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OLYMPICS: Chaplain nurtures Gospel seeds

EDITOR’S NOTE: Adam Miller, at the Winter Games in Vancouver, is part of a North American Mission Board media team covering ministry-related activities during the Olympics.

WHISTLER, British Columbia (BP)–From yards away, Lyndon Rush’s red coat and tall frame are easy to spot among tourists, skis and snowboards. They’ve come to Whistler — an Olympic event venue near Vancouver — to ski, relax, shop and watch elite athletes like Rush, Canada’s top bobsled driver.

“Hey! How are you?” Rush says, stepping off a stair and into the cobbled path where North American Mission Board missionary Derek Spain is taking Southern Baptist volunteers on one of his daily walkabouts.

Rush — one of dozens of athletes Spain has connected with in recent weeks — sees a mission field among his brothers and sisters in the Olympic world.

“There are lots of Christian athletes here,” Rush says after a handshake.

Described by Spain as “the real deal,” Rush is among the athletes shining the light of Christ into the Winter Games in Vancouver, particularly since the tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili during a pre-Olympics practice run.

“A lot of coaches and athletes tried to stay focused, and this often meant not talking about it. But many of our athletes were facing strong emotions,” said Spain, an official chaplain for the Vancouver Organizing Committee at the Olympic Village in Whistler, where a number of the events take place.

“Our job was to listen” to the grief and uncertainty whenever it surfaced among the athletes, Spain said, “but we also offered hope and assurance of something greater than these events.”

Spain was chosen as a chaplain by the organizers in Vancouver because of the relationships he already had forged with the Winter Olympic athletes he ministers in his home base of Lake Placid, N.Y.

“We’re doing the same kind of things we do in Lake Placid — meeting regularly for one-on-one discipleship, praying together and providing spiritual encouragement,” Spain said.

“Someone told me the other day, ‘I think a revival is coming among our athletes,'” Spain said. “I’m praying and hoping that this is true.”

As the Olympic Games continue until Feb. 28, Spain and his fellow chaplains are showing that sports is a mission field with an easy connection to the spiritual.

“The atmosphere at the Olympics is fantastic,” Spain said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to meet people and engage people from all over the world. The opportunities for ministry and evangelism are everywhere.”

Single-mindedness, discipline and endurance — all fruits of a soul sold out to Christ — also are the keys to success for the best athletes in the world. And, with athletes at the Winter Olympic representing some 80 nations, the world is watching.

“These athletes are returning to their countries in a few days,” Spain said. “My hope is to see them return with a seed to plant.”
To view a video about Spain, visit the video gallery at www.namb.net.

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  • Adam Miller