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Cru cofounder Vonette Bright dies at 89

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP) — Vonette Bright, cofounder of Campus Crusade for Christ and an internationally known leader in prayer and women’s ministry, died Dec. 23 from complications related to acute leukemia. She was 89.

Bright and her husband Bill, who died in 2003, launched Campus Crusade, now known in the U.S. as Cru, at UCLA in 1951. It has since grown into what news reports called the world’s largest Christian ministry, with 25,000 staff members and 300,000 volunteers working in 173 countries.

Vonette Bright also was instrumental in petitioning Congress and the president to designate the first Thursday of every May as National Day of Prayer. After Ronald Reagan signed legislation establishing the National Day of Prayer in 1988, Bright chaired the National Day of Prayer Task Force for nine years.

She authored more than a dozen books and in 1993 founded the women’s ministry Women Today International.

Southern Baptists who knew Bright included student and women’s ministry leader Diane Strack, former LifeWay Christian Resources President James T. Draper and Trinity International University President David Dockery.

Strack, wife of speaker and author Jay Strack, told Baptist Press Vonette Bright “wanted to impact the world with prayer and Scripture, never allowing herself to rest on the past, even though it was amazing.” The Stracks became friends with the Brights in the mid-1990s, when both couples moved to Orlando, Fla.

“Last year, I visited with her in a convalescent home where she was recuperating from a fall,” Strack told BP in written comments. “She was frail and had a full time aide, but she said to me with a strong voice, ‘I need the Lord to tell me what He wants me to do next when I get out of here.’

“When she was in her early 80s, we were at a women’s conference where a secular reporter spoke on international women’s issues,” Strack continued. “The reporter/author asked for questions, and Vonette walked down the middle aisle and publicly proclaimed the Gospel to her.”

Strack told Bright in an email the week before she died, “I love your stories of trusting God to do the impossible, and even more that He did just that, honoring your prayers and faithful service. Gratitude wells within me and overflows just to think of the privilege of knowing you. I have kept every note you have ever written me, and I cherish them. Delight is the word that comes to mind when I think of visiting with you, and I am sure Jesus feels the same as He welcome[s] you to heaven.”

Draper and his wife Carol Ann told BP in a joint statement, “Vonette Bright will be greatly missed. We shared many events and times of fellowship and ministry with Bill and Vonette over the years. She was always by his side and he relied upon her counsel through the developing years of Campus Crusade for Christ. She was a dynamic leader with enormous influence. At the same time, she had a personal touch that was always an encouragement to all she came in contact with. We shared the leadership of two ‘Washington for Jesus’ rallies in D.C. and always cherished our times together.”

Dockery, who served with Bright on the board of The King’s College in New York, told BP she was “an integral part” of Campus Crusade’s “magnificent ministry of evangelism and discipleship on college campuses across the country and around the world.”

Dockery said in written comments, “We had just received a Christmas card from her when we learned of her heavenly homegoing. We will treasure that card, just as we will treasure memories of her life, and especially her influence, care and support for Cru staff, supporters and friends. Vonette Bright was a good and godly woman whose life literally touched thousands of people for the cause of Christ. We are grateful for her life, influence and legacy. She will certainly be missed.”

Among those paying tribute to Bright on the Cru website were evangelist Billy Graham and women’s ministry leader Beth Moore.

“Vonette had a heart for the Gospel and an extraordinary vision to reach people for Jesus Christ,” Graham said. “Her single-minded focus on the power of intercessory prayer has been both an encouragement to my life and a model for the church.”

Moore noted, “I can’t think of a single person on the planet that I respect more than Vonette Bright. She is 10 feet tall in my eyes. Like so many others, I have been profoundly impacted by her long obedience. She is a gift to our generation.”

A public memorial service has been scheduled Jan. 8 at First Presbyterian Church in Orlando.