
with an unidentified white powdery substance was found in the right
pocket of his shorts. Nearly two years after his death, questions continue to loom and suspicions remain.
If Zachery's mother, Madeline Tims, who represents her son's estate, has anything to do with it, the public will not get any answers.
In October 2011, she legally challenged the New York City medical
examiner's right to disclose information from the toxicology and
autopsy reports. She could not be reached for comment, but her
attorney, Ricardo E. Oquendo, told EBONY, "This is really a case
of privacy and confidentiality rights involving a person's death."
Oquendo said this was the first challenge in the 80-plus-year-history
of the medical examiner's office. "This is much bigger legally," he
explained. "It can change the body of law in New York Cily for hundreds of people who die in New York." The toxicology report will
remain sealed until the appeal is decided. It will be argued in appellate court on March 26, according to Oquendo, but he says a decision
isn't likely until late summer or early fall. A couple weeks before
Zachery's passing, he preached a sermon that seemed to foreshadow
what was to come: "Just 'cause I die doesn't mean God doesn't have
a plan," he told his congregation.
The charismatic pastor was easy on the eyes. Many mistook the
striking 5-foot-ll-inch Baltimore native for actor Will Smith. Playful
by nature, Zachery loved the attention and didn't bother correcting
anyone who thought he was the superstar performer. He permed his
memoirs. It's Never Too Late in 2006, disclosing a sordid past as a
drug dealer, addict and womanizer, testifying about how he changed
and turned his life over to Christ in March 1989, a month before his
20th birthday. An only child, his late father was a detective in the
Baltimore police department who wasn't active in his son's life and
struggled with alcoholism. Zachery attended private schools and
was an honor roll student. His charming personality and uncanny
ability to connect with people always managed to align him with
the "in" crowd—good or bad. But he admitted to searching for acceptance because of low self-esteem.
Zachery enjoyed the finer things in life and didn't mind hustling
to get them. By age 13, he was selling drugs, making $1,000 a week.
At 14, he was charged with attempted murder and possession of narcotics with intent to distribute. Five years later, he was a full-blown
addict, using alcohol to counteract the high of cocaine. It wasn't
until a co-worker, R. Douglas Chukwuemeka, explained to him the
biblical description ofthe hell that Zachery began to fear the life he
was living. "He was a functioning addict, but he was an excellent
collector on the phone," says Chukwuemeka, who was a manager
in the collections department at the health and fitness club where
they worked. "He was a people person. All the ladies liked him, and
he was after all the girls. He was only 19." A recurring di-eam of
being dragged to the fiery pits by demons scared Zachery so badly
that he ran down the street to his colleague's house one night. It was
there that Chukwuemeka, a devout Christian and faithful member
of Baltimore's Living Word Christian Center, a prominent nondenominational church noted for being progressive, helped transform
Zaehery's hfe forever.
"We prayed together, and he accepted the Lord," says Chukwuemeka, who was best man at the Timses 1994 wedding. "I was fully
included in his selection of a wife, who tin-ned out to be Riva. She
was a virgin. It was like starting over for him because she was a
Christian as well. He needed and wanted a woman who had never
'It's One Thing to Have a Struggle; It's Another
Thing to Have a Lifestyle'
In 1993, Zachery, who would eventually become the CFO, went to
work as an accountant at Living Word Christian Center. The following year, a scandal erupted in the church involving the pastor, David
Harold Brown, who was accused of firing a couple after impregnating the man's wife. "Unfortunately, he had a moral failure and [the
church] recovered for a season," says Riva, who is now pastor of Orlando's Majestic Life Church. "When it did, [Brown] vranted to get
rid ofthe old and start over. The church was renamed New Destiny,
and that's how it started. [Brown] sent out pastors. We were [sent
out, and Zachery chose to start a New Destiny chureh in Florida.]"
Chukwuemeka was another pastor who was sent out. He now heads
New Destiny Christian Church in Laveen, Ariz.
"Dramatic and illustrative" are how Chukwuemeka described
Zachery's style of preaehing. One sermon featured him going up and
dovni a ladder. Another time, he sat in a canoe with oars to make his
point. "He was in your face when preaching," says Riva. "No topic
was untouchable. He sounded like the homeboy next door. So many
people could connect with him. He had slang. He had swag. A lot of
people hadn't seen that. He connected well with the community."
Riva says something in their relationship changed in 2006. "If he
went [out], I didn't [ask where he was going]," she recalls. "Looking back, he probably felt hke he could just do anything. [I] was an
enabler in a sense." People started dropping hints to her about his
having an affair. When she approached him, he initially denied it.
Eventually, in July 2007, he admitted his guilt to her.
"[The exotic dancer] was one [indiscretion], but that was the door
to finding out there were others," explains Riva. "I thought that was
stuff in the past. I didn't realize it was still current. I found out for
sure about the affairs and substance abuse at the same time. When
he started telling me stuff, I began to dig and other things eame
out. I had no idea it was that much. I'll put it this way: It's one thing
"SO MANY PEOPLE GOULD OONNEOT WITH HIM. HE HAD SLANG.
HE HAD SWAG. A LOT OF PEOPLE
HADN'T SEEN THAT."
Above left: Riva Tims
enjoys a moment with
her children Zahria, 14;
Zachery III, 17. Above:
Zachery Tims Jr. is
interred at Woodlawn
Memorial Park in Gotha,
Fla. Right: Tims was a
beloved pastor who went
from being a troubled
teen to a renowned
to have a strudle; it's another thing to have a hfesfyle. When it's a
struggle, there's grace. But when it's a hfestyle, there's no grace."
'It's Not Going to Stop as Long as
People Are Lying and Covering'
when Zachery annoiuiced his indiscretion to the church, he stayed
away from the pulpit for three months and received counseling with
people he selected. Some considered this the nucleus of yet another
problem: "[In a nondemoninational church,] you get to cherry-pick
who holds you accountable," says Corey J. Hodges, senior pastor
of New Pilgrim Baptist Church in Salt Lake City, who became acquainted with Zachery a decade ago. "There tend to be like-minded
pastors who basically have the same issues. What happens is, it becomes a protection group instead of an accountabüily group."
Chukwuemeka concurs. "Zachery pulled people around him who
agreed with him. He didn't want to hear what I had to say about
it. I told him, 'You're not ready to minister. You need help. Go into
therapy.' But he wouldn't hear it because he didn't trust anyone with
the church. He didn't trust anyone with the money. He didn't listen
to me. He was in a very bad place at the time, a very confused state."
In some ways, peer pressure might have played another factor in
Zachery's downfall, Chukwuemeka believes. "Whoever you hang
around will influence you, and if you're not the stronger, you'll be
easily overruled by your morals and values. Judge the company
you keep. Anybody can make mistakes. You've got to ask God for
wisdom, because everybody talking about heaven isn't going there.
Zachery came from being a hustler in the world to becoming a hustler in the church and hanging with hustlers in the church. It's time
for [that behavior] to stop. But it's not going to stop as long as people
are l3^ng and covering."
The days leading up to Zachery's death are sketchy. But it is known
that he went on a family trip to Puerto Rico with his mother, Riva
(with whom he still had a good relationship) and their four children.
He left the trip after only two days, saying he had to work. He went
to New York City for a speaking engagement and meetings and was
reportedly scheduled to fly to Texas the day before he died. A few
days after his death, Riva received a message from a woman in California claiming to be Zachery's girlfriend. "She was [asking about]
ñineral arrangements, and we didn't even know he had passed. She
called his cell number, and a police officer answered and told her
[he was gone]. She thought we knew, but that's how we found out."
'VVe Should Try to Celebrate
Approximately 5,000 people paid their last respects at Zachery's funeral. Today, some remain concerned that if Madeline is unsuccessful at keeping the toxicology report sealed and the flndings reveal
drugs, his legacy will be tarnished. Others point out that too often
people put unnecessary pressure on pastors to be perfect. "We have
to stop worshiping the man. I think Zach's ministry and many others represent ministries that are very personality-driven, meaning
the success ofthat ministry is largely based on a person," explains
Hodges. "The danger in it is that man is then held to a high standard of morality. There is tremendous pressure. I'm not judging. It's
something that needs to get out there: People build these kingdoms
around a false king when the king is really Christ. How you finish is
just as important as the race you run. The devil will try to destroy
the legacy. [Zach] should be remembered for the work he's done. We
should try to celebrate his accomplishments."
Last year, Riva wrote a book. When It All Falls Apart, about loss
and betrayal. She's also establishing a Pastors Advance Center in
honor of her former husband. "It wül be an outreach facility for
pastors, leaders of influence who don't know where to go when they
have sex and drug addictions and any [other] vices holding them
back," she says.
As for NDCC, the prominent minister and popular author Paula
White, who is Caucasian, was appointed senior pastor after Zachery's death. Many members left the church. "You can quote me. Never, ever would Zach Tims have wanted Paula White to become the
pastor of New Destiny Christian Center. Ever," says Chukwuemeka.
"When he fell and it became public, Paula White turned her back
on him. She wouldn't take a phone call. She had nothing to do with
him. He was very hurt by it becau se he was a member of her board.
... I found it very interesting that she was standing in his pulpit a*
hours after he was buried, claiming his church and saying he was her
spiritual son." White could not be reached for comment.
Zachery's body is interred at Woodlawn Memorial Park in Gotha,
Fla. You'd never know that the founder of a megachurch is resting
there by the nondescript marker that reads, "Dr. Zachery Tims Jr.
1S69-2O11." He wasn't able to save himself, but perhaps someone
else can be rescued by learning from this tragedy. "Please reach
up, because He's reaching down, ready to pull you out of the pit
where you may be stru^ling... It's Never Too Late, " he wrote in his
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