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Promise Keepers had gotten my attention. There I was in Jacksonville Stadium, with about 35,000 men, singing hymns and listening to some of the most powerful messages about changing my life. Now Promise Keepers has a mixed reputation, ranging from lifesaving and life-changing to sexist. This story is not really about Promise Keepers, but the organization does play a key part, and it is important to have some background on them. In March of 1990, Bill McCartney, then football coach for the University of Colorado, and Dave Wardell, Ph.D., traveled to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes banquet in Pueblo, Colorado. In the context of praying and worshipping together, their conversation and search for the most relevant issue facing men today led them to start Promise Keepers. For those who may not know, the promise that is asked of men is as follows:

  • Honor Jesus Christ through worship and prayer, and be obedient to God’s Word.
  • Pursue vital relationships with a few other men, understanding that we, as men, need brothers to help us keep our promises.
  • Practice spiritual, moral, ethical, and sexual purity. Build a strong marriage and family through love, protection, and biblical values.
  • Support the mission of “your” church by honoring and praying for the pastor and by actively giving time and resources. (In other words, regularly attend church.)
  • Reach beyond racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity.
  • Be an influence in this world, and be obedient to the Great Commandment (Mark 12:30-31) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).

The idea of these seven tenants was so logical to my soul that I found a real sense of renewal in the day-and-a-half Jacksonville gathering. There was great fellowship with other men, speakers that transformed the seemingly complex messages of Scripture into understandable choices in life, and great music. One thing that I will always remember is how moving a hymn can be when played to contemporary rhythms. I think that the conservative church today is missing an excellent addition to worship. At the close of this gathering of men, Coach McCartney threw out a challenge. And there is nothing like a challenge to get the attention of men. In the following year, on October 4, 1997, there was to be another gathering of men, but in Washington, D.C., on the Mall in front of the White House. Coach McCartney wanted a million men to kneel in worship and prayer. I just let the idea go in and out of my head. It was too crazy an idea.

About one year later, men were planning their trip to Washington. In two other local churches, there were six men. They were looking for three others to share the cost of a rental van and make the pilgrimage. I can’t understand what rationale I used to think that decision over, but I said yes. And soon it was about 3:00 PM on October 3rd, and we were loading our van. Taking turns, each of us helped drive through the night. At 8:00 AM, our van pulled into a Metro parking garage. We left the van just outside of Washington and took the metro train to the Mall. I knew right then; that this would be a different kind of day.

The metro train was loaded with men singing hymns and sharing the events of their journey with each other. Upon our arrival in Washington, the nine of us made our way to the Mall. It was then that I realized that I was about to see, feel, and partake in a historical event. Here are just some of the statistics from that day:

  • 4,200 chartered buses registered
  • More than 175 chartered jets were scheduled to land at Washington, D.C. airports
  • More than 3,500 motorcyclists rode into the D.C. city limits, many of whom rode cross-country
  • Total number of watts of sound on the entire Mall: 250,000
  • Number of credentialed press: 1,098 from more than 20 countries
  • Total number of credentialed volunteers: 10,000 (Total number of volunteers: 50,000)
  • Number of Jumbotrons: 11 (The nation’s supply of Jumbotrons was exhausted between Promise Keepers and a simultaneous concert tour.)
  • Number of Bibles that arrived on the Mall Thursday, Oct. 2, 1997: 1 million, which required 17 tractor-trailers
  • Number of portable toilets: 1,500 (I thought they could have used more)
  • Number of generators to power screen, speakers, and lights: 24—enough to do a small town
  • The entire Bible was read on the Mall 27 times by the sacred assembly of men
  • The entire city of D.C. was prayed for on prayer walks, zip code by zip code
  • Number of Metro passes sold: 725,000
  • Total number of hotel rooms in the D.C., metroplex: 90,000.
  • Number of rooms still available Friday night: 312
  • Media Statistics
    • C-SPAN: 50 million households
    • Odyssey: 33 million households
    • FamilyNet: 15 million households
    • TBN 50 million households
    • Cornerstone: 25 million households
    • More than 700 individual cable systems televised Stand In The Gap (STIG)
    • More than 280 radio stations broadcast SITG live
    • The translation of the event was in Spanish and Korean
    • Internet live audio broadcast from the PK website, resulting in 15,750 audio requests using RealAudio and 295,000 requests for still photographs updated once per minute from 15 different countries.
    • The C-SPAN website also broadcasts SITG Front page newspaper coverage in foreign countries, including Denmark and China

Yes, this day was going to be different. The theme for the day was a Bible verse from Ezekiel 22:30, “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.” This was about God searching for at least one man to humble himself and stand before God to make a difference in the land. Oh yes, this was going to be that day. God would have one million.

The program began at noon and went on until 66:00 PM Speaker after speaker hammered home the need for repentance, prayer, forgiveness, humility, and responsibility. It was a time of deep reflection and painful truths to take responsibility for and to support each other. Up to that time in my life, I had never attended a six-hour church service, I had never driven over 800 miles to attend a church, and, finally, I had never stayed up from 3:00 PM on a Friday to about 5:00 PM on Sunday without sleep before. It was three days filled with fellowship, spiritual growth, and fun.

It is many years past now, and I often find myself on that trip. A picture hangs on my wall of the Mall in Washington, taken from a helicopter. While each group who has met at the Mall attempts to claim the attendance record, there is no doubt that on this special day, over a million people “stood in the gap.” There were men, women, and children there that day. There were people of all colors, all faiths, and all nationalities. The gap that day was opened by a call to worship from a Jewish ram’s horn (Shofars). Our American Indian brothers had set up Tepees as areas for prayer, and banners flew from groups of men, representing every church and every denomination imaginable. Any one of the many events, speakers, or experiences that day could have been the highlight for me. But they were not.

Over those three days, there is only one second that will stand out for me forever. The program was well underway when one of the speakers chose unity as his topic. Now, on the surface, we all have a pretty good definition of what unity means. This day, however, took a unique turn. Our speaker called out to the crowd of people to shout out the denomination of their church. There was a loud grumbling sound, and you could hear so many different denominations that the response of the group was indistinguishable. Immediately, the speaker called out, “And now, shout out the name of the one Lord we serve!” In the following second, a million voices shouted, “Jesus Christ.” The ground trembled, the sound was pure, and the unity was perfect. Over ten miles away, people in Washington heard our unity. On our knees before the White House, our government heard our unity, and I am sure our God heard our unity. Life lessons do not have to be long. This one only took one second, in unity.