Anyone who has ever read the Four Spiritual Laws, seen the “Jesus” film or been drawn closer to God via the world’s largest Christian ministry owes William R. “Bill” Bright a debt of gratitude – a debt being covered now by Bright’s final reward. The 81-year-old founder of Campus Crusade for Christ died July 19 from complications related to pulmonary fibrosis.
Church leaders from around the world joined Bright’s friends and family at First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., on July 30 to honor a man who helped deliver the message of Christ to billions.
“I really believe after the first century Christians, there has been no one who has been more influential for Christ or whose work has reached more of the world than Dr. Bill Bright and the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ,” said Focus on the Family’s James Dobson. He dedicated his July 21 radio broadcast to Bright’s memory.
A California entrepreneur and self-described “happy pagan,” before he accepted Christ in 1947, Bright poured his energy into his new faith and started Campus Crusade four years later to reach students at UCLA. The ministry spread quickly and is now a $374 million-a-year organization with 26,000 full-time employees and more than 225,000 trained volunteers in 191 countries. Bright’s campus focus broadened to include some 60 niche ministries targeting people from all walks of life, from those in the military to the entertainment industry, high school students to diplomats.
“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.”
With a goal of introducing Jesus Christ to “every living person on earth,” the Oklahoma native worked to equip Christians with evangelistic tools. In 1956, he wrote the “Four Spiritual Laws,” boiling the basics of the faith down to just 77 words. The pamphlet, which has since been printed in roughly 200 languages and distributed to more than 2.5 billion people, is the most widely disseminated religious booklet in history. Bright authored more than 100 publications and used television and radio, the Internet, billboards, phone banks, international training conferences and other vehicles to spread God’s word.
In the late 1970s, Bright commissioned a two-hour film on the life of Christ based on the book of Luke. The “Jesus” film has since been viewed by more than 5.1 billion people in 234 countries and translated into more than 800 languages.
“More than 121 million people have accepted Christ as a result of this film,” said Alan Sears. “I can just hear Dr. Bright now as he is receiving the words that we all want to hear someday: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’”
Sears is president of the Alliance Defense Fund, another of Bright’s efforts to spread the Gospel and protect those who are doing God’s work.
“Dr. Bright served as a bigger-than-life encourager, a model for servant leadership, and as the challenger. It was Bill Bright who challenged us to think “God-sized thoughts,” to envision not just fighting – but winning; not just engaging (“keeping the door open for the Gospel”) – but reclaiming the entire legal system for Christ,” Sears said. Evangelists everywhere hailed Bright’s work as news of his death spread.
“He has carried a burden on his heart as few men that I’ve ever known. A burden for the evangelization of the world,” said the Rev. Billy Graham. “He is a man whose sincerity and integrity and devotion to our Lord have been an inspiration and a blessing to me ever since the early days of my ministry.”
In 1996 Bright won the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. He donated his prize money, more than $1 million, to causes promoting the spiritual benefits of fasting and prayer. Since 1994, Campus Crusade has sponsored seven fasting and prayer events, drawing tens of thousands together via satellite and the Internet.
In 2000, Bright received the first Lifetime Achievement Award from his alma mater, Northeastern State University, the Lifetime Inspiration Award from Religious Heritage of America Foundation and the Lifetime Achievement Award from both the National Association of Evangelicals and the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. A year later, Campus Crusade celebrated its 50th anniversary and Bright passed the presidency to his chosen successor, the Rev. Steve Douglass. In 2002, Bright was inducted into the National Religious Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
Though he had struggled with pulmonary fibrosis for two years, Bright and his wife, Vonette, remained active with their ministries. The day before his death, the couple participated via telephone in the worship service at Campus Crusade’s bi-annual U.S. Staff Conference at Colorado State University. Though Bright was unable to speak at the time, his staffers did a get a word from him via a video address recently recorded and played at a private memorial service on July 21.
— E.P. News