By Jonathan Smith, Editor in Chief
Area churches gathered Sunday morning to honor veterans and members of the military at Taylor County Coliseum at a service called Faith for the Fight.
About 25 churches participated in some fashion-some canceled their regular morning services so members could attend-and between 4,500 and 5,000 people met to worship and honor those in the military.
“We were led by the Lord to do something for this segment of the population,” said David McQueen, senior pastor at Beltway Park Baptist Church. “This is a group that we were led to give honor to.”
The service included songs, prayers and several video interviews about those in the military and honoring those people. Stephen Mansfield, a nationally renowned author who worked at the Fountaingate Fellowship Church in Abilene during the 1980s and spent time embedded with troops in Iraq, spoke about faith among those in the military.
“I saw a generation saying, ‘We want to bring who we are in God to who we are in the armed forces,'” Mansfield said about soldiers he met while in Iraq.
Mansfield, author of The Faith of George W. Bush and The Faith of the American Soldier, said people can honor the military whether they support the war or not.
“We are here not because we love war,” Mansfield said. “We are simply here to tell those going into battle that we love them, that we stand for them.”
McQueen said church leaders selected Mansfield to speak because several leaders knew him from the time he had spent in Abilene, and they liked the message and perspective he could bring.
“We thought the message he had was a message of honor and respect,” McQueen said. “We didn’t believe it was just blind patriotism.”
Churches provided childcare and activities for children during the event, and those who attended were also encouraged to eat free lunches in the Expo Center complex with members to the military.
McQueen said the idea for the service originated when several church leaders from the Abilene area visited Washington, D.C.
“We had a heightened sense of how we had been blessed by this country,” McQueen said. “We had a heightened sense of the price that was paid for it.”
From that original idea, McQueen said the concept of Faith for the Fight service grew to include participation of 25 churches, including Highland, Southern Hills and University churches of Christ.
Norm Archibald, mayor of Abilene, U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, and Bob Hunter, senior vice president emeritus of the university and Texas State Representative for the 71st District, also attended.
Hunter said he was inspired by the message Mansfield brought and the insight he had after spending time in Iraq. He said he also enjoyed seeing the Abilene community come together.
“When we can come together to share our faith in God, the world will be a better place if believers will come together to share their common faith,” Hunter said.
He also said seeing the churches come together not to raise a collection but to honor those in the military was uplifting.