People who knew Henrietta
Mears say she was a woman of visionone who wasn't afraid to trust God no matter how
difficult the circumstances. They also tell of her single-minded devotion to Goda
trait that developed very early and remained until her death.
Billy Graham once said of her: "I doubt if any other woman outside my wife and mother has had such a marked influence [on my life]. She is certainly one of the greatest Christians I have ever known!"
Mears, the youngest of seven children, was born in Fargo, North Dakota, in 1890. Her mother was the motivating force behind her early devotion to Christ. By the time she became director of Christian education at the First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood in 1928, Mears was well on her way to becoming one of the most outstanding Christian educators of her time.
"God doesn't call us to sit on the sidelines and watch. He calls us to be on the field, playing the games," said Mears. Knowing Christ intimately and telling others about Him was her first and foremost objective.
Three years after her arrival at the church, Sunday school attendance grew from 400 to 4,000. During her tenure, over 400 young people entered full-time Christian serviceone of whom was Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ.
As a child, doctors told her mother that she would be blind by thirty. But Mears was convinced God had a purpose for her life. Therefore, she read and studied all she could in case her eyesight failed. Against the advice of her physicians, she enrolled in classes at the University of Minnesota, where she graduated with honors.
After college, she accepted a position teaching high school chemistry. And while she suffered from extreme nearsightedness throughout her life, God never allowed her to become blind.
A growing desire to become a missionary began to tug at her heart, but God didn't lead in this direction. Instead, He opened the door to the ministry at First Presbyterian, and Mears confessed that it was unlike anything she had ever envisioned.
Settling into her new job, she discovered the Sunday school material being taught wasn't in keeping with her convictions. One lesson prosed that the apostle Paul survived the ship wreck at Malta (Acts 27-28) because he had "eaten carrots and was strong."
This shocked Mears, for she knew it was the hand of God that saved Paul and the others. The material was immediately returned to the publisher with an explanation stating that she could not use any lesson that denied the miraculous in Scripture.
In that day, sufficient Sunday school literature was limited. Mears was left with but one optionto write the lessons herself. Earl Roe, editor of Dream Big, The Henrietta Mears Story, writes: "Henrietta insisted that Christian education worthy of the name must be Christian. And being Christian meant that every lesson must honor Christ. And that, in turn, meant that every teacher must be faithful to the Bible."
Mears, who was known for her boundless energy, infectious laughter, and colorful hats, began writing the material she and her staff would use to teach the growing number of young people attending the church. The lessons were to be bold, challenging, and captivating as they underscored the principles of God's Word.
It wasn't long before her efforts gained results, and requests for copies of her material came in from all across the country. Her office staff worked long hours mimeographing and mailing the lessons. When the demand became too great, Mears and a group of businessmen established Gospel Light Publications, one of the first publishers in the Christian education field.
However, the publishing arena wasn't her natural domain. She loved being with young people and was most at home with them and her Bible.
For years, Mears searched for a retreat area where she could take her high school and college-aged students. "If you place people in an atmosphere where they feel close to God and then challenge them with His Word, they will make decisions," said Mears. Believing God would provide direction, she prayed for His wisdom.
A privately owned resort in the San Bernardino mountains was available, but the price was too high. For a moment, the dream appeared impossible. Mears called a group of people together for prayer. She insisted that they should "dream big whenever God was involved" and trust Him for His blessing at the right time. After a miraculous intervention, Forest Home, valued at $350,000, was purchased in 1938 for the unheard of price of $30,000.
Those who attended the retreat remember the days as being filled with activity and laughter and the evenings brimming with spiritual insight. An outdoor amphitheater provided a place where commitments for Christ were made before a blazing bonfire.
One of the things that had drawn Mears to California was an opportunity to witness to those in the entertainment industry. God provided an open door into this area through the Hollywood Christian Group, which began meeting in her home. Many entertainment professionals came to know Christ as a result of her ministry. One friend observed, "She led others in the faith by being led by God."
On March 20, 1963, Mears "slipped through that veil between present and the hereafter. . . . " Someone remarked, "It was nothing new for her to meet her Lord alone, for she had often done so. This time she just went with Him."