The Christian world mourned the passing July 19 of William R. “Bill” Bright, 81, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, the world’s largest Christian ministry. At the same time, his brothers and sisters in Christ rejoiced that his long burden of struggling for every breath was at last ended, with his passage through death’s portal into life everlasting in the presence of his Savior.
Bright died from complications related to pulmonary fibrosis. When he last spoke at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in 2002, he wore an oxygen mask and had to stop several times to cough. Nevertheless, he said, the past 12 months had been “the most fruitful, productive, and most joyful year of my life.”
Fueled by his passion to present the love and claims of Jesus Christ to “every living person on earth,” Bright spent more than five decades building and leading the Orlando-based Campus Crusade. In 1951, Bill and his wife, Vonette, drew up a contract with Jesus, pledging to give up their worldly pursuits in order to help spread the gospel to the entire world. They sold their food business and later an Oklahoma oil drilling company, and used the proceeds to found Campus Crusade for Christ.
Today the ministry serves people in 191 countries through a staff of 26,000 fulltime employees and more than 225,000 trained volunteers working in some 60 niche ministries, beginning with campus ministry at UCLA and later expanding to projects ranging from military ministry to inner-city outreach.
Bright’s work through Campus Crusade for Christ will continue under the leadership of Steve Douglass, a longtime associate whom Bright tapped in 2001 as his successor.
Among the highlights of his work through Campus Crusade were publication of The Four Spiritual Laws and commissioning of the Jesus film. Each has had a huge impact for Christ around the world. (Four Spiritual Laws has been printed in some 200 languages and distributed to more than 2.5 billion people, making it the most widely disseminated religious booklet in history; the feature-length Jesus film on the life of Christ has been viewed by more than 5.1 billion people in 234 countries and has become the most widely viewed, as well as most widely translated, film in history [more than 800 languages].)
Bright recently co-founded Global Pastors Network to “Touch, Teach and Train” ministers around the world 24/7/365.
Billy Graham, a longtime friend of Bright and his wife, Vonette, said Bright “has carried a burden on his heart as few men that I’ve ever known, a burden for the evangelization of the world.”
“While heaven is rejoicing at the homecoming of Bill Bright, our world is left a little bit darker without his presence,” said Robert E. Reccord, president of the SBC’s North American Mission Board. “Few lights burned as intensely, and no heart beat more passionately for evangelism than his…. I was amazed at his productivity and purposeful approach to life even during his final weeks.
“While many Christians settle for reaching the base camp in their relationship with God, Bill Bright settled for nothing less than reaching the summit. I pray that his life will continue to inspire that kind of obedience and abandonment to God,” Reccord said.
James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, said that with the exception of the first-century Christians, there has been “no one who has been more influential for Christ and has led more people to Him, and whose work has reached as far into the cultures of the world as Dr. Bill Bright and the ministry of Campus Crusade.”
In an interview last year with Rick Warren (senior pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif.), Bright said: “The most important lesson I’ve learned is to love God with all my heart and soul and mind and strength, obey His commandments, and to trust His promises and relax.”
“I can tell you, God honors a heart that is in tune with His. The number one priority I believe of every pastor—any believer for that matter— is to truly seek first the Kingdom and love God and obey and trust.”
Bright was convinced that America desperately needs revival. “One of the great scandals of the centuries is the condition of the church of Christ in America today,” he said. “The fires burn brightly in other parts of the world and in some parts of America, but, oh, we need to pray for revival and believe God for revival and begin in our own hearts.”
Saying that too many Christians fail to take seriously Christ’s command to share the gospel, Bright gave three biblical actions he said would help the church experience true revival: embracing the cross, being filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit and experiencing death to self.
To experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit, Bright said, a Christian must hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Quoting Galatians 2:20, Bright also said a Christian must experience death to self. To “surrender yourself totally, irrevocably, without reservation to Christ is the greatest privilege man can know,” he stressed.
“A Christian can’t lose,” Bright said in a 2001 interview. “If we live, we go on serving Him. That’s an adventure. If we die, we’re in heaven with Him, and that’s incredible.”
Compiled from various
Baptist Press accounts.