Prof’s pulpit is a fire engine

Christian education professor Dave Keehn has served as a firefighter chaplain for 18 years.


Amy Seed, Writer

The blaring of sirens and the sight of fire engines announces an emergency situation. When viewed from a different perspective, not that of an observer but of an insider, this situation represents an opportunity for ministry.

Riding fire engines with the mindset of service is one of associate Christian education professor Dave Keehn’s strongest passions. A youth pastor in the Dana Point area, Keehn has served as a chaplain for firefighters for the past 18 years. He began his ministry at a fire station in Rancho Cucamonga and now serves Battalion Six of Orange County.

“I spend the day with them, and whatever they do, I do,” said Keehn. “If they get a call, I jump on the engine. I have a full uniform and turnouts, and I’m certified as an EMT so I can get involved on certain levels.”

Shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Kheen received the opportunity to travel to Queens, New York and offer aid to firefighters there. Along with talking to firefighters about their struggles, Keehn and other visiting chaplains had the chance to visit Ground Zero after its clearing.

“I couldn’t say anything to make it better,” he said. “I really just had to just rely on being present, like that ministry of presence they talk about where it’s not that you said the magic words, it’s just that you’re there next to them, listening.”

Married for 17 years, Keehn and his wife Debbie have two children. A happy family with Aimee, 15, Adam, 12, they have resolved to adopt a two-year-old boy named Mfundo from South Africa. Mfundo has been an orphan most of his life and will come to California with the Keehns later this month.

“We have actually been working the last two and half years to open the doors for Americans to adopt because until this moment, Americans have not been allowed to adopt children from South Africa,” Keehn said.

For the past five years, the Keehn family has been involved in helping with the AIDS crisis in South Africa. Along with adopting Mfundo, Debbie works with an organization called Acres of Love, which provides permanent homes for orphans in South Africa. Keehn’s family and church are sponsoring a home in Johannesburg that provides housing for 13 boys which, unlike government orphanages, will not kick children out once they turn 18.

Keehn said his family is excited about adopting and is looking forward to the new addition to their family.

“We really are looking forward to what he’ll provide for us and what we can provide for him,” he said.

Along with serving as a full-time youth pastor, Keehn is working to earn his doctorate. He taught as an adjunct professor at Biola for 12 years after earning his bachelor’s degree from Azusa Pacific University and his M.A. from the Talbot School of Theology. He now joins the university as an associate professor. This semester, Keehn is teaching Internship II and III, which deal with student ministry and leadership development. He is also teaching a course in youth education and leadership.

“I think being a full time youth pastor allows me to be very practical and very relevant in the classroom,” Keehn said. “One feeds the other, and it’s like a cycle, a circle. It’s not like one limits me. Being a full time youth pastor and then teaching youth courses, it really grounds my interaction with students.”

Keehn has a passion for serving, whether it involves classroom instruction, everyday interaction or the global church. This passion began in high school, when he felt God’s call of service and realized he is a tool in God’s hands.

“That’s kind of the motto I’ve lived by my whole life. I’m a tool in God’s hands,” Keehn said. “Part of that means, what a privilege that is, that God has selected me and wants to partner with me in changing the world because God could do it by himself. He doesn’t need me but he’s chosen to do this.”

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