Morris Norfleet - Missionaries Serving in Their 80s
While Morris Norfleet was a graduate student at Purdue University in the 1950s, a call to missions was tugging at his heart. For a time, he considered becoming an IMB missionary. Gifted with a keen analytical mind, however, he was also drawn toward education.
For a time, Morris taught school and worked as an education specialist and as a research specialist for the Farm Bureau in Indiana. Later, he filled several positions at Morehead State University before serving as the University’s eighth president from 1977-1984.
During his tenure, he traveled with 13 other college presidents to Israel to study the educational system.
Near the end of the Communist Regime, he and five educators from the U.S. conducted seminars in Russia on the free enterprise system.
In 1992, Morris conducted seminars in on how to start a small business using biblical principles. “It appeared the seminars touched the hearts of many individuals by giving them courage to improve their spiritual lives,” he said.
After he returned, his life changed when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. “I promised God if it was His will for me to get well, I would be involved in his work as a mission field representative. I got my answer before I went to the operating center. I have tried to fulfill this commitment ever since.”
Morris returned to Russia for nine days—this time as an MSC missionary—to help develop plans for an agricultural complex. In an effort to relate to the governor who spoke no English, Morris invited him to come to the United States to go bass fishing. To Morris’ surprise, the governor later brought his bodyguard and interpreter with him to Kentucky to fish with him on Lake Cumberland.
In St. Petersburg, Russia, Morris conducted small business seminars for church members. “Eighty per cent of the participants started their own businesses or got promotions in their jobs,” he said.
When his first mission trip to El Salvador was intersected by Hurricane Mitchell, Morris became a Red Cross team leader and helped with the recovery process. “I fell in love with the people and felt the Lord wanted me to do more to help the people.”
Two years later, after an earthquake had destroyed Chinameca, El Salvador, Morris helped build 32 homes, establish two mission centers and plan a church building. “We also planned small businesses and started 16 to help the people” he said. “One of the businesses was raising goats. We began by giving six goats to families who were to give one goat back to the church for someone else. This outreach ministry brought twenty-three families into the church and impacted over 3,000 individuals and their families or their friends.”
On another trip to El Salvador, Morris faced the dangers of serving in a foreign country firsthand when he was robbed. “Someone came into my room and stole my cell phone, wallet with $800 and my shoes. The Lord protected me and I never woke up.”
Another challenge came when Morris and others from the Kentucky Baptist Convention traveled to Jabouti to vaccinate sheep, goats, camels and donkeys. “We were in that Moslem country shortly after the September 9/11 catastrophe. One guy threatened to cut our throats but God had placed a large fellow as our driver who protected us.”
Altogether, Morris has participated in 32 mission trips, including a trip to Victoria, Brazil where he spoke in churches and gave lectures on economic development. “At one church, 45 gave their hearts to Christ,” he said. He has also worked with disaster relief efforts in Floyd County, Kentucky and in New England and he has made numerous trips to El Salvador and Nicaragua. “I had a chance to witness in all these situations,” he said.
Along with Randy Foster, Baptist Men on Missions Director for the Kentucky Baptist Convention, Morris helped formed the Mountain Missions Development Corporation, a non-profit organization designed to serve 49 counties in Eastern Kentucky. Many outreach ministries developed under the MMDC umbrella, including the Wendell Belew Training Center in Powell County, Eastern Kentucky Sonrise ministry in Louisville and a complex in Berea that included a retail store, child development center, warehouse and 15 homes.
“Our focus was to provide clothing, food and a home to many people,” he explained. “My ministry has focused on socio-economic development because I found it was a great need and a good way to open the door for witnessing.” MMDC also accepted a donation of a building site for the construction of Lake Cumberland Chapel in a gated community in Somerset.
Instead of focusing on past accomplishments, however, Morris continues to serve. He has frequent contact with pastors in El Salvador and Nicaragua and he hopes to make a trip to Nicaragua in the future. He also works as a consultant to Eagle Heights Church in Somerset to help establish a drug rehab center and he is designing a plan for leadership training for an outreach program that will impact communities.
“If I hadn’t been President of the University, I wouldn’t have the background to do what I’m doing now,” he said. “I cannot find the idea of retirement in the bible. My greatest reward has been the strengthening of my spiritual life. As long as the Lord puts challenges before me and opens doors, I will continue to serve!”
Written by Shirley Cox