Labrador retrievers put their paws on the Gospel
DENHAM SPRINGS, La. (BP) -- Johnny Morgan's life has really gone to the dogs, and he couldn't be happier.
The nonprofit organization, based in Denham Springs, La., uses dogs as visual illustrations and blends timeless biblical truths with humor to show the power of obedience in a believer's life. Morgan named his ministry after Philippians 2:8: "Jesus humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."
"We have to die to ourselves," Morgan said.
An avid hunter, Morgan was raised around hunting dogs. While growing up he trained and hunted with rabbit dogs, coon hounds and squirrel dogs. He is amazed at the quirks and turns in his life that opened the door to a ministry where dogs help lead folks to the Lord.
"God can use anything we have if we make ourselves available. It's very humbling to me that God is using a country boy and his dogs for His glory," Morgan said.
Obedience 2 Death ministry was birthed in July 2013.
When a tornado ripped the roof off the worship center in 2008, the congregation started meeting in a local high school gym. In May 2008, the church invited Hank Hough, founder of Kingdom Dogs Ministry in Houston, to make a presentation.
After that event, Morgan and Hough became friends, and eventually Morgan became a presenter for Kingdom Dogs Ministry. By 2013, Morgan knew the Holy Spirit was leading him to start his own dog ministry, and through a group of generous friends, Morgan was able to buy his first dog, a chocolate Labrador retriever.
Morgan calls the dog "Glory," a dual champion in land and water competitions, when giving commands. But the canine is officially registered under a different name.
"When I asked Hank what Glory's registered name was, he told me, and I got real quiet. Glory's registered name was Psalm 46:10. That's my life verse. It was like God had ordained Glory to be my first dog in this ministry," Morgan said, explaining that Hough uses Scripture to register his ministry dogs with the American Kennel Club. It is a practice Morgan has continued with the purchase of his two other dogs. Zach, a 4-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever, is registered as "Proverbs 3:5-6." Morgan calls his 18-month-old yellow Labrador, Trinity, but registered the retriever as "2 Corinthians 13:14."
"The curiosity about the dogs' registered names has sparked conversations that have led to salvations," Morgan said.
Morgan has traveled with his dogs from Oklahoma to Mississippi to Arkansas, visiting churches for youth events, men's retreats and revivals and, appearing at a number of schools under the umbrella of the Fellowship of Christian Students -- sometimes with the entire student body present.
During the last five years, Morgan said, the Obedience 2 Death ministry has reached out to more than 120,000 people, with more than 13,000 people accepting Christ.
"The main purpose of this ministry is to advance the Gospel, and we use these dogs to do that -- and God has blessed our ministry," Morgan said.
Training the dogs in obedience is definitely time-consuming. Morgan trains each dog daily for at least 30 minutes and sometimes an hour. Teaching a hand signal to train the dog to go left can take up to two weeks, and then another two weeks to train the dog to go right.
The presentations last about 40 minutes, with Morgan incorporating whistle commands and hand signals to convey to the three dogs what he wants them to do.
During his presentations, Morgan shares his testimony and tells how Matthew 6:24 -- that no man can serve two masters -- relates to him. He says there was a time in his life when he entered beagle dogs in competitions all over and it consumed his life.
"I was addicted to winning trophies. At least 30 Saturdays out of the year, I was chasing trophies. They were my idol. I knew God didn't have all of my heart, soul and mind. That's when I knew I wanted to surrender everything to Him," Morgan recounted.
He sold the beagles and gave up hunting competitions completely at that time. Through his experience, Morgan says he can explain how obedience to the Lord can give a person complete freedom. As the "missionary dogs" listen to his voice to find a hidden stuffed sheep or go to fetch a "bumper" that Morgan has tossed, he communicates profound truths in the Word of God. The dogs demonstrate obedience in a variety of ways, much to the delight of audiences.
"It is a three-year process to train a dog, every day, seven days a week, rain, sleet or snow. But it's relaxing to me, and each day I am having more and more life lessons from God," Morgan said. "My heart is for people to come to the Lord and be discipled. I want to be obedient and go where the Lord leads."