Vonette Z. Bright, who founded Campus Crusade for Christ with her husband and built it into a global evangelical organization, died on Wednesday in Orlando, Fla. She was 89.
Her death, from complications of leukemia, was announced by Campus Crusade, which she and her husband, William R. Bright, founded in 1951 at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“Win the campus today, win the world tomorrow,” the organization liked to say. And the Brights set about doing just that, preaching the Gospel and spreading Christianity through conferences, Bible study groups and other programs. The organization changed its name to Cru in the United States in 2012.
They also established Athletes in Action, Women Today International, the Josh McDowell Ministry and FamilyLife; produced a biographical film about Jesus; and lobbied Congress successfully to designate the first Thursday in May a National Day of Prayer.
Mr. Bright also co-founded Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal arm of the religious right, which has argued hundreds of pro bono cases across the country against same-sex marriage, government mandates that employers provide insurance coverage for contraception, and efforts to ban prayer before municipal board meetings.
Cru is the American ministry of the international Campus Crusade for Christ, which says it has a staff of 25,000 and 300,000 volunteers in about 175 countries. Cru itself says it oversees more than 2,000 interdenominational Christian evangelical groups on high school and college campuses as well as ministries serving sports teams and military installations.
The organization said it had changed its name in the United States because of the negative associations of the word “crusade,” especially to Muslims, and because its mission had grown beyond college campuses.
Vonette Zachary was born in Coweta, Okla., on July 2, 1926. Her father, Elmore, was a farmer and businessman. Her mother, Margaret, was a postal clerk.
William Bright died in 2003. Mrs. Bright is survived by their sons, Zachary and Bradley; four grandchildren; a brother, Roy Zachary; and a sister, Deanne Rice.
Mrs. Bright received a bachelor’s degree in home economics from Texas Woman’s University and a master’s in education from the University of Southern California. She wrote about a dozen books.
“In college, my confidence in Christianity wavered and I began to question the reality of my faith,” she recalled on Cru’s website. Then, she said, she received a letter from Mr. Bright, whom she remembered from grade school and who by then was a seminary student in California. She eventually replied with a 10-page letter.
“That was the beginning of a beautiful romance in which the correspondence flourished as we began to write daily,” she recalled.
But there was a disconnect: “I decided Bill had become a religious fanatic and that somehow he must be rescued from this fanaticism. At the same time, Bill was beginning to think that perhaps I was not a Christian. He knew he could not marry me until there was a change in my spiritual life.”
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