How many people do you know who have worked together — and still remain friends — for 62 years? Long-time pals Cliff Barrows and George Beverly Shea fit the bill. On Sept. 21, the legendary duo graced the stage at the Lowcountry Franklin Graham Festival.
Music has always played a significant role in the Billy Graham Crusades, and now in Franklin Graham Festivals and Will Graham Celebrations. “The Christian faith is a singing faith, and a good way to express it and share it with others is in community singing,” says Mr. Barrows.
Both he and Mr. Shea have ministered alongside all three generations of Grahams.
A few days prior to the Lowcountry Festival, we had the privilege of asking these distinguished gentlemen about their long service to the Lord and to this ministry. Read their answers:
Q: Obviously, you have performed at many Crusades and Festivals. After all these years, why do you still do it?
Cliff Barrows: It’s a ministry we’ve been called to. I like to think of the charge given to the men who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. It is guarded 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When the departing guards leave, they say to the ones coming on duty, “Orders remain unchanged.”
When God called us as a team, Bev Shea and Billy and myself, he called us to be faithful and to preach the Gospel, to go into all the world. He never put a termination point on it.
And as long as we have the physical strength and the energy to do it, we feel we still need to be using what talent and gifts and strength we have to carry it out. So coming to Charleston is just fulfilling the orders “Go into all the world” and preach and sing the Gospel. We’ve not had those order changed.
A key Scripture here is 2 Corinthians 4:1 – “It is God Himself in His mercy who has given us this wonderful work of telling the good news to others, so we never give up.” (Living Bible)
George Beverly Shea: At the age of 99, one would not expect to receive invitations to appear on Festival platforms, or at Cove Celebrations, to lift up songs in praise to our precious Lord who called me, it would seem in the long ago, to this very sacred task.
And so, on this date [of Sept. 16], there are four such opportunities in the next two weeks. A phone call or a letter arriving today may call this old psalm singer to action, beyond what is known at the moment. What a privilege to respond, even though it is known that there are limitations from the piling up of the years.
Q: Can you tell us what it means to you to have been brothers in Christ for such a long time?
Cliff Barrows: It has been a great privilege for us. We are co-laborers together with Him. And it has been because of the mandate upon Mr. Graham and his desire to preach the gospel and go into all the world that he has invited Bev and I to join with him for 62 years. I’ve never once doubted his calling or our calling. As a team that has functioned together for a long period of time, you begin to know one another, and know how the other person responds. I consider it a great privilege.
George Beverly Shea: There have been the separations between the BGEA Crusades and being at home working on mail with having the wonderful feeling of being with family. But when the calendar calls us into action for that plane ride to next crusade city, we really look forward to seeing our “brothers in Christ” again … being with them, having our prayer times together, before lifting up the Savior’s name at the podium once again.
Q: You have worked with three generations of Grahams. What are some of the similarities between father, son, and grandson … between past Crusades and current Festivals?
Cliff Barrows: Of course the obvious similarity is that they all have the last name (chuckling), but they are different. They are their own people. The one remaining constant is the message they proclaim. The methods may vary – and they have varied through the years – songs have varied, ways of worship have changed a little bit.
But one will note that the invitation is the same – to receive Christ, to make a public profession of your faith. The one constant is “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have ever lasting life.”
I think the younger generations have much to emulate as they look at [Billy Graham’s] life, his leadership, how he encourages people. We are grateful that the message has remained the same and that’s what we are committed to.
George Beverly Shea: Three generations of Grahams! Each one being so anointed of God for the ministry to which they have been called. There may be some differences, and yet each of the three – so recognizably anointed by their loving Savior. Lifting Him up to the thousands, whose faces they look into in the stadiums here in our homeland, or in the regions beyond.
Q: Billy Graham will celebrate his 90th birthday on November 7. What would you like to say to Mr. Graham on his upcoming birthday?
Cliff Barrows: To our brother and co-laborer Billy Graham, a very wonderful and happy 90th birthday. The older you get, though we kind of make light of it at times, we say, “Well, we’re not going to have any more.” But the years keep rolling around and, as long as God gives His help and strength to endure them, and to look forward to the next year, we rejoice.
And this is true with Bill. I’m so grateful for the privilege of wishing him a very happy and wonderful birthday. And I would give him the benediction in the Word of God: “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”
May this coming year of expectancy and joy and blessed hope that we’ll soon be finally home lift your heart and brighten your day. I say with all my heart, to my very dear precious friend and colleague, “Happy, Happy Birthday!”
George Beverly Shea: What a joy to acknowledge the birthday of a friend and neighbor. He will be smiling on his birthday, and rejoicing in the Lord’s presence in every waking moment. Ah yes, and he will be remembering dear Ruth, knowing that she is rejoicing too.
Let us rejoice in this day, when God’s loving servant is yet saying: “Dear Lord, it’s my birthday, and I am 90, but I’m still reporting for duty.”