In the past 50 years, more than 3 billion people have heard the gospel through the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, including millions who have seen the Jesus film. Bill and Vonette Bright followed a vision of God in 1951 to "win the campus to Christ today, win the world to Christ tomorrow." Those principles can be traced to an amazing Sunday school teacher with a proclivity for wearing colorful hats.
Henrietta Mears accepted Christ at the age of seven; five years later, she taught her first Sunday school class and never looked back. During her freshman year at the University of Minnesota, Mears became superintendent of her church's junior high Sunday school department. Teaching was her gift.
Completing her studies in secondary education, Mears taught everything from chemistry to drama in schools throughout Minnesota, even serving as a high school principal at one. But she always found a church to benefit from her skills.
She made the Bible come alive for her students. Her ability to quote long passages of Scripture from memory grew out of her deep commitment to God's Word and her disciplined study. "If you would be pure," she advised others, "saturate yourself with the Word of God."
Dreaming big for God
In 1928, Mears accepted a job offer that would change her life. Two years before, Mears and her sister, Margaret, had heard and visited Dr. Stewart P. MacLennan, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, California. He wanted Henrietta to be the director of Christian education at his church.
When she arrived, Sunday school attendance was 450. Within two-and-a-half years, the classes grew to more than 4,000. Mears thought the curriculum available was unattractive (no pictures) and deficient (no continuity). So Mears wrote her own.
Soon other churches wanted to use her teaching materials, too. Mears founded Gospel Light Publications in 1933 to meet that need. But her dreaming wasn't over.
In 1939, Mears established Forest Home Conference Center for young people to learn the Bible in a beautiful setting. When numerous requests came in from countries around the world for the curriculum, Mears launched Gospel Light International.
Mears backed up her dreams with one of her favorite verses: "Every single place that the sole of your foot will tread upon, will be yours" (Josh. 1:3). To which she would add, "We need more Bibles today bound in shoe leather!"
She had no patience for Sunday latecomers. And she would raise an eyebrow if she overheard comments about her Sunday fashion choices: blue dress with red accessories, bright lipstick, polished nails, and rings on every finger. "Why not look your best when you go to church?" was her ready response.
Her flamboyant hats, a favorite one bedecked with pinwheels, were a hit with her college boys. But that wasn't the only thing about her that inspired them.
Training up new leaders
"When I consider my ministry, I think of the world. Anything less than that would not be worthy of Christ, nor of his will for my life," Mears told her college students. Her vision of conquering the world for Christ influenced the vision of such notables as Billy Graham, Bill and Vonette Bright, and U.S. Senate chaplain Richard Halverson.
Convinced that she was training the next generation of world leaders, Mears proved that Christian ministry was exciting, challenging, and satisfying.
At a Sunday school convention in 1950, Mears explained what it takes to do the job. "It is my business as a Sunday school teacher to instill a divine discontent for the ordinary. Only the best possible is good enough for God. Can you say, 'God, I have done all that I can?'"
The beloved "Teacher," whose teaching methods transformed Christian education, certainly could say yes.
A Christian Reader original article.
Copyright 2002 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Reader magazine.
Click here for reprint information on Christian Reader.