c. 1996 Religion News Service
(RNS)-Bill Bright, who founded Campus Crusade for Christ 45 years ago and turned it into an evangelical ministry in 165 countries, won the 1996 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion Wednesday (March 6). The prize is valued at more than $1 million.
Bright, 74, a former oil and specialty-foods executive, began Campus Crusade with his wife, Vonette, at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1951. Today, the ministry, now based in Orlando, Fla., focuses on such widely diverse groups as students, business executives, athletes and military personnel.
Although Bright and his wife jointly started the ministry, Bright alone was nominated for the prize by Miami businessman Allen Morris, said the Rev. Wilbert Forker, executive vice president of the Templeton Prize.
In an interview, Bright said his strategy of”spiritual multiplication”-using popular students, executives and political leaders to spread the Gospel-has been a key to the growth of his ministry.”We know that if the influential leaders can be reached, they will join with us in helping to bring blessing to the whole world,”he said.”We have 40- plus ministries, all with one goal and that is to help take the Gospel to every person on planet Earth, but working through their particular segment of influence.” John Marks Templeton, the founder of a line of investment funds and an advocate of interreligious dialogue, first offered the prize in 1972 to recognize those who have taken extraordinary measures to advance understanding of God and spirituality.
Since 1973, 26 people have won the prize, including Mother Teresa, Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson, evangelist Billy Graham and, last year, Paul Davies, a mathematical physicist known for his research bridging the gap between science and religion.
In an interview, Templeton said Bright is”a marvelous example”of the prize’s goals.”He will inspire other people to do progressive things,”Templeton said.”What more inspiring example can you get of what happens if you really try to work in God’s purposes?” Among Bright’s initiatives is a pamphlet on Christianity, titled”Four Spiritual Laws,”that he wrote in 1956. The pamphlet has been printed in almost 200 languages.
In the 1970s, Bright displayed his evangelistic message on billboards and bumper stickers with the words”I Found It!”People who called a local phone number that accompanied the promotion were given information about Christianity and guidance on finding a church.
Since 1979, the ministry has shown a feature-length film on the life of Jesus that has been translated into 355 languages and viewed by hundreds of millions of people in 217 countries.
Campus Crusade’s budget exceeds $270 million. In 1993, the ministry was named America’s”most efficient religious group”by Money magazine for spending 84 percent of its contributions on its programs-from distribution of the”Jesus”film to parenting conferences to evangelism efforts in the inner city. The remaining 16 percent was used for fund raising and administration.
Bright said he intends to use the prize money for his latest emphasis: fasting and prayer. He plans to set up a committee of Campus Crusade staffers to supervise the use of the money for a training program to educate church leaders worldwide on how to fast and pray. Although details of the plan remain to be worked out, Bright said he hopes to publish literature”in all the major languages”on the subject.
He recently wrote a book called”The Coming Revival: America’s Call to Fast, Pray, and `Seek God’s Face.'” The lay evangelist has himself fasted twice in the last two years. For two 40-day periods, he drank only water and fruit and vegetable juices. He said he felt God led him to fast as a way to deal with”the spiritual and moral disintegration”of the world.”In America, we’re in love with the pizza parlors and the golden arches,”said Bright.”The time has come for us to be restored to what I believe is the most significant Christian discipline,”fasting and prayer.
In 1994 and 1995, Bright gathered a total of more than 4,000 Christian leaders in Orlando and Los Angeles to fast and pray for spiritual revival across the globe. He said he believes those sessions have helped contribute to reports of spiritual renewal on campuses and churches across the United States since early 1995.
Bill and Vonette Bright have two sons, Zachary, a Presbyterian Church (USA) pastor in California, and Bradley, a member of Campus Crusade’s staff at the University of Washington.
Bright, a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA), is unapologetic about his goal to expose every person in the world to the Christian message, even those who are members of other faiths. His aim, he said, is not to pressure people, but rather to share the Christian message.”If they’re Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, whomever, we don’t ever try to put down other religions,”he said.”We simply proclaim the truth as we know it.”
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