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Olympic impact echoes in eternity, volunteers say

EDITOR’S NOTE: Tim Ellsworth covered the 2008 Olympics while in Beijing Aug. 6-16 and after returning to the States. Ellsworth, director of news and media relations at Union University, has been assisted with photography by David McIntyre, a freelancer based in Asia.

BEIJING (BP)–Images from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing remain indelibly etched in the minds of millions of people, who either attended the games or followed them closely on television.

There’s the grandeur of the opening ceremony and the quirkiness of the Bird’s Nest architecture. Michael Phelps winning an Olympic record eight gold medals. Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt zooming to three gold medals and three world records. The U.S. volleyball team rebounding from the tragic death of Todd Bachman, father-in-law of coach Hugh McCutcheon, to win gold.

As China extinguished the Olympic flame in the closing ceremony on Sunday and handed off responsibility for the 2012 Olympics to the city of London, the 2008 Olympics were relegated to history. And history will most likely be kind to China for the way in which it hosted the Olympics.

Some Southern Baptists who shared their faith in Christ during the Olympics, however, expect their efforts to echo not just throughout history, but throughout eternity.

“We began to remember how Lottie Moon left a legacy behind her in the areas she served, and that we now see that those areas are still some of the most heavily evangelized areas of China even today,” said Rhonda Boggs, director of global outreach at Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland, Calif. Boggs led a team of seven people from her church that spent a week in Beijing during the Olympics.

“So, then we thought, there are so many people here sharing Christ, that day may come that we will hear about Beijing turning to Christ and a revival sweeping the nation that they will pin to the fact of so many Christians sharing Christ during the Olympics,” she said.

Sid Hopkins, director of missions for the Gwinnett Metro Baptist Association in Georgia, agreed.

“We’ll never know the impact of what can happen out of this kind of thing,” he said.

Hopkins was part of a team in Beijing working with the More than Gold ministry. One of the ministry’s leaders in Beijing, unnamed for security purposes, estimated more than 2,000 volunteers were on hand to share the Gospel in China — many of them Southern Baptists.

One of the ways they did that was through pin trading, a popular activity during the Olympics. Hopkins, for example, walked around wearing a vest that displayed dozens of Olympic pins. The Chinese people he encountered were not bashful about stopping him and grabbing his vest to examine the pins.

“The first day when we were down at the plaza area, I’ll bet I had my picture taken 500 times,” he said. “They just swarmed me.”

When handing out the More than Gold pins, volunteers used the colors on the pins to tell about Jesus.

Hopkins recalled one encounter he had with a young woman who served as an Olympic volunteer. The volunteers wore hats that Hopkins said were extremely difficult to acquire, because the volunteers to whom they were issued did not give them up easily.

“I shared with her, and she had tears in her eyes, and she was so thankful,” Hopkins said. “She took off her volunteer hat and gave it to me. I said, ‘No, I cannot take your hat. It’s too precious.’ She said, ‘But you have shared such good things with me. You must have my hat.’ And she gave me her hat. Then I had tears in my eyes.”

Debbie Wohler, a missionary with the North American Mission Board who works with Tahoe Resort Ministries in California, is an Olympics pin-trading veteran.

“It’s just the easiest way in the world to meet people,” she said. “All I have to do is lay them out on the table, and people come.”

Boggs and her group also used the More than Gold pins, but discovered quickly that they weren’t always necessary.

“That was supposed to be the attraction,” Boggs said about the pins. “It ended up that our Western faces were the attraction.”

Though most of the people they encountered didn’t speak English, Boggs said she and her team members had multiple opportunities to tell people about Jesus Christ.

“The ones who were university students, they would actively seek us out,” Boggs said. “We could have in-depth conversations. Most of them didn’t have a concept of God and Jesus.”

David Guinn, of Lafayette Heights Baptist Church in Lafayette, Ala., has been ministering at the Olympics since 1988, when he served as a chaplain in Calgary.

Guinn is now the head of the evangelistic Action Ministries International, which supplies sports chaplains to major sporting events — including the Olympics. This year in Beijing, Guinn and about 60 volunteers shared the Gospel with thousands of visitors from all over the world.

“We try to keep a low profile and stay behind the scenes — do our work, do the follow-up,” Guinn said. “Our goal is personal evangelism with the highest integrity. We present the Gospel and let the Holy Spirit do the work.”

Though not affiliated with More than Gold, Guinn and his volunteers also used pins as a witnessing tool.

“At Lillehammer, they lovingly named our pin ‘the Jesus pin,'” Guinn said. “So everybody was talking about the Jesus pin. Everybody wanted one. But to have the pin, you have to hear the story. Nobody gets a pin without hearing the story about Jesus.”

Like others, John Forrester expects his ministry in Beijing to have eternal significance. A church starter strategist from Kotzebue, Ala., Forrester also worked at Olympics in Sydney and Salt Lake City.

“I think we’ve been able to plant seeds, and we may not see the seeds flourish, but somebody else will,” Forrester said. “And that’s God’s business.”

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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