He wrung his hands. His eyes searched the room. Bill Middlebrook was less than 16 hours from going on one of the most important trips of his life, and he couldn’t find words to describe it.
He fasted and prayed for this journey. Middlebrook is a 55-year-old finance manager who works in a clock-ticking quiet office. He has gray hair, a Bible in his desk and a desire to be part of history: to pray shoulder-to-shoulder with a half-million men in the nation’s capital on Saturday.
Middlebrook, his three sons, and a grandson are among the hundreds of men from Spokane and Coeur d’Alene traveling to Washington, D.C. They will be part of a day of prayer organized by Promise Keepers, a Christian men’s outreach group.
Hundreds more men are expected to watch the event on television in Inland Northwest churches.
“It will probably be the highlight of my life,” Middlebrook said.
Jim Cook feels the same way.
When the Spokane man learned of the gathering, he wanted to go, but knew he couldn’t attend unless he found a special flight that would leave after work tonight. Others would have a similar predicament, he thought. So last spring he gave United Airlines a $6,000 deposit to reserve a 757 jet.
“There was a lot of faith, but not much concern,” said Cook, plant manager at EZ Boat Trailers. He knew he’d have no trouble finding the 188 men needed to fill the plane. Each paid $500 for the flight. There are 20 on a waiting list.
Since its founding in 1990 by a former college football coach, Promise Keepers has drawn more than 2 million men to sports arenas where they pray, sing and hear a message that God wants them to stop shirking their responsibilities.
Saturday’s assembly will be different from those stadium meetings. Instead of teaching, the day will be devoted largely to prayer.
“Promise Keepers is about getting men to stand upon their hind legs and do what they are supposed to be doing - being responsible for their church, family, wives and community,” said John Yett, coordinator for the Kootenai County task force of Promise Keepers.
“It’s helped me outgrow my macho image and understand the way we are supposed to treat women - with respect and love,” Cook said.
Taught through his life that it was manly to keep his emotions to himself, Cook now meets once a week with half a dozen men to share his feelings.
Middlebrook has gone to five stadium rallies. His ticket to the first one came in a wedding anniversary card from his wife, Juanita, in 1993.
“It’s men meeting together wanting to change, to be men of integrity, to be men of truth,” Juanita Middlebrook said.
There were 50,000 men at the first rally Bill Middlebrook attended. It was in Boulder, Colo.
“It’s not just a high you get one day which then leaves,” he said. “It’s a life-changing thing.”
Beyond that, this man with a doctorate degree struggles to find words to convey the memories of that first rally and the four that followed. If you had been there, you would understand, he said.
Juanita said her husband was a good man before Promise Keepers, but since attending the conferences he’s actively encouraged other men to experience the worships.
Bill Middlebrook’s youngest son, Phil, has gone to one Promise Keepers conference with him. Phil is 25, wants to get an accounting degree and admires his father.
Seeing tens of thousands of men worship in Seattle’s Kingdome amazed Phil. When he learned a million men might gather in Washington, he wanted to go.
For Middlebrook’s oldest son, Tim, the trip to Washington will be his first encounter with Promise Keepers. He’s going because of his dad and for the chance to be with his brothers and nephew.
The trio will be met in Washington by Scott, the second oldest son. He lives in Colorado and is bringing his 6-year-old son, Nathan.
Even if the boy isn’t old enough to remember the event, “at least he’ll be able to say 20 years later that he was there with his father, his grandfather and his uncles,” Bill Middlebrook said.
The Promise Keepers gathering on the National Mall will pray, but they also may be greeted by protest. The National Organization for Women charges the group empowers men at the expense of women.
Juanita Middlebrook doesn’t agree with that. “To me, the main thing is men are urged to take responsibility,” she said.
For Bill Middlebrook, Promise Keepers has stirred something inside of him - something he’s thankful to feel so late in life. He believes it has made him want to be a man of integrity, “a man whose work can be trusted,” he said.
By work he doesn’t mean his employment at the Intercollegiate Center for Nursing Education. He’s talking about everything.
On Saturday, three generations of Middlebrooks will kneel in the nation’s capital and humble themselves before God.
“It may never be recorded in the history books; in fact, it probably won’t,” Middlebrook said. “But in our hearts it will.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Churches to air Saturday rally The Promise Keepers gathering on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., will be broadcast live from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at these Inland North west locations: Calvary Baptist, 203 E. Third, Spokane First Presbyterian, 318 S. Cedar, Spokane Manito Presbyterian, 401 E. 30th, Spokane Marshall Community Church in Marshall Ridgeview Christian Center, N. 5610 Ash, Spokane Rock of Ages Christian Fellow ship, W. 2131 Woodside, Spokane Valley Fourth Memorial, 2303 S. Bowdish, Spokane Valley WSU Cooperative Extension, N. 222 Havana (south entrance), Spokane Redeemer Lutheran (limited by space to their congregation) Harvest Christian Fellowship, 1316 N. Lincoln, Spokane Valley Four Square, 1226 N. Park, Spokane Coeur d’Alene Assembly of God, 2200 N. 7th, Coeur d’Alene Sandpoint First Baptist, 1230 Michigan, Sandpoint His Place, 3025 E. 16th, Post Falls Calvary Chapel, 2023 S. Higgins, Missoula Faith Assembly Christian Center, 1800 N. Road 72, Pasco Moscow Church of the Nazarene, Sixth and Mountain View, Moscow St. Ignatius Teen Center in St. Ignatius, Mont. KMBI radio will broadcast the event on 1330 AM and 107.9 FM. In Spokane, the assembly can be seen on TCI cable TV channel 20 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.