God used the simple obedience of Henrietta Mears to influence countless thousands of lives, and he can use you too.
Throughout this year, I’ve been engaging with four very large biographies. In Light of Eternity: The Life of Leonard Ravenhill, Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham, D.L. Moody—A Life: Innovator, Evangelist, World Changer and Dream Big: The Henrietta Mears Story. Along with some other reading, including anything I can get my hands on by Francis Schaeffer and Jerry Bridges, this has made up the bulk of my reading time. The four biographies together comprise over two thousand pages, rich with stories of faith and God at work in our world through individuals.
The way God can use one person for his glory in such significant ways surprises and overwhelms my soul.
I’ve begun to see so clearly that God is not looking for people of great talent, wealth or notoriety, but simply for ordinary people full of faith and the Holy Spirit. He loves to use ordinary people like you and me, so he gets all the glory (see 1 Cor. 1:26–29). With ordinary people who simply believe what God can do through them, he can establish his kingdom in the world and in the lives of people who are far from him. God has always chosen to use people. We see this in the words of God to Moses, “I have heard their groans and have come down to rescue them. Now go, for I am sending you back to Egypt” (Acts 7:34). God essentially says, I have come to rescue them, now go for I am sending you as my rescue. When God is looking to move in new ways, he always looks for people who are committed to him, to use in powerful ways.
I’ve been fascinated for several years now by the story and legacy of Henrietta Mears. Have you ever heard of her?
I believe many Christians have not, and yet her influence has likely affected nearly every single one of you reading this. Let me tell you some of her story.
Henrietta’s roots actually go back to Minnesota, where for many years she taught in the Minneapolis public school system while also serving at First Baptist Church downtown in Sunday school. In the middle of her life, she took a year off, and during some time spent in Southern California was tapped to be the Christian Education Director at Hollywood Presbyterian Church. This proved to be a significant turning point for her, as God began to use her in the lives of young people in the region.
The group, consisting of young people and college students, at that time was several hundred students, but quickly grew into thousands of young people who gathered to hear her teach the Word of God. She had an extraordinary gift for teaching the Bible and guiding people in practical ways to follow Jesus.
A significant part of her influence in ministry was through the lives of those young people she mentored and discipled:
• Bill and Vonette Bright — Founders of Campus Crusade for Christ, which has ministered to millions of people through 25,000 missionaries in 191 countries, including ministries at 1,700 college and university campuses.
• Dawson Trotman — Founder of the Navigators, which now has 4,600 staff in 103 nations.
• Jim Rayburn — Founder of YoungLife, which now represents more than 700 ministries in 324 cities around the world.
• Richard Halvorson — US Senate Chaplain for 15 years, as well as the chairman of World Vision for 20 years.
• Ronald Reagan — The 40th President of the United States.
• Billy Graham — He communicated the gospel of Jesus to more people than anyone in human history. Mears played a key role in Graham’s life right before the famous 1949 crusade which led to the conversion of Louis Zamperini and other famous people in the area, and catapulted his ministry into the national spotlight. I shared a short video earlier this year about this significant moment when Henrietta impacted Graham’s faith.
Have you been impacted in some way by any of these ministries?
It’s not inconceivable to say that Henrietta’s faithful Bible teaching, mentoring, discipling and passion for God and his Word has deeply affected you too, nearly one hundred years later. Her influence lives on through the lives of those she discipled, and the ripple affect of who they discipled. Amazing, isn’t it?
I have definitely been impacted by some of these leaders and people. Years ago, Michelle and I had the privilege to meet Vonnette Bright briefly at an event in Minnesota. Vonnette and her husband Bill had lived with Henrietta for many years, and founded Campus Crusade for Christ out of her home.
I’ve had the privilege of meeting Franklin Graham, Billy’s son, and have spent a little more time with Will Graham, Billy’s grandson. In fact, I have some wonderful short videos to share with you in coming weeks talking with Will about his grandfather and specifically about the 1949 crusade and all God did in that singular moment in history, which is still somehow impacting all of our stories today. Will plays his grandfather in the upcoming movie Unbroken: Path to Redemption, and we had the opportunity to visit the movie set last fall and see the replica of the 1949 crusade tent, where God moved so mightily. Angelina Jolie directed the first Unbroken film, and I’m thrilled that Universal is telling the second part of Louis’ story, in which his faith in Jesus Christ plays the major role, transforming his life.
When we were visiting the movie set, we also got to spend time with Luke Zamperini and his sister who told of the the incredible power of the gospel in their dad’s life, and how it changed their family forever.
I wrote more about Henrietta’s impact in my book Truth Plus Love: The Jesus Way to Influence (Zondervan, 2019) will is available for pre-order now.
God’s power in your life can change your story, and it can change the people around you.
God still loves to use people to turn the tide. He still is looking for people whose hearts are committed to him, and he wants to send rescue to the lost and broken in our world today. If you feel ordinary, you are exactly the type of person God is looking for. Will you allow him to fill you with faith and the Holy Spirit, and his heart of love for the people around you who need him?
Matt Brown (@evangelistmatt) is an evangelist, author and founder of Think Eternity, an evangelistic ministry that impacts thousands of people with the gospel each year through live events and online. This article was originally published on Matt’s blog at ThinkE.org.