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Campus Crusade founder remembered for unique leadership, humility

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–Southern Baptist leaders joined religious leaders from across the nation July 30 at First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., to celebrate the life of William R. “Bill” Bright, who has been called one of the most influential spiritual leaders of the 20th century and a “humble servant of Jesus Christ.”

Bright, 81, founder of the Orlando-based Campus Crusade for Christ, the world’s largest Christian ministry, died July 19 from complications related to pulmonary fibrosis. A legend in para-church evangelism, his legacy spans five decades and leaves a ministry which currently operates in 191 countries on six continents.

At the memorial service, more than a dozen leaders of evangelical ministries joined family members, 400-plus invited guests and more than 3,000 celebrants at the more than two-hour celebration of “A Life Well Lived,” hosted by Jim Henry, First Baptist’s pastor.

Popular contemporary Christian artist Steve Green sang several tributes honoring Bright, while the 200-member choir and 40-piece orchestra of First Baptist performed special music and led those gathered in traditional hymns. Bright’s daughter-in-law, Katherine Bright, performed a song she wrote, “The Choice.”

Henry, who was a personal friend of Bright and a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said most people who knew Bright “carry a suitcase of memories.”

One memory Henry called powerful and poignant is of encountering Bright in a back hallway after a church program at First Baptist last year. In spite of being in a wheelchair and dragging an oxygen tank around, Bright insisted on praying for Henry.

After reading from Revelation 5:11-14, Henry offered a prayer of thanks to God for Bright and his legacy.

“Dr. Bright had the capacity to make all of us feel like we were kings and queens as we understood our inheritance,” Henry said.

Adrian Rogers, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church and a former president of the SBC, said he learned three things from Bright, beginning with how to dream.

Rogers said every time he thought he was dreaming big he would encounter Bright who, Rogers said, “as a young man saw visions and as an old man dreamed dreams.” Secondly he said he learned to dare because with Bright “nothing was too hard for God,” Rogers said.

“But I think the thing I learned from him more than anything else was not how to dream and how to dare, but how to die,” Rogers shared. “The last time I saw him, he was there propped up in his bed, commanding the world.” Offering words of comfort to Bright’s family, Rogers said, “I know it’s been a great day in heaven, with flags unfurled and the trumpets sounding.”

Charles Stanley, pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta and a former SBC president, said he remembers when Bright arrived in Atlanta years ago and asked for help with the evangelistic campaign titled, “I found it and you can find it, too!” He said he realized by his second encounter with Bright “this is not a little man.”

“Bill Bright is the one who fully convinced me by his life that you can touch the whole world if you’re willing to pay the price,” Stanley said.

North American Mission Board President Robert E. Reccord said he recalls being a student at Indiana University in 1970 and being embraced by Campus Crusade workers who told him God loved him. And then sometime after he had gone to serve Southern Baptists at NAMB, he said Bright asked him how he could help him accomplish what he was called to do.

“And in these last months and years that I’ve had the privilege of walking beside him, he has become a mentor and a friend and a father figure. I’ve learned so much,” Reccord said. “In these last months, he’s said to me, ‘Don’t ever forget, Bob, it’s not about Southern Baptists, it’s not about Campus Crusade, it’s not about Presbyterians, it’s about the Kingdom of God,'” Reccord said.

Recounting another conversation they had, Reccord said Bright told him he had received a call from the president of the United States. Admitting it was a great honor, Reccord said Bright told him, “Bob, when you’re preparing to meet the one I’m going to meet, even a call from the president fades by comparison.”

Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the son of world-renown evangelist Billy Graham, read aloud a letter from his father calling Bright “one of the most focused people I knew.” The elder Graham wrote that Bright “had one goal in life, and that was to share the good news of Jesus Christ with as many people as was possible and by every means possible.” Graham went on to credit Bright for being a “constant example to me and to countless others whose lives he touched all across the world.”

Writing about Bright’s struggle at the end, Graham said, “In his last years, Bill truly experienced the reality of God’s providence with the Apostle Paul: ‘My grace is sufficient to you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.'”

James Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family, said Bright was a role model and noted that his decision to eat ice cream for his last meal meant Bright was his “kind of man.”

Even at the end, Dobson said Bright, out of breath and incapable of speaking on the phone, was listening in on Dobson’s phone call with Bright’s wife Vonette who said he wanted to talk. “Breathing on the line, he said only two words, ‘I’m rejoicing,'” Dobson remembered.

Tim Goeglein, special assistant to President George W. Bush, brought a special greeting from the administration. Goeglein said he had a phone date with Bright every Monday evening since the Bush inauguration.

“Even through the darkest days of his illness, he faithfully joined us,” Goeglein said of Bright. During their last conversation, Goeglein said he asked Bright if he was still on the line, and recalled him saying: “I hear. I want you to know I’m rejoicing in the name of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I’m always rejoicing.”

Reading Scripture from Bright’s Bible, his grandsons, Christopher Zachary and H. Keller Bright, were followed by their fathers, Bright’s sons, Bradley Randolph Bright and Zachary Dale Bright.

Bradley, who is on staff with Campus Crusade, said about his father, “He was a father, but he was a mentor, too. He mentored to me what it meant to live a Christian life under Jesus Christ.”

Recalling a very recent incident, Bradley said his father told him he wanted to read his Bible. “For the next hour I saw him try and read his Bible,” Bradley said. “He would wake up and fall asleep. He was trying to spend time with his Lord, even with the haze of medication. That was a phenomenal example to me of what made a man successful.”

Zachary, pastor of Divine Savior Presbyterian Church in Irwindale, Calif., said he never knew what it was like to be the child of a famous person because his dad would wrestle with his sons and ride dune buggies.

When he was older, Zachary said he remembers the family would have long-lasting arguments about books, politics, culture and the Christian faith. “It has been said that the two things you don’t discuss at the dinner table are religion and politics. But in our home — what else?” he quipped.

Howard Edington, former pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, where Bright and his wife worshiped, delivered the message at the memorial service. He spoke about the story of the rich young ruler, recorded in the Gospels, and said he wondered many times what would have happened if the ruler had chosen to follow Christ.

“Now, at long last, I know the answer,” Edington said. “I now know the answer because I know the story of Bill Bright, the man who called himself the slave of Jesus Christ.” He said Bright, a “prince of this earth” and a young man who was headed for worldly success, did not turn away when presented with Christ but instead “got down on his knees and … surrendered everything” to Christ.

Edington said Bright was “not for sale” and “[the] ministry was fueled by billions of dollars, but those dollars never lined his pocket. He served God with a clean life and a clean heart. God blessed his ministry.” And about his heart for souls, Edington said Bright never strayed from “his iron-clad belief that the Kingdom of God is built one priceless, precious little soul at a time.”

Richard Crotty, Orange County (Fla.) chairman and member of First Baptist Church in Orlando, said it’s ironic that in a day when people are just talking about the World Wide Web and about networking, Bright has been working for years “in a worldwide way [that] has eternal implications.”

Crotty said Bright’s relocation of the Campus Crusade headquarters from California to Florida in 1991 — a $450 million enterprise with 26,000 employees — was “one of the greatest economic developments in central Florida’s history” and a move that made central Florida a better place to live. Crotty read aloud a memorial resolution from the Orange County Commission calling Bright a “dynamic, visionary leader, who dedicated his life to the service of God.”

Other leaders who shared greetings and condolences, along with Campus Crusade leaders, were U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R.-N.C., and former U.S. Sen. William Armstrong of Colorado; John Maxwell, founder of INJOY and chairman of the Global Pastor’s Network; Pat Robertson, founder and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network; and Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries.

Jack Graham, pastor of the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church and current SBC president, attended the memorial service, along with Annuity Board President O.S. Hawkins and Jay Strack, evangelist and president of Student Leadership University.

In a final tribute to Bright, Stephen B. Douglass, who took the helm of Campus Crusade in 2001 after Bright’s health began to fail, challenged the celebrants not to quit. “Bill Bright is dead,” Douglass said, and after 50 years will the ministry drop to the ground or “will we pick it up?” he asked.

“God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” Douglass said, reciting the words from Bright’s “Four Spiritual Laws” evangelistic tract.

In the benediction, Franklin Graham asked God that those gathered would be “better tools in evangelism” in order to reach out to a world that needs Christ. “May we commit ourselves afresh to Him alone who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.floridabaptistwitness.com. For BP’s obituary of Bright, go to http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=16328. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: BILL BRIGHT’S HOME-GOING, BRIGHT’S LUMINARIES, FAITHFUL FAMILY and GRAHAM’S GOODBYE.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan