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The Story and the Song: A Tribute to Cliff Barrows by Dr. Ravi Zacharias

( [email protected] ) Nov 18, 2016 03:24 PM EST

The man who got the world to sing, "This is my story, this is my song," is now face to face with the One whose story he sang around the world. Cliff Barrows, Billy Graham's song leader, died at the age of 93, having lived a life of preaching and music, the likes of which very few have lived.

Cliff was a dear and treasured friend. When he lived in Atlanta, it was our privilege to have him and Ann at our home and listen to stories of their ministry that would go late into the night. On one occasion, the timers were going off one after another and his lovely wife, Ann, said, "Dear, I think we're past their bed time." We turned the lights back on because the stories were as unique as they were enchanting. I marveled at his memory: how the team almost missed a flight in Bangkok thirty years ago, what they had to eat in Nagaland forty years ago, and so on. They were stories of one of the greatest evangelistic teams the world has ever known; Billy Graham was the man behind whom they stood. It was a team of extraordinary proportions that has served several generations with integrity and anointing. How can one better that example?

Cliff Barrows
(Photo : BGEA)
Cliff Barrows directing the congregation in song during a Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s conference in Amsterdam in 1986.

One of the most extraordinary stories about him he actually didn't know until I told him. He had tears coming down his face as he heard it.

Some years ago, I was speaking at a television taping with the late James Kennedy. At the end of it, a gentleman came forward and thanked me for the thoughts shared and introduced himself with a rich Eastern European accent as Dwight Barrows. I asked him where he was from, and he said, "Originally from Romania, now studying theology in Florida." "How does a Romanian get a name like Dwight Barrows?" I asked.

It was a long story. During the oppressive days of the dictator Ceausescu, he succeeded in a daring escape from his country and arrived in Vienna, Austria, hoping to get a visa to the United States. But he kept getting turned down. Still, he returned each day and repeated his request to see the ambassador. Finally he was allowed in because of his sheer persistence. The ambassador gave him a patient hearing and somehow felt truly sorry for him. He said he would get him the visa and in a step of caring for his soul, also presented him with two books, suggesting those books could change his life: a Bible and a biography, The Life of D.L. Moody.

The man took them, made a promise, and started to read but never completed the biography. He got a job in the automotive industry in Detroit. Periodically he would read the Bible and every now and then would feel a twinge of guilt for not keeping his word to the ambassador. Out of sheer loneliness, he began drinking heavily and lost his way in life. Alcohol became his escape.

One day as he wandered aimlessly in the evening hours, he saw a massive crowd coming out of the Pontiac Silverdome. Thousands were exiting. He thought it was a football game and wandered in wondering what the stadium looked like. To his surprise it wasn't a football game. It was a Billy Graham Crusade. He walked around the arena and ended up near the platform, where he saw people folding chairs and putting them away. One of them looked at him and said, "May I help you?" The man said he was just curious about what the event was all about. The gentleman on the platform sat him down and several minutes later, led him to Jesus Christ. He was so convicted and transformed by God's grace that he went back to his room, picked up D.L. Moody's story again, started reading the Bible again, and one day asked to be baptized.

The man who had led him to Christ on the platform was Cliff Barrows. So when he was baptized, he took the first name of Dwight Moody and the last name of Cliff Barrows. Hence, the Romanian with the name Dwight Barrows. I smile even as I retell it.

When Cliff heard that story, he said, "I remember that happening because it was so unusual." His eyes filled with tears and his face radiated with gratitude to God. Years later as he wrote his memoirs, Cliff phoned me and asked how he could connect with Dwight Barrows. With the little details I had, I gave them to him, and amazingly, they made contact. What a story! What a beautiful witness from the man who led millions to sing for our Savior. That's what genuine sainthood is about. Not what happens in the public arena but one's witness even when nobody is watching.

Cliff Barrows
(Photo : BGEA)
Cliff Barrows, Billy Graham and George Beverly Shea singing “This Little Light of Mine” in Sunderland, England in 1984.
Cliff Barrows
(Photo: BGEA)
Cliff Barrows and George Beverly Shea singing “How Great Thou Art” during the 1980 Indianapolis, Indiana, Billy Graham Crusade.

Cliff is now living to the fullest. 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, "Eye has not seen, ear has not heard; neither has entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him."

Cliff's earthly address was on "Melody Lane." His heavenly address is the coming together of story and song and so may well be called "The Grand Amen."

With scores of others, I will miss him. God comfort you, dear Ann, and the rest of the family.

We will see you again, dear Cliff. Thank you for your affectionate friendship that always encouraged my own heart and touched millions. You were, and forever will be, greatly loved.

Cliff Barrows
(Photo : BGEA)
The man who got the world to sing, “This is my story, this is my song,” is now face to face with the One whose story he sang around the world.

Reprinted by permission of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, www.rzim.org. For more information on Cliff Barrows' Memorial, visit https://cliffbarrowsmemorial.org/

Tags : Ravi Zacharias, Cliff Barrows, BGEA, Billy Graham, Gospel, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association