Pioneer Christian Educator

by Bernard R. DeRemer

A leading figure in Christian education, Henrietta Mears (1890-1963) produced many “enduring monuments...of fruitful lives and influential Christian institutions .. .”

Her achievements include:

• Director of Christian Education, First Presbyterian Church, Hollywood;

• Development of graded Sunday school curricula for children and teens;

• Founded Gospel Light Publications and Gospel Literature International;

• Co-founded the National Sunday School Association.

Born in Fargo, ND, Mears grew up in a godly home, was saved at 7, and dedicated her life to the Lord at 17. She wanted to go to the mission field but that did not materialize.

She attended the University of Minnesota and became a high school chemistry teacher, though doctors had urged her to give up intensive studies because her impaired vision might fail. She prayed, trusted the Lord, and continued her active life and ministry without major complications, though she was extremely nearsighted.

Henrietta also wanted to marry and have a family, but her boyfriend did not share her faith. After an agonizing time of prayer and waiting, she surrendered to the Lord and broke the engagement. She was “learning by experience a biblical truth that later became her answer to problems when counseling others: ‘Commit your way unto the Lord, trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass (Ps. 37:5)’.”1

Next came a major move. She was called to become director of Christian Education at prestigious First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, Calif. There the Lord gave “what she very much wanted: a home, companions, and thousands of children.”

What significant results followed! Sunday school attendance soon soared from 400 to 4,000. Further, some 400 young people went into full-time Christian service, including:

• Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ;

• Richard Halverson, distinguished Presbyterian pastor as well as U.S. Senate chaplain; and

• Paul Carlson, a missionary martyred in Africa.

She taught the college department, emphasizing the lordship of Christ—a message she modeled daily. Further, “she trained leaders who discipled others all around the world. In fact, she reached more people with the gospel through her teaching ministry than she could have as a foreign missionary.” In her extensive travels overseas, she found that almost everywhere her plane landed she would meet young people “who had come up through my college department (and are now serving the Lord).”

When she could not find Sunday school materials that met her standards, she began to write her own. Demand for copies came from all over the country. Mimeographing and mailing copies could not meet the need, so she founded Gospel Light Publications, and later Gospel Literature International, which helps supply Christian educational materials to missionaries.

Henrietta challenged and inspired countless Sunday school teachers through frequent speaking engagements and her column in Teach magazine. Always she urged “unlimited vision” as well as “enthusiasm and faith in what God can do.”

Discouragements and delays of course were inevitable. But she claimed such promises as, “Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be” (Deut. 33:25). She trusted the Lord for needed strength and direction, knowing that tomorrow’s tasks cannot be “heaped upon today’s burden.”

Henrietta was also challenged to reach people in the largely-neglected, world-famous entertainment industry. After several years of prayerful but unsuccessful efforts, the Hollywood Christian Group began in her home. Many actors, actresses, and other professionals have been reached and discipled as a result.

She also founded the Forest Home Conference Center, where multitudes of young people have been profoundly influenced and many spiritual commitments have been made.

On March 20, 1963, she suffered a heart attack in her sleep and went to be with the Lord she had served so long and faithfully. What a welcome she must have received.

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1. From “Dream Big!” by Lin Johnson, in More Than Conquerors; copyright 1992, Moody Press; excerpts used by permission.

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