10: Vonette Bright

10: Vonette Bright

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 10 •
VONETTE BRIGHT

Co-founder, Campus Crusade for Christ, which has a staff of 27,000 plus 225,000 volunteers in 190 countries

My husband Bill and I first met Billy in early 1949 when he came to Los Angeles to discuss the possibility of a campaign. Along with the influential evangelical leader, Henrietta Mears, we met him for lunch in Hollywood.

We met again in August when he came to Forest Home for a College Briefing Conference, where Billy made the critical decision to faithfully preach “the Bible says…”

When he returned to Los Angeles to begin his crusade on September 25, 1949, Bill invited Billy to dinner at our home. I was a new Christian, having committed my life to Christ in August 1948. Soon after, I married Bill Bright, a young entrepreneur who was active at Hollywood Presbyterian Church. We lived in a little English-style cottage in Hollywood.

As a new bride I hadn’t prepared a meal for a large group. The only dishes I had enough of were what are now called “Depression glass.” I insisted to Bill that we get something else, because it would not do to serve dinner to Billy Graham on those plates. So we went to a pottery outlet and I chose plates that were about fifteen inches in diameter. They were huge! I don’t know what I was thinking. You needed an enormous amount of food on those plates to make it look like you had something to eat.

When Bill returned from the meeting with Billy he said, “Well, we may have a few more people, honey.” And in walked Billy, George Beverly Shea, Cliff Barrows, several other people including western entertainer Stewart Hamlin and his wife! I was a bit overwhelmed, but it turned out to be a wonderful evening I will never forget. The laughter and storytelling left precious memories. I learned a lesson that has stayed with me to this day — it isn’t what you have; it’s the spirit of your hospitality that makes the difference. I certainly didn’t have a home I considered elegant, but God used what we had, and that was the important thing. If you depend on God to meet your needs it’s amazing to see how He does.

When Billy Graham came back a few years later for another campaign in Hollywood, Bill and I volunteered to become counselors, Bill was qualified to do it but I still felt like a brand new Christian. I went to some training sessions, but I was nervous and felt underprepared. On our way to the Billy Graham Crusade, I said to Bill, “If they call on me to be a counselor, what do I say?” I felt very insecure. Bill told me to take down a few verses from the Bible about how God loves you, that you are a sinner, that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and that He stands at the door and knocks.

I wrote down the relevant verses in the back of my Bible. Sure enough, as the first woman made her way to the front, I was motioned to come forward as a counselor. I was still uneasy about my ability. But with the lady I was assigned to, I just went through the basic verses about how to be sure you are a Christian. Then I said, “Now would you like to receive Christ as your personal savior?” And she said, “Oh yes, I would.” I was thrilled. To myself I said “you would?” It was just too wonderful to be true! We prayed together, she was sure that Jesus Christ was in her heart, and I sent her on her way. I was in glory to think that I had had this marvelous opportunity. This was the first person that I had been able to lead to Christ.

Each night during that sixteen-day Billy Graham Crusade in 1951, I counseled more and more people. It was a wonderful spiritual experience and the beginning of my confidence that God could use me in the lives of other people.

Another turning point for me came in 1974, when Billy Graham asked me if I would represent women on the continuation planning committee of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, which Billy had started years earlier, in 1966. My husband was a part of the original planning committee. It was an honor and made a great change in my life. My husband had included me in the formation of Campus Crusade for Christ beginning in 1951 and my experiences had equipped me to step up to this challenge. I had organized what became the National Prayer Committee, and then along with Ruth Graham and three other women, we initiated the Great Commission Prayer Crusade. Our goal was to mobilize women in the United States to pray for spiritual awakening. We had committees all over the country, and I went to about twenty cities for prayer rallies. This allowed me to take a greater leadership role in mobilizing prayer groups all over the nation and the world. It was Billy Graham who gave me the opportunity as a woman to have greater visibility in a position of leadership on a committee comprised of forty-seven men and three women.

In the early 1980s I was working with the National Prayer Committee, and we had been able to mobilize people from different denominations and prayer groups and bring them together. We had a structure designed to mobilize such groups, particularly women. I became the chair of the Lausanne Committee’s Intercession Advisory Group. All the members of that group were prominent people of prayer in their nations. We talked about an International Prayer Assembly for a couple of years but it just wasn’t happening. Billy was a great encouragement and gave $25,000 that allowed us to move forward. He gave me the inspiration I needed. The result was the 1984 International Prayer Assembly for World Evangelization, which took place in Seoul, Korea. Seven thousand people came from seventy countries to join with 100,000 Koreans. It was fantastic to see what happened. It was the beginning of a worldwide prayer movement that has grown tremendously and continues to thrive.

Mr. Graham has played an important part in promoting women. Many women have been platform guests. His daughter Anne is a perfect example of this in her ministry. Billy opened the door for me, and he certainly encouraged prayer around the world. Ruth Graham remained a constant encourager and dear friend.

When my husband and I first launched Campus Crusade for Christ there was little cooperation among churches. Our prayer was that God would use Campus Crusade as a catalyst in helping to bring the denominations together. The organization now has locations on more than 1,100 colleges, with over 74,000 students involved, having ministered to hundreds of millions of young people. It was Billy who had the visibility and willingness to help accomplish this goal back when we first began nearly sixty years ago.

Through the congresses he organized, he too wanted to bring the churches together. I think he has promoted the message and the vision to so many people in terms of what they might be able to do by bringing people together and letting them share their techniques, materials, and what they have accomplished. He has given many different organizations the opportunity to present their points of view and to bring the whole body of Christ together. That is one of the greatest contributions he has made.

Billy Graham has been a good friend. He and my husband were very close and very supportive of each other. Billy was always available to come when we called. When we first began our ministry, we were paying the bills with the money we earned from our own business. When our savings ran out, it was Billy who gave us $1,000, the largest donation we had received.

He is a very godly man, and there has been a sweet relationship between our families. We’ve prayed together and we have seen God do such miraculous works. It’s been a wonderful time. There is no man in the world my husband loved more than Billy Graham.

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