FORT SILL, Okla.—Twenty-four soldiers sat on the Quarry Hill chapel stage before spiritual formation classes began at Fort Sill. The soldiers, who came from varied backgrounds and more than 20 states, had little in common—except a shared spiritual birthday.
They stood before a room filled with peers and told how they knew they needed Jesus, how God had changed their lives and what they are going to strive for in their new walk with Christ. Then they walked outside to a large water tank where Texas Baptist Chaplain Kevin Burton baptized them.
They joined more than 200 soldiers Burton has baptized in the last 14 months at Fort Sill. Many others have rededicated their lives to Jesus Christ.
“This is by far the most fruitful ministry I have been a part of,” Burton said.
Fort Sill represents a unique mission field, he noted. As a basic training facility, the soldiers—typically age 17 to 24—are there nine weeks before moving on to advanced training.
“Some of them hear the gospel for the first time here in basic training,” Burton said. “Most of them probably do not come thinking, ‘I’m going to basic training so I can find Christ.’ But a lot of them find Christ while they are here.”
Burton sees his job as bringing God to soldiers and soldiers to God. On a typical Sunday morning at Fort Sill, 900 soldiers gather for a contemporary Christian worship service in Sheridan Theater, the only space large enough on base to hold the congregation. Burton leads the service, alongside four other chaplains who work to provide spiritual guidance and encouragement to Fort Sill soldiers.
Carrying heavy burdens
One of Burton’s main tasks on base is counseling more than 100 soldiers a month, many of whom have left home for the first time and are carrying heavy burdens.
“It is our belief as chaplains that we can equip these soldiers by sharing the gospel with them if they are not Christians,” he said. “We can share with them how that personal relationship with Christ—how the promise that he will never leave us or forsake us—is true.
“Even though we may walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Christ is with us. These soldiers who take that to heart and place their faith in Christ, or the strong believers who come to us already knowing Christ as Savior, are very resilient soldiers and do very well with the complexities of life.”
Burton served previously in the Air Force. Later, he was pastor of a Mission Arlington church seven years before rejoining the military as a commissioned Army chaplain. Leaving his congregation was difficult, but he knew his new mission field was where God was leading him.
‘A great honor and responsibility’
“As a local pastor, I waited for people in my church to come to me,” Burton recalled. “Now, I get to go meet my people wherever they are at—if they are on the range firing, on the confidence course or out on patrols. Wherever there are soldiers, I can justify being there. That is a great honor and responsibility and privilege that I have—to be able to walk hand in hand with soldiers wherever they may be and be there for them in their time of need.”
Grateful for the support he receives, Burton noted he could not do all he does through his ministry without his endorsement from the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Being a Texas Baptist chaplain “gives us the opportunity to share the gospel in a setting with people who may not be able to be reached otherwise,” he said.