William Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, dies at age 81

Sunday, July 20th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MIAMI (AP) _ William R. ``Bill'' Bright, the hard-driving entrepreneur and one-time ``happy pagan'' who founded Campus Crusade for Christ and watched it grow into a $374 million-a-year organization, has died. He was 81.

Bright died at his home in Orlando on Saturday from complications of pulmonary fibrosis, said Steve Chapman, a spokesman for Campus Crusade.

He had been suffering from the disease for several years.

Along with his famous friend, the Rev. Billy Graham, Bright helped energize America's evangelical Protestant movement after World War II.

``He has carried a burden on his heart as few men that I've ever known. A burden for the evangelization of the world,'' Graham said in a written statement Sunday.

Bright was a California businessman and self-described ``happy pagan'' before finding religion in 1947. He started Campus Crusade in 1951 as a small effort to preach the gospel and spread Christianity to students at UCLA, but the organization quickly prospered and spread to other campuses.

It's now a $374 million-a-year organization with a staff of 26,000 people spanning 191 countries.

Campus Crusade celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2001, the same year Bright passed the presidency to his chosen successor, the Rev. Steve Douglass.

``A Christian can't lose,'' Bright said in an interview at the time. ``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.''

He has said in past interviews that he was given a vision for Campus Crusade the day after he and his future wife, Vonette, signed a contract with God agreeing to surrender all their possessions and attempt to evangelize the world during their lifetimes.

Besides the original college effort, there are now Crusade units targeting an array of groups, from high school students to the entertainment industry, from athletes to diplomats.

Crusade's best-known tactic originated in 1957 when Bright boiled the Christian message into 77 words, the ``Four Spiritual Laws.''

Sloganeering erupted in the 1970s as Bright plastered ``I Found It!'' signs across U.S. cities for months, followed by the revelation that ``it'' was faith in Jesus.

By 1979, Crusade released a two-hour film titled ``Jesus,'' funded by billionaire Bunker Hunt and since dubbed in more than 650 languages.

In 1996, Bright won the $1 million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, a sort of Nobel Prize for his field.

``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 a statement Sunday.

Bright is survived by his wife, Vonette; two sons, Zachary and Bradley; sister, Florence Skinner; brother, Forest; and four grandchildren.