(Moved over from previous faculty website; originally written about 1999)
Memories of Growing Up in Morgantown - by Louis F. Morgan
This morning I rested under the shade of a tree and listened to the sounds of nature while gentle breezes swept through the air. I watched as two squirrels ran across the branches of a nearby tree and a few children raced their bicycles down a narrow road. It was quite refreshing to be back in the country village of Morgantown on this Saturday morning and enjoying God’s creation following a busy week of the city’s fast pace. As I sat and watched the things transpiring around me, I was carried back to only a few years ago (because I am still a youngster!) during my childhood in Morgantown. Scenes of the not-so-distant past raced through my mind as I recalled special times shared with my family and friends in a small village that is still so much a part of me, even though I now live and work almost 500 miles away.
Despite my present distance of separation from Morgantown, I often find myself deeply interwoven with the memories of growing up there. The strong sense of faith and family values that were instilled in me ever reminds me of what should be my boundaries and goals. Remembering the many who have cared for me and sacrificed to help me as a friend encourages me to do the same for others. Whether I am at work on the job, enjoying a fishing trip, working in the yard, or spending time with friends, there is always a silent understanding that who I am and what I am becoming has been shaped by my childhood in Marion County and the many days of youthful freedom spent roaming the streets of a quiet neighborhood.
Each day after school I would immediately run to my great-grandmother’s house where I would have a nice snack awaiting me. Granny and I would share a laugh or two as she told me about long ago and I learned a few things about life. Some days I’d join a few friends and we would build forts in the woods near the railroad tracks, go swimming at the creek, and play outside until it was time for “supper.” I’d also visit with my other great-grandparents. I will always remember how “Big-O-Mama” could make you feel special as love constantly radiated through her. She possessed a meek spirit and quiet personality, and the Christ-life was evident in her words and actions. Often she would whistle a tune of praise that I could recognize as a “church song.” I also remember how she and “Big-O-Daddy” waited on my father to get home from his week-long work shift in the Gulf. Big-O-Mama would stand in the doorway and watch for his truck to pull into the drive.
My other grandparents would occasionally visit in our home as well. My grandfather Fortenberry, or “Grandpa Rosebud” as I called him, always had a joke to tell and something to say to bring you laughter. Grandma Odie taught me how to play dominoes and was a wonderful cook. Grandma and Grandpa Lee always encouraged me in my faith and seemed to appreciate any achievement that I obtained.
Weekends were always exciting times, too. My bicycle carried me several miles as I made visits to the store, homes of my relatives and neighbors, and the creek. I also found time to walk the railroad, many times being forced to hide under the trestle until a coming train had passed. My weekend ritual began early Saturday morning as I watched cartoons on television. Then I usually ran barefoot through the grass and across the road to my grandfather’s country store. Sitting on an old church pew holding a bottle full of Coca-Cola and peanuts, I listened intently as older men and women discussed the weather, politics and religion. You see, shortly before ten o’clock every Saturday morning my grandfather, who was also the community postmaster, began filling the mailboxes that were located in the family’s country store. Before my grandfather’s task was completed a large crowd had generally filled the store, and sometimes they even erupted into “heated” debates over differing opinions of the day’s topic.
When the excitement subsided and I grew tired of the store, I would ride my bike down the few streets in the community—often stopping to visit with people along the way. I always enjoyed sitting and talking with my neighbors, especially those who offered me things like ice cream, lemonade, cookies and a laugh or two. I learned much from listening to people talk about their life’s experiences.
I remember riding into the field with my grandparents as we checked on the cows or spent time working in the yard, as they lived next door. And how could I ever forget the experience I had when my father first taught me to drive a tractor or when my mother taught me to plant a flower.
I have only recently grown into adulthood, but I have matured enough to really appreciate my family. The relationships with my mother and father have strengthened during the recent years and the little things (time spent together, laughs, and just sharing expressions of gratitude) now have irreplaceable value.
Life seems to take me many places and many changes occur as I continue to mature and travel on this upward path to Heaven. Yet, it has been my faith in Jesus Christ and intimacy with the Holy Spirit that have constantly guided me. Moving away from Morgantown has taught me to appreciate the sense of community there. The world is quite different now from even ten years ago. The simple things—no matter how sincere—are too often overlooked and maybe even shunned. Yet, despite the change in the world, God is still the same and His blessings are ever among us.
Yes, times change. People grow and mature, things once so important no longer matter, and life brings new responsibilities. Disappoints occur and expectations and duties tend to weigh one down. Yet, when life seems to be passing me by I pause and think of the events and people who have meant so much to me. I then know that I have been blessed with two wonderful gifts: faith and family both so closely intertwined in one community.
Maybe one day I will have a family of my own and my children too can enjoy the peaceful, caring environment of Morgantown. But until the day that I am overcome by that deep, inner drawing back to my roots, I will continue to take a part of Morgantown with me where ever I go.
(Moved over from previous faculty website; originally written in 2000)
Moving Forward with Pioneer Vision - by Louis F. Morgan
Pioneers are individuals who brave fierce obstacles to enter new territory and prepare paths for others to follow, and "Aunt Mollie," as she was affectionately known, was truly a pioneer. At 105, she was the oldest Christian I knew. She was also the oldest Pentecostal in my hometown.
One of the first people to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit in the area where my family and I lived, Aunt Mollie was a Pentecostal pioneer who blazed the trail for multitudes that followed. Eighty years later she was still overflowing with zeal for the Lord and a passion for souls. She spent countless hours in intercessory prayer and constantly told others about Jesus.
What was the secret to Aunt Mollie's maintaining her pioneer vision and press-forward mind-set, even at her advanced age? I have no doubt that it was because she constantly walked in a fresh encounter with God.
At a time when many had grown cold in their experience with God and had settled for tradition rather than relationship, one woman could not forget her initial encounter with God in a meeting under a brush arbor. Indeed, it was so powerful she could not be content to let it end there. She frequently explained that God continually drew her nearer to Himself and revealed even greater truths and understanding as she walked obediently before Him.
Although she most humbly submitted herself to the godly counsel of those over her in the Lord, Aunt Mollie was not governed by the philosophies of individuals. Rather, she searched the Word, devoted herself to prayer, and sought to be led by the Holy Spirit in all her actions.
Revering the Past
We are right to look back on our heritage with genuine respect and admiration for the profound way those before us served one another in love. But we must not, we dare not, fall into the trap of attempting to live in the blessings of yesterday.
The Holy Spirit directs men and women now just as He has in the past, and He wills that men and women continue to move forward in the freshness of His Spirit--a freshness that produces clean hearts and equips the church to reach the harvest.
At the turn of the century when R. G. Spurling organized numerous churches in the mountainous regions of North Carolina and Tennessee, he was moving against the current of organized religion's lethargic creeds and the status quo ideology of many of his neighbors. He pressed forward and broke new ground as directed by the Holy Spirit.
Insisting on the importance of fellowship within a local congregation and the New Testament as his only rule of faith and practice, Spurling was as a voice on the mountainside crying for a revival of unity and love within the Body. His vision included returning to the basics of the Bible and maintaining a personal relationship with God.
The Holy Spirit used Spurling in carrying out His plan to move the church forward in spiritual liberty and truth--much like the Anabaptists, martin Luther, John Wesley, and others before him. Had Spurling felt less passionately about his God-ordained mission, the Christian Union, which gave birth to the Church of God, probably never would have been established.
God found in Spurling an obedient servant; consequently, other men and women received the vision and continued to press forward against the tendency to exchange relationship for inert religion.
Appropriating the Example
Learning from the powerful examples of the past, the church must continue to move forward with the life-transforming message of Jesus Christ until all have heard the wonderful story of His grace. Just as the pioneering R. G. Spurling did for his generation more than 100 years ago, it is imperative that the church move beyond the focus of yesterday's tradition and align our sights on Christ.
As we enter a new millennium, it is necessary for us to gain an appreciation for diversity in all areas of ministry--which may not look or sound exactly as it did yesterday. But neither did it at the beginning of this century when our forebears embraced holiness and Pentecostalism. neither did it when the Charismatic renewal spread throughout the world during the 1960s.
It is evident, however, that each brought renewal to the body of Christ, and together they are now the fastest-growing force within Christianity. Sincere seekers must never be satisfied with tradition that has become stale, for it is in the freshness of God's Spirit that transformation is accomplished and the Great Commission fulfilled.
We cannot afford to remain still and become lost in this era of constant change. By reaffirming our dependency on God, obedience to the Word, consecrated devotion, Spirit-led living and earnest prayer, the body of believers known as the Church of God must rise to the task that lies ahead.
Through proper training, godly counsel, and walking in unity and love, the ministry (both laity and clergy) can be better prepared to overcome any physical or spiritual obstacle that would hinder the work of the Lord.
Aunt Mollie has since passed on to her eternal reward, but she left a powerful testimony and example for others. The Church of God, to which she was devoted, can gain from her testimony.
A Fresh Encounter
It is good for the Church of God to reflect on its past blessings, but past blessings will not sustain us! We must be thankful for the powerful way God has revealed Himself to us in the past while moving forward in the power of the Holy Spirit. Like the pioneering vision that birthed our fellowship and has victoriously guided us until now, we must maintain the compelling force to move forward.
Our future ministry of effectively winning souls to Christ depends on the decisions we make today. We must not allow ourselves to become sidetracked in the routines of yesterday or by debating nonessential issues. Rather, let us maintain a movement mentality, walking in a fresh refilling of God's Spirit and pressing forward with the goal of winning the world for Jesus Christ.
Editor's note: Louis F. Morgan has a keen appreciation for the church's heritage while welcoming the refreshing winds of change brought by the Holy Spirit today as he serves as archivist at the church's Hal Bernard Dixon Jr. Pentecostal Research Center.
(Published in the September 2000 issue of the Church of God Evangel.)
(Moved over from previous faculty website; originally written in 2001)
Searching For Broken Shells - by Louis F. Morgan
It had been a difficult seven months. The summer workload was extremely heavy, finances were desperately low, and six close relatives had passed away. Needing both inner healing and a vacation, I soon found myself standing on the South Carolina coastline. I peered across the Atlantic, watching the reflection of the sun shining over the water while silently praying to God to use this time to comfort my grieving spirit.
The waves sweeping back and forth over my feet and the gentle breezes blowing across my face refreshed me. As I waded through the incoming tide and walked through the sand, I noticed many beautiful shells. While some were similar, each had its own unique pattern and shape. My troubles diminished as I focused on my newfound happy-- shell searching! I became determined to locate the largest, brightest shell to take back and display on my office desk. It didn't take long, however, to discover that most of the shells were broken.
I'm not looking for broken shells! I thought. I want one that is pretty and whole. As quickly as my mind processed the words, I heard the Lord speak to my spirit: "But I long to receive those that are broken."
Now I understand that the Lord is not interested in "shell searching" but that He seeks to heal hurting people. It matters not to God whether a person's brokenness is spiritual, emotional, financial or even physical. He longs to receive those who have nothing to offer but their brokenness, for it is through such weakness that His strength and power are made perfect as He brings restoration.
Losing the Perfect Ones
In the midst of my revelation, I suddenly caught a glimpse of a prize shell! It was larger than the others nearby and the colors were radiant. There was just one problem: it was rapidly being carried away in the tide! No sooner had I seen the shell than it was gone. It had been within my reach just seconds before, but suddenly it was swept away.
Maybe I was just being "superspiritual," but I immediately related the loss of the shell to the death of my relatives. One week I had spoken to my aunt over the telephone; the next week I attended her funeral. Ot maybe it was like the loss of a lifetime dream. Some people live their lives with hopes and desires that seem to never actualize. Perhaps they come very close to taking hold of their dream, only to watch it vanish before their eyes. Often devastation and brokenness remain. Yet, we have no need to doubt that God loves us, will restore us, and will transform our pain if only we allow Him.
I walked onto that beach with a heavy heart and grieving spirit, but God answered my prayer and brought healing to me as I searched for shells. I listened as the Spirit of the Lord reminded me that He is seeking those with a broken and contrite spirit, and that He has called me to be an instrument of hope and encouragement to others with brokenness in their lives.
Sure, I will miss my relatives, but they left me with the assurance of seeing them again in heaven. Work and finances might be stressful, but I can rely on God's promise that His children will never be forsaken (Psalm 37:25). I understand that my light affliction is but for a moment and is working in me a far greater "weight of glory" (2 Corinthians 4:17).
When I returned from my vacation, I did not bring back a large, beautiful shell to display on my desk. Rather, I returned with wonderful memories, a renewed spirit, and a pocketful of broken shells to remind me of my true purpose and ministry--to do my prat in helping restore others who are broken. How about you? Have you been searching for shells lately?
Editor's note: When not working as archivist at the Dixon Pentecostal Research Center, Louis Morgan enjoys traveling and visiting friends in South Carolina.
(Published in the June 2001 issue of the Church of God Evangel.)
(Moved over from previous faculty website; originally written in 2002)
Saying 'Goodbye' To Granny - by Louis F. Morgan
Growing up in rural Mississippi, my usual past times were playing in the woods and racing my bicycle down a seldom-traveled street. But those things were secondary; my favorite thing to do was spend time with my great-grandmother. “Granny” was my best friend for as long as I can remember. As a child, I could never imagine life without her.
When I was five years old Granny moved into our home and became my roommate. About a year later she moved into a trailer next door, and I spent most every weekend with her until I entered high school. Granny and I were a pair. Each day following school she had a snack awaiting me. We talked about our day’s activities as we ate, and then we watched television together. After that I listened as Granny shared stories about her life’s experiences. Through Granny’s love for me, the Lord let me experience a measure of His unconditional love. I am forever thankful.
Granny also taught me many things, such as how to cook, buy groceries, plant trees, wash clothes, research genealogy, balance a checkbook, and thousands of other things. I often drove her to town, the doctor’s office, or for rides in the country to her old home place. To say the least, I was her pride and joy. She always called me her “heart.”
She also encouraged me to live for Jesus. I remember her evening prayers and our discussions about the meaning of certain biblical passages. Too, I preached my first sermon for Granny after she became unable to attend church regularly. Using a bookmark I found in her Bible for my outline, I preached on the plan of salvation. Of course, she was already born-again, but one would have thought my name was Billy Graham the way she told people about that sermon. (Granny always did brag on me—too much, I know.) Yet, she always knew how to build my confidence, and she always believed that I could do anything with the help of the Lord.
Granny was a caregiver to me, which caused me to feel guilty when she moved into a nursing home. Even though it was her own decision and I was attending college 500 miles away, I wished I could help her nonetheless. Initially, we talked for about an hour every Saturday on the telephone, and she told me how good they were to her at the nursing home. That made me feel better, and hearing her voice was reassuring. Too, I always looked forward to our visits on my return trips to Mississippi.
As the years passed I saw Granny growing weaker, and I often wondered how I would make it when the Lord called her home. After her eightieth birthday, she began telling me that she would leave for Heaven one day. I always told her that she could not leave me yet; I still needed her too badly. During a visit when she was 94, she told me, “No tears when I go now! No tears.” I told her that was one promise I could not make, and, besides, I could not let her go just yet.
Strangely, shortly after that visit I dreamed that Granny came to my bedside and told me, “I sure miss home.” Uncertain, I questioned, “Which home?” With a longing look on her face Granny replied, “Where ever Jesus is.” I then told her that I hoped she would soon get to go home, and with that I awoke from my sleep. One Saturday evening following, I wiped the tears from my face after my evening prayer. I thanked God for blessing me with such a loving Granny, and I asked Him to let her go on and be with Him. She was so eager to go to Heaven.
I received a call the following Monday afternoon and learned that the Lord was answering that prayer. Quickly I made the 7-hour drive from Tennessee to Mississippi. Granny was still holding on when I arrived, but it was different from my previous visit. Then we had talked, shared a joke, and expressed our love for each other, but now she was unresponsive and unable to look around. It was odd not hearing her welcome me with a hint of surprise. It seemed like she should be saying, “Look who I see!"
When I reached her bedside, I was grateful the Lord had let her live until I arrived. I took her hand and spoke to her, and she began to groan in response to my voice. Through my brokenness and tears, I told her how much I loved her. And those were not just words that I felt were momentarily appropriate. That was, and is, a feeling overflowing from deep within me. Ours was a unique friendship— an inseparable bond between a boy and his Granny.
That last night with Granny was perhaps the longest of my life, and, ironically, it passed much too quickly. As I sat at her bedside, I remembered the many times I had stayed with her through the years. Through the flood of memories, I realized that the time had finally come. Never before had I been willing to let her go, but I knew that I had no choice this time. The Lord was ready, and Granny had been ready for so many years. It was unfair for me to desire that she stay with me. I prayed for the Lord to give me strength.
About 11:15 the next morning, still at Granny’s bedside, I knew it was time to let her go. I brushed her hair with my fingers and took her by the hand. I told her that it was okay to make her passing. She had done all she could do for us here, and the Lord was ready for her. It was okay for her to go and be with Jesus. I told her that we loved her—that I loved her. And then, she grunted loudly. “Yes,” I said with a quivering voice as tears streamed down my face. “I know you love me—more than anybody else ever has. But you go be with Jesus now and we’ll be behind you soon. We will see you in the morning.” Those were surely the most difficult words I have ever spoken, but I knew it was right. I knew it was time, and I knew Granny heard me and understood.
The day continued with family members and nurses periodically checking in. My grandmother and great-aunt remained with Granny all day long. By early evening, all the visitors had gone. As my grandmother, great-aunt and I were sitting with Granny something happened inside me, and I knew that Granny was leaving. I jumped from my chair and rushed to her side. My grandmother placed Granny’s hand in mine. Fifteen minutes later we noticed a difference in her breathing and color. I kissed her hand and then her forehead. The three of us were beside Granny when she took her two very deep and final breaths. Still holding her hand, I yelled out to her that I loved her—most certain that she probably did not hear me but that she knew it nonetheless. And when her spirit departed, it seemed as if something inside of me left too. Next to the Lord, Granny was the best friend I ever had.
I wish I could put into words the impact that Granny had on my life. I was born a child with special needs but was always full of big ideas. She managed to nurture those “fancy thoughts,” build confidence in my ability, and help me accomplish many childhood goals. There were times in my youth that I needed a good friend. Granny never failed to be there for me, and now I realize that my presence was just as helpful to her.
Today I thank the Lord for such a Christian example. No matter where I go or what I do in life, a part of Granny will always remain with me. My memories of her are many, and I will forever carry her love in my heart. Too, I have the assurance that I will see Granny again in Heaven. And, I have the opportunity to make the same difference in the life of others who need encouragement and friendship. That would make Granny very happy.
[My great-grandmother, Dessie Pittman, went to be with the Lord on March 5, 2002. She's in my future now, and I look forward to meeting her again in Heaven.]
I am a professor, author, librarian, historian, and speaker living in beautiful Cleveland, Tennessee-- but I will always call Mississippi "home." I enjoy my work at Lee University and my hobbies include traveling, being outdoors, hiking, fishing, gardening, writing, reading, and movies.