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Collegians venture to Olympics to prayerwalk, aid local churches

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (BP)–Shannon Brandt, centerfielder for the California Baptist University softball team, has worked hard for 15 years to be the best in her sport.

She knows what it is like to practice long hours and aim for victory; Brandt’s CBU team went to the national championships for the first time this year, tying for seventh place.

And the kinesiology major knows plenty from her studies of human muscular movements and physical education.

Brandt’s experience with sports is one of the ways she feels God has prepared her to go to Athens during the Summer Olympics as part of a 13-member CBU mission team to help local churches lay a foundation during the Games for new avenues of Christian ministry.

One of CBU’s 11 International Service Projects this summer, the team arrived in Greece Aug. 1 after five months of six-hours–a-week training in Bible studies, evangelism and community service. Team members also participated in an intensive training weekend at the campus; took a trip to Mexico to practice sharing their faith; and raised $2,500 each for their expenses.

“This is like a dream come true,” said Brandt, 20, of Riverside, Calif., who is on her first overseas mission experience. “It is surreal. I’m actually living my mom’s dream. She wanted to be apart of the Olympics since I was young. I’m really excited to be able to relate to the athletes. I can identify with how much work they have gone through to get there as opposed to someone who has never played sports.”

Brandt would most like to see Jenny Finch, a pitcher for the undefeated U.S. Olympic softball team, during the team’s three-week stay in Greece.

“That would be really cool. She’s a really great player,” said Brandt, who started playing T-ball when she was 5.

The mission team, led by Kirk and Tamara Overstreet, did some prayerwalking in Athens before the Olympic Games and began to build relationships with the locals.

“We will be helping with several different ministries,” said Overstreet, a youth pastor at Set Free Yucaipa, a Southern California congregation, whose wife, Tamara, is a student at CBU. Among their tasks: surveying people who have just moved to Greece from other countries in order to help start cell groups for Bible study and fellowship.

Several athletes on the CBU team said they were looking forward to serving where the original Olympics took place three centuries ago.

“It would be amazing if I could share Jesus with some Olympic athletes,” said Elly Read, who graduated in May from CBU and played four years of soccer for the Lancers and also made it to the nationals this year. “I never wanted to be an Olympic team member because that’s not what God wanted for me, but it will be a great opportunity to be where the Olympics are taking place,” said Read, 22, who will begin earning her masters at CBU in sports management this fall.

The youngest member of the CBU team, Christian studies major Shawn Whilhite, 19, originally thought the trip was out of reach for him.

“I’ve followed the Olympics all my life and I thought this would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Whilhite, who injured his shoulder playing high school softball. “I’ve played sports since I was 5 years old and it’s going to be really cool to be there.”

Whilhite’s faith grew as he watched God provide 33 dollars over what he needed for his trip.

“I joined the team in January and thought I would have a hard time raising the money since our church was going through a building project,” said Whilhite, a member of Sun City (Calif.) Baptist Church. “I had no idea what God was going to do. It was a huge faith lesson for me.”

The idea of ministering where people from 200-plus nations will be congregating was intriguing for Carol Minton, associate professor of sociology at CBU. “I wouldn’t have planned this, it’s a God thing,” she said. “I originally wanted to go to Africa but this door was open and now I get to pray for all the nations.”

Cory Mac Vie, 22, a behavioral science senior at CBU, agreed. “All the different cultures will be together at once,” said Mac Vie of Redlands, Calif., who serves as a youth ministry intern at Set Free Yucaipa. “This is what the church should be doing … going to the nations. I’ve always enjoyed different cultures and this trip will help me to see where God is leading.”

The students will be staying in a dormitory with 127 other volunteers from various areas for their three-week stay.

“I’m really blessed to be going,” said Jorge Ortega, 21, of San Bernardino. “This is my third [CBU International Service Project] trip and God has put a love for missions in me. I’ve been studying how [the Apostle] Paul loved the Greeks and that’s what we’re going to do.”

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  • Kelli Cottrell