A tear fell down Trisha Saunders’ cheek when she heard the news: George Beverly Shea had passed away at 104.
“I loved his voice,” the 68-year-old Hillsboro resident said. “The quality and tone of his voice is like no one else’s in the world. He had a way of bringing the Gospel message to your ears, and having your heart respond.”
Saunders is just one of thousands who heard George Beverly Shea sing during Billy Graham’s evangelistic services. While people came to hear the noted evangelist, they often were touched just as much by Shea. Considered “America’s best-loved Gospel singer,” he always drew a crowd. Throughout his career, Shea sang and composed numerous well-known hymns.
At 15, Saunders turned on the TV whenever it was allowed. She loved watching her favorite programs. Then, one night, she was changing the stations when a man’s deep voice made her stop and listen.
“He sang ‘How Great Thou Art’ that night,” she said. “I had never heard anyone sing like that before. It was powerful.”
Her curiosity was piqued. So, grabbing a bowl of freshly made popcorn, she sat on the living room couch to listen to the services. Shea’s singing only lasted for a few more moments and then Billy Graham stepped on the stage.
“I was a little disappointed,” she said. “I could have listened to that man sing for hours.”
As she looked across the room, she saw her reflection in the wall mirror — and what she saw surprised her: tears.
“I never cried before that, not really,” she said. “But somehow that music spoke to me and I broke down. I knew something in me was changing, but I just didn’t know what it was.”
For the rest of the hour, Saunders sat bawling her eyes out before the TV. Each word Graham spoke made her realize that she was a sinner and needed God in her life. And then, when the service was almost over, Graham read one verse that changed her life forever: John 3:16.
“It was so powerful and real to me,” she said. “‘God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son that whomsoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.’ As soon as I heard that, I knew I wanted it.”
Saunders knew nothing about religion or Christianity. She just knew that she wanted Jesus to come live in her heart. So, when Graham led everyone in the prayer of salvation, she knew she needed to do it.
So, right there, in the privacy of her own living room, she knelt down on her knees.
“I knew I was a sinner and believed that Jesus Christ was Lord and would save me from eternal death. So, I asked him to come live in my heart.”
Wiping the tears from her face, she got up off the floor, feeling completely new for the first time in her life: she felt joy, unspeakable, and knew she would burst if she didn’t tell someone about it.
Running into the kitchen, where her mother was just finishing the dishes, she told her mother about her decision. Instantly, her mother’s eyes brightened. She crossed the room and hugged Saunders so hard she said she could barely breathe.
“Welcome to the family,” her mother whispered in her ear amid the “happy tears” the two shared.
Now, some 40 years later, Saunders looks back on the day with fond memories.
“God will use anything to bring His children to Him,” she said. “For me, it was George Beverly Shea. I owe it all to him.”