I’ve known Bill for twenty-eight years. I have never heard him speak a discouraging word. Never have I seen his vision dimmed or his ardor cooled. Never has he failed to talk about the greatness of God and reaching the world for Christ, his passion. Like the visionary evangelist John Wesley, he saw the entire world as his mission field.
This indomitable spirit and trust in Christ marked not only his life, but also his death. There are countless books written on how to live the Christian life, but very few about how to die the Christian death. It is in this regard that Bill Bright made another remarkable contribution, for he not only lived well—he died well.
Over two years ago, Bill was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a dreadful disease in which the lungs lose their elasticity. Unless the heart gives out first, death is by slow suffocation, one of the most painful ways to die.
I met with Bill a couple of years ago in his apartment right after he had been diagnosed. His spirit was upbeat and strong. He said he was ready to meet the Lord. I saw no hint of despair or discouragement, even as he was facing his own death—and likely, a very hard one. I told him that my friend Bill Simon, diagnosed with the same disease, died of a heart attack before he reached the final stages. That was the only time I saw Bill waver. "That would be good," he said, and then he immediately talked about the Lord’s will being done. The final stage of Bill’s pilgrimage was not easy.
But Bill never quit. His wife, Vonette, may have seen moments of anguish and distress, but every visitor, myself included, came away with the same impression. It was uncanny—indeed supernatural—that Bill maintained his buoyant spirit with every breath, labored though it was, for the last two-and-a-half years as he battled the disease.
I spoke to him a week or so before he died. I called to lift his spirits, but he lifted mine. He told me that these two years had been the most productive in his ministry, that he’d been able to write more, direct more projects, and launch more initiatives than ever before. He kept praising God even as he was gasping for breath.
"Why would God allow someone who had given over fifty years of his life to faithful ministry to die such a painful death?" one might ask. One answer is in something that radio preacher Steve Brown once said: God allows Christians and pagans to get cancer so that the world will see a difference in how Christians deal with it.
Bill Bright’s death showed the world how Christians deal with suffering and death. And people will remember Bill not only as a great visionary leader who founded one of the great movements of our time, but as the man who finished well and overcame suffering by his indomitable faith in Christ.
I will remember Bill always for the profound influence he had on me, inspiring me not only to live well but, when the time comes, to die well.
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In lieu of flowers, the Brights have requested that friends honor Bill Bright’s memory through the William R. Bright Legacy Trust. The Legacy Trust is designed to further the work to which he gave his life: the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Gifts can be made to William R. Bright Legacy Trust (account #2747894), 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, FL 32832. If you would like to make a donation online, please click here.
Learn more about Campus Crusade for Christ.
William Bright, Changing the World through Prayer (New Life, 2000).
Ted Olsen, "Weblog: Campus Crusade for Christ Founder Bill Bright Dies at 81," Christianity Today, 21 July 2003.
Richard John Neuhaus, As I Lay Dying: Meditations upon Returning (Basic Books, 2002).