Dear Bill: It's been several months since you entered into the presence of God. Many heavy-duty church leaders who knew you and worked with you have paid tribute to your enormous impact on world evangelism over the past 50 years. Saddleback pastor Rick Warren probably summarized it best when he suggested that the only other guy in your league is Billy Graham.
I just want to say a personal "thank you" -- belatedly and inadequately. I wish I had done so long ago. You never knew me, but you helped save my life 30 years ago.
Like so many other students lost in the moral chaos of the '60s and '70s, I was stumbling down a path of self-destruction. A few school friends reached out and grabbed me before I plunged deeper into darkness. They led me toward the light of salvation in Christ, just as several older students had led them.
The older students had been led to the Lord by a wonderful Campus Crusade for Christ counselor named Lanier Ellis. And Lanier -- like thousands of other Campus Crusade staffers -- had been equipped to evangelize and disciple students by you.
You trained him well. From day one of our walk with God, Lanier challenged us to develop a daily "quiet time" through Bible study and prayer. He taught us to grow spiritually through fellowship with other believers and urged us to become vitally involved in local churches. Most of all, he challenged us to share our new faith in Christ with everyone we encountered -- especially other students.
It was hard at first to tell our friends and families about Jesus. It was harder to approach total strangers and ask if we could share "The Four Spiritual Laws" tract showing the way of salvation. But it was thrilling to see some give their lives to Jesus.
At Campus Crusade student conferences, we gained a vision for changing the world as we listened to great student leaders like Josh McDowell. We sang "Pass It On" and participated in exciting evangelism efforts like the "Here's Life" and "I Found It!" campaigns. God called some of us to vocational Christian service. At least three missionaries came out of our high-school "Student Life" group.
Would we (and millions of other students) have heard the Gospel in a way we could understand if you had never begun sharing Christ in 1951 with students at UCLA? Would several billion people in more than 200 countries have seen the Gospel unfold before their eyes if you had not supported a visionary initiative to distribute the "JESUS" film worldwide?
God could have used someone else, but you answered His call. Your personal outreach to students evolved into Campus Crusade for Christ International.
Some of your critics said "The Four Spiritual Laws," which you wrote in 1956, is simplistic. Maybe so. All I know is that before I read it I was spiritually blind, and now I can see. I'm not the only one; it's said to be the most widely distributed evangelistic tract in history. The Gospel itself is pretty simple when you boil it down.
Others have charged over the years that the parachurch movement exemplified by Campus Crusade draws resources away from local churches. The opposite is true. Only the Lord knows how many new believers and young Christian leaders you have channeled into local churches and denominational ministries. In recent years, your JESUS Film Project has become a strategic partner with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board in using the film to take the Gospel to hundreds of unreached people groups.
Bill, thanks for loving Jesus so much. Thanks for your burning passion to share the Gospel with others everywhere. Thanks for pouring yourself out to the world so joyfully and faithfully.
If the millions of us who have been transformed as a result are a fraction as faithful, the world will be turned upside down.
Erich Bridges is a senior writer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. He writes a column for Baptist Press twice each month.