At the close of every year I always look back to see which members of our Christian family passed away. I don’t have room to include everyone, but here are some believers who left behind a special legacy.
1. Louis Zamperini. I’ll start my list with this army hero, since his amazing story of courage was immortalized this year in the movie Unbroken. During World War II the Olympic runner-turned-soldier survived 47 days on a raft in the Pacific, then endured two horrific years in a Japanese prison camp. Unfortunately he died (at age 97) five months before the movie hit theaters. An Italian immigrant, he came home after the war and embraced faith in Jesus at a Billy Graham crusade in 1949—and this led him to seek out his Japanese captors so he could forgive them. (A documentary about Zamperini’s faith, Louis Zamperini: Captured by Grace, will air Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 on Fox.)
2. S. Truett Cathy. He was not your typical billionaire. The Southern Baptist entrepreneur, who grew up poor, began his Chick-fil-A restaurant chain with one odd-shaped diner in Atlanta called the Dwarf House. Today the company’s tasty boneless chicken sandwiches are sold in 1,800 locations—with $5 billion in annual sales. Cathy’s Christian faith not only shaped his store policies (always closed on Sundays) but also his giving: He donated millions to build foster homes for kids and launched a scholarship program to provide career opportunities to underprivileged youth. Cathy was 93.
3. Ann Kiemel Anderson. With her hippie hairdo, maxi dresses and chirpy, high-pitched voice, Ann Kiemel was an unlikely evangelist in the 1970s. But she personified the simplicity of the Jesus Movement when she took to stages all over the United States and challenged young people to serve Jesus. “I am just one young woman … but one plus a giant of a God can do anything,” she said. Her 18 books, including I’m Out to Change My World, sold 28 million copies. Later in life she developed a drug dependency because of medical problems, but she talked openly about her weakness and always pointed people to Christ. She died of cancer at 69. (You can see her speaking at a youth rally here.)
4. Steve Hill. Pentecostals knew him as the voice of the Pensacola Revival, a marathon series of meetings hosted by the Brownsville Assembly of God from 1995 to 2000. A former drug addict who was discipled through the Teen Challenge rehab ministry, Hill brought a folksy Alabama drawl to his famous pulpit in Florida. But he aimed for the jugular vein when he gave altar calls. Never afraid to confront sin, he spoke several times a week in Pensacola and saw hundreds of thousands of decisions for Christ in meetings that attracted more than 4 million people over the course of five years. He and his wife, Jeri, later moved to Dallas to plant Heartland World Ministries Church. He battled cancer for years and died in March at age 60. The Dallas ministry is now raising funds to create a digital library of Hill’s sermons.
5. Myles Munroe. The world-famous Caribbean faith preacher died with his wife, Ruth, and seven other members of their church when their ministry plane crashed in severe weather in November. Munroe became a hero to many Christians in the developing world because he rose from poverty in his native Bahamas to attend Oral Roberts University. He later planted a thriving church, Bahamas Faith Ministries, in Nassau and began authoring motivational books such as Releasing Your Potential. The prime minister of the Bahamas, Perry G. Christie, told reporters that Munroe “was indisputably one of the most globally recognizable religious figures our nation has ever produced.” Munroe was only 60. Dave Burrows, a Bahamian who also graduated from ORU, will reportedly replace Munroe as pastor.
6. Stanley M. Horton. Some people make a big splash in life. Others spread their impact more quietly over decades. That was true of Horton, a Harvard graduate who became the most respected Pentecostal theologian of our lifetime. Author of What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit and many other books, he served as professor of Bible at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri, from 1978-1991. He then continued to travel and speak until he was 92. An expert in Greek, he most recently worked on the Modern English Version of the Bible, which was released this year by Charisma House. He died at age 98.