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Campus Crusade founder Bill Bright dies; ‘Four Spiritual Laws’ among legacies

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–Southern Baptist leaders joined others across the Christian spectrum in celebrating the life and ministry of William R. “Bill” Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, who died July 19 from complications related to pulmonary fibrosis. He was 81.

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.

As the world’s largest Christian ministry, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2001, Campus Crusade for Christ 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 died at his home in Orlando surrounded by family members, the Associated Press reported.

He was so motivated by what is known as the Great Commission, Christ’s command to carry the Gospel throughout the world, that in 1956 he wrote a booklet, titled “The Four Spiritual Laws,” which 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.

In 1979, Bright commissioned the “JESUS” film, a feature-length documentary on the life of Christ, which has since 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).

In 1996, Bright was presented with the prestigious Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, worth more than $1 million. The Templeton Prize is the world’s largest financial annual award. Bright donated all of his prize money to causes promoting the spiritual benefits of fasting and prayer.

“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 Billy Graham, a longtime friend of Bright and his wife, Vonette.

“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,” Graham said.

“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.”

Southern Baptist Convention President Jack Graham said Bright expressed visionary leadership and passionate Christian faith to the entire world.

“Over a century ago, evangelist D.L. Moody was challenged with the words, ‘The world has yet to see what God can do with a man totally committed to Him.’ I believe the world has now seen that kind of man in Bill Bright,” Graham told Baptist Press. “Bill Bright lived for one purpose and one holy ambition, and that was to glorify God by introducing as many people as possible to a living faith in Jesus Christ.

“Southern Baptist churches have been influenced by the ministry of Bill Bright through Campus Crusade and his legacy lives in the hearts of all who desire to advance the Kingdom of God,” Graham said.

Graham added that when he thinks of Bright, he thinks of Daniel 12:3: “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.”

Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee, told Baptist Press, “As a servant of Jesus, Dr. Bill Bright’s vision, integrity, enthusiasm, passion, energy and dedication to God made him an unexcelled leader of influence among evangelicals for over 50 years. During ups and downs, he continued to radiate the joy and gladness of the Lord, and kept encouraging laymen and ministers to focus on getting the life-changing Gospel of Christ to the whole world of unsaved people.

“He has been bravely fighting against a debilitating disease for some time, but by the great goodness of God, he is past all that now, and for that, we can be grateful. Bill Bright was a man of God who will be remembered, and Southern Baptists and evangelicals everywhere will miss him,” Chapman said.

Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board, said, “Our generation has not seen such a visionary leader that God allowed to influence global evangelization like Bill Bright. He was a personal friend and inspiration and encouraged me and the Southern Baptist International Mission Board in our efforts to bring all peoples of the world to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

“He, and Campus Crusade, modeled a servant spirit in offering services and partnership to us and other Great Commission Christians for the sake of reaching a lost world,” Rankin said in a statement to Baptist Press.

Robert E. Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board, came to Christ through the ministry of Campus Crusade while he was a student at Indiana University. In a previous Baptist Press article, he told of a young man named Norm who insisted on telling him about God’s love.

Norm had what Reccord thought at the time was a “stupid little booklet” that he wanted to read to him — Bright’s “The Four Spiritual Laws.” Because of his dogged determination to share Christ, everyone in the dorm had learned to run when Norm was coming, Reccord said. But one day Reccord’s attempt to hide in a closet ended when selves came crashing down around him.

“I’ll never forget it,” Reccord said, relating Norm’s words as he found him, “‘Even in the closet, Bob, you can’t run from the love of God.’ He told me about a seeking God who was looking for lost sons. And he said, ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”

Soon after, Reccord gave his life to Christ.

“While heaven is rejoicing at the homecoming of Bill Bright, our world is left a little bit darker without his presence,” Reccord said in a statement to Baptist Press. “Few lights burned as intensely, and no heart beat more passionately for evangelism than his. As someone who benefited directly from the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ in college, it was a privilege for me to develop a very close relationship with Bill over the last few years. 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.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said he knows of no organization that has had more spiritual impact on America’s colleges and university campuses over the last half-century than Bright’s Campus Crusade for Christ.

“There are literally hundreds of thousands of people who have come to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as their Savior through the ministry of Campus Crusade. In addition, there are hundreds of thousands of others, like myself, who had their already existent faith deepened and strengthened through Campus Crusade ministries in their lives,” Land said in a statement to Baptist Press.

While a college student at Princeton, Land helped bring Campus Crusade speakers to campus and went through both Crusade’s Leadership Training Institute and their Advanced Leadership Training Institute.

“The experience revolutionized my spiritual life and did much to determine the future direction of my ministry,” Land said. “Although I had already surrendered to fulltime Christian service at the time I encountered Campus Crusade’s ministries, my exposure to their thematic study of Christian doctrine enabled me to learn more about my faith in a month of extensive study at the Leadership Institute than I had learned in the previous 19 years of daily Bible reading and near-perfect attendance in my Southern Baptist church.”

James T. Draper Jr., president of LifeWay Christian Resources, said he first met Bright in the 1970s. “He became, and remained, a close personal friend for 30 years, and I will miss him dearly,” Draper said. “Bill modeled the joy, passion and contagious enthusiasm of a life totally devoted to Christ. From the Four Spiritual Laws to the JESUS film to Campus Crusade, God has used Bill to touch millions of lives around the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The legacy Bill leaves behind is one of changed lives on every continent.”

Henry Blackaby, author of the “Experiencing God” discipleship resources, called Bright a good friend.

“We had many special times together. He was a statesman of another generation. We miss this generation of statesmen,” Blackaby said in a statement to Baptist Press. “His influence will have no end. God’s people will continue to study what he has written and what God has done through him. He and Vonette and Campus Crusade for Christ International will continue to urge God’s people to serve diligently until Jesus Christ returns. He was God’s special gift to this generation.”

James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, devoted his entire radio broadcast to remembering Bright July 21.

“Dr. Bill Bright was such a good man,” Dobson said on the program. “He was a great friend. I loved that man like a brother.”

Dobson told how in the 1980s, when they were only acquaintances, Bright phoned Dobson to see how he was doing and ended the conversation by saying, “Can I pray for you?”

“Every time I talked to him on the phone, almost without exception, he said, ‘Let me pray for you,'” Dobson said.

With the exception of the first-century Christians, Dobson said, 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.”

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. “Not only have I lost a dear and lifelong friend in Bill Bright, but the world has lost one of its greatest visionaries and faithful servants of Jesus Christ,” Douglass said.

In addition to his wife, who assisted him in founding Campus Crusade for Christ, Bright is survived by two sons, Zachary, pastor of Divine Savior Presbyterian Church in California and Bradley, who is on staff with Campus Crusade; and four grandchildren.

A memorial service has been scheduled for July 30, at 10:30 a.m., at First Baptist Church in Orlando.

In lieu of flowers, the Brights have requested that friends honor his memory through the William R. Bright Legacy Trust to further the work to which he gave his life.
Compiled by Erin Curry & Art Toalston with reporting by Mark Kelly, Martin King, Dwayne Hastings and Michael Foust. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: BILL BRIGHT, 1921-2003.

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