By Mark Ellis
Vonette Bright, co-founder of Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU), one of the world’s largest Christian ministries, died December 23rd due to complications from acute leukemia. She was 89.
Inspired by a passionate burden to help others find Jesus Christ and learn to follow him, Vonette and her late husband Bill Bright spent more than 50 years leading and building Campus Crusade for Christ to its current size of more than 25,000 staff members and 300,000 volunteers working in 173 countries.
Bill and Vonette launched Campus Crusade for Christ in 1951 at UCLA with the goal to “win the campus today, win the world tomorrow.” Remarkably, the campus ministry at UCLA is still the largest branch of Campus Crusade – a tribute to the Bright’s enduring legacy.
The Campus Crusade movement spawned other notable and highly impactful ministries including Athletes in Action, The JESUS Film Project, The Josh McDowell Ministry and FamilyLife.
When Vonette finished college she was a nominal Christian, and didn’t really have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
“I can remember when I first heard that if I were the only person in the universe, Christ would still have died for me, and that I could know and experience His love and plan for my life,” she wrote later.
“I immediately thought: If God has a plan for my life, I certainly wish He would hurry up and show me what it is.”
She was already in a relationship with Bill and held a teaching contract in her hand, but she had some confusion about her standing with God. “I was trying to figure out why I was put on this earth, and all I got for my quest was confusion.”
Vonette said she finally began to consider who Jesus Christ is, and she had to admit to herself she did not really know Him personally.
One day the significance of John 14:6 leaped into the forefront of her thoughts.
In that classic verse Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”
The recent college grad came to the realization she had tried to live a good life, had high moral standards and been active in church, but something was still missing in her life.
“None of these things could provide a personal relationship with God. For the first time in my search for truth, I admitted that perhaps Jesus Christ was the “ingredient” I was missing.”
Vonette surrendered her life to Jesus as her Savior and Lord and was born again, a new birth that ultimately led to countless other new births around the world.
Her striking influence reached well beyond Campus Crusade for Christ. Vonette’s commitment to prayer led to the founding of the National Prayer Committee, a group of leaders who seek to motivate other Christians to unite in prayer for spiritual awakening in America.
In 1988, she successfully petitioned Congress to designate the first Thursday of every May as the permanent day for the National Day of Prayer. Unanimously approved by both houses of Congress, President Ronald Reagan signed the legislation into law. She served for nine years as chairwoman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force. The movement today includes more than 2 million people in 30,000 observances around the country.
In a 2011 letter from Rev. Billy Graham to Vonette, Graham wrote, “Your single-minded focus on the power of intercessory prayer has been both an encouragement to my life and a model for the church. Heavenly records will one day reveal the full impact of your prayer life and the teaching ministry in the lives of countless persons who have come to faith in Christ.”
In her fruitful service she also launched Women Today International in 1993, a ministry responding to the needs of women as they grow in their relationships with Jesus Christ.
She authored more than a dozen books, most highlighting the themes of prayer, evangelism, walking with God and hospitality.
Vonette Bright is survived by her brother, Roy Curtis Zachary; her sister, Deanne Rice; her sons, Zachary Dale and Bradley Randolph; her “daughters-in-love,” Terry and Katherine; and four grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the Bright children have requested that friends honor Vonette’s memory through the Bill and Vonette Bright Legacy Trust to further the work to which she gave her life. For more information about her life and legacy, go to VonetteBright.com.
Beth Moore spoke of Vonette’s influence on her life. “I can’t think of a single person on the planet that I respect more than Vonette Bright. She is 10 feet tall in my eyes. Like so many others, I have been profoundly impacted by her long obedience. She is a gift to our generation.”
A memorial service will be held Jan. 8, 2016, for Vonette at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando in Florida.