Who Was Bill Bright Really?
Happy 100th Birthday, Dad! October 19, 1921
I wonder if there are birthday parties in heaven?
Today we celebrate my dad’s 100th birthday. He’s no longer with us, of course, but I imagine he and my mother might be enjoying a few chilled slices of watermelon today as they reminisce on his first 100 years.
My daughter, Noël, drew the portrait you see above. He did really have a watermelon “cake” on his 80thbirthday! Our kids were disappointed it wasn’t a real cake, but dad was delighted! Today he celebrates his 100th birthday in heaven with His beloved Savior, my mom, and my brother. If they have a party, I imagine the guests include some of the millions of people who are in heaven because Bill Bright was faithful to take the Gospel to the world—men and women of every age, race, and nationality. Some were rich, many were poor. On earth, my dad spent his life blood to help everyone know the God Who had captured his heart. Wow, what a party they must be having! But how did it start?
My dad, Bill Bright, grew up on a ranch in rural Oklahoma. Like his agnostic father and grandfather before him, he did not see God as relevant to his life. The only thing that mattered was money and success. Drawn to Hollywood as an ambitious, young materialist, he routinely worked 100-hour weeks, growing his businesses through dogged determination. However, one day, a leading businessman whom he greatly admired said something that startled him: “Making money is great, but the most important thing in my life is Jesus Christ.” Intrigued, my dad started studying the life of Jesus. A few months later, convinced Jesus was who He claimed to be, he became His ardent follower.
Over the next 50 years, my dad’s resume grew into a testament of what God can do through one person who commits to following Jesus, holding nothing back. In 1951 at UCLA, he launched Campus Crusade for Christ, which became the largest missionary organization in the 20th century (27,000 full-time staff, 250,000 trained volunteers in every country on earth). He wrote The Four Spiritual Laws, an evangelistic booklet with over two billion copies in print worldwide. He was the impetus behind the creation of the JESUS film, which has been translated into over 1,800 languages and viewed by an estimated three billion people in every nation around the globe. The Guinness Book of World Records says it is the most translated film in history.
What most people do not know about this man I called “Dad,” is what occurred behind the scenes revealing his character, humility, integrity and compassion. Although he traveled 80 percent of the time for 40 years, he almost always flew economy as a faithful steward of God’s money. For his last 50 years he never owned the home he lived in. He was faithful to my mother to the end. He gave away all his retirement savings to help tell the Russian people about Jesus. He won the one-million-dollar Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion and gave it all away 30 minutes later. For years he quietly fasted one day each week, giving away the money he saved from fasting to help feed the poor. He completed a 40-day fast each year for the last nine years of his life. He never retired despite cancer, diabetes and pulmonary fibrosis, which made breathing a daily chore. His love for the lost compelled him to the end.
In 2003 he died at the age of 81, losing his four-year battle with lung disease. In his final days, when I would ask him how he was feeling, he always joyfully responded, “I’m rejoicing in the Lord!”
My dad’s real genius was not found in his myriad accomplishments, character, or tenacity. What set him apart was his expansive view of God. He passionately served the living, all-powerful, majestic, loving God. It is what enabled him not just to talk about Jesus, but to model what it looks like to be a true follower of Jesus—to the very day he shed this earthly life, breathing in the celestial air. His self-chosen epitaph on his grave best sums up his life: “A Slave of Jesus by Choice.”
Dad knew God and trusted God. It’s as simple as that. Everything he did in life flowed from that foundation. His example inspires me every day. I want to know God the way he did.
Imagine how your life might change over the next 10 years if you made knowing God your top priority—every day. As your view of God grows, you will inevitably change in response. That was Bill Bright’s secret. It can be yours too.
Happy 100th birthday dad!
P.S. See you soon! And, oh, one other thing…save some watermelon for me!
Copyright © 2021 Brad Bright