A left-behind levee, a backfiring barge and, ultimately, the faithfulness of God have led pastor Jody Gannaway back to the church where he was ordained in Arkansas City over 60 years ago.
“I have tried to surrender, you know, to Him, every day. And, you know, that’s the struggle we have—is letting Him have our full identity. And we become nothing that He is everything,” Gannaway said in his booming voice that negates the need for a microphone when he stands at the pulpit.
The road in Gannaway’s rearview mirror hasn’t been a relaxing, easy drive on an open highway. On his trip through life, he’s seen his decisions and the enemy’s lure toss him about, winding the road ahead of him with twists and turns.
“I was, you know, about to graduate from high school and I received some bad wisdom: don’t do what God wants; fight Him,” Gannaway said. “Well, I found out, you don’t whip God; He just whipped fire into me out on the Mississippi River, because I went to work out there to get away from God. And [I] found out later, God owns the Mississippi River and all of the boats.”
At the age of nine, while at a Royal Ambassadors (RA) camp, Gannaway surrendered to ministry, but after fighting a speech impediment and difficulty in school, he found himself working on a barge in the Mississippi River rather than preaching on a Sunday morning.
And it was on a Sunday morning that God grasped his attention when a barge backfired in his face and knocked him unconscious.
“When I woke up the first thing that came to my mind, laying out on that barge, was ‘go preach,’” Gannaway said.
He didn’t stay around to flesh out if this was merely a coincidence. Instead, he took it as a road-to-Damascus sign to enlist in God’s plan, not his own.
After leaving ‘Ol Man River’ behind, Gannaway found himself furthering his education, first at Southern Baptist College (now Williams Baptist University), where English professors helped him overcome his academic challenges and complete his basics. Then, with an initiative to “graduate the illiterates,” he earned his degree from Ouachita Baptist University.
But just like the Israelites, Gannaway found himself still fighting with God, forgetting His faithfulness and remembering man’s inadequacy. It was then in his childhood home that he arose from despair and went across a nearby levee to pray.
“God anointed me…God filled me with the fullness of the Spirit…and I came back across that levee with a boldness to witness. And that’s how I know when God’s got me filled now is because I want to share Christ with everybody,” Gannaway said.
That boldness to seek the Lord and share His good news has kept him motivated and surrendered in every church he’s served in since.
In the midst of ministry, he found his wife, Meverine, the fried-pie queen, who he heralds as “the finest wife of anybody in Arkansas.”
He’s seen the Lord do great and mighty works, saving the lost and building the church. And through it all, he’s learned many simple, yet life-changing truths: “if God’s calling you, He’s going to be faithful to see you through it;” “if we pastors don’t stay together and pray together and help each other and pray over each other’s problems, then there’s something wrong with us;” “get with Christ and stay with Him through your fellowship of repentance.”
In the end, Jody Gannaway’s story isn’t one of his own faithfulness to God, but God’s faithfulness to him. It’s this promise from the Lord that has both sustained and guided him along the way, keeping him “under the protection of the Most High,” as Psalm 91 states, no matter what roadblocks come his way.
“I know God’s faithfulness,” Gannaway said.