An Oklahoma pastor whose church recently made headlines after seeing 116 Army soldiers accept Jesus said the mass embrace of faith was the result of his congregation stepping out in faith and trusting in the Lord.
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Mike Keahbone, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Lawton, told CBN Digital his church normally puts on its annual Living Christmas Tree musical, a massive Christmas show, for one weekend during the holiday season.
But this year, the church’s worship pastor, Xavier Abraham, wanted to do something a bit different.
“[He] approached us with the idea of doing it two weekends in a row, and our immediate reaction was, ‘No way,'” Keahbone said. “Because it just takes so much to pull this thing together. I mean, you’re talking about a 39-foot tree, over a hundred thousand lights, and just the manpower it takes to assemble the tree, the manpower it takes to just perform the performance.”
Plus, there’s the cast, and the orchestra, and all of the rehearsing. Logistically, Keahbone said a second weekend just seemed like an impossibility — until he thought deeper about Abraham’s request.
“What I heard in his heart was that he had really sought the Lord over it,” the pastor said. “And one of the things that I challenge our guys to do … our three pillars are to be Christ led, body engaged, and Gospel-centered, and so I challenge our team all the time — ‘Seek the Lord.'”
Once the team started praying about adding another weekend to the production schedule, Keahbone said it became clear it was what God wanted. Suddenly, the pieces started coming together for something truly spectacular.
“As soon as the announcement was made that we were going to be doing two different weekends, there was a man in our church who is retired from the military … but still serves on a civilian level,” he said. “And all of a sudden he started getting phone calls from the chaplains … asking about the tree.”
These chaplains wanted to come to the Christmas show but the original weekend wouldn’t work with soldiers’ schedules; once they found out there was a second weekend available, momentum began to build. Keahbone said he and his team expected maybe 150 soldiers, but the group just kept on growing.
As a sign of respect, love, and care, the church also wanted to provide a meal to the soldiers attending the second weekend of the show; they even created military challenge coins to gift the soldiers.
Meanwhile, the expected 150 soldiers soon swelled to more than three times that number.
“Before you know it, we’re feeding 700 soldiers and they’re all attending,” he said. “Most of those are basic trainees.”
A key part of that Living Christmas Tree musical during it’s 42-year run has been the sharing of the Gospel message. And when that part of the show unfolded, something stunning happened among the soldiers in attendance: 116 indicated a decision to embrace Jesus.
The church has attendees fill out a card after the show noting whether they’ve accepted God. Later on, when the church began to count those decision cards, Keahbone got a text message that stunned him.
“I get the text [that reads] ‘116 salvations,'” he said. “I thought it was a typo. And so I called. I said, ‘Is this right?'”
Not only had 116 soldiers dedicated their lives to Jesus, but the church has also been in contact with chaplains at the local military post to follow up on these decisions and to help provide for the soldiers’ spiritual needs.
As Keahbone reflected on all that unfolded, he and the church came to a powerful realization about the importance of trusting God, even when it feels difficult or the task seems unattainable.
“That moment would not have been an option had we not done this extra week,” he said if the salvations. “It was just amazing.”
Keahbone said the experience has been a major faith-builder for the congregation and for his staff, showing the importance of relying on God, discerning His voice, and working together to make His plans a reality.
“It shows the faithfulness of God … to be able to trust Him when he’s leading us,” Keahbone said. “Anybody can say, ‘Well, God told me this,’ or ‘God told me that.’ … And, really, the evidence is … what happens after that?”
The impact on these soldiers, he said, cannot be overstated.
“Their eternity was changed forever,” Keahbone added. “And … not only their eternal destination, but the impact of these young families. These are young, basic trainees and most of them haven’t even started a family yet, but they’re gonna be able to start their family off on the right foundation, in the right way, with the Lord as that anchor piece in their heart.”
It’s truly a stunning testament to the power of trust, obedience, and living out faith.
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