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Extended warm-up act preps Focus on the Family celebrants for Pence speech

June 23, 2017 Updated: June 26, 2017 at 2:41 pm
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Focus on the Family President Jim Daly jokes with Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, while introducing them at the organization’s 40th anniversary celebration Friday, June 23, 2017, during his visit to Colorado Springs, Colo. (AP Photo Pool, The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

When you've run through the prepared program for your 40th anniversary party - the prayers, music, video retrospective, special acknowledgments and guest speakers - and you get the signal to keep going because the vice president needs another five minutes, it's good to have a five-time Grammy winning Christian recording artist on hand.

A sense of humor helps, too.

"One more, maybe? We may end up doing a whole concert, folks," Steven Curtis Chapman said, drawing cheers and laughs from a crowd of about 1,600 gathered Friday morning at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs for an address by Vice President Mike Pence. Chapman called for requests, then launched into an energetic chart-topper many in the audience knew by heart. And then...

"Another?" OK ..."This is the first song I learned on guitar," said Chapman, strumming the opening riffs of the Johnny Cash tune "Folsom Prison Blues" and inspiring a few seconds of impromptu dance from the man with whom he shared the stage, Focus on the Family President Jim Daly.

Chapman didn't finish the song - if you're familiar with the lyrics, you know why - and shortly thereafter, about 20 minutes before noon, he got the signal everyone had been waiting for: the keynote speaker was ready to take the stage.

Focus on the Family employees and their guests, local dignitaries and "friends of the ministry" from near and far began filing in, past security and through metal detectors, around 7:30 a.m. A few were in street clothes; most wore suits and Sunday finest for the invitation-only event at the organization's headquarters in the city's Briargate area.

"People are just happy and excited to be here," said El Paso County deputy sheriff Mark Flutcher, who was among local law enforcement - including a half-dozen deputies, and a contingent from the Colorado Springs Police Department - assisting the U.S. Secret Service.

Jeanette Robles, her husband and two of her three children flew in from Upland, Calif., to celebrate the anniversary of an organization she said has, for decades, played an instrumental role in her family's life.

"We would not have missed it for the world," said Robles, whose family received a special invitation to the event.

Robles is confident the vice president is a devout Christian, but wanted to be on site to hear his words about God and family. The fact that the nation's second in command was willing to "take time out of his busy schedule ... to talk about faith openly" affirms Robles' optimism about the direction in which America is heading under the new administration.

"The nation was founded on biblical principles and we've gotten away from that," she said.

Margaret and Henry Kwong, who traveled to Colorado Springs from Pasadena, Calif., were introduced to Focus on the Family in the 1980s through a series of parenting books. Over the following decades, and after a handful of visits to Colorado Springs, they watched the group grow into one with worldwide reach, a powerful voice and powerful supporters.

Pence's visit "verifies the importance of this organization and all they do to help people," Henry Kwong said. "It makes me feel like this administration really sees the importance of family and marriage and its relationship and impact on society."

Pence spoke for about a half hour then left the stage to be ushered out by secret service. Maybe fifteen minutes later, the audience was directed out of the chapel through side doors to await the vice president’s departure and permission to return to their vehicles.

The motorcade began streaming out around 1 p.m.

“I wonder if he’s waving back,” said one bystander, as the vice president’s limo rolled by, past the cheering crowd that lined the main drive of Focus on the Family, toward the intersection where a gathering of black-garbed protesters chanted and held signs, hoping that the man behind the tinted windows was looking up.

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