PALATKA—One lightning strike that claimed the life of a beloved teen girl has sparked a spiritual revival throughout an entire community in northeast Florida.
While 16-year-old Baylee Holbrook was hunting in a blind with her father, Matthew Holbrook, in Putnam County, Florida, in late September, lightning glanced off a nearby tree, with both the teen and her father losing consciousness. Her father awakened to find his daughter not breathing. Administering CPR, the frantic father called 911, and his daughter was rushed to the hospital. Even as her father turned to social media to urge prayer, “Pray for my baby. Every single person put your knees on the ground and pray,” and as hundreds joined in prayer vigils, the teen died.
But her legacy lives on.
Known for her faith
Described as having a “heart of gold,” the high school junior, who attended Palatka Jr.-Sr.
High School, was a cheerleader and loved photography and hunting. Those who knew her best said that, above all, she passionately pursued knowing God and making Him known.
Willie McKinnon III, a close family friend and pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Palatka, where the Holbrook family are members, described the teen as “instrumental” in leading other students to Christ. “Baylee had text groups and would send Bible verses. She also invited them to church,” McKinnon said.
“She was the one on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings who was texting her peers and loved ones: ‘Hey, hope to see you at church,’ and ‘Hope to see you there,’ because she always wanted to see people be better than who they were,” McKinnon said. “Her main goal was to make sure they had every opportunity to accept Jesus Christ into their hearts.”
Through her heartbreaking death, that goal has been realized beyond measure.
‘In awe of God’
Since Holbrook’s death in late September, hundreds of people—young and old—have made decisions to follow Christ. This massive wave of Christian salvation decisions has cultivated a heart of revival not only in Trinity Baptist Church, but also in other local churches.
In mid-October, just two weeks after the teen’s death, with hundreds looking on, 172 middle and high school students were baptized in St. Johns River. Many of the new believers stated they had been impacted personally by the life and testimony of Holbrook.
I have never been a part of a movement of God where God is moving upon the hearts of so many.
“The catalyst that God used was the sudden death of a teenage girl who was known for her strong faith in Christ,” said Ron Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church Palatka.
The baptismal service reached across “denominational and racial barriers that generally keep us separated into our silos. Our church members and community are in awe of God,” Smith said.
Pastor Smith added, “The Holbrook family has been an amazing testament to trusting Jesus,” even in their heartbreak. Smith affirmed McKinnon “as he leads his church through this loss and leads through a spiritual revival that is taking place, while he, himself, is grieving.”
The revival isn’t stopping with the baptismal service. “The pastors, churches and community are united in our desire to continue to fan the flames of what God is doing so that we would not just see this fire burn out. Pastors recognize the great work of discipling those who have surrendered to Jesus Christ,” Smith said.
“I feel an even more profound fervency to equip and send Christians into the streets of Palatka to ‘Go and make disciples,’” Smith added. “In times like these, spiritual leaders have a great privilege and awesome responsibility as we are invited to lean into the lives of our church members and community in a way that is beyond normal.”
Holbrook’s testimony has reached far beyond students within her local church and school, with at least one national and one international secular publication sharing her story, even describing her Christian faith.
‘Movement of God’
“I have never been a part of a movement of God where God is moving upon the hearts of so many. Thirty pastors from different churches or varying denominations showed up in support at the baptismal service. A lady spoke to me after the baptism event. With tears streaming down her face, she shared that she is 74 years old and has prayed that revival would come to Palatka . . . and how grateful to God she is that she lived to see this day take place. This seems to be the general sentiment of our community,” Smith said.
Palatka resident Jenna Mathis Rice has witnessed firsthand the impact Holbrook’s Christ-centered life has had throughout the area.
“While I only met Baylee once, it is obvious that she was a Jesus follower,” Rice said. “Since her death, hundreds of people have made commitments or recommitments to follow Jesus. As an outsider to this situation, but one who knows my community well, it has been incredible to watch this revival unfold.”
With reporting by Jessica Pigg and Teodosia Rivera