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Bill Bright Campus Crusade for Christ Founder, Dead at 81

  • Janet Chismar Senior Editor, News & Culture
  • Published Jul 20, 2003
Bill Bright Campus Crusade for Christ Founder, Dead at 81

He has touched countless lives around the globe for Christ. Now William R. "Bill" Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, is at home with the Lord. Bright, 81, died July 19 from complications related to pulmonary fibrosis.


"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 Rev. Billy Graham, a long-time friend of the Brights. "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."


Born near Coweta, Okla., in 1921, Bright attended a one-room schoolhouse until eighth grade. In high school and college he distinguished himself as an achiever in academics, student government, journalism, oratory, and debate, all which would serve him well later in his life as head of the world's largest Christian ministry.


It was in Coweta that Bright met his wife, the former Vonette Zachary. After graduating with honors from Oklahoma's Northeastern State University in 1944,  Bright moved to Southern California and began a successful confections company. While studying at Princeton and Fuller Theological Seminaries in 1951, Bright says he was inspired to leave his budding business empire and embrace the scriptural command to "go and make disciples of all the nations" (Matthew 28:19).


In 1951, Bill Bright and his wife Vonette pursued their passion for ministry by starting Campus Crusade for Christ at the University of California at Los Angeles. What began with college students has since grown into the largest international Christian ministry in the world, reaching beyond students to serve inner cities, the military, athletes, political and business leaders, the entertainment industries, and families. Campus Crusade for Christ serves people in 191 countries through a staff of 26,000 full-time employees and more than 225,000 trained volunteers working in some 60 niche ministries and projects.


Bright's unique blend of Christian commitment and communications insight is at the heart of his success. His Four Spiritual Laws booklet-a four-point outline written by Bright in 1956 on how to establish a personal relationship with Jesus-has been printed in some 200 languages. Although religious tracts have been published for centuries, Bright's booklet has become what is considered to be the most widely-disseminated religious booklet in history, with more than 2.5 billion booklets distributed to date.


In 1972, he organized a week-long stadium event in Dallas for 85,000 youths, officially known as EXPLO 72, but dubbed by the press as the "Religious Woodstock." Campus Crusade's 1974 EXPLO 74 in Korea drew nightly crowds of up to 1.5 million persons. Six years later, crowds from 2 million to almost 3 million attended the Here's Life Korea World Evangelism Crusade.


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). 


Bright effectively employed other communications vehicles over the years as well, including books (he authored more than 100 books and booklets), television and radio, the Internet, billboards, phone banks, movies, videos, and international training conferences reaching hundreds of millions.


Bright is considered a major catalyst for the modern-day resurgence of the disciplines of fasting and prayer in the Christian church. Since 1994, Campus Crusade for Christ has sponsored seven fasting and prayer events, drawing tens of thousands of Christians throughout the world to join together via satellite and the Internet. In 1996 Bright was presented with the prestigious Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, for his work with fasting and prayer. 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.


In 2000, Bright received the first Lifetime Achievement Award from his alma mater, Northeastern State University. In that same year, Bright and his wife were given the Lifetime Inspiration Award from Religious Heritage of America Foundation.

Additionally, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from both the National Association of Evangelicals and the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. In 2002, Dr. Bright was inducted into the National Religious Broadcasters Hall of Fame.


Bright also co-founded, with Dr. James Davis, the Global Pastors Network, an internet-based training center at www.globalpastorsnetwork.org, designed to equip pastors and ministers worldwide with interactive resources, events, and networking opportunities.


Bright's work through Campus Crusade for Christ will continue under the leadership of Steve Douglass, a long-time associate whom Dr. 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," said Douglass.


Bill Bright is survived by his wife Vonette, who assisted him in founding Campus Crusade for Christ; his sister Florence Skinner; his brother Forest Bright; his son Zachary, who is pastor of Divine Savior Presbyterian Church in California; son Bradley, who is on staff with Campus Crusade; and four grandchildren.


In lieu of flowers, the Brights have requested that friends honor Bill's memory through the William R. Bright Legacy Trust to further the work to which he gave his life; gifts to William R. Bright Legacy Trust (account #2747894), 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, FL 32832.


Visit the Bill Bright Memorial website at billbright.ccci.org/