McDOWELL – As a young boy growing up in Hazard, John Morris’ life was impacted by the famed Southern Baptist missionary to China, Lottie Moon. Through the stories of his teachers, he heard the obedience and passion of Moon. Their voices still echo in his mind today.
After becoming a Christian at 12, Morris said it wasn’t long before he knew God was calling him to be a missionary.
Morris is the executive director of God’s Appalachian Partnership, known locally as GAP. Based in the eastern Kentucky coal fields, Morris has been named the 2016 Missionary of the Year by the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
GAP’s focus is to reach the lost and unchurched of Floyd County by “meeting the person on the level of spiritual need so that they will grow into the person God created them to be and share that with others.” GAP began in 1999, and Morris came on board in 2014.
Floyd County is home to less than 40,000 people. The poverty rate is 31 percent and per capita income is $18,000. There are many needs in the Appalachian community, but Morris said there are great assets as well. He’s guiding the ministry to focus on investing in the residents of the community.
Morris recalled a lady that came in for a haircut, an ongoing ministry at GAP, and left transformed by the love she was shown. Because her appearance was changed, she began to see herself differently. As she was leaving, Morris offered encouragement by telling her how well she looked.
Morris said the woman broke down in tears and told him it was the first time she truly felt beautiful. Realizing the importance of the moment he said, “You’re beautiful, not just because of your hair, but because you were created by God. You are created in His image.”
He said it opened an opportunity to present the gospel to her.
One of the greatest challenges Morris and his wife faced in realizing God’s call was that they might need to leave Floyd County. They both thought God would lead them far away from Kentucky to some distant tribal ministry. But that wasn’t God’s plan.
“Because he is from the mountains, he understands the people he is ministering to ,” said Teresa Parrett, KBC’s mission mobilization coordinator. “(He) is loved and respected by them.”
Eric Allen, KBC’s missions mobilization team leader, said he is thankful for Morris’ leadership of GAP and credited him with helping the ministry “become most effective in reaching people and assimilating them into the local church.”
Morris said prayer is one of the most important parts of his day. Through prayer God has proved His care and provision to Morris time and again. One of the things he hopes clients and volunteers at GAP take away is that prayer should be the Christian’s first instinct rather than a last resort.
Morris will be honored as the 2016 Kentucky Missionary of the Year at the Kentucky Woman’s Missionary Union Annual Meeting April 9 at First Baptist Church in Madisonville. Learn more about GAP by visiting www.gapky.org.