The Blessedness of Christian Friendships: Remembering Mike Morrow
(I was reflecting recently on missing my friend, Mike Morrow, beloved Kentucky pastor, who went to be with the Lord one year ago this past April. I wrote this the week of his death, and it reminds me afresh to appreciate friendships we have.)
A delightful man’s body was buried under a beautiful tree in a lovely country cemetery in rural Kentucky this past Tuesday. Mike Morrow’s soul had taken its heavenly flight the previous Friday, and his earthly ‘tent’ was laid to rest in Union Cemetery, immediately beside the Union Baptist Church building, where Mike had pastored for sixteen years.
I use the word ‘delight’ about Mike Morrow. It might sound like a strange word to those who knew him to describe him as ‘delightful’, because he was a serious-minded, spiritually-minded, tested, deep Christian gentleman who had suffered deeply in life over the years. But I use that word intentionally simply because it was spiritually delightful and spiritually rich to be with him.
I cannot even remember the very first time I met Mike. It must have been around 2003 or 2004 when several of us went to Eastern Europe to do conferences for Heartcry Missionary Society in Romania and Ukraine. This began a deep and lasting friendship and bond of fellowship among the various preachers who began to labor together in Eastern Europe for a number of years. The times together there were tremendous, and the more we returned there over the years, and the more we saw the Lord do wonderful things in Eastern Europe, we developed a feeling well-expressed by Charles Leiter: “We somehow felt that those times [in Romania, Ukraine, and Moldova] would always continue.”
Mike Morrow’s last trip to Eastern Europe was last year, when he and Charles Leiter ministered there together again. It proved to be the last time they ever preached together, and the last time they saw one another on earth.
It was in 2005 that Mike preached one of the greatest sermons I ever heard. It was at the Heartcry Missions Conference in Metropolis, Illinois. And it was one of the finest conferences Heartcry ever had. The conference theme was the attributes of God, and each sermon dealt with a different attribute of God or Christ. Mike’s message was the greatest sermon I have ever heard on the love of God in my 42 years as a Christian. There was a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit during the conference, with a long period of brokenness, tears, repentance, and confession of sin by many in the conference.
Mike’s preaching was always devotional, deep, theological, experiential, and pastoral. It was the presence of Christ upon him and his loving pastoral heart that made his ministry so edifying. But his heart of love and interest in people one-on-one was exceptional as well; some preachers, the more they are used of God, grow more aloof and unapproachable. But Mike never evidenced any of that. He was always humble; he loved people, was interested in anyone who approached him, and had a loving and kind heart, especially in nurturing, mentoring, and encouraging young preachers who would gather around him with questions.
Mike had a gift of speaking with spiritual authority on various subjects, whether when preaching or talking personally with a small group. When he spoke, wisdom was communicated and people listened. He was at his finest when gathered with a group of men who were talking about the things of God and the Bible. He was a man of the Holy Spirit; he knew what it meant to walk in the Spirit, commune with the Spirit, and preach in the power of the Spirit.
In the 2015 Fellowship Conference in Denton, Texas, Mike preached on gospel conversion and genuinely coming to Christ. That morning, he passionately exhorted everyone to make sure they had truly come to know the Saviour. It was one of the finer messages of the conference.
Five months later, in August, 2015, four of us had the privilege of preaching together in Maine at the Fellowship Conference New England, held annually in Portland, Maine. Tim Conway of San Antonio, Jesse Barrington of Dallas, preached the three-day conference with Mike Morrow during that first week of August. Mike preached three marvelous sermons: The Sovereignty of God and the Choices of Men, Seeing Him who is Invisible and Don’t Doubt in the Darkness what God Promised You in the Light. I sat on the front row, loving and soaking up his rich preaching that week, which was as good as any series I ever heard by him. Even toward the end of his life, his preaching was getting better and better.
While making plans for New England, we decided we would spend some extra time together after the conference, so we planned a three day drive to various parts of New England, not only to see some church history sites, but also to share 3 days of friendship. If one doesn’t plan such times, they will not happen. So we planned and set aside three days after the conference was over.
Tim, Mike, and I had three days of relaxed time, sharing long conversations, driving through the New England countryside, relaxing meals together, times of prayer, and visiting church history sites. It began on Sunday afternoon, as we drove south from Portland one hour to Newburyport, Massachusetts, to the Old South Church, founded in 1746 by George Whitefield. Here we saw the vault crypt in the basement under the pulpit where Whitefield is buried, and we discussed the great revival that occurred under Whitefield’s ministry in the First Great Awakening.
We then drove one hour further south for the evening, sharing dinner at a New England inn. The next morning, we drove west to Northfield, Mass., the home and ministry site of D. L. Moody, the 19th century American evangelist. At Northfield, we saw his birth home and museum, the summer conference buildings, and the graves of Dwight and Emma Moody, which sit on a hill on the beautiful grounds. Our visit was approximately 2 hours long, spent with pleasure in looking at the history and museum of the anointed Moody, who pledged to be a man who was totally surrendered to God.
Next we drove another hour southwest to Northampton, Mass., and stood at the graves of Solomon Stoddard, grandfather of Jonathan Edwards, and also those of David Brainerd and Jerusha Edwards, Jonathan’s daughter. As we lingered in the cemetery, we reflected on the sacrificial and holy lives of Brainerd and the Edwards’ family.
We then made our way southeast toward Boston, arriving mid-afternoon, and drove directly to Harvard University in the suburb of Cambridge, Mass. Harvard was founded through the financial gift of John Harvard in 1636. Harvard, a young British minister who came to the new world, lived only 31 years, and left his earthly means to be used for the establishment of the college for the purpose of training gospel preachers, which became Harvard College.
Our visit at Harvard was brief, but heart-felt, as we thought of its gospel foundation and early heritage, as well as the powerful revivals that took place in past centuries locally, not only in the greater Boston area, but on that very campus, when during certain years of the 17th and 18th centuries, movements of the Holy Spirit swept across such colleges as Harvard and Yale. Oh, for God to do it again in our day!
We then shared our evening meal at a diner on the Harvard campus, famous for its Boston burgers, and then retired to our accommodations, for a relaxed visit until bedtime prayers.
The next day, we toured Boston by trolley car, getting off and on all day around town, seeing what we wanted to see, including a boat ride around Boston Harbor, and some historic Boston churches. We were reminded that George Whitefield preached in Boston to at least 12 thousand or more people, at a time when the city’s population was only 14 thousand.
I have vivid memories of Mike, standing or sitting in the center of historic Boston one afternoon, and I remember thinking at the time how much he was taking in and enjoying it, and how thankful I was that we were there together. We then enjoyed a lunch down near Boston harbor, and hopped back on the trolley for another 4 hours of seeing more of the city’s history.
The final evening on Tuesday, we settled in earlier to enjoy a relaxed time to review and reflect on our entire week together and talk about how much we had enjoyed being together. We spoke of living life fully, and finishing well our Christian pilgrimage, regardless of what amount of time we had left. The next morning, on Wednesday, we then headed to the Boston airport, and parting ways for different flights home, we expressed love and appreciation for each other.
That was in August. Little did any of us know that eight quick months later, Mike would be in heaven. He had eight months still to live when we enjoyed New England together. After that week, he and I spoke on the phone and prayed together regularly, and we always remembered our New England time together. Now that he is gone, I miss him even more and am so thankful that we planned a time to enjoy friendship.
When I realized in those recent weeks that Mike might not make it through his sickness, I felt more grateful for our friendship, sensing we were losing a great preacher and a dear friend; I also felt more thankful for the time we had planned to spend together. Then on a Friday, when I received the call telling me of his home going, I treasured him all afternoon, his life and ministry, and the memories even more. And I felt great peace and appreciation that we had not neglected our friendship. How I praise God for the life and legacy of Michael Morrow. Paul Washer said at the funeral: “Mike Morrow was one of the greatest men in the world.” Those who knew and love Mike Morrow feel the same.
We should make time to spend with those we love. It is a great lesson to learn and a great truth to realize, that life is not meant to be lived by rushing from one responsibility to another, rushing so much that we are always under pressure in our schedules and can never plan to be with dear friends. Such times have to be planned, and when they are, and when we have special times together, we will never regret that we took time to enjoy and treasure such friendships.
Someone has said, “Give flowers to the living, so they can enjoy them, not to the dead, when they are already gone.” Leonard Ravenhill, in the same vein, used to say, “Do your giving while you’re living, so you’re knowing where it’s going.” Now is the time to choose the best and choose to show love to friends. At one point, three friends wanted to spend some time together in New England, so we planned it. I am so glad today that we made that choice then. O, the blessedness of Christian friendships.
– Mack Tomlinson