By Reid Forgrave
The Cincinnati Enquirer
GLEN ESTE - In the cavernous First Baptist Church of Glen Este Sunday morning, love of God and love of country became one and the same.
One of the church's sons, Pfc. Keith Matthew Maupin, was still deemed by military officials as "duty status whereabouts unknown" Sunday, nine days after he was reported missing and two days after a video showed the 20-year-old Union Township man with his captors.
The Rev. Brent Snook, along with 400 fellow congregants at the 10:30 a.m. service, intermingled patriotic fervor with religious faith, all the while praying for Maupin's safe return.
Reverend Brent Snook, the pastor at First Baptist Church in Glen Este, addresses the congregation during church services Sunday.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
"As we see photos on TV and we see the seriousness of this situation, I know you as a congregation realize the most serious thing we can do to make Matt become a free man again is to pray," Snook, flanked by an American flag, told the church. "Two and a half years after 9-11, it hits even closer to home as we see one of our own held at gunpoint by terrorists."
"Two years ago Matt used to hang out with our youth group," Snook said. "Now people all over the country stand by, glued to their television sets, hoping in their hearts for Matt's safe return."
The military released no new details on Maupin's condition or whereabouts on Sunday.
Church members started their service with the national anthem, with the entire congregation holding hands over hearts. The service went back and forth from spiritual hymns to patriotic songs as photos of soldiers and of the American flag were projected on a screen above the choir.
The church prayed that throughout his ordeal Maupin would be able to see the face of Jesus Christ and feel the nation's appeals to God for his safe return.
On Sunday, congregants at church services the world over prayed for the hostages recently taken in Iraq.
Fifteen people, including Maupin and another American soldier, Sgt. Elmer Krause, 40, of Greensboro, N.C., and in the Army Reserve's 724th Transportation Company with Maupin, are missing in a spate of abductions that erupted with some of the worst violence since the U.S.-led invasion.
In Kansas City, Mo., a former Covington resident said she has been following news about Maupin on the Internet and has been praying for him, his family and his captors.
"It's not only brought the community together; it's brought the country together," said Sadie Johnson. "I don't have anyone in Iraq right now, but that doesn't mean I don't feel a connection to these soldiers. Seeing them go through hard times really pains my heart."
In Maupin's home church, where he used to attend the youth group regularly, the prayers were even more poignant.
Karen Hargis, a close friend of the Maupin family and attendee at First Baptist Church of Glen Este, believes prayer and hope are the only things that will get the community through these trying times.
"That's what we as Christians are all about - getting through a tragedy like this with prayer and hope," Hargis said.
Snook quoted from the Book of Proverbs - "Hope deferred makes the heart sick" - and from the Book of Job to show the congregants that they must have faith in God's plan for Maupin.
"When we saw the video of him as a prisoner of war, it really rejuvenated us and gave us hope," Snook said. "People here really understand that it's going to be faith in Jesus Christ that brings Matt back to us. We believe prayer is what's going to deliver him. But no matter how dark the day gets, there is always hope in Jesus Christ."
Youth pastor Bob Johnson, who said the ebullient Maupin would always "cut up" with other friends in the youth group, believes it's the church's faith in God that spurs on their faith in Maupin's safe return.
"You always hope for the best and pray for the best, but what keeps people going and keeps people breathing is knowing there's a God who intervenes in our personal lives," Johnson said. "We have to trust in God to do what's best for Matt. But the more people rally behind our faith, the more hope we have that he will be brought back."
Wednesday night prayer service for the troops
The First Baptist Church of Glen Este will hold an outdoor service in support of Maupin and other American troops at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Union Township Veterans Memorial Park on Glen Este - Withamsville Road at Clough Pike. After the service, parishioners will light a huge electric candle, which will be kept lighted at the park until Maupin returns home. Parishioners plan to buy smaller electric candles for local residents to place in their windows in support of the missing soldier. "Clermont County is trying to light the path home for Matt," said family friend Karen Hargis.
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