When immigrants flooded Ellis Island in centuries past, it was not uncommon for a processing clerk to change the spelling of a surname or for the head of a family to alter the family identity.
When an earnest young man from Romania became an American citizen in 1978, he also chose a new name. He combined the names of two great Christian influences: Dwight L. Moody, and our own Cliff Barrows.
In a recent interview, the man now known as Dwight Barrows shared how a simple prayer, uttered as a way to test God’s existence, changed his life and why he chose Dwight Barrows as his new name.
Communist oppression in his native country had forced Barrows to seek a new life in the United States in 1973. “Fifteen people defected to the West,” he recalls. “I was one of them. I went to United States Embassy, to the American Embassy in Vienna, and I ask them to come to the United States.”
Barrows says the officials were not yet prepared to approve his emigration on that day. “I came out the embassy into the very busy, big city of Vienna and I say, ‘Lord, if what my parents told me for 18 years is true–they’d been Christian–and if You really exist someplace and help me go to the United States, I’ll turn my life to You.’”
A month later, on Oct. 18, 1973, Barrows returned to the American Embassy. He met with a different official this time, a young man who asked if Barrows was a Christian. “I say, ‘Yes, I guess I am. I was born in a Christian home.’”
After explaining that being born in a Christian home does not make a person a Christian, the official gave the young Romanian man his very first Bible and a biography about Dwight L. Moody. Then he approved Barrows’ passage to the United States.
“I still have that Bible in my house,” says Barrows.
After arriving in America, the young man kept his promise to God in the back of his mind, but didn’t act on it. “I got a good job at the Ford company in Detroit, Michigan, and after three years I forgot about it.”
God, however, did not forget Barrows. On a sunny Sunday afternoon, the young man felt compelled to visit Pontiac Stadium: “I heard it was a nice building and on Sept. 22, 1976, I went. Oh the traffic and the buses!”
It turns out that Billy Graham was there that day, holding a Crusade.
A fellow Romanian introduced Barrows to the man whose surname he later adopted. “He took me up to Cliff Barrows, and Cliff Barrows asked me, he say, ‘Are you saved?’ And I say, ‘Uh-oh, you’re the second American to ask me that.’ And I say, ‘Oh, I’m not sure.’ He say, ‘Oh brother, we can solve this right now.’ Right there in five, 10 minutes he led me to Christ.”
On the last night of the Crusade, Barrows walked forward to receive Jesus as his savior.
Two years later, when he became an American citizen, he officially adopted the name Dwight Barrows. And he kept the promise he made to God–to live his life for the Lord. He has built a strong ministry since those early days, especially among fellow Romanians living in the United States.
“Now I work more or less like an evangelist,” says Barrows. “I work with so many Romanians…we have a Romanian Baptist Association in the United States. We have about 56 churches. I work a lot with the Romanian people from the republic of Moldova.”
When Franklin Graham preached the gospel in Romania a couple of years ago, the Festival stirred memories of an earlier Graham visit. “Yes, I followed very closely,” says Barrows. “I knew when brother Billy Graham was there in Romania. Romanian secret police were behind Billy Graham 24 hours a day–to find something, to say something, to catch him with something.”
The police found nothing bad to about Mr. Graham. And now, says Barrows, they in fact praise him. “Unbelievable! For the Romanian government to talk about Billy Graham today, now in 2011. They say he’s America’s number one preacher; he was in the White House under [many] American presidents; his ministry…what a beautiful, beautiful legacy for Billy Graham Crusades!”
On April 2, Barrows had the opportunity to meet once more with his namesake. As the two men tearfully greeted one another at the Billy Graham Library, Dwight said to Cliff, “Oh God bless you, brother! This is a dream come true to see you again. And I wish you a very happy birthday on Wednesday and for God’s blessings always.”
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