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A bedside prayer with brother Keeble


He was 83, and I was 20.

Meeting him was the opportunity of a lifetime — one that I would not fully understand for many years.

Lynn McMillon

Marshall Keeble was on campus at Oklahoma Christian College for two days in February 1962. The college had admitted its first black students just five months earlier. Keeble was speaking at rallies for Christian education across the state.

I had never before heard an African-American preach. I grew up in a home seemingly untouched by racial bias and largely unaware of the issues that would come to define the tumultuous decade of the 1960s.

Keeble spoke in chapel. As a preaching student, I was astonished by his knowledge of Scripture, his communication skills and his sincerity. He spoke again at an evening rally at the municipal auditorium in downtown Oklahoma City, so I went to hear him. About 4,000 people — black and white — gathered to hear brother Keeble. It’s still one of the largest gatherings among Churches of Christ in our state’s history.

I remember his explanation of what it means to be in Christ. He used the example of a branding iron, placed in a fire until it is red hot.

“The iron is in the fire and the fire is in the iron,” he said. For the first time, I felt like I grasped this important theological concept. In just two days, I had come to recognize that I was in the presence of greatness. I also felt that I wanted be close to this man.

I was, it turns out. The next day I learned that Keeble and his traveling companion, Willie T. Cato, were staying on the ground floor of my dormitory. Late that evening, I finally mustered up enough courage to walk down the stairs to his room and knock.

Marshall Keeble preaches in Abilene, Texas, in the 1960s.

Cato opened the door and welcomed me. I looked across the room and saw brother Keeble — on his knees, elbows on the dorm bunk bed ready to pray. Cato asked me if I would like to join them.

When I think of how gracious and warm he was to me, and now knowing how many insults and hardships he suffered in his life, I am deeply moved.

Tears swell in my eyes whenever I remember that invitation. “Yes,” I said.

I had never experienced such a thing. There were all three of us, on our knees on a hard tile dormitory floor, elbows on the bed, praying. It was an overwhelming experience.

When I think of how gracious and warm he was to me, and now knowing how many insults and hardships he suffered in his life, I am deeply moved. I wish I had taken a picture with him.

A few days after Keeble’s visit, I went to the campus library and checked out the vinyl record albums of his sermons. How that man could preach the Word — with ethos and pathos! I began to learn of the hundreds of young African-American men whom he trained to preach. I learned of the thousands of people who responded to his preaching.

Two years later, my new wife and I were serving a small congregation in Mississippi, just south of Memphis, Tenn. We witnessed racism firsthand — at segregated lunch counters and in church pews.

Brother Keeble came to Memphis, Tenn., for a gospel meeting. We wanted to hear him, so we and some of our church’s members made the short trip there an hour early to get a seat. The building was packed with faces black and white. And the preaching was inspiring.

The flames of injustice still rage in our nation. But Keeble, 50 years after his death, continues to remind us that the Lord is supreme, that heaven is our shared goal and that “the fire is in the iron.”

Contact: [email protected]

Filed under: Insight Opinion Top Stories Keeble legacy Marshall Keeble

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