Promise Keepers didn't keep promises
No-shows left organizer $35,000 in debt

Wednesday, December 2, 1998

BY MARK CURNUTTE
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Mike Marcou kept his promise, but when hundreds of other men didn't, the Greenhills man found himself several thousand dollars in debt.

Mr. Marcou organized a bus caravan from Cincinnati to Washington for Promise Keeper's national prayer rally, "Stand in the Gap," in October 1997.

He had collected money from hundreds of men and pledges from hundreds of others. But when more than two dozen buses mustered in a Springdale parking lot on Oct. 3 -- the day before the rally -- Mr. Marcou realized he was in trouble.

Some 1,300 people, at $100 a head, were expected.

About 1,000 showed up.

Mr. Marcou also had spent his own money on meals for the riders on the trip, bag lunches for the rally and Washington subway passes for each rider.

A year has passed, but Mr. Marcou has been unable to clear the initial debt of $35,000, which now stands at $28,000. A group of men in his prayer group at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenhills has stepped in.

They have formed The Gap Rescue Fund, a non-profit corporation through a bank, and are now accepting donations and planning a series of fund-raising events to pay off Mr. Marcou's major remaining creditor, his employer.

Says Bernie Gray, a friend and prayer group member, "Mike's faith and ability to trust probably prevented him from helping himself."

The group is planning a dance and possibly a printed collection of testimonials written by men who attended "Stand in the Gap," Mr. Gray says.

GAP RESCUE FUND
  • For information, contact Mike Schweitzer at 742-0741.
  • Send contributions to: The Gap Rescue Fund, P.O. Box 46882, Cincinnati 45246
  • In an October letter to Promise Keepers President Randy Phillips, Mr. Marcou wrote that he is not angry or frustrated, only worried. "What a wonderful spiritual time in my life," he wrote Mr. Phillips. "I learned what it felt to be a true servant of God, to keep focused on loving the Lord."

    Mr. Marcou, a systems analyst for a Blue Ash company, borrowed money from his employer last year to pay bus companies and other creditors.

    Ideally, Mr. Marcou says, he would borrow money from Promise Keepers to pay back his boss. Then the fund-raisers would be used to pay Promise Keepers. Any additional money raised would be donated to the Boulder-based organization.

    He badly wants to repay his employer.

    "I have been unfair to him," Mr. Marcou says of his boss, who wishes to remain anonymous. "I should have dealt with it sooner. I wasted the time he gave me."

    Mr. Phillips received the letter, and Promise Keepers staff is reviewing the request.

    "A ministry like ours, and at one time we did have a cash flow, is perceived as having a lot of cash lying around," says Steve Chavis, Promise Keepers' national spokesman. "We receive requests monthly, daily, for projects, for compensation for difficulty incurred from attending an event."

    Promise Keepers laid off 150 paid staff in October, trimming its work force to 200.

    "It's hard to deal with all of the bills," Mr. Chavis says.

    'I blew it'

    Mr. Marcou resisted friends' attempts to help him during the past year and only recently agreed.

    "I was embarrassed that I blew it," he says. "I've always been a volunteer, an organizer."

    After Promise Keepers drew more than 45,000 men to a two-day rally at Cinergy Field in May 1997, excitement grew about the national event in Washington. Trouble was, just about every bus within 100 miles of the Tristate had been booked.

    Many local men and churches were referred to Mr. Marcou.

    From 1994 through 1996, he organized three bus trips from Cincinnati to Promise Keepers' stadium events in Indianapolis.

    Mr. Marcou gladly accepted the responsibility to find rides for people who wanted to go to Washington.

    He figured out how to get more buses for Tristate men. At the time, he was splitting work time between northern Virginia and Cincinnati. He realized the only buses available nationally were in the Washington, D.C., area.

    As demand grew, four buses became 10, then 17, finally 29.

    As the event grew near, he had stopped requiring advance payment of the $100 ticket.

    "I told guys to pay at the table the day we left," he says. Groups that had reserved 20 seats had only five or six men show up. The pastor of a small Tristate church had committed to 10 seats, and none of them showed up. The pastor later mailed Mr. Marcou a check for $100. "But the thought never crossed his mind about the other $900," Mr. Marcou says.

    Anguish and peace

    Before hopping on his bus for Washington, Mr. Marcou confided in a friend that he was out several thousand dollars.

    "He said, 'What are we going to do?' " Mr. Marcou says.

    "And I said, 'We're leaving for Washington. There's nothing else we can do.' I said a little prayer when we got on the bus to get rid of it. A feeling of peace came over me. There was so much excitement on the bus that I got caught up in it and forgot all about the money. I didn't want to spoil

    it for a lot of the guys who struggled to get $100 together to go."

    Word spread in the spring among some churches, and a few hundred dollars trickled in. So did letters and cards of thanks from men who told Mr. Marcou his efforts to get them to Washington were most appreciated.

    "Unbelievable," he says of the notes. "Guys talking about how their lives have been different since going. Guys who took their sons talking about how those relationships are better."

    The next major Promise Keepers event is planned for all 50 state capitals on Jan. 1, 2000. Promise Keepers founder Bill McCartney told men at "Stand in the Gap" that he wanted them to pray with their families that day for the nation.

    Says Mr. Marcou, "I'm already dreaming about a mass breakfast at a campground for families before we go to the statehouse steps in Columbus."



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