News from the Tennessee Valley Religion

Longtime Decatur youth minister on mission to Dominican Republic

There are snapshots, both photos made and ones in my head, that I cherish of Margaret Morris. One is of her with an iguana perched on her head.

Another is of her hugging a tearful youth at an altar.

The two extremes reflect the warm and fun-loving but deeply spiritual nature of my friend, who has been a youth minister for nearly 30 years. She mostly served two Decatur churches, Westmeade Baptist and Autumnwood Baptist.

Margaret, 58, often jokes about being the world's oldest youth minister, and being a rare female one among Baptists at that.

She has mentored, taught, counseled and led hundreds of youths, including my own. She has loved teens and parents in their struggles, snapped thousands of pictures, sent innumerable cards, led thousands of Bible studies, eaten more pizza than she wants to think about and cheered young people (including her own three) at no telling how many games, competitions and performances.

Margaret has sought to show mercy, celebrate life and love God, not that it's always been easy. Her husband, Jan, got a diagnosis of cancer and died a few years ago. Those around her have seen her honest struggles to understand God's plan and grace in such circumstances.

My favorite experiences with Margaret have been on mission trips, mostly in inner-city neighborhoods. I recall her handing me a huge cup of Sonic sweet tea after I spent hours on a crew painting in 99-degree heat. I could have kissed her clogs.

Over and over on those trips, she dealt with challenging assignments, crowded sleeping quarters, stressed teens, equally stressed adult workers and too little sleep, always too little sleep. Yet she kept planning them because she says mission trips take believers out of their comfort zones and challenge them to live their faith.

Margaret didn't put me up to this column and will probably be embarrassed by it. The reason that I am writing is to tell you of my friend's latest calling.

The lessons of those mission trips weren't just for youths or for me. Margaret believes God wants her to serve as a missionary in the Dominican Republic, a place she has taken youths and adults several times for mission trips. Two years ago she took a construction team there to build a cabin in memory of Jan.

She is planning a four-month stay with SCORE International, a Chattanooga-based mission organization, starting in mid-April.

A picnic in Margaret's honor will be Sunday at 1 p.m. at Point Mallard's pavilion behind the Spirit of America stage.

I'm sure that those to whom she has ministered will want to know so they can help in her fundraising and return the hugs she has given them.

If you come, bring food — even a pizza! If the weather is rainy, the picnic will be at Autumnwood Baptist, 4511 Danville Road S.W.

Call Margaret at 350-9401 for more information.

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