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10/8/97 FIRST-PERSON Reflections before & after D.C. Promise Keepers rally

WASHINGTON (BP)–Noon Friday, Oct. 3, near the huge stage on the east end of the Mall in Washington, D.C.
There are no strangers among the hundreds of thousands of Christian brothers who have come to Washington, D.C., to “Stand In The Gap.”
LeRoy Landhuis of Colorado Springs, Colo., chats with a new friend. Landhuis, a real estate developer, has been a Promise Keeper since a former Denver Broncos football player invited him to a 1991 rally in Boulder, Colo. Former Colorado University football coach Bill McCartney and the other organizers expected 2,000 men, LeRoy recalls, and 4,200 showed up. “From there it’s been unbelievable what’s happened.”
Traveling from Philadelphia to Washington and reading words carved in the stone of historic buildings, Landhuis points out, it is obvious God has been in this country — the United States of America — from the beginning. “It’s only fitting that God would call us back and give us another chance.”
And why have so many answered God’s call to Washington? “They wanted to be counted,” Landhuis explains. “When God says of Oct. 4, 1997, ‘That’s the day I decided to spare your country,’ the men who were there can wear it as a badge of honor.”

Shortly after noon Friday, same location. Randy Messer and Clarence Lance of Oak Grove, Mo., cover the final yards of their two-month prayer walk. After leaning against the stage the large wooden cross which they and others have carried from Southern California to Washington, an emotional Messer prays, “May we be willing to die on behalf of a nation.”
Afterward, they share a few of their memories from the trip. About 1,800 to 2,000 people took a turn carrying the cross. “The body of Christ has done this,” Messer says. Forty-six people made professions of faith in Christ during the prayer walk.
The journey changed him, Messer said, referring to a sense of brokenness. “We’ve got a lot of rich, young rulers — and I’m one of them.” For some, it’s not riches but personal agendas that keep them from Christ, he adds.
Messer tells of carrying his cross through Oak Grove one day and seeing a school bus that one of his children was on. He was concerned that his child would be taunted. “I felt some shame there.”
God told him that in the other children’s homes and in his own were symbols of violence, immorality, deceit and other forms of sin. Randy got the message: “It’s time my people hold the cross up as a rallying banner.”
The cross does more than anything to turn people’s attention to God, Messer notes. “They may not come to him but it gets their attention.”

Early Friday afternoon, near the stage. Promise Keepers volunteer Doug Heffner of Charleston, S.C., is manning a table covered with copies of segments of Scripture. He explains the Bible has been divided into 180 parts, and people are invited to go sit on the grass and read one part, which takes 30 to 40 minutes. The idea, Doug says, is to “consecrate the Mall for what God’s going to do tomorrow.”
He predicts by the time the day is over, people will have read through the Bible 15 to 30 times. Handing back his Scripture pages, a reader in overalls says, “Awesome! I’m pumped now.” Another comments that pausing to read drove something home to him. No matter how many men show up the next day, “This is bigger than all of us.”

2 p.m. Friday in the media tent next to the Mall. Dale Schlafer and other organizers of Stand In The Gap are giving an overview and fielding questions on Saturday’s rally. They emphasize Promise Keepers has no plans to estimate the attendance, nor to debate anyone else’s estimate.
Ed Barron, in charge of logistics for the event, puts it: “As far as the number coming, we’re expecting one person to show up — and that’s the Lord Jesus Christ.”
A reporter challenges Schlafer with the question: What have you done to prepare for this event? Dale replies he began to fast in early August and God revealed sin in his life, in his relationships with people.
For example, his 87-year-old mother is losing her short-term memory, and Dale realized he often became “very sharp with her.” He went to his mom and asked for her forgiveness, and they had a great time being reconciled. She planned to watch Saturday’s rally on television in Dallas.

9:30 p.m. Friday at the Washington Monument. U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft, R.-Mo., is preparing to lead the “Founders’ Faith Memorial Walking Tour.” Hundreds of men read in unison the words of George Washington — “Remember that God is our only sure trust” — before encircling the monument twice and singing the Doxology.
The process is repeated at the Jefferson Memorial, including a rousing “God Bless America” at the foot of the great man’s statue, and at the Korean War, Vietnam Veterans and Lincoln memorials.
Afterward Ashcroft signs programs on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. A member of a group that visited the Senate floor earlier in the day asks Ashcroft if he has followed the tradition of carving his name on his desk.
Ashcroft says no, that the senators who do that are trying to take their place in history. “I think the verdict of history is not what counts. It’s the verdict of eternity — that’s what counts.”

7:30 a.m. Saturday. An estimated 1,300 bikers from the Christian Motorcyclists Association gather in a parking lot in Manassas, Va. Among them are Missourians Mel Callahan of Jefferson City, Larry Burke of Stoutland and John Clotfelter of Richland.
“It was one of the most awesome experiences I’ve ever been in,” Callahan recalls. “Motorcycles as far as you could see in front and in back.” Upon arrival at Washington’s Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, the motorcyclists parked their bikes and “and became one drop in a large pool standing shoulder to shoulder in the gap.”

8:45 a.m. Saturday on the Mall. Roscoe Blineybury of Pennsauken, N.J., lifts a cross from which hangs a banner. He tells of undergoing rehabilitation for drug addiction more than 20 times — without success. Then he met Jesus, and together they beat the enemy.

9:30 a.m. Saturday in the media tent. Promise Keepers founder McCartney states, “The very word, ‘justice,’ means to see the needs in others and respond to it.” He acknowledges a lack of connection to needs-meeting from Promise Keepers.
“You’re having a pep rally and we’re not seeing enough fruit,” critics of the organization have said. McCartney predicts, “After today we’re gonna see more fruit.”
He outlines the “D.C. Covenant,” through which Promise Keepers hopes to inspire churches to start vibrant men’s ministries and prayer partnerships and to eliminate racism in their bodies by the year 2000. “But all of our hope is in the living God,” McCartney says. “Man can set plans, but God must move in their heart.”

Noon Saturday on The Mall. “Stand In The Gap: A Solemn Assembly of God” begins with four blasts from a shofar — an instrument made from a ram’s horn.
Six hours later, the assembly ends.
“My most memorable experience at this assembly came while we sang together the great hymns of worship,” reflected Ryan Gamble of Columbia, Mo., after the Promise Keepers rally.
“‘How Great Thou Art’ broke me to tears of worship, adoration and awareness of my own sinful heart. I believe that I now much better understand Isaiah’s experience when he saw the glory of God and was ‘undone.’ To realize that an excess of 1 million men were in one place at one time lifting their voices, hearts and self in worship gave me a glimpse of heaven and the full experience of worship that we will know there. As we men rediscover that awe of God, we will want to be his men in this place of serving and honoring him in our lives, families, churches and in our country.”
Said Ben Robb of Columbia, Mo.: “I pray that this just not be a mountaintop experience but a movement of God that will truly change me as a person, my family, my neighborhood, my city, my state, the country and the world. The Holy Spirit has convicted me to be a better father, better husband, a spiritual leader and willing to step outside of my comfort zone and speak boldly in the name of Christ.”

    About the Author

  • Tim Palmer