I had the great privilege of writing and editing with Bill Bright for 14 years. One my favorite articles of his was one about the three people who had influenced him the most in life: his mother, a single church leader/educator and his wife, Vonette. I am going to let him tell you about each one over the next few weeks.
The first week I posted some of his perspective on Jesus’ view of women. Last week we discovered how his mother, Mary Lee Bright, had great impact on him. This week we meet the remarkable Henrietta Mears.
The second woman to greatly influence my life was Dr. Henrietta Mears, who was director of Christian education and in charge of the college and young adult people at First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood.
Miss Mears built the largest Sunday school in America at that time. Some 6,500 were involved in an efficiently run program with highly trained teachers. Dr. Mears had written most of the curriculum for the Sunday school herself—materials that have since been used by thousands of other churches. [She also founded Gospel Light, Regal Books and Forest Home Christian Conference Center.]
I have had the privilege of knowing many godly pastors and great Christian leaders, but no one has influenced my life more than Dr. Mears. Many of the things that I believe and teach today were inculcated into me by watching her life and listening to her teaching.
I had come to Southern California in 1944, where I began my own business. At First Presbyterian Church, I met several dynamic Christians after attending a number of meetings. I began to study the Bible for myself. I was at that time an agnostic, but very open to truth. Though I was a seeker after truth, I pursued my quest privately for the most part. When I did go to church, I would usually sit in the back row so I could slip out before anybody had a chance to talk to me.
One evening Dr. Mears was speaking to the college group about Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. By this time I had become convinced that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and Savior of men. Dr. Mears quoted Paul’s words:: “Lord, what do You want me to do?”
She challenged us to go home, get on our knees and say, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” I did exactly that, and I trace my conversion experience to that evening. Alone on my knees in my home, I prayed a prayer similar to the apostle Paul’s and I chose to dedicate the rest of my life to serving God.
For whatever reason, Dr. Mears felt that I had some potential for the Lord, so she encouraged me to become one of a handful who met with her regularly for prayer and study of the Scripture. Every Saturday we met at 6 a.m. for most of the morning to read the Bible and pray. Without my realizing it, I was being introduced to a kind of Christianity that was rare. I discovered a vital, dynamic, personal walk with the Lord.
Though I can never remember her teaching a class in soul winning, Dr. Mears led many people to Christ in my presence. When witnessing opportunities did come for me, it was only natural to do it the way I had observed her do it.
Dr. Mears also introduced Vonette to Christ and played an important part in discipling her. Dr. Mears had a phenomenal impact on Vonette’s and my spiritual growth.
During the early years of the Campus Crusade for Christ ministry, Vonette and I had the privilege of sharing her home for 10 years. Located near the UCLA campus, it was a perfect place for student meetings and all types of Christian gatherings. The home was so designed that Vonette and I lived in one part of the home, and Dr. Mears in another. We shared our meals together. We also shared the costs for operating the home, where many hundreds of students met Christ and were discipled.
Dr. Mears was always attractively attired, and her humor and outgoing personality made her shine. Many were attracted to her as she challenged them to big things. She was a master at motivating and inspiring people to do great things for God.
At the time of her death, more than 400 people had gone into Christian service as a result of her influence. The lives she touched included Billy Graham, Young Life founder Jim Rayburn, Navigators founder Dawson Trotman, U.S. Senate Chaplain Richard Halverson and many, many others.
Next week I will post the final article about the third woman who has influenced Bill Bright, his wife, Vonette.
What about you? Who has influenced you? Whom have you influenced?