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College Bible prof emerged from career as fighter pilot

HANNIBAL, Mo. (BP)–Barry Morgan simply looks the part. With his blazer, tie and perfect posture, Morgan, who has taught at the Baptist college in Hannibal, Mo., nearly 15 years, appears as if he were born to be a college professor. And it’s what he loves to do and senses a call to do.
At one time in his life, however, Morgan had other plans. When most future college professors his age were preparing for their first teaching position, Morgan was flying combat missions in an F-4 Phantom II over Southeast Asia. For Morgan at the time, flying fighters and advancing in his military career were paramount. It was something he was good at. During his career, Morgan earned several awards including the Distinguished Flying Cross with five oak leaf clusters and the Air Medal with 17 oak leaf clusters.
Darnelle Darby, his wife of more than 30 years, still remembers her husband as a brash and cocky fighter pilot. “He was all of that,” she said. “I didn’t think anything would get him out of a cockpit.”
In 1964, Morgan attended the Texas A&M where he earned a bachelor of science and master of science in aerospace engineering. Morgan was commissioned as a second lieutenant by the Air Force in 1970. Following a year of pilot training, he finished in the top five of his class and was given his choice of duties.
For Morgan, the decision to fly fighters was easy. “Being a fighter pilot is the epitome of flying,” he said. “It is the greatest kind of flying in the world.” After completing pilot training, Morgan was sent to Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix, Ariz., where he learned to fly a F-4 fighter.
In 1972, Morgan was sent to Southeast Asia where he would fly more than 200 combat missions, and it became a time of mixed emotions. His wife, Darnelle, was eight months pregnant at the time and had recently lost her parents and two younger sisters in a plane crash, making it one of the worst times of her life.
Darnelle said one time she did not hear from Barry for nearly a month.
“It was overwhelmingly lonely,” she said. “I constantly had the fear of a military vehicle pulling up to my house and telling me that Barry had been shot down.”
Morgan indeed experienced many close calls. He still remembers a particular day, May 10, 1972, when he could have easily lost his life.
While flying on a mission into northern Vietnam, Morgan and the rest of his squadron got caught in the middle of a dense air battle. Morgan described the sky as a fireworks display.
During the mission, Morgan’s responsibility was to fly his fighter straight ahead without breaking formation and drop chaff bombs, which distracted enemy radar by exploding and dispensing tiny pieces of aluminum foil into the air. Morgan said on that mission his plane could have easily been shot down, but he suddenly felt a peace come over him that let him know God was in control.
“As we were flying, I was thinking that there was a good chance I could be killed, but I remember there came a point where I had a sense of peace that let me know everything was going to be OK even if I didn’t survive,” he said.
A few months later, Morgan learned that around the time of that flight, Darnelle had awakened in the middle of the night and began praying for his safety.
“I usually sleep right through the night,” she said. “But I just felt like he was in danger and that I needed to pray for him.”
Darnelle said during that volatile year they both learned a lot about their relationship with each other and with God. It was a life-changing experience, and God used it in both of our lives, she said.
After Morgan’s year in Southeast Asia, he was stationed with his family in Okinawa where he and his wife became involved in a Christian ministry group called Navigators. During the next two years, their involvement in the group continued to grow and they both eventually rededicated their lives to the Lord. Morgan then surrendered to full-time ministry.
Morgan said after years of trying to advance his career and move ahead in the Air Force, he finally realized what was most important in life. “God in his sovereign grace used my experiences to change my priorities,” he said. “It helped me come to understand that my relationship with my family, children and wife were more important than a career, and in that process I also learned that God was the most important part.”
Morgan left the Air Force in 1975 and became a full-time pastor for six months at an English-speaking church in Okinawa. With no Bible training or preaching experience, he quickly realized God might be leading him into other areas of ministry.
In 1976, Morgan came back to the states with his family to attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, where he received his M.Div. and Ph.D. in theology and New Testament. While enrolled in seminary, Morgan supported his family by working as a flight instructor in Arlington, Texas.
Morgan and his family moved to Hannibal in 1984 where he began his academic career at Hannibal-LaGrange College. It was a move he still doesn’t regret. Though Morgan’s house still contains old awards and photographs of a young, cocky pilot, Morgan said his love for flying isn’t as strong.
“I think when God called me into the ministry, he took a little bit of it away from me,” he said. “I love teaching the Bible and seeing the light bulb come on and seeing how it applies to a student’s life.”

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  • Shawn Hendricks