BEIJING (BP)–The North American Mission Board’s Jeff Wagner has attended Summer and Winter Olympics in the past, but his seventh, the Beijing Games, are beyond compare.
“We’re having fun, we’re being blessed, we’re overwhelmed and tired,” Wagner said, “but it’s a good kind of tired.”
Wagner is working with fellow NAMB missionary Debbie Wohler and a team from Georgia’s Gwinnett Metro Baptist Association led by director of missions Sid Hopkins in sowing the seeds of the Gospel to Chinese who have never heard the Good News.
Wagner and Wohler have no problems drawing a quick crowd. Once they set up in an area and start giving out their “More than Gold” Olympic pins and evangelistic brochures, it turns into a frenzy. Hundreds surround them, each wanting a pin. On a recent day at the Coca-Cola exhibit in Beijing, the pair gave out 100 pins in only five minutes. Olympic pin-trading is, of course, a longtime tradition, no matter what country hosts the Olympics.
Beijing’s famous Wang Fu Jing shopping district, east of Tiananmen Square, is a magnet for Chinese and foreigners alike who want to experience the Olympics and watch the TV coverage on a huge TV screen, Wagner reported.
“We haven’t had a single negative incident,” he said. “If security people tell us ‘no,’ then we don’t do it. We follow the rules. We’ve had occasions when the security guards and their bosses will even come over and want a pin.”
Wagner, who arrived in Beijing on Aug. 10 and will return to Atlanta on Aug. 28, is staying in a high-rise apartment building in the Chinese capital of 17 million people.
“One thing you can’t see on TV is that it’s a river of people over here,” he said. “The place is huge.”
Wagner said most of his contact with Chinese citizens is outside the Olympic venues. “You see most of the foreigners like us inside the events. But outside is where you see the vast majority of the Chinese who have come from all over the country just to get close to the Olympics.”
Despite the immensity of Beijing, Wagner said it’s no less than a miracle how God is working during the Olympics. Amid the sea of people, Wagner, Wohler and the other Southern Baptists are sharing Christ one-on-one in what he regards as God-ordained appointments.
While sharing with hundreds, Wagner has led several to Christ, including one young Chinese woman who lives near his apartment.
“We’ve had many strong conversations with young people. One young man asked me if I was afraid to die. He said he was afraid to die because of the blackness of death. We were able to share Jesus and talk about the light He brings,” Wagner recounted.
Another young Chinese woman Wagner has shared Christ with is a professional and a member of the Communist Party. Another is a graduate student.
Wagner said it’s been exciting for him and other Christians to see how “the Holy Spirit is putting us in the right time and at the right place in these people’s lives. It’s overwhelming. It’s about being connected to the Holy Spirit.”
He noted, “People here, especially young people, are so very hungry for something and very open to talk to us. They’re not afraid to ask questions. They don’t care what the government thinks. Some even wear crosses around their necks. They’re trying to relate faith to science and to the big changes coming to China, especially all the money pouring in….
“God is preparing a great thing here in China. And I think the Olympics has been a springboard for this openness. I’m glad we’re here, although I’m just a little part of it.”
On his first Sunday in Beijing, Wagner was one of 1,000 to attend a worship service at the Beijing International Christian Fellowship, a church only for foreign visitors, who must present a passport and be “wanded” by security for admission. The church -– which began in the U.S. embassy — meets every week in a local hotel auditorium.
Past Olympic track and field gold medalists Carl Lewis and Madeline Manning gave their Christian testimonies during the service and at a rally later that day.
“After all our preparation and the hectic pace of witnessing, my heart was overwhelmed with the opportunity to simply worship God. It brought me to tears,” Wagner said.
“Southern Baptists should continue to pray for the people of China and that hearts are opened,” he urged. “Eventually, the Chinese government is going to see that opening up the country to Christ is not something bad but something good.”
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.