Promise Keepers PKIndy
It was the spring of 94, and I was living in Cincinnati working for Hewlett-Packard but was in the process of moving to Indianapolis to switch to the PSO Division of HP. Friends of my wife were talking about how their husbands were going to the Indianapolis Promise Keepers Conference later that summer. They gave me a application for that event that I sat on for many weeks procrastinating as to whether I wanted to go. However, I did have tension in my life that God could help with. I was taking care of some computer issues for the Michigan Department of Education in Lansing, MI when one evening at the hotel I felt that I should give this PK event a try. So I filled out the application and had the front desk fax it to PK for me. I got a ticket and later found out that I was probably one of the last men to get a ticket.
Now living in Indianapolis, time came for the PK Conference and I was reluctant but forced myself to give it a try, at least for the first Friday night session. Well, I was impressed, you could feel God’s presence with great speakers and 60,000 men singing praise songs. I was in agreement that men needed to step up as spiritual leaders of their families but it was speaker. Rev. Jeffrey Johnson, pastor of Eastern Star Missionary Baptist Church, who helped me to connect with another theme that resonated within my soul, and that was the issue of Racism in America. Promise Keepers had taken a stand for racial reconciliation and called men to unite as brothers. Rev. Johnson captured that for me with his statement; “If God is your father, then I am your brother”.
Promise Keepers traces its origins to a conversation in 1990 between then Colorado head football coach Bill McCartney and friend Dave Wardell while the two were driving to a meeting of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Pueblo, Colorado. During the conversation McCartney stated his desire to see large gatherings of men come together “in the name of Jesus, worshipping and celebrating their faith together”. Bill McCartney, University of Colorado Football Coach, had just come off a very successful season. He was at the top of his coaching career when he announced he was retiring in order to focus exclusively on building the Promise Keepers movement. I suppose this got my attention as much as anything causing me to give PK a chance.
The Indy Conference had created all kinds of discussions in my mind about my relationship with Jesus Christ. During the following weeks I had a lot of time to think about all of this on my drives to and from Lansing, MI. It was during a drive north while listening to praise music CD from the conference that the song Purify My Heart finally hit home. With tears in my eyes, I pulled my car off to the side of I69 near Ft Wayne when I rededicated my life to Christ.
One of the first things I did was to follow up on my concern for racial reconciliation. I saw that Eastern Star Missionary Baptist Church was holding a men’s conference of their own, which I decided to attend. That was an interesting evening spent with a full church of black men praising God. I think there may have been a couple other white men there, but it must have been obvious that I was there with an open mind and heart. At the intermission, some of the leaders came up to me and asked if I would come up front to say why I was there. I guess God was starting to use me. In my own church, I got involved with an accountability group where the foundational book, “Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper” laid the groundwork for how to be a Promise Keeper.
Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper Book
When I am inspired, I want to get involved and that is what began to happen for me with our Men’s Ministry program at my church. I also visited the Promise Keepers offices and struck up some strong relationships with Ray Hilbert and the PK leadership team. This also included meeting Bob Buckner who was starting LoveINC, Love In the Name of Christ. I basically asked what could I do to help. Through the next year these connections and commitments grew, but I also used some of my computer skills to create the website PKIndy.
This was 1994 and websites were a relatively new form of communication, but luckily the Internet provider SurfICI donated the hosting of the site. I used PKIndy to be a focal point for PK and Men’s Ministry activity in the midwest around Indianapolis. I became a PK Ambassador and was also asked to be the Housing Coordinator for the 1995 PK Conference.
Promise Keepers was in serious growth mode in 1995. Many new conference sites were added and I believe all were selling out. Serving as the Housing Coordinator was a fun job allowing me to communicate with many men who were not just looking for a place to stay, but who wanted to create the ultimate experiences for the men’s ministry groups. I was relying heavily on the housing option provided by local high school athletic programs that would open up their school on Friday night providing a floor to sleep on and the athletic bathroom and shower facilities for bathing. One great story that I remember occurred at Crispus Attucks High School. This option for high schools was a great fundraising opportunity based typically on the men making a donation to the athletic program. However, at Attucks there was renovation work taking place that was not completed when expected and caused the high school to not have shower facilities available. I’m not sure how it happened but the school offered the men the option to shower using the sprinklers on the football field. Well you can imagine how much fun 100 men can have playing in the sprinklers on a football field.
Moving into 1996, I had gotten more involved with PK and they asked me to be the Assistant Volunteer Coordinator for the upcoming Indy Conference. This was a little daunting in that we had to help find over 3000 volunteers for the many conference assignments dominated by ushers, store workers, and food distribution. PK was implementing a new computer database program to manage the volunteers and I remember that my IT experience was needed as we debugged the program. Finding the volunteers was not difficult but slotting them into the roles they desired became the real challenge. By 96 I had involved a number of men from my IT staff at IUPUI. Marc Wilson and his wife became valuable store managers and Emil Luca helped me a lot with the database. I was also heavily involved with my own Church Men’s Ministry which birthed a number of PK related events and a weekly Wednesday morning gathering at Perkins. One of the Men’s events that meant a lot to me was getting the hero of the 1987 Indiana Hoosiers NCAA Basketball Championship, Keith Smart, to be our guest speaker for a church full of Indianapolis men.
My original passion for racial reconciliation was continuing to be emphasized with various interactions of Indy black churches. I remember many accountability meetings with Chris Reeder where we found ways to serve the Indy community through LoveINC. But my most cherished involvement came from getting a group of white brothers from my church to venture down to the inner city every Saturday morning to seek out pickup basketball games. We would find a court in some of the roughest neighborhoods where we would just start pickup basketball games. A group of white guys playing basketball here was obviously out of place, which generated interest from local guys to come by to question what we were doing there. These introductions allowed us to invite the local men to play and learn about Promise Keepers. It was during one of these basketball mornings when I had my vision of Jesus. It was a misty wet court where black and white guys had a great game going on. It was spirited basketball and I was out front on the point when I saw a vision of Jesus in sandals elbowing for position under the basket. I remember I kind of went into a trance for a few seconds, it was very real. That vision epitomizes my relationship with Jesus Christ.
Promise Keepers was really starting to get noticed by 96. Conferences were selling out and donations were pouring in to make PK a powerful voice for Men’s Ministry in America. The anticipation for the 97 conferences had exploded. Tickets were grabbed up quickly by church men’s groups. Local PK activities were also growing with the PK designations of Point Men and Ambassadors trying to help church men’s group grow and be more effective. As I remember, serving as the Volunteer Coordinator for the 97 Indy Promise Keepers Conference was not about finding volunteers, but more about trying to appease everyone’s desire for certain assignments. However, there was a memorable crisis at the 1998 conference that I had to navigate. On the Saturday of the conference we needed to feed 60,000 men within a small window of time for lunch. We facilitated this by contracting with a food service contractor that provided box lunches delivered in refrigerated semi truck trailers. All I had to do was find 50-75 volunteers who would be willing to unload the box lunches to make them available for the thousands of men to walk by tables and grab a box lunch. These volunteers were typically women from a few large churches who were free to com down in the morning to prepare this distribution.
It was about 10 am when I got confirmation that the primary provider for these volunteers was not showing up. So here I am, the guy responsible for volunteers who had no volunteers to unload 60,000 box lunches in the next 2 hours. I think I contemplated my option for a few minutes before I settled on going out into the arena to find men willing to volunteer. However, I distinctly remember telling my team that we did not have time to randomly ask men to volunteer due to the lack of time and lack of organization that we had available to us. So I looked up at the men around the stadium and noticed groups of men with the same T-Shirts on or same hats. That is when I decided that I needed to go to one of these groups, find out who their leader was so that I could ask them if they would be willing to rally their men to save the conference. Well you can imagine that the response was exactly what I was in need of. One large group of men that essentially represented a large Church Men’s Group said,” heck yes, how can we help?” I just said to him to follow me and the day was saved.
The culmination for Promise Keepers in 1997 was the Stand In The Gap, A Sacred Assembly of Men.
This gathering of more than a million men on the National Mall in Washington DC on October 4th, 1997 was the pinnacle of the Promise Keepers Revival. This event was significant, but I got the impression at the time that news coverage was tempered because it was a Christian based movement. I heard that most every charter bus in the eastern part of the US was taking men to Washington DC. No, I did not go but I assumed I would until I realized that my wife was to be ordained as a new minister during that weekend. So yes, this was the pinnacle and PK began to fade away over the next few years. I feel that one of the major reasons for the fall was the decision by PK to make all conferences free from then on. A wonderful thing to do to make sure that anyone could attend, but that is not how men operate. Men want to provide a benefit, not receive one. The stage was set for the largest conference schedule yet for 1998.
In 1996 Promise Keepers held a special conference in Atlanta exclusively for 40,000 Pastors from around the world. This set the stage for PK to present regional Pastors Conferences in 1998, and Indy was scheduled for February 19th. Well by then we had a very competent local team able to facilitate a Pastor’s Conference that was held at the old Pacers’ Basketball Arena. I remember it was a high energy event with great speakers, but what I remember most was the healing that was needed for our Pastors. I remember it was time to get Coach Bill McCartney to address the conference but he was serving the needs of broken pastors in the prayer room. When I found Coach, he was on his knees hugging a pastor who had completely broken down. It was obvious that the conference was going to wait so that coach could help heal this man. That is when I truly saw God working through Coach Mac.
A Friend of Jesus
I want to tell you about a friend of Jesus, whom I got to know through volunteering for the 1998 Indianapolis Promise Keepers Conference. Early in the week of the conference, we were starting to put together the infrastructure that would help manage the many volunteers that would make the conference a reality, Becky Minglin, the most wonderful Volunteer Checkin Supervisor that a conference could have, introduced me to Art Remington. As you shook his hand and made eye contact, you knew you were in special company. His prominent nametag among his conference security credentials simply stated “Art Remington, Friend of Jesus“.
Through the rest of the week, I was blessed by getting to know Art better. Art had been serving our Lord as a minister in California when his life took a turn. His wife went to be with God and then our Lord instructed Art to get involved in some sort of traveling ministry. This traveling ministry turned out to be volunteering for every Promise Keeper Conference since her passing. The Indianapolis PK Conference was like the 50th conference he had worked. This really had an impact on me regarding his commitment, when I saw the old red pickup truck with a camper shell that had over 200,000 miles on it! He called this his home.
It quickly became apparent that all of the PK staff regulars not only knew Art, but felt a sense of ease knowing that Art was there. I’m sure there was not a job that Art had not performed at a PK Conference. I was blessed because he was actually focusing his time to support my group, the Volunteers. Art was to be the Volunteer Staff Representative, VSR, for the upcoming Omaha PK Conference, so he was working with us in final preparation. Yes, Art was invaluable to us, if there was a problem you called Art. You may have seen him driving around a yellow flatbed cart that became known as the Art Mobile. I’ll never forget the time Friday evening after things started to calm down a little. Art had been out on Capital Street with a bullhorn redirecting men with registration problems, as well as recruiting more volunteers. I called him on the radio just to ask how and where he was. The reply came back, “I’m writing another chapter of my book out here on Capitol Street”. Art was ministering to a group of brothers, amazingly, he always had time for that.
I’m sure Art could write many books with all of his PK experiences. But I want to convey more about Art then just the service that he provided. Art is not only a friend of Jesus, but more like one of Jesus’ Disciples. Whether it was working side-by-side with him, talking about basketball, or just looking into his eyes, he affected you for the good of God. I know the prayer he gave to our Volunteer Check In team after we closed down Saturday was straight from our Father. I stayed late into the night on that Saturday, working with Art, just so I could have more time with him. Archived Web Page referencing the 1998 Indianapolis PK Conference.
We had another PK Conference in Indianapolis July 9-10, 1999, which took a scary turn for my involvement. A few days before the conference began, I woke up to find that someone had thrown major rocks through the back window of my Ford Taurus. It was also obvious that the vandals had urinated on the back of the car which was parked in my driveway. My Taurus was easily identified as a supporter of Promise Keepers as well as for the upcoming Billy Graham Crusade to be held in Indy later that year. This brought everything into perspective. Satan was not happy with the progress being made by these movements. This act of violence did not influence my involvement, however, I was not going to let my family stay at home without me. This actually turned out to be a blessing for my family, who came down to the conference, and helped serve throughout the weekend. I do believe the experience was quite meaningful for them. I then understood how important it was that hundreds of women prayed over every stadium seat in the arena before every conference.
Promise Keepers had given me my Born Again Christian start which steered me into various faith based ministries. I helped start a chapter of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at IUPUI. I was also actively involved with Tres Dias Weekends which spawned the creation of New Hope Great Banquet with an emphasis on serving men from the inner city. As I was finishing up my Masters Degree from Indiana University I started looking for a new university where I could serve as the CIO. Nothing was really clicking until I told God that what I really wanted was to serve at a Faith based university preferably in the West. The next day I responded to CIO opening at Carroll College in Montana and George Fox University in Oregon. I ended up at George Fox where I thoroughly enjoyed working for a true Christian University. Plus I helped start a new chapter of LoveINC in Newberg, OR.
I had gotten involved with blogging to document my various backpacking trips which are relied on by other backpackers in this unique community. I have also created an occasional blog post about other activities in my life which eventually grew to a point where my blog is really my life’s diary. It has become my written legacy for future descendants. This post on Promise Keepers has been in development for many years and became even more important as I realized how little was documented about this Promise Keepers Revival of the 90s. Well this post has found its way to various brothers in Christ who have enjoyed the reminder of Promise Keepers. However, I was especially encouraged by reconnecting with Art Remington, “Friend of Jesus” who I mentioned in this post. Art is alive and well living in Pennsylvania, still serving our Lord. We had a great conversation by phone where I discovered that Art has been involved with Promise Keepers all this time. He mentioned the release of the Documentary “Stand In The Gap 25th Anniversary Celebration“. This documentary reminded me of how PK really got it right. There cannot be any political or denominational agenda associated with a true revival that is ordained by God. That is what made PK so powerful and is why it would be so difficult to replicate in today’s landscape. But that does not mean that we should not try.
Promise Keepers Today
The Promise Keepers organization does still exist after a few restarts. It is just a shell of its glorious past, but the message is still on target and as important as ever. They have excellent resources for men’s ministry which includes a powerful PK Mobile App that adapts their message to our current digital world. They have various Bible course study options that can be facilitated by this app or in your men’s ministry group. And they have held a few large gatherings of men that can be reviewed via their website.