- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 18, 2001

ORLANDO, Fla. — Over the past half-century, this hard-driving entrepreneur has built from scratch a $374 million-a-year organization with a staff of 24,000 and sleek, new headquarters.
Yet check the fine print in the annual report: His salary is a mere $30,595. His wife (and co-founder) receives another $19,975. The couple drive two aging Lincolns, donated by friends. They have never owned a home, instead paying rent on a company-owned condo. He donates all his book royalties to charity.
The man who combines this business acumen and personal frugality is Bill Bright, the layman leader of Campus Crusade for Christ — a figure arguably as important to America's evangelical Protestant movement as his famous friend, the Rev. Billy Graham.
If Mr. Graham has been the movement's star, Mr. Bright has been its director, the less-visible but all-important master behind the scenes.
The 82-year-old Graham and 79-year-old Bright — both with serious health problems — are the lone survivors among the leaders who have energized postwar evangelism in the United States. Mr. Bright's career, and indeed his life, is coming to a close.
This weekend, 5,000 U.S. staffers attending a training camp at Colorado State University will celebrate Campus Crusade's 50th anniversary and pay tribute to Mr. Bright as he passes the presidency to his chosen successor, the Rev. Steve Douglass.
The emotion surely will be heightened by the fact that Mr. Bright is dying from incurable pulmonary fibrosis. Mr. Bright has lost 60 percent of lung capacity and is perpetually connected to an oxygen tank.
But he is unfazed by his condition.
"A Christian can't lose," he says in an interview at his Orlando home. "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."
Raised by a churchgoing mother and skeptical father on an Oklahoma ranch, William Rohl Bright was a self-described "happy pagan" and California businessman when he encountered Jesus in 1947.
It happened through the ministrations of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood and its noted youth worker, Henrietta Mears, who later coaxed Vonette Zachary, Mr. Bright's fiancee, into commitment to Jesus as well.
One night the young couple literally signed a contract with God, agreeing to surrender all their possessions and seek to evangelize the world during their lifetimes.
The very next day, Mr. Bright recounts, God gave him the vision for Campus Crusade, which began as a small effort to evangelize students at nearby University of California Los Angeles, but quickly prospered and spread to other campuses.
His empire has since swept into 190 countries (some clandestinely), and foreign nationals now constitute a large majority of the staff.
Besides the original college effort, Crusade units now target high school students, school board members, racial minorities, singles, athletes, politicians, diplomats, business executives, lawyers, health professionals, parents, women, children, prisoners and the entertainment industry.
Other Christian agencies specialize in those same groups, but Mr. Bright's evangelistic Wal-Mart seemingly covers everyone. Though the overlap has irritated some ministries, Mr. Bright figures that plenty of work remains for everyone and gladly provides resources to other groups.
Also, the other ministries usually have multiple purposes, while Mr. Bright focuses tightly on winning new converts and teaching them Christian fundamentals.
Crusade has held some mass training sessions, but evangelizes mostly through intimate groups and one-on-one contacts, not Graham-style telecasts and arena revivals.
Crusade's best-known tactic originated in 1957 when Mr. Bright boiled the Christian message into 77 words, the "Four Spiritual Laws."
Fundamentalists grumped because his pitch didn't start from human sinfulness — and intellectuals scoffed. But Mr. Bright's drummers found the tract helpful in gaining followers and Crusade says copies have been distributed by the billions.
Sloganeering erupted in 1976 as Mr. Bright plastered "I Found It!" signs across U.S. cities for months, followed by the revelation that "it" was faith in Jesus.
In 1979, Crusade released a two-hour film titled "Jesus," funded by billionaire Bunker Hunt and since dubbed in 654 languages.
The organization, which tabulates everything it does, says cumulative audiences total 4.3 billion and 140 million viewers have registered commitments to Jesus. Some of the group's 2,757 film teams lug portable generators for showings of the movie in the remotest corners of the planet.
The film was central to "New Life 2000," Crusade's typically grandiose goal of working with other organizations to give everyone on earth the chance to say "yes to Jesus" by New Year's Day 2001.
Forever trying new ideas, Mr. Bright has co-authored his first novel even as he has fought against illness. "Blessed Child," due late next month, tells the story of a boy with the power to perform healing miracles who encounters a dying evangelist — a character Mr. Bright describes as semi-autobiographical. Mr. Bright says the purpose is to show that "the God whom we worship is still a miracle-working God."
In the time that remains, Mr. Bright also will record lectures for the King's College, a non-accredited, Crusade-owned school that rents quarters in New York's Empire State Building. The goal is to make it a suburban university for 2,000 students, offering course work for another 10,000 worldwide via the Internet.
He also will promote fasting as a spiritual discipline, an end-of-career enthusiasm funded by the $1 million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, a sort of Nobel Prize for his field that he won in 1996. Mr. Graham received the 1982 award.
Mr. Bright's ambitious vision sometimes has outpaced his grasp, and at one point bankruptcy loomed. But the worst crisis came in 1967 when his 13 top aides confronted him, not always the most congenial of bosses, and called on him to resign.
Mr. Bright says the dissenters wanted younger leadership and would have turned Crusade into a church competing with conventional denominations. He staunchly disagreed, and refused to quit or change policy. Key dissenters eventually left.
His employees couldn't gripe about salary disparities, since Mr. Bright pays everyone — himself included — on the same parsimonious scale.
Workers must raise their own salaries by soliciting donations that are sent to Crusade's Orlando headquarters. Some foreign mission boards operate this way, but the practice is unusual for most Protestant agencies.
The method guarantees that staff expansion funds itself. Gifts from 550,000 trained volunteers and 325 members of "History's Handful" ($1 million lifetime donors) go toward special projects.
"We ask for our needs, not our greeds," explains Mr. Bright, still a Presbyterian.

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