Vonette Z. Bright, who with her husband co-founded Campus Crusade for Christ at UCLA in 1951 and built it into one of the world's largest Christian ministries, has died. She was 89.
Bright died of complications from acute leukemia Wednesday at her home in Orlando, Fla., said Alison Geist, a spokeswoman for Campus Crusade.
Bright and her husband, William R. Bright, spent more than half a century leading and building the ministry into a worldwide evangelical force with branches in 173 countries, 25,000 staffers and 300,000 volunteers.
The Brights launched Campus Crusade for Christ in 1951 at UCLA, about three years after they married. Their mission: win the campus today, win the world tomorrow.
The ministry's expansion included university campuses, a Campus Crusade Embassy in Washington, a film and video division that created a feature on the life of Jesus Christ and other ministries such as Athletes in Action and the Josh McDowell Ministry and Family Life.
Rising housing costs in California and a slow growth initiative in San Diego County led the Brights to move the organization's headquarters to Florida in 1989 where it continued to grow.
By 2000, the organization's staff had grown to more than 20,000 and it had an annual budget of $450 million.
Although Bill Bright was at the forefront of the ministry, his wife's influence also contributed to the rise of Campus Crusade.
Vonette Bright was born in Coweta, Okla., the eldest of four children. She attended Texas Woman's University, where she received a degree in home economics.
She married Bill Bright on Dec. 30, 1948, shortly after graduating.
Bright had struggled with her faith in college, even as she was engaged to her husband, according to her online biography.
But that changed one day in Los Angeles while praying. She said she envisioned herself standing on the edge of a diving board. "I did not know whether or not I could swim, but I knew I had to jump — and I found out that I could swim," she wrote. "From that day on, God's direction in my life became a reality."
In the late 1980s, Bright helped petition Congress to designate the first Thursday of every May as the National Day of Prayer. She served for almost a decade as a chairwoman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force. Today, the movement includes more than 2 million people in 30,000 observances around the country, according to the organization.
In 1993, she launched Women Today International, a radio ministry to offer spiritual guidance to women. She also served as chairwoman of Bright Media Foundation, which produces the ministry's writings and teachings.
Vonette Bright is survived by her three sons, grandchildren and her brother and sister. A memorial service is planned for Jan. 8 at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.