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Bibles, men pour in for D.C. revival

Seventeen semitrailer trucks pulled up to the Mall in Washington Thursday night carrying 1 million New Testaments, and forklifts began leaving piles of the scriptures along the Mall from the Capitol almost to the Washington Monument.

That's just one sign that Saturday's all-men evangelical Promise Keepers gathering, where the books will be distributed for free, will be of biblical proportions. It may be the largest gathering ever in Washington - which has had many huge throngs.It could attract from 700,000 to 1 million or more - although Promise Keepers will issue no attendance estimate before or after the gathering, which it says will help keep the focus on individual repentance and resolve for improvement by each man.

Among the group will be 1,000 to 1,500 men from the Salt Lake area, said Lefty Espinosa, who helped coordinate their trip. Also, Utah attendee Sam Barber said "several hundred" more were coming from Ogden. And more were expected from other parts of the state.

Meanwhile, some churches in Utah planned to show the six-hour event via television for those who could not journey to the nation's capital. In Utah, a prayer rally is planned at the state Capitol, beginning at 7:30 a.m.

All of that helps fulfill a vision by Promise Keepers President Randy Phillips, which began when he attended a national prayer breakfast in Washington in 1994.

He said as he traveled around Washington that day, "My heart couldn't help from crying out to God" because of what he saw as moral decay in America and his desire to see improvement.

He said that led to a spiritual high that stayed with him as he traveled home to Colorado. And when he was driving along a highway there, he said he had not quite a vision - but a momentary glimpse at what this gathering could be.

"I saw a multitude of men," he said. Not just the tens of thousands his group had already attracted to stadium gatherings - but a really huge mass. "And I saw one man kneeling in the middle of them, crying with his eyes focused toward heaven in hope."

Phillips took that as a sign that the group should plan and hold the huge gathering for prayer and confession on the Mall in Washington. So he and Bill McCartney - former University of Colorado football coach and Promise Keepers founder - planned it.

They originally hoped to hold it in 1996 - but delayed it for a year so that it wouldn't be caught up in last year's presidential election politics.

Now, the men - not to mention free Bibles - are coming in huge numbers.

For example, all but 312 hotel rooms among the 90,000 in the Washington area were booked Friday - and the few remaining were in high demand.

Washington's three international airports had no more room to house chartered airplanes. Washington's subway system sold 312,000 passes for Saturday so far - even though it can handle a maximum of only 100,000 riders per hour.

Espinosa said many Utahns were planning to arrive at the Mall as early as 6 a.m. - six hours before the event's noon start - to land a good seat. Subways were opening at 4 a.m. - four hours early for a Saturday - to accommodate such travelers.

Some of the other numbers about the event are similarly huge. Promise Keepers:

- Issued credentials to 842 journalists from 15 countries.

- Set up 12 Jumbo-tron televisions along the Mall for those in the gathering not close enough to see the stage. The group will also have 250,000 watts of sound from speakers scattered along the Mall.

- Is using 50,000 volunteers to help run the event.

- Will have 150 food vending booths scattered on nearby Constitution Avenue. And the Mall will even have 1,500 portable johns for the crowd.

"We're not this good. We couldn't accomplish a fraction of what is taking place. It is God," Phillips said Thursday.