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‘Olympics junkie’ urges WMU to join in Olympics ministry

INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–Beth Ann Williams of Salt Lake City, Utah, told Woman’s Missionary Union participants at the Missions Celebration and National WMU Annual Meeting June 13 that she is an “Olympics junkie” and encouraged Baptist women across the United States to get involved in Olympics ministry.

Williams specifically reminded women of the opportunities for Christian ministry that will surround the Olympic Summer Games in Athens this year.

“We’re going to start seeing those [Olympic] rings more and more on commercials and products, and I just challenge you to breathe a prayer for our volunteers every time you see those rings come up,” said Williams, WMU executive director and women’s consultant for the Utah-Idaho Baptist Convention. “They need to be covered in God’s protection and strength in these unsettled days. Pray that they will have divine appointments.”

The 2004 Olympic Games, WMU leaders said, provide not only an opportunity to minister to an international audience but also an opportunity to impact the entire country of Greece for Christ. They reminded WMU participants that almost half of Greece’s population lives in Athens.

WMU volunteers to the Olympics will work alongside the Greek Evangelical Church, supporting them as they witness in their own communities and as they develop new ministries for their people.

National WMU has planned three volunteer Olympic mission trips to Greece in August. A hospitality ministry and one involving ballooning is scheduled Aug. 11-21, and an evangelism/hospitality trip is planned Aug. 21-31.

Part of WMU’s involvement in Greece is to assist church members in developing missions organizations in Greek churches. WMU volunteers will serve as consultants, providing education and resources to women in the evangelical churches.

Williams told the WMU conference that her involvement with Olympics began in 1993 as a US-2 missionary with the North American Mission Board as she helped plan for the 1996 summer games in Atlanta. She also worked in the 1998 winter games in Nagano, Japan, and summer games in Sydney, Australia, in 2000. She served as director of the Southern Baptist Olympic Ministry in Salt Lake City for 2002.

“My three years in that role [for the ’96 Olympics] were three of the best, stressful, challenging, wonderful years of my life,” Williams said. “It was just a time I knew I was right in the center of God’s will.

“There were some nights I didn’t get a lot of sleep, like the night after the day I had to order hundreds of volunteer uniforms a year and a half before the volunteers had even volunteered.

“But in the end we had about 1,300 volunteers from 21 different state conventions, sharing their faith and ministering in positive and creative ways, and we saw many people come to a relationship with Jesus Christ,” she said.

Williams said she is an “Olympics junkie” first because “there is just a culture of openness during those magical 17 days of the events. People are gathered from all over the world. They are interested in each other. They want to know who you are, where you are from, what you like to do, what you like to eat, and they want to know what is important in your life.”

She said that since 1996 Southern Baptist volunteers have been ministering under the theme “More than Gold” to talk about their faith during the Olympics. It is based on 1 Peter 1:5-7, where the Bible tells about how gold becomes less as it goes through fire but believers are reminded a relationship with Jesus Christ that grows stronger through trials will last forever.

Williams said she has seen volunteers use the “More than Gold” theme and evangelistic tools “to share their faith boldly on the streets, on public transportation, anywhere people are gathered Southern Baptists have been there to share the Gospel in a very natural and relevant way. And because of that culture of openness, people listen.

“There are spectators, athletes, coaches and families who come from countries who don’t even allow missionaries but if you are out and about in an Olympic-festival atmosphere they may just have that divine appointment with a volunteer who wants to tell them what’s worth more than gold,” she said.

Secondly, Williams said Olympic ministry is bigger than the Olympics themselves.

“We don’t just drop in and spend 17 days and do our thing and leave,” she said. “Southern Baptists come in before an event and stay after. I’ve seen church plants; I’ve seen sports clinics; I’ve seen creative ministries and all kinds of evangelism events happening years before the Olympics.

“I’ve seen the legacy Olympic ministry can leave in an area. Churches end up being strengthened because they have been on mission. They’ve actually experienced international missions right at home in their backyard. You leave a network of volunteers that are trained in ministry and evangelism.”

Finally, Williams said she’s an “Olympics junkie” because of the volunteers, who are the hands and feet of the ministry.

“Young, old, long-term, short-term, male, female — volunteers are incredible and working with volunteers is my passion,” she said.

But Williams told the WMU audience that with two small children at home, she decided she would not be involved in Athens this summer.

“When I made that decision I pouted for a while but then finally decided to make the best of it,” she said. “So a friend and I have rented a pavilion in a park in Salt Lake City. We’re going to have big-screen TVs and we’re going to cater Greek food. We’re inviting our friends and encouraging them to invite their unchurched friends and family. We’re going to have a big party.”

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  • Michael Chute