The prognosis was so dire for Justin Morris that his doctors advised his family to say their goodbyes because, they said, he might not survive the helicopter flight from Barbourville to the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington.
Morris, a U.S. Marine combat veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, had survived any number of hairy situations on the battlefield only to return home and face his greatest life or death struggle.
Aug. 14, 2014 had been a typical day. He went to work. He came home. Then, he felt what he described as a pop in his head, causing him to pass out. When he awoke, the pain was excruciating. It was as if his brain had been scrambled; he couldn’t respond when his wife asked what had happened.
An aneurysm had ruptured, causing a brain bleed and stroke that would put Morris in intensive care for two weeks, weaken the left side of his body, trigger seizures that he controls with medication, and put him in a phase of life that allows him to give his full attention to sharing the gospel.
A graduate of Clear Creek Baptist Bible College, Morris, 34, was deemed medically disabled by the Veterans Administration, forcing him to give up his job as a rural mail carrier with the U.S. Postal Service. But he just couldn’t give up preaching the gospel, which he does with a passion.
Looking back nearly four years later, Morris said he can see that good came from what he initially saw as a horrible ordeal. By losing his ability to work as a mail carrier, he has been freed up to devote more time to being pastor of Lynn Camp Baptist Church, a small congregation located between Corbin and Barbourville.
“Justin has shown the resilience that cannot be taught in a classroom,” said Shannon Benefiel, director of development at Clear Creek. “It can only come from complete surrender to God and His call. There are many good reasons for Justin to excuse himself from God’s call, but his confidence in God has manifested itself much like David’s did in Psalm 3. Although there were insurmountable odds against him Justin knows God is a shield about him and that nothing can touch him that doesn’t come through God first.”
Every Sunday, Morris walks unhindered into the pulpit at Lynn Camp Baptist Church and delivers the fiery sermons he’s known for around here.
Calvin Hibbard, a longtime southeastern Kentucky pastor, said the adversity Morris has faced equipped him to be pastor at Lynn Camp, a church that has also faced its share of difficulties in recent years with a declining membership. Hibbard said the church needed a strong, well-prepared preacher like Morris to begin to grow again. More importantly, Hibbard said, Lynn Camp members needed a leader with a deep concern for their spiritual well-being, and that, Hibbard said, is just what they’ve gotten in Morris.
“The Lord gave me a second chance,” Morris said. “My life belongs to Him, and whatever He chooses to do with it is fine with me.”
It has been a nerve-racking journey for Morris’ wife, Ashley and their three children. His wife recalls the tearful day at the Barbourville hospital when the medical team advised her of the dire prognosis, unable to do anything other than to pray and trust in the Lord for his recovery.
“The Lord took care of him and continues to take care of him,” she said. “Through this, we’ve learned just what it means to trust in Him.”
Morris said he’s learned to enjoy every day with his family and his congregation, knowing the possibility for another brain bleed is ever present.
“It’s like a ticking timebomb,” Morris said. “It may happen a year from now. It may happen 10 years from now. Or, it may never happen. No matter what, I have to keep on telling others about Jesus.”