Flanked by long-time ministry partners Cliff Barrows and George Beverly Shea, Mr. Graham reminisced about special Crusade moments and expressed gratitude to God during an event celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
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“The thing that I remember most from all these years is that our God answers prayers,” said Mr. Graham. “We did all of this for only one reason– to glorify Christ, to present the person of the Lord Jesus Christ to people who needed Him. I want to thank Him again tonight for what He did on all those occasions.”
After a number of influential revival meetings, including the 1949 “Christ for Greater Los Angeles Campaign” that lasted eight weeks and vaulted Graham and his associates into the national spotlight, the team decided to formally incorporate in 1950 as the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA).
Its headquarters were in Minneapolis, Minn., where Graham was then serving as the president of Northwestern College. The organization moved in 2003 to Graham’s hometown of Charlotte.
None of the men that helped Billy Graham launch BGEA in 1950 – George Wilson, Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea, T.W. Wilson, Grady Wilson and others – had any idea then that it would one day become one of the largest and most established evangelistic ministries in the world.
“I never even expected to be a gospel singer,” said George Beverly Shea, his eyes twinkling and voice booming at 101. “I was just a radio announcer. It’s been a great privilege to be part of BGEA. I can’t describe the thrill of it. I am grateful that the Lord has enabled me to do this.”
Cliff Barrows said, “We’ve had marvelous fellowship as a team. We’ve been knit together with Bill’s heart. The apostle Paul said, ‘We, then, as partners together with Christ….’ Well, we have been a team of partners. That has been one of Bill’s great strong points. He needed people who shared his conviction, his calling and the desire to preach—or sing—the Gospel.”
Barrows jokingly one day said to Mr. Graham: “When we get to heaven, you’re going to be out of a job, but Bev Shea and I won’t. We’ll go on singing.” Then Bill smiled and replied, “When I get to heaven, I am going to sing like Bev Shea.”
“It’s a marvelous thing to be knit together in heart,” Barrows continued. “I’ve been with Bill 65 years and we’ve never had one word of disagreement or one argument. Now that’s an amazing thing. That’s his grace and God’s goodness and I praise Him for it. To have the fellowship of the team means everything, because we encourage one another. We are so privileged to be co-laborers together with Christ. Bill has a great heart for team ministry and BGEA is a ministry built on a team relationship.”
As the men reunited on stage, Barrows asked Mr. Graham to share memories about past Crusades. Talking about the New York City meetings in 1957, Graham acknowledged he struggled with tremendous fatigue about half way through the long summer.
“I would ask the Lord for strength for just one more day and He would give it to me,” Graham recalled. “I had the prayer support of the team – and we were a team. It was a wonderful experience to go to that platform and know that these men were back there praying.”
Graham continued, “One thing I’d like to say is that all the glory and the praise for anything we have done or will do goes to Jesus who died on the cross and rose again and who is standing to welcome us to heaven. I am looking forward to that day when I’ll be in heaven and I’ll see Ruth again. How I loved that woman. She had a big part in all of this that we are celebrating tonight.
“She was the most wonderful woman who ever lived,” he added. “She walked with God and she loved Him with all her heart. She lived for the Lord and lived in the Word. And she taught her children too what it’s all about to follow Christ.”
Graham said he was proud of all his children. “I am very proud of Franklin. I thank God for his leadership. It’s been tremendous the influence he has on my life and on thousands of others all over the world. I am thankful God gave me Franklin.”
Continuing to thank those who have made a difference in the past 60 years, Graham said he especially wanted to thank anyone who has contributed financially and supported the ministry in prayer. “I want to thank everybody concerned. People like you who have contributed through your gifts and your prayers–that made it all possible. God bless all of you. I love you.”
The Next 60 Years
As his father concluded speaking, Franklin also expressed gratitude: “We thank God not only for what He has done in the past 60 years, but also for what He will do in the next 60 years if the Lord tarries–for the opportunities we have to preach and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ literally around the world.
“The whole purpose of the BGEA–for my father and his team over these years–is to take the simple message of God’s love and share it with a world that does not know. And we have seen over the years millions of people give their lives to Christ. We give God the honor. We give Him the glory.”
Barrow pointed out that in the BGEA headquarters, “We have the names of over 9 million people who have made decisions for Christ. That’s what our BGEA is all about. Franklin has made that very clear. We are grateful for the Good News. The Gospel is good news.”
Will Graham–Franklin’s son and Billy’s grandson–is grateful for that wonderful heritage. “The early team helped put that foundation into place and God, I believe, has honored that foundation. God’s grace has allowed this ministry to continue. These men put Jesus first in all that they did, early in their careers, and faithfully proclaimed the Good News.”
For the next 60 years and beyond, said Will, “I hope each and every day at the BGEA, we’ll take time to win at least one person for Christ. To take every possible means that we can, whatever medium we can, and proclaim the Good News.”
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