Last February when we celebrated George Beverly Shea’s 99th birthday, he naturally broke into song. We recognized the classic melody of “I’d Rather Have Jesus” but the words were foreign.
It turned out that he was teasing us by singing in Japanese, which he had learned decades ago when he accompanied my father on a preaching trip to the Far East.
That says a lot about the remarkable man I’ve always known as “Uncle Bev.” His voice, mind and personality are as strong and fresh today as ever before, and his health is still robust enough that he renewed his driver’s license not long ago.
Heading into his second century, his eyes still sparkle and Gospel songs still pour straight from his heart.
Uncle Bev is a walking treasure and an inspiration to all of us as we grow older. He was just 23 when he set Rhea Miller’s poem, “I’d Rather Have Jesus,” to music, and today it is sung in dozens of languages around the world. He popularized “How Great Thou Art” and “It Is No Secret (What God Can Do).” He has sung with everybody from Ethel Waters to Michael W. Smith to Bill Gaither.
Name your favorite hymn and Uncle Bev can probably tell you the story behind it. If it’s “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” or “The Old Rugged Cross” or “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands,” he not only knows the background but personally knew the composer.
What’s more, he can testify how God used songs like these to touch the heart of someone in need of salvation.
Bev Shea and Cliff Barrows have served alongside my father for more than 60 years, and they continue to work with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. They have been faithful to the Lord, friends to one another and servants to the team, and God has used them to accomplish what no one man could have done–reaching millions of people with the Gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
My father says that he had the privilege of preaching to people who came to hear Bev Shea sing. Uncle Bev himself uses the same word when he describes his role on the team–”I thank the Lord for the privilege.”
We thank the Lord for men like Bev Shea who have wholeheartedly committed their lives to the work of evangelism and use their God-given talents to tell people about the love of Jesus Christ.
Uncle Bev is a living testimony to the Scripture that’s engraved inside his wedding band, Psalm 28:7. “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; therefore my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song I will praise Him.”