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On the road to Washington, Christian men seek change

October 4, 1997

ON A BUS NEAR FREMONT, Ind. (AP) _ Wendal Toedter wants to save the nation. Bob Rickey wants to save his marriage.

Their goals brought them together with 181 other Christian men for a 30-hour bus trip from northern Minnesota to the National Mall in Washington for Saturday’s Promise Keepers religious rally.

``It is an opportunity to make a statement that I’m concerned (about) the way our country is going, and I intend to do something about it,″ Toedter, 58, said as he stood outside a truck stop near Milwaukee at 2:30 a.m. Friday.

Rickey, who climbed aboard one of four buses in the caravan after attending a divorce hearing in Minneapolis, said he hoped the six-hour evangelical event would help him reunite with his wife and two young children.

``I’m going to try to be a better man,″ he said, ``and hopefully she’ll choose me again.″

Organizers hope to attract hundreds of thousands of men to Saturday’s event, which will transform the Mall into a giant outdoor church. As others drove, flew, rode trains or walked to the capital, the Minneapolis men prayed, watched worship videos and shared their personal stories as the buses rolled through the night toward what could become one of the largest religious gatherings ever in the nation.

The Stand in the Gap rally is a showcase for the Christian’s men’s movement, which has grown from a group of 72 men in 1990 to attract more than a million men to 22 stadium rallies last year.

Organizers say their purpose is not to emulate Louis Farrakhan’s Million Man March in 1995, but the sacred assemblies described in Exodus, I Samuel, Acts and elsewhere in the Bible where men gathered in repentance before God.

What motivated the 183 men in this caravan is a sense they’re participating in a historic Christian event.

``It’s a great adventure and I don’t want to miss it,″ said Gary Benedict, president of Crown College in suburban Minneapolis, as the bus pulled onto I-94 out of Minneapolis. ``I don’t really know what to expect except all I know is, I want to be there.″

Around midnight, as the large men sprawled on the narrow floor trying to sleep, Richard Simon, 36, reflected that the rally was his opportunity to be part of national event similar to the anti-Vietnam War and civil rights demonstrations he saw on television as a youth.

``It’s historical; I want to be a part of it,″ he said. ``I really think God is going to show up in a powerful way.″

Thirty-nine-year-old Steve Kull of the Annandale, Minn., Evangelical Free Church said the rally is an opportunity for Christian men to ``stand up and be counted.″

``The homosexuals march in Washington. The feminists march in Washington. So, if there’s a Christian march in Washington, I think that’s where I ought to be,″ he said. ``I think that’s a lot of what Promise Keepers is about: reclaiming America.″

Amid the pastoral flatland of northern Indiana, as Christian music blasted from the stereo, two men began an impromptu cheer: ``I love Jesus. How about you? I love Jesus. How about you?″

Smiling at the scene was 44-year-old Gene Harkins of the Church of the Open Door in Robbinsdale, Minn. His father died when he was 8, and a combination of tallness and awkwardness drew him into a shell in high school that he did not emerge from until his first Promise Keepers gathering in 1994.

``I never considered myself a man before that,″ he said. ``Being there with all those guys, it started making sense what a man is.″

If seeing a stadium full of men opening up in friendship could have that impact, he said, getting half a million men or more together ``is going to be significant. It’s going to change a lot of people’s lives.″

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