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Lake Tahoe missionary uses Olympic pins to share Gospel

TAHOE CITY, Calif. (BP)–Armed with suitcases full of valuable Olympic trading pins and a large green foam wig, resort missionary Debbie Wohler traveled to Athens in search of opportunities to share Jesus with the world during the Games.

She planned to wear the wig, used for crazy hair day at her church daycare, and spread out a towel on a sidewalk and put the pins on display in order to attract people to hear the Gospel.

“Instantly we’ll get attention with this,” Wohler, 48, said before she left. She met up with the Georgia Baptist Convention missions team in Greece Aug. 7-26. “We have free pins to give [passers by] that gives us an opportunity to share about Jesus. No one else has free pins.”

These antics are nothing new to Wohler, known as the “Olympic missionary.”

She dressed as a kangaroo at the Sydney Games, and during the Salt Lake City Winter Games she donned a snowman costume to get attention.

“I think Jesus was the life of the party,” said Wohler, who pays her own way to each Olympic event. “I can see Him with a smile on His face and loving people. I don’t think we need to promote Jesus but attract people to what we have.”

Her original plan was to take along the Olympic torch she ran with in January 2002 through Tahoe City and allow tourists to take pictures with her.

“I couldn’t take the torch because the propane inside was flammable and it wasn’t allowed on the flight,” said Wohler, who bought the torch for $350 as a memento.

She recalls, “It was a symbol of carrying the light of Jesus to the world.”

Wohler has also ministered at the Olympic Games in Lake Placid, Los Angeles, Calgary, Atlanta and Nagano.

“That’s the reason I became a resort missionary in Lake Tahoe,” said Wohler, who has served with the North American Mission Board for the past 25 years in Tahoe City, Calif. “The world comes to us and we get to share every winter and summer.”

Her ministry in Tahoe includes before and after school daycare programs, church services on six ski slopes during the winter, supervising summer and semester missionaries, food ministry, hospital ministry, Bible studies and outreach to tourists.

The Illinois native began her love for the Olympics as a child watching them on television.

“In fifth grade, I told my parents I either wanted to be a missionary or an Olympic athlete,” Wohler said. “I had no idea how God was going to fulfill my dreams. You have to listen to the dreams God gives you.”

As a physical education major in college, Wohler was captain of her college field hockey team and a softball player. During the summers, she served as a missionary in Lake Tahoe.

After graduating from seminary, Wohler became a chaplain at the Olympic Training Center in Squaw Valley, Calif., for two years before returning to Lake Tahoe.

“I love being around people who are striving to be their best,” said Wohler, who heads up a seven-week summer Vacation Bible School for the community at First Baptist Church in Tahoe City. “It’s an example of how we should never be satisfied with our walk. We should have the determination of the athletes to finish the race.”

Wohler looks for opportunities to start conversations while she is taking buses, standing in line for events and buying food.

“I’ve even had opportunities to share the Gospel in Laundromats in Japan,” said Wohler, who is single. “This is a scary time for the world to have such a huge event. Because of the high security, we will be standing in lines for hours, which gives me lots of time to answer questions why I’m there. Just the fact that I’m an American opens the door.”

Wohler had tickets to see swimming events, track and field, badminton, trampoline and softball.

“It sounds like I’ll be playing a lot, but these events provide opportunities to bring up conversations and witness,” Wohler said before the Games. “If I can make people think just once about God today then I’ve accomplished something. I want to be salt and light to these people who come to watch the best athletes.”

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  • Kelli Cottrell