Born October, 19 1921
Bill didn’t take Christianity seriously while growing up in Oklahoma. As an adult he concluded religion was good for women and children. Then something hap-pened. Bill became a Christian and wanted everyone on earth to hear the gospel message. Before his death at age 81, Bill Bright lead the world’s largest Christian ministry.
SUCCESS AFTER SUCCESS
Following graduation from high school (where he was awarded “best all-around student”), Bill attended college at Northeastern State in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. He became class president and eventually president of the student body. Following graduation in 1943, the driven young man hit a speed bump.
He wanted to serve in the military. His attempts to enlist were constantly denied due to a perforated eardrum. Bill decided to seek his future in the Golden State, California. He moved to Los Angeles.
There he began a business he called Bill’s Epicurean Delights. He successfully sold gourmet food. He still had no room for God. At that point in his life, making money was his religion. Then came an invitation to attend a party at the home of a movie star.
Hollywood First Presbyterian Church hosted that party for the Christian actor. Bill was impressed with the people he met there. The successful, young business-man began attending the church. He expected it would help him at least gain a few more business contacts. In the young adult class, he heard Henrietta Mears tell about the conversion of the Apostle Paul. As a result of hearing that lesson in 1945, Bill surrendered his life to Jesus Christ.
He enrolled in Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey. His food business, left in someone else’s hands back in California, suffered. Bill returned to the Golden State, transferring to Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. At that same time, his interest in a young lady from his native state of Oklahoma led to marriage. Bill and Vonette set a goal for their lives together: to win as many people to Jesus as possible. God had plans to use them.
After selling the food business, Bill and Vonette moved into a house near the campus of UCLA. They began holding Bible studies in their home. In a few months they had led 250 of the college students into the Christian faith. God gave Bill a vision to equip Christians in college to evangelize their peers. In 1951, the Brights branded their ministry as Campus Crusade for Christ. Bill eventually developed an easy-to-use tool for explaining the gospel.
What became known as The Four Spiritual Laws made four concise statements: “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” “Man is sinful and separated from God,” “Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for man’s sin,” and “We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.”
Campus Crusade for Christ grew. By 1960, it reached onto forty campuses in multiple states. The college campus ministry however was only the first wave in the Brights’ plan to spread the gospel. Bill initiated presentations for the military and for high school students. The horizon kept broadening.
ENLARGING THE HARVEST
There were three ministry mountain peaks in the 1970s. Campus Crusade used high-profile rallies, a USA-wide campaign, and a film that would gain an international showing.
In June of 1972, Bill launched Explo ’72 in Dallas, Texas. Evangelism training sessions filled the days and there were sermons at night at the Cotton Bowl by Billy Graham and others. On the final day, 180,000 converged for a concert of some of the leading Christian singers. Two years later, Explo ’74 assembled and trained thousands of believers in Seoul, South Korea.
From the years 1976-1980 the phrase “I found it!” took America by storm. It appeared in newspaper and TV ads and on lapel pins, bumper stickers, and billboards. That catch phrase introduced the Here’s Life America campaign. Enlisting church volunteers from 246 cities, the campaign used phone calls and house visits and introduced the booklet The Four Spiritual Laws to a new audience.
In 1979, Campus Crusade released the film Jesus. Warner Brothers distributed it to American theaters. Based on Luke’s gospel, the film presents Jesus as God who came to die for our sins. Since 1979, The Jesus Film Project has made the film available to churches in the United States for neighborhood evangelism and has translated it into over 1,000 languages. Currently, Jesus has been viewed by an estimated 6 billion people.
Bill was a prolific writer throughout his ministry. He wrote over 100 books. He specialized in the topics of witnessing and Christian maturity. Later in Bill’s life, he collaborated on novels with Ted Dekker and with Jack Cavanaugh. His final book, while facing death, was The Journey Home: Finishing with Joy. While his books have sold well, more than 2.5 billion copies of his booklet, Have You Heard of the Four Spiritual Laws? have been dis-tributed.
Bill and Vonette’s initial vision didn’t fade with time; it kept expanding. Campus Crusade constantly initiated new events and new ministries to meet the ever-present need to obey The Great Commission.
Evangelistic events over the years have included EXPLO 85 (a video conference that spanned five continents) and the New Life 2000: Manila Project (in which Christian workers from 102 countries presented the gospel message over a six-month period to over 3 million residents of the Philippines).
A bevy of evangelistic ministries have been added through the years. It began with Christian illusionist Andre Kole in 1963. The following year Josh McDowell joined the team. That same year, a mil-itary ministry was added. Two years later, Athletes in Action began using sports as an outreach tool.
The marriage enrichment ministry, FamilyLife, led by Dennis Rainey, joined in 1976. In 1983 Here’s Life Inner City was initiated in New York, followed by Los Angeles, Chicago, and other cities to address issues specific to that sector of America life.
There are currently 29 different ministries under the big umbrella of what has grown to become the world’s largest Christian organization. In early 2012, Campus Crusade for Christ changed its name to Cru.
In 1994, while continuing to reach around the world with the gospel, Bill sensed God lead-ing him a new direction for America. Following a 40-day fast, Bill sounded the call for a prayer and fasting emphasis for spiritual revival in the USA. The first Prayer and Fasting Conference, held in Orlando, Florida, brought together 600 Christian leaders from across the nation. The following year, 3,500 Christian leaders gathered in Los Angeles. The pray-er and fasting emphasis remains strong today.
The last couple years of his life, an oxygen tank was Bill’s constant companion. He’d been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. But he didn’t stop traveling and speaking. He didn’t stop writing and communicating the message of Jesus. He did pass the torch to his long-time co-worker, Steve Douglass in 2001.
Bill Bright stayed as active as he could until his death in 2003 at age 81. He’d changed his mind long ago about Christianity being only for women and children. As a Christian, Bill did his best to see that as many adults and children in the world as possible had an oppor-tunity to hear that Jesus loved them and died for their sins.
LET ME KNOW: How has Bill’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.
- Larsen, Timothy, ed. Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003.
- Brown, Joyce Vollmer. Courageous Christians. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 2000.
- Temple, Todd and Twitchell, Kim. People Who Shaped the Church. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 2000.
- At Christian Book Distributors, Bill’s book page begins here- http://www.christianbook.com/Christian/Books/easy_find?Ntt=bill+bright&N=1014644&Ntk=keywords&action=Search &Ne=0&event=ESRCQ&nav_search=1&cms=1.
- At Amazon.com, Bill’s book page begins here- http://www.amazon.com/Bill-Bright/e/B001IZ138Y/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1350656938&sr=1-1.
- There’s a 45-minute sermon by Bill titled “The Uniqueness of Christ” at http://www2.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/docs/ccci-wcb/001.htm.
YouTube- (A few highlights:)
- Here’s a quick video overview of Campus Crusade for Christ- “Campus Crusade for Christ – 6oth Anniversary.mov” youtube video, 2:06. Posted by Gary Nomura on July 24, 2011- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6jHAHHA27E.
- Here, a few months before his death, Bill and Vonette tell their story- “Bill Bright: Surrendering Everything” youtube video, 13:31. Posted by GenerousGiving on August 18, 2010-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsJozfHXHhk&feature=related.
- “Four Spiritual Laws” youtube video, 6:18. Posted by jessalynnkoh on June 25, 2009- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sLpjI44AtY.
- “Explo ’72” youtuve video, 1:42. Posted by KeynoteConnection on April 1, 2011- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kf6NMpPcIeQ.