The Adventure of Following Christ
June 1, 2004 - For more than 50 years, Vonette Bright served with her husband, Bill, in the cause of fulfilling Jesus' Great Commission to make disciples of all nations. In 1951, the Brights co-founded Campus Crusade for Christ, which is now the world's largest Christian ministry, with thousands of staff in some 200 countries. Bill Bright passed away in July 2003 from complications related to the lung disease pulmonary fibrosis. Vonette continues to minister around the world. Here she tells how God sustained her through her husband's illness and passing, and also what she is doing today.
by Bob Paulson
Q: It has been almost a year since your husband went home to heaven. How are you doing these days?
A: I'm doing amazingly well. I believe I'm experiencing God's supernatural grace. I'm rejoicing, because I know my husband is rejoicing in heaven.
In June 2000 God gave me a verse that helped me all through Bill's illness and even now. Jesus is telling His disciples that He is going to be leaving them, and He says, "If you really love me, you will be very happy for me, because now I can go to the Father, who is greater than I am" (John 14:28, NLT). I took that as God's direction that I should be happy that my husband was going to be with Jesus.
I am accepting this as a new phase and as an adventure. And God is meeting me at every corner. I never dreamed that I would be as happy as I am. I miss my husband terribly, but I am happy for him and happy that the Lord is good to me and is so real to me. I have lots to do, and I am challenged and feel loved and cared for. Bill and I had 54 years, six months and 20 days together, and that's so much more than many couples have. I feel very, very blessed, and I don't have anything to complain about.
Q: How did God sustain you during Bill's illness?
A: When Bill heard that he had a terminal illness, from the very beginning he said, "Well, I'll just go see Jesus sooner than I thought." The doctors didn't quite understand that attitude. They thought maybe he was being frivolous and not really listening to what they were saying, because he was so joyful all along. He really accepted this, and we looked at it as an adventure.
We prayed together that everything in our lives would be accomplished in such a supernatural way that only God would get the credit, and that's what He has done. In all these years we have been so, so blessed and so surprised many times by the way God has worked. It certainly has not been to our credit that we've been able to do all this. I believe it's following God in what He wants to do in our lives. And I trust that I will continue to do that as faithfully as my husband did.
Q: What was life like for you during the last few months before Bill's death?
A: Bill was an incredible man. I say was, but I think he is. I think he's more alive today than he was then. At least we know that he's healthy and happy, and he's rejoicing in the presence of the Lord.
We learned early in our Christian walk that nothing happens to us by accident. God has a plan, and we are to give thanks in all things, for this is the will of God concerning us in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18). And we believe that God always has our best interests in mind. Whatever situation enters our lives, we can allow it to lead us into a closer relationship to Christ or to drive us away. We chose to thank God, believing that His plan is best. So after years of practicing that, when Bill learned that he had a terminal illness, it was natural for us to go to our knees and say, "Thank You."
We did pray for healing. It seemed that if people were praying—and I knew that millions would be praying for Bill—it would be a wonderful opportunity for the Lord to make Himself known and to give people greater confidence that God answers prayer. But we knew, of course, that God might not choose to heal Bill. So we just took it a step at a time until the doctor told us that Bill had maybe six months to live.
Bill had about 80 projects that he had started working on during those three years he was still alive, and he finished every one them. The last one, the book "The Journey Home," was finished about three weeks before the Lord took him. We have some other projects, books and videos that will be released along the way. All of them are vintage Bill Bright, praising God, providing positive instruction and helping people walk with God. Bill spent so much of his life telling us how to live; this book tells us how to die. And he did it well.
So what was life like? We rejoiced; we praised God for every day we had. There was a lot of laughter; there were times of serious conversation; there were times when we had tears together because we hated to part. God met us everywhere along the way. Bill had time with each of his four grandchildren. Bill was thrilled to hear them express their faith in Christ, their vision for their future and their dependence upon God.
And he was thrilled to see two sons in the ministry. Our older son is a Presbyterian minister serving in an English-speaking Hispanic church in southern California, and his wife is the director of a women-in-crisis pregnancy center. Our younger son is with the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ. He has just finished his new book, "GOD Is the Issue." The ideas in it are right on for today's culture.
Q: What about Bill's final days, when you knew there wasn't much time left?
A: We have a habit of being together as a family on Friday evenings; it's our pizza and game night. This gave the opportunity for the grandchildren to come at least once a week to be with their grandfather.
One evening Bill said, "Honey, when the children come, why don't we have a songfest?" We have a neighbor next door who plays the keyboard. She brought it over and accompanied us as we sang around Bill's bed. He chose some of the hymns he liked most, and he sang with us.
So that became a practice, and I decided that when Bill came to his desperate hours, we were going to sing him into heaven. So the last couple of hours, when his breathing began to change on Saturday evening, about 14 of us were in the house. I gathered them around the bed about 7:30 p.m., when I began to realize that his breathing was becoming more labored. I said, "I think it's time for us to begin singing."
And so we sang to Bill for two hours. In the last few minutes, we realized that his breathing had slowed to 4 1/2 breaths a minute. I was watching him very closely. I hardly left his bed those last three days. He didn't communicate with us at that time, and it was like he was in a light sleep. But I think he heard everything we were saying—we talked with him as if he could.
He had the most pleasant expression on his face. There were no lines in his forehead; there was no stress; there was no indication of pain. During his illness, when you asked him how he was, he always said, "I'm rejoicing." He always wanted to praise God until his last breath. We believe that's what he was doing. As long as his lips would move, it was "Hallelujah," "Praise You, Lord" and "Thank You, Jesus."
It was a precious time. We felt God's presence in the room. There was nothing morbid, nothing overly sad. We were rejoicing, knowing that God was in control. We were also singing to rejoice in what God was doing.
As we watched him, I felt led to say to him, "Honey, I want you to go be with Jesus." I was surprised to hear my words come out that way, but recently when there had been a decision to make and Bill didn't know quite what to do, he would say, "Honey, what would you like me to do?"
So now I just blurted out, "I want you to go be with Jesus. I know you want to go and be with Him, and you know that Jesus wants you to come to Him. So why don't you let Him carry you to heaven?"
I looked away for just a second. I looked back, and there wasn't a heartbeat. "I think his heart has stopped," I said. Then I looked again. There was a beat, then a little flutter, and then nothing. He hadn't taken another breath from the time I had said, "Why don't you let Jesus carry you to heaven?" With that, he was gone. It was beautiful.
Q: What kinds of ministry are you doing now?
A: I am giving direction as the chair of the Bright Media Foundation, a foundation that we established before Bill passed away to help in continuing to publish some of the materials that he had written and to keep his writings current and relevant through the years. Our two sons, along with outstanding businessmen, serve on the board of the foundation. We also have a wonderful staff that has joined with us in this venture. I do a daily, one-minute radio program called "Women Today."
I am helping to finish a fourth novel with my co-writer, Nancy Moser. We started this about three years ago. It's called the Sister Circle series. These novels are written with the hope that people who would not read the Bible will read a novel. They will read the plan of salvation and receive help in a situation they might be facing. The characters are dealing with real-life situations that women face today and are coping with decisions they have made that haven't been the best. We're trying to give readers some biblical answers.
I also have founded, with some other pastors' wives, a Global Pastors' Wives Network. We're preparing for a worldwide conference January 25-27, 2005. We would like to see at least 5,000 pastors' wives from around the world come together for this event.
I continue to serve as the co-chair of the National Day of Prayer. I'm also available to Campus Crusade wherever they may need me to serve.
Q: How would you encourage someone who is facing the loss of a loved one?
A: This life is just preparation for the next. We don't stop living; we just stop living here. If we have accepted the salvation Christ offers, life goes on in heaven—a new beginning. With that perspective, how can we be morbid? That doesn't mean that we don't have sad moments, that we don't have remorse, that we don't miss each other. We just don't need to fall apart. We can accept what God has for each one of us. And I believe that when God breaks up a unity, it means He has something for the one left behind to do. I'm trying to listen and see what that is.