For many people, he is the voice of their salvation. If you came to Christ at a Billy Graham Crusade (more than 3.2 million have), you most likely returned night after night, and the voice, other than Billy’s, that became familiar to you was that velvety baritone voice of soloist George Beverly Shea, and there wasn’t a night that Bev Shea didn’t sing “How Great Thou Art” backed up by hundreds of voices in the Crusade Choir.
Bev Shea, the man with the woman’s nickname, died Tuesday. He was 104.
O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made…
It was his signature song, and when I watch the YouTube video of that song from a 1969 New York crusade, and the applause dies down after this song, I’m ready to hear Billy. This was usually the song right before he spoke. Either one of those voices and I’m a dead duck. I want to go forward. Start “Just As I Am” and I’ll start walking.
Yet as warm and inviting as these memories are, my wife reminds me that they are from an era gone by. Chandler, even Christopher and Anne, don’t have the same attraction. Not because they don’t get it, but because it’s not for their generation. I notice that nobody has taken Billy’s place as the premiere world evangelist. I don’t think that’s because God slipped up. I think it’s because He has a different plan now.
Is that sad? Not necessarily. Not if you and I take Billy’s place. Not if we believe that the real evangelical movement is led by Christians walking alongside others. That’s where the gospel gets concrete. It’s Christ through your life and mine, being spilled out as we walk along the way. There’s no signature song for this – there are millions of songs that can work — and the message is always tailored to the times because it is coming through a personal relationship.
Even with a Billy Graham Crusade, there was a good deal of walking alongside going on. Many of those who came forward were brought by someone else, and everyone who went forward talked to someone and were encouraged to find a church and get in relationship with other Christians.
So in a real way, you and I are picking up the mantle. We just might not get a YouTube video of ourselves.
In the meantime, George Beverly Shea has gotten the wish he’s been singing about for 60 years:
When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!
You’re home, Bev. Sing it!