A Conversation With Bill Bright
April 1, 2002 - NOTE: Bill Bright went home to be with the Lord on July 19, 2003. Speaking of Mr. Bright, Billy Graham has said, "Bill has carried a burden on his heart as few men that I've ever known—a burden for the evangelization of the world. In international leadership circles, [Bill and Vonette] have been the hands who held high the Christian's challenge to fulfill the Great Commission. I do believe if that is fulfilled, it will be due in significant measure to the vision and obedience of Bill Bright."
by Jim Dailey
For more than 50 years Bill Bright, founder and chairman of Campus Crusade for Christ International, has been on the forefront of evangelism. His organization has produced evangelistic tools such as The "Jesus" Film and The "Four Spiritual Laws." Recently he spoke with "Decision" about his life and his vision for helping to reach the world with the good news of Jesus Christ.
Q/ You have battled severe health problems for some time now. How are you doing?
A/ About two years ago I had a biopsy following an extended period of coughing that just wouldn't stop. The biopsy confirmed that I had pulmonary fibrosis. The doctors didn't know what had caused it, and they didn’t know how to heal it. There was no known cure, and they wanted to put me on experimental drugs that may not have helped and were known to cause terrible side effects. I chose not to use the drugs.
I came home from the hospital just before Easter, 2000, expecting not to be around for very long. The doctor had told me that eventually I would die a horrible death by choking. But I said, "Praise the Lord. I've lived a full life." I was 78 years old at the time and was and still am ready to go Home any time that the Lord wants me.
I began to read in James and in Romans about how to rejoice when you have problems. Vonette and I praised God persistently, and I felt the joy of His presence. Christ promised in John 14:21 that as we obey Him, He makes Himself real to us. Of course, I have walked with our Lord for 57 years, and I have known His intimacy. But somehow, in that wonderful promise of John 14:21, I began to sense in a new way His holy, wonderful, majestic presence. He gave me creative ideas, and I began to write books that have been on my heart for a long time. I've been writing books on basic theology, such as the attributes of God and the Ten Commandments, the Holy Spirit and maintaining our first love of God.
When the doctor told me that I was dying, it was as if God said to me, "Your best years are before you." I couldn't figure out what that meant, but now I know. Here I am, tethered to an oxygen tank but full of excitement and having fun as I continue to write and do ministry. I praise our great God and thank Him a million times over. This may be the greatest period of my life.
Q/ What personal spiritual habits have sustained you over the years?
A/ I continually think back to a decision that Vonette and I made in the spring of 1951 to become slaves of Jesus. This means a total, absolute, irrevocable surrender to the Person of Christ. We wrote and signed over the "title deeds" of our lives to Him, and 24 hours later God gave Vonette and me the vision for the ministry that we now call Campus Crusade for Christ, and I am convinced that the vision was a result of that signed contract. I am not my own. I have been bought with a price: Christ’s blood shed on the cross for me. If God can create and rule the universe, think about what He can do for us and through us, if we ask Him to do so. Christianity is not what we do for Christ, though that is important; Christianity is what He does in and through us, by invitation. We surrender our wills, and He works His miracles.
I get on my knees every morning and night and give gratitude and praise that Jesus is my Savior, my Lord, my Master, my King. Every day I acknowledge, "Lord Jesus, I want to be close to You. Walk in my body, think with my mind, love with my heart, speak with my lips. Do whatever You want in and through me. Take my attitudes, my motives, my words, my actions, my desires, and orchestrate them by Your Holy Spirit. Cleanse me from all sin on a continuing basis." I practice spiritual breathing by exhaling—confessing my sins and receiving His forgiving, cleansing, empowering life. I claim 1 John1:9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness,"(1) and I live in the fullness and the power of the Holy Spirit all day long.
I read the Word of God morning and evening. We can't walk in the Spirit without the Word, and we can't understand the Word without the Holy Spirit. We make Christianity so difficult when it is so simple. All we need to do is relax and surrender ownership to Christ and let Him live in love through us. He works miracles.
Q/ Campus Crusade has many outreaches that have helped to change lives around the world. How did these outreaches begin?
A/ Billy Graham played an important part in my life and in the early days of Campus Crusade. He's kind of my big brother, spiritually. When Vonette and I first started the ministry, we operated on our own business income and savings. As the staff grew, we ran out of savings. Billy Graham gave us our first $1,000. I have never forgotten that, and I am so grateful to him.
When the Lord gave me the vision for Campus Crusade, it was to help reach the whole world for Christ. We had to start somewhere, so we started with students. Now we have more than 70 ministries under the umbrella of Campus Crusade. The staff has grown from my wife and me to more than a half-million volunteer staff and more than 25,000 full-time staff. We have trained tens of millions of people through training centers all over the world, in different cultures and languages, in 191 countries.
I was a brand-new Christian in 1945 when God first gave me a vision to produce a film on the life of Jesus. This film later became what we call the "Jesus" film. In 1953 God impressed me to write "God's Plan for Your Life." I asked the staff to memorize this 20-minute presentation, into which they would work their own personal testimonies. Thousands of people came to know Christ as Savior through this approach. It revolutionized people's lives and our ministry. One day I felt impressed to outline it, and the outline resulted in the booklet called the "Four Spiritual Laws."
Q/ How has your faith affected your management style at Campus Crusade?
A/ In the beginning I controlled everything. I wrote everything. I did all the teaching and speaking. And God showed me one day that the way He wanted me to do things was totally different. He wanted me to decentralize. I began to give a lot of the authority and the responsibility of this ministry to mature staff whom I had trained. Sometimes they weren’t so mature and trained as I would have liked, but all over the world today we have thousands of people who have been discipled. We have many leaders who have been with the ministry for more than 35 years, and they have been given freedom along with the responsibility. The only way to train leaders is to help them succeed and also to let them fail. Let them grow, and stand by to encourage them.
This ministry has not been a one-man show—it has been God's doing. I can’t claim credit even for the idea. My management style has been to build leaders and give them responsibility. Most of our leaders worldwide are nationals, people born and reared in the country in which they now minister.
Q/ How do you view the state of evangelism today?
A/ I personally think that Billy Graham and Franklin Graham, and others who are anointed by God, can continue to hold large Crusades. The day of big meetings is not over. There aren't any other people on the scene like Billy, and I think Franklin is being used by God in a wonderful way. And there are others worldwide whom God is using. A lot of nationals are involved in evangelism, and I am thrilled about that. The key to world evangelism and the fulfillment of the Great Commission is the training of nationals who will win and train others.
Q/ What would you say to someone who wants to tell others about Jesus?
A/ Be assured of your own salvation. Be sure that there is no sin in your life. Be sure that you are filled with the Holy Spirit. Ask the Lord to use your lips to speak and your heart to love. Ask Him to direct you to the people He has prepared. Then give a simple word of testimony. Write and memorize a three-minute personal testimony and a five-minute Gospel presentation.
I used to spend a lot of time trying to establish rapport. But now people seem to be more open than at any other time in my 57 years of walking with God. I simply ask, "Are you a believer?" And people are seldom offended.
When it comes to evangelism, the biggest problem that Christians have is fear. How do you overcome fear? Just say to Jesus, "I am scared to death. Please help me, take over and do what You came to do 2,000 years ago. Keep on doing that through me." Pray: "Lord, lead me to someone today." And go with the Spirit, asking God as you meet someone if that person is the one He wants you to talk with. When you know that someone is hurting, go out of your way to pray with that person. Almost all believers and nonbelievers alike will accept an offer to pray for them.
Second Timothy 1:7 says, "God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline."(2) That power, of course, is the indwelling of Christ and the enabling of the Holy Spirit.
Q/ When we see Bill Bright, we usually see Vonette Bright alongside. Have you always been a team?
A/ Long before Campus Crusade was born, God was using Vonette, and her walk with the Lord became so attractive. God showed her what being filled with the Holy Spirit would enable her to do.
I am motivated by the Apostle Paul's words to the Church in Ephesus: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her."(3) That's sacrificial love. My goal is to be a loving husband who helps. I love her sacrificially, and in turn she responds voluntarily to my leadership. No wife will turn away from a husband who loves her sacrificially. The real responsibility of a marriage is on the shoulders of the husband. Unfortunately, I was not a good husband in the beginning. Vonette became just a part of my life instead of becoming the most important person in my life. Then God showed me that I was not following the scriptural admonition. We've worked at it all these years, and He has blessed us abundantly. Our love for God and for each other continues to grow.
Q/ How did you come to know Jesus as Savior?
A/ My mother's prayers had more to do with my salvation than did anything else. I arrived in California from Oklahoma in 1944 and wanted to go to The Pasadena Playhouse because I was interested in drama. I had picked up a hitchhiker, which in those days was just common courtesy. He asked me where I was going to spend the evening, and since it was my first night in California, I didn't know. He asked me to come and spend the night at the home of Dawson Trotman, the founder of The Navigators.
I had dinner there, and after dinner I learned that Dan Fuller, son of Charles E. Fuller of the Old-Fashioned Revival Hour, was going to be there to celebrate his birthday. We had a great time, and I began to think about Christ and His claims. A year later, through the influence of Henrietta Mears and Louis Evans, I prayed, "Lord, what would You have me do?" That night I received the Lord Jesus as my Savior. I believed the Gospel. God had heard my mother's prayers, and He patiently waited for me.