CRESWELL, Ore. – Sam Morgan calls himself a “boots and blue jeans type of person,” but last year he realized he needed a new suit.
Since moving from the Bible Belt in 1991 to become pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Creswell, Ore., Morgan had heard about the Mississippi Baptist Convention’s men’s ministry sending new suits to pastors in new work areas.
“The offer had come many times over the years,” Morgan said. “I’ve always declined. I’ve always thought somebody else could use it. This time I thought I really could use a suit, so I accepted.”
He completed an application, filling in his height, weight, suit size, waist, inseam length and chest measurement. He sent it in by the Aug. 31, 2012, deadline.
A couple of months later in Mississippi, George and Ann Underwood first heard of the suit ministry when they attended their state convention as messengers from First Baptist Church in Coldwater. They picked up brochures at the men’s ministry booth and shared the information with their Sunday School class when they returned home.
Sam and Janis Morgan
“The class was excited about the project and decided overwhelmingly to send a gift,” Underwood said.
The collection that morning reached $200 quickly, and then something amazing happened.
“A class member named Russell said that something had prompted him to carry extra money to class that day even though he did not know why. Without further explanation he reached into his pocket and produced two $100 bills, which immediately doubled the gift,” Underwood recounted.
George, assistant teacher of the class, and Ann, class treasurer, sent the $400 to the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board in early November.
In December the Underwoods contacted Deanna Vail with the Mississippi convention’s men’s ministry to ask how they could contact the recipient of their suit in order to pray for him, his family and his ministry. They were told the suit went to an Oregon pastor named Sam Morgan.
Meanwhile, Morgan received his new suit, along with a $125 gift card for his wife Janis and a check for $150. He also contacted Vail, wanting to know whom he could thank. He was told the suit came from a Sunday School class at First Baptist Church in Coldwater.
Morgan was silent. He asked Vail to repeat the name of the church. For clarification, he asked exactly where that church was, what county and association it was in. As she answered his questions, Morgan could hardly believe what he was hearing.
“That’s our home church,” Morgan said. “That’s where we surrendered to ministry.”
Morgan had been working for the phone company in Senatobia, Miss., and living in nearby Coldwater. He was 29, married and had two children. They wanted to get the children into church, so they began attending First Baptist. Soon, Sam and Janis were saved and began serving in the church.
“I struggled with God’s call for three years, then surrendered,” Morgan said.
A key factor in hearing God’s call was when Morgan went on an associational mission trip in 1981 to Billings, Mont., to do construction work. In the summer of 1982, he and Janis made public their call to missions at First Baptist Coldwater. The church ordained him the next year.
“We thought it would be foreign missions,” Morgan said, “but I didn’t have college or seminary. I also needed three years of pastoral experience to go as a missionary with the Foreign Mission Board [now International Mission Board].”
Morgan gave notice to the phone company in August 1983, sold his home and moved to Blue Mountain College to start his “race against the clock,” trying to fulfill requirements for becoming a missionary before his oldest child turned 13, another mission board restriction.
Meanwhile, a country church called Morgan as pastor and he told them he could only stay three years because he was preparing for international missions.
“They were glad because no one else had stayed more than one year,” he said.
After finishing college and a few semesters of seminary, Morgan realized he was not going to complete his master of divinity in time to go as an international missionary. He and Janis began exploring pioneer missions areas in the United States.
In 1991 he was called as full-time pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Creswell, Ore. He has completed 21 years as their pastor.
“The first time I walked into the sanctuary, I knew that was where we were supposed to be,” Morgan said.
He and Janis and their four children moved to Oregon.
The church was averaging 60 people for worship and Morgan began using Sunday School to help the church grow. Worship attendance rose to 150, and their meeting space grew from 6,900 square feet to 18,000 square feet.
Now the church has hit a space barrier and is looking at multiple Sunday School times, off-campus classes and other means to continue to grow. They recently started an off-campus class with 14 people.
First Baptist Coldwater will always be special to the Morgans. It was the church where they were saved and called to ministry. It was the church that ordained him and sent them out.
“That church helped us get through college and seminary and supported us during our first pastorate,” Morgan said. “They paid the hospital bill for our fourth baby.”
They also paid for Morgan’s tuition and books all the way through college.
“They sent us money every month,” he said. “I was able to focus on my studies and my pastorate and Janis was able to stay home with the kids.”
Although they were unable to go overseas as missionaries, serving in the mission field of the Northwest has been a wonderful experience, Morgan said.
“I’ve had some amazing opportunities that would never have happened had we stayed in Mississippi,” he said.
Among those opportunities were serving as second vice president of the Northwest Baptist Convention in 2004, preaching their annual sermon in 2002 and serving a year on the Southern Baptist Convention nominating committee.
And from 2001-09, Morgan served as a trustee of the International Mission Board.
“I had a sense of guilt that we never made it overseas,” Morgan said. “Janis went with me to my first meeting as a trustee, at Glorieta during [international missions week]. It was tremendously emotional, and I would find myself weeping during the services as we heard missionary speakers and leaders. It was the Lord dealing with my grief, saying to me, ‘You didn’t make it overseas, but that wasn’t My plan.’”
Since 1964 the Mississippi Baptist Convention has challenged individuals and church groups to donate money to provide a suit for a pastor serving in the Alaska, Iowa and Northwest Baptist conventions.
“Many of these pastors have no suit nor have the extra money to purchase one,” Vail said. “By sending them a suit we are letting the pastors know that we care about them and that we support their work. If funds are available, we will send a gift certificate to the pastor’s wife.
“Often they go without things that they want or need to support their husband’s ministry,” she said. “This is a wonderful way to show them that they are not forgotten and that the support they provide their husband is truly appreciated.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Williams is editor of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist newspaper.)