In 1926, Congress encouraged Americans to celebrate every Veterans Day with “thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.”
On a much smaller scale, Army veteran Justin Morris, 30, strives for a similar goal as connections pastor at Southeast Christian Church’s River Valley Campus.
“My role is to help people connect to their next step with Jesus, no matter what that looks like,” Morris said. “I help them understand that, as Christ followers, their identity is rooted in Christ because of the Good News. Each of us can actively participate in what God is doing in our world. Slow down, abide with God and listen to the Spirit, then God will give you everyday opportunities to be on mission with Him. This is how the Gospel propels us forward to be active participants in the Kingdom established through the blood of the cross.”
Morris feels privileged to have served for seven years in the Army: three years as an enlisted infantryman, four as an officer with military police and then military intelligence at the Defense Language Institute. Working with people from varied ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds helped shape him as a young leader.
“I learned to value diversity in a way I never would have experienced without the military. Everyone had grown up with different perspectives, but we were united by one reason: to serve and to function as a team when called upon,” he said. “That has given me a passion to encourage that same diversity and unity within the church. We are one people—a Christ people, a people moved by the Gospel for the Kingdom of God, every day, in all we do.”
Morris grew up in a small town on the west side of Indianapolis; his mother is from Taiwan, and his father grew up on an Indiana farm. They instilled in him the value of character and hard work.
Morris asked Jesus to be his Savior when he was about 7; however, during that time, his parents divorced, and he saw how their church treated his family.
“Even though you’re young, you notice when people stop interacting with you or kids aren’t allowed to play with you anymore,” he said. “The contrast between who the church claimed to be and how they were treating us sparked a questioning of things for me, and of doubting who I thought God to be. As an adult, it’s easier to see the perspective that we’re all flawed people projecting our flaws on God.”
Morris still felt frustrated and adrift after graduating from high school. He searched for a way to find his place in the world and fill the void that he didn’t realize only God could fill. Through the military, God drew Morris back to Him.
“Between my sophomore and junior years at Ball State University, I attended infantry basic training, and the Holy Spirit wrecked my world,” he said. “You don’t get a lot of privileges in basic training: no phone calls, no personal items, no personal privileges. One thing you’re allowed to do is attend chapel on Sundays.”
That’s the one place, he learned, where drill sergeants weren’t in a soldier’s face. There he was allowed to pick up a Bible, as well as other Christian literature, and take it back to his barracks.
“Through reading God’s Word and just talking with God, I realized that what I thought of my heavenly Father wasn’t accurate—it was my projection of flawed people onto God’s character,” he said. “I’d lie in my bunk feeling the weight of the Spirit convicting me and drawing me back to the Father. Unless you’ve felt that weight, that pursuit of the Fathers’ love, it’s hard to explain.”
Morris recalls feeling complete brokenness, yet at the same time, feeling God’s love and grace holding him in the moment. He soon realized that God was using small things to restore him and redeem him for His purpose.
“I started leading Bible and book studies, as well as morning devotionals, for my platoon,” he said. “It’s crazy, because if you had seen my life just months before, you wouldn’t have seen any fruit and very little evidence of God in my life. I’m a great example of how He uses us broken and flawed individuals for His purposes and glory.”
After completing his service, Morris used the skills and leadership he learned in the Army to land a good position in a Fortune 100 company. During that time, the GI Bill paid for his graduate seminary degree, which he split between Wesley Theological Seminary and Liberty University.
Morris completed an unpaid residency at a church in Washington, D.C., before moving to Louisville in 2018 with his wife, Laura, and their children: daughter, Karsyn, now 5, and 4-year-old twins Victor and Riley.
An avid fisherman and waterfowl hunter, Morris sees himself as one of the lost sheep about whom Jesus spoke in Luke 15:1-7, in which the Pharisees criticized Jesus for surrounding Himself with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus answered with the parable of the lost sheep: The shepherd leaves 99 others to search for the one who is lost. When He finds that one, He puts it on His shoulders, carries it home and everyone rejoices for the one lost sheep that was found.
“I love this story because I was the one lost sheep who chose to leave,” Morris said. “Through God’s grace, He sought me out and carried me back on His shoulders when I didn’t deserve it! If God did this for a broken sinner like me, He can do it for anyone. I always try to remember to let God be as original with others as He was with me.”