4: Cliff Barrows

4: Cliff Barrows

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 4 •

Mr. Graham’s devoted friend and his longtime music and program director, and radio host of Hour of Decision

I’ve had the joy of working with Billy Graham most of my life, from the time I was twenty-two years old and first met him in North Carolina in 1945. On our honeymoon my new wife and I went to a Bible conference. It was a youth meeting on a Saturday night and the place was full. But the director of the conference said they couldn’t start the meeting because they didn’t have a song leader. The man who had taken us there said, “I can help you. I have a young couple here. He leads the singing and she plays the piano.” He turned to us and said, “You’ll help out, won’t you?” I said, “If we can, we’ll be happy to do so.”

Billy Graham was standing there and he said, “Well, come on Cliff. We won’t be choosy! Let’s go!”

We started the service and had a wonderful time. That was the beginning of our work together. At the time I thought I might want to go on to seminary, but my wife and I prayed that the Lord would show us the right path. He definitely did and assured us, “You will be happy leading the singing for Billy, and I’ll take care of the preaching end.”

A year later on a bright morning in Philadelphia, I told Billy about this. He put his arm around me, smiled, and said, “Cliff, this is wonderful! Let’s pray that the Lord will keep us together till He calls us home, or until He comes again.” I said, “I’ll be happy to go anywhere. I’ll carry your suitcases. I’ll do whatever you want me to do. I’ll just be grateful to be in the ministry with you.”

That’s how Billy and I began our work together in those early days in Youth for Christ meetings. It wasn’t until 1950 that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was formally created and we began broadcasting the Hour of Decision radio program.

It’s been almost seventy years since then. We’ve been together all that time, and I never once doubted this was what the Lord wanted me to do. We’ve been in 185 countries and territories around the world, speaking to 215 million people face to face, and nearly three million have come forward in a public commitment to make a decision for Christ.

There are so many stories I could tell about the wonderful things that have happened in those years, but two stories come to mind right now.

It was 1966 and we were to travel to England shortly for our meeting at the Earl’s Court Arena in London. We had been in London twelve years before at the Harringay meetings, which were outstanding and touched the whole United Kingdom and also much of Europe.

Billy had been reading The Times and other newspapers so he could get up to date on what was happening in England and make his message relevant to the people. Some of the young reporters were recalling the meetings in Harringay. They’d heard about the big response when hundreds of people came forward at the invitation. They also knew that we sang the song, “Just As I Am,” and automatically attributed the response, not to the preaching, but to the emotion generated by the song.

With this in mind, Billy called me on the phone from his home in Montreat. He was disturbed by what he had read. He wanted everyone to know that it was not the music, but the Spirit of God, that spoke to the hearts of the people. He said to me, “I have a suggestion. Let’s prepare the choir to sing or not sing. You have the choir ready and if I want the song, I’ll say we’re going to sing ‘Just As I Am.’ But if I don’t want it, I won’t call for it. So don’t begin the song until I call for it.”

That first night at Earl’s Court Billy preached his heart out. There was a real sense of the presence of God. When he finished he said, “We are not going to have any music tonight. There’ll be no singing. But if the Spirit of God is speaking to your heart, then right where you are, just stand in your place, and make your way out to the aisle. Come down to the center through the side aisles and stand here in front of the platform.” He stood back and said, “Now, you come.”

For about fifteen seconds nobody moved. And that’s a long time. Then all of a sudden a seat squeaked, and then another, and another. Then hundreds of people began to stand. They walked to the aisle, shuffled down the long wooden floor that had been put down to cover the turf, and stood at the front.

We went thirty nights without a single note of the hymn, “Just As I Am,” which has been the signature tune of our crusades through the years. We had never done that before. When the reporters began to write about the invitation at Earl’s Court, they said that all they heard was a shuffling of feet on the floor. “Bring back ‘Just As I Am!’ The silence is killing us!” they wrote.

I think this is very significant because Billy was always concerned about not giving an appeal at the end of his message that would awaken people’s emotions and get them stirred up. He didn’t want them to make an emotional decision but a clear-headed one, based on the message they had heard. He wanted the Spirit of God to speak to their hearts. He pointed out that Jesus said, “Whoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32). Billy emphasized that need for a public decision all through the years I’ve been with him.

The second story that comes to mind took place nearly two decades later in 1984. We were again in England but this time in Sunderland. We had a mission across England that year called “Mission England” and we took the crusade to various cities.

Sunderland was just off the North Sea, and this was the coldest crusade we ever had. I’m talking about weather! The wind came off the sea and it was freezing. Billy had on his long johns, suit, sweater, overcoat, hat and gloves most of the time. He had never preached like that before but he did during that crusade.

On the last day of the crusade in the afternoon there were two beautiful elderly ladies, obviously very dear friends, who came early so they would have a good seat. They sat up in the balcony under the cover, carrying a little tea basket. Of course, for the English, high tea was one of the prime times of the day, and these two ladies took the time to unwrap their cookies and sandwiches. They got out their tea, poured it and were enjoying it when the service began.

Toward the end of the service, these two ladies began to put their papers and wrappings back in the basket. When Billy gave the invitation, one of them got up to come forward. “What are you doing?” the other lady said. The first lady replied, “I’m going to go forward and give my heart to Jesus.” And the other lady said, “Wait, you can’t go to heaven without me! I’m coming too!”

And they both came down to the front. It was so beautiful. They were such dear friends, obviously knew each other very well, and did things together. They made that journey to the crusade in Sunderland together as a real outing.

People did that. They came early to get a good seat, brought a little lunch or snack, and would sit on the grass or the beach until it was time for the service to begin. Often they would come back the next day and bring their friends. We’ve heard story after story of people who went to a crusade, brought their friends the next day, and then those friends came to Christ.

That is the way we are with our Christian witness. When God has done something for us, we let that be known to our friends, and we bring them along. Some of them are “found” because we invited them and showed an interest in them.

All these years it has been such a privilege to work with Billy Graham. Like the apostle Paul, who wrote to the Corinthians, “Our heart is enlarged… be you also enlarged” (2 Corinthians 6:11-13). Billy too is a man with a heart enlarged for the world. His only desire has been to preach the Gospel everywhere, to preach the good news that there is hope for the lost. I have tears of joy and gratitude to the Lord for the privilege of working with such a man who cares so deeply about people, who has a passion for saving souls, and who, over the course of his long life, has given his heart to the world.

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