With each passing year the name “Billy Graham” becomes less recognizable to the younger folks. This seems strange to those of us who grew up watching Graham’s crusades on t.v., reading his Decision magazine, buying his books, hearing all about the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and thinking of him as “America’s pastor.” To paraphrase a line from Exodus 1:8 and put a modern spin on it, a generation is arising that does not know Graham.
Similarly, any generation that does not know Billy Graham doesn’t know Cliff Barrows either. He was Graham’s right-hand man for close to fifty years, serving as Graham’s song leader for his crusades and as the host of Graham’s weekly Hour of Decision radio program. The two traveled the world together and became as close as brothers. Barrows died in 2016 at the age of 93. Graham died in 2018 at the age of 99.
The story of how Barrows began working with Graham is a classic example of God’s providence. In 1945, Barrows and his fiancee, Billie, scraped together enough money for a simple wedding, two train tickets, and a honeymoon in a resort hotel in Asheville, North Carolina. When they arrived at the hotel, however, they learned that it had been shut down. So there they were, newlyweds, stranded in a strange town, with no room and little money.
They didn’t even have a destination in mind when they thumbed a ride and happened to be picked up by a sympathetic local. He drove them to a grocery store that was owned by a woman he knew. She had a vacant room directly above her store. That’s where Cliff and Billie spent the night, in a room above a grocery store in a strange town.
The next day Cliff pulled out his trombone and began playing Christian songs. Not only was the store owner impressed with his musical talent, she took a liking to the young couple and arranged for them to spend the rest of their honeymoon at a friend’s house. Several days later that friend invited the couple to attend a Youth for Christ rally in Asheville. The featured speaker at the rally was a twenty-six-year-old evangelist named Billy Graham.
After arriving at the rally, Barrows learned that the song leader/piano player was sick and Graham was looking for a volunteer to fill in that night. Barrows’ name was submitted to Graham, and Barrows was awarded the job when Graham grabbed both of his hands and said, “No time to be choosy!” That’s how the two men first met, and that meeting began a lifetime ministry partnership that became the stuff of evangelistic legend.
Was it chance that brought those two men together? Fate? Destiny? Blind luck? Nope. It was a sovereign God who knows how to turn unplanned meetings into divine encounters. That’s why we shouldn’t question Him or get mad at Him when our plans get upset and things don’t go like we expect them to go. We never fully know what He is up to in our lives, and His plans can be infinitely greater than anything we would ever dare plan for ourselves. As the Bible says in Ephesians 3:20-21:
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (N.K.J.V.)