Baltimore men say group makes difference in lives Brothers in Christ charters 47 buses for Mall rally

October 05, 1997|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

A school bus on any other day, Bus #556 pulled away from Memorial Stadium shortly after 7 a.m. yesterday, carrying about 40 men and two children to what they expected would be something great, the Promise Keepers' "Stand in the Gap" rally in Washington.

The deep tones of an all-male chorus -- a group that may never be together again -- singing "Amazing Grace" and "Lord I Lift Your Name on High," filled the bus as it moved south on Baltimore streets.

"My wife, she supports this big-time," said Robert Gibson, 29, of Baltimore, turning away from the window and eager to talk about his experience with the national Christian men's movement. "She's trying to get me to go to church. Today she told me, 'Have a nice time; here's your Bible.' I know I'm going to get a good message out of this one."

Gibson, maintenance director at a nursing home, was on his way to his second Promise Keepers event. His boss at Mariner Health in Glen Burnie invited Gibson and colleague Tony Richardson to their first Promise Keepers rally this summer. Like others who have attended the stadium rallies, Gibson said the organization's message has made a difference in his life.

"Tell how you used to drink and go to clubs," prompted seat-mate Richardson, 33, when Gibson was asked how his life changed after the rally they attended at RFK Stadium.

"I used to drink, and I used to come home and fuss with my wife; I used to tell her I was hanging with the fellas," Gibson said. "I don't hang with the same crowd I used to." And, Gibson said, he attends church more regularly.

His story of a life changed was similar to others among the men on Bus #556, one of 47 buses chartered by Brothers in Christ, a loose network of Baltimore area churches, white and black congregations. More than 2,000 men left with the group's buses from Memorial Stadium between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m.

A few rows in front of Richardson and Gibson sat their boss at Mariner Health, Brian Pabst, who paid for the RFK meeting for the two men. It was his way of acting on the organization's call to "break down walls" between races, he said. Richardson and Gibson are black; Pabst is white.

Promise Keepers has come under some criticism for having a mostly white membership, but it has begun to encourage men to reach out to other races.

When the three show up at company softball games wearing their "Brothers in Christ" baseball caps, they automatically prompt questions. Just another chance to share their experience, Pabst said.

As for critics who say Promise Keepers preaches male superiority and dominance over women, Pabst said they misunderstand the message. Men are supposed to love their wives as Christ loves the church, not dominate them, said Pabst, member of Grace Fellowship Church in Timonium.

"Our relationship is like this," he said clasping his hands together, fingers intertwined, to demonstrate his relationship with his wife of nearly 17 years. "It's not like this," he said, placing one hand flat over the other. Men are called to be the spiritual head in the family, but for women "it doesn't mean be a doormat," he said.

Across the aisle, Grace Fellowship member Rother Chambers, 55, chuckled at the notion. "I have a wife who cannot be dominated," he said with a smile.

As a result of hearing the Promise Keepers message at several stadium rallies, Chambers said, he is more apt to listen to his wife now when he comes home from work, instead of isolating himself with his own problems.

"When you come in from the job, you walk in the house, you sit down, you sigh and you ask her: 'What's on your mind,' " he said. "When you show love, you will receive love in return."

Once in Washington, Chambers, Pabst, Richardson and Gibson, along with several members of Grace Fellowship, joined a river of men headed from the parking lot at RFK Stadium on about a two-mile walk to the Mall.

The group used walkie-talkies to keep track of each other in the crush of people until they could stake out a plot of grass near the Air and Space Museum.

There they hunkered down with snacks and their Bibles distributed by Promise Keepers to await the start of the rally. The call to worship in a blast from a shofar, a ram's horn traditionally used to mark the Jewish New Year, brought them to their feet.

But after the songs and introduction to the event, the call was given, and the men knelt in the grass and began to pray.

Pub Date: 10/05/97

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