Recently I had the privilege of interviewing Vonette Bright at the Worldwide Day of Prayer at our International HQ. She told some delightful stories about the time she and Bill shared a home with Henrietta Mears a short distance from the UCLA campus at the beginning of the Campus Crusade for Christ ministry. Miss Mears has been called the most influential woman of the 20th century for the advancement of the gospel of Christ because of all the men and women she trained and sent.
Former Cru staff member Andrea Madden did her Master’s Thesis on Henrietta Mears. Here she shares some excerpts from that paper that give a glimpse into the life of this woman who accomplished so much for the Kingdom. I hope you will be amazed and inspired.
Henrietta Mears maintained an eternal perspective that gave her a sense of mission, and with that sense came a love for people. Actress Colleen Townsend Evans, wife of the son of the pastor of Hollywood First Presbyterian Church, said: “I loved her huge passion for souls. She really believed in lostness. You were lost without Christ, and that makes a difference. I think a lot of us today want to downplay that, and she didn’t do that. She never did. There was a sense of urgency about her.”
Urgency from a sense of divine call created a sense of destiny and an air of expectancy that was contagious. People want to follow people who know where they are going and why. Henrietta Mears had answers to both questions. She was training leaders to go to a world that was lost without Christ, to tell them how they could be found. She began by going to the lost and winning them to Christ. Training men and women for Christ’s service was the next step. She encouraged those she had led to the Lord and trained, to go to win and train others.
She maintained this vision by faithfully making time to be alone with her God, to be in His Word and to communicate with Him in prayer. She was disciplined in her study habits. Vonette Bright relates how Teacher put up a decorative screen at the entrance to her wing of the house when she was studying so not to be disturbed.
Louis Evans, Jr. and Vonette Bright agree that she came to the six o’clock Saturday morning prayer meetings at her home having already spent time alone with God in study of the Word and prayer. This gave her the ability to minister out of the abundance of her personal relationship with God and not out of a sense of duty only. Her motivation was to please God.
By “dreaming big,” trusting God for some grandiose plans to further His Kingdom, she remained on the cutting edge and to trust God instead of resting in her comfortable activities. She was never satisfied with her past accomplishments. Pushing the boundaries of faith helped her know God better. The more she learned to trust Him, the larger her vision and dreams became.
Planning was crucial to all her projects. Preparation was indispensable. By detailed preparation and delegation she built up a self-sustaining ministry, allowing her to take long leaves of absence. Sabbatical tours provided rest, encouragement and continued education. Her innate curiosity drove her to learn. History, culture, science, theology–any subject was of interest. This interaction with people and topics in turn renewed her vision ministry.
All of these plans were useless without other people to implement them. Her gift of identifying leadership potential in others was invaluable. By working with people with undeveloped gifts, she was able to mold leaders through patient, prayerful direction. Delegation was both a necessity to achieve goals and a way to build leadership. She delegated responsibility to her chosen leaders, seeing that they gained experience under her watchful eye. She also trained her leaders to look for others to replace them, teaching them how to spot leadership potential.
Demanding excellence for the glory of God set high standards and attracted people with qualities of leadership. Commitment was required to reach these high standards. This common commitment to a task as well as to their God added to the sense of belonging and community she fostered in the Christian Education Department. She demanded commitment. She expected her leaders to invest themselves.
Henrietta Mears worked hard. She made it a habit to be at church by five in the morning with Ethel May so they could write Sunday School materials for three hours before working the regular day for the church, beginning at eight o’clock. She also worked late into the night, often accepting visits from students who sought her counsel at odd hours. Although her physical strength was challenged by the long hours she kept and the energy she expended in personal counseling, she was never too busy to give spiritual counsel.
Her sense of humor and vitality came in part from her love of God and partly from her earthly father’s example. “She was so much fun,” is a constant remark from those who knew her.
Miss Mears could step back and see life from God’s perspective. This eternal perspective gave her the ability to take herself less seriously and enjoy all that God had given her. Even when circumstances became difficult, her burden was lightened by the knowledge of a sovereign and loving God.
One of Teacher’s regular prayers was, “Lord, as long as you see fit to keep me in that college department, you must make me attractive to those young people, and you must give me the message for this day and age that you want them to have.” She lived a vital and vigorous life to the end.
Henrietta Mears left a long legacy. More than 400 young people went into Christian service as a direct result of her ministry. Over 50 Christian organizations can be traced to her influence. She was pivotal in the conversion and training of Bill Bright and personally led Vonette Bright to the Lord. These two founded Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru).
In 1962, Forest Home, which she established, welcomed more than 40,000 delegates to its conferences and remains a thriving concern today. Billy Graham was greatly changed through his contact with Miss Mears, calling her one of the greatest influences in his life. The Hollywood Christian Group aided Graham’s ministry and touched the lives of numerous actors, including the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan.
She founded Gospel Light Publications and Regal Books. The global demand for Sunday School materials from these publishers led her to found the non-profit Gospel Light International (GLINT) in 1961. All this and more from a woman who said near the end of her sojourn, “If I had my life to live over, I would simply believe God.”
What about you? Who has influenced you? Whom do you influence?
Andrea Van Boven Madden has a passion for intimacy with God and helping others to find it for themselves. She sees Henrietta Mears as a wonderful example of one sold out for the Love of God. Andrea served on Cru staff with a primarily international focus for 32 years. She is currently serving the Lord as a prayer consultant based in South Hamilton, MA.
Related article: The Amazing Legacy of Henrietta Mears
Books by and about Henrietta Mears:
Dream Big: The Henrietta Mears Story by Henrietta C. Mears and Earl Roe
What the Bible Is All About: Revised-NIV Edition Bible Handbook by Henrietta C. Mears