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OLYMPICS: Missionary’s witness in Vancouver is full of surprises, opportunities

EDITOR’S NOTE: Adam Miller traveled to Vancouver for the Winter Games as part of a North American Mission Board media team covering ministry-related activities during the Olympics.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (BP)–After eight Olympics and nearly three decades in ministry, Debbie Wohler still discerns God’s work in hindsight like the rest of us.

In a matter of minutes on a stroll in downtown Vancouver, she has a dozen interactions that could change her life, or theirs. But only God knows.

“There’s no one more surprised than me that I’m a missionary,” said the physical education major-turned-Lake Tahoe resort missionary.

Her life is full of surprises, and she likes it that way.

“I’m a planner, planner, planner, but after all that planning, I have to be open to what God wants to do, not what I want to do.”

At the Winter Olympics, God has shown Wohler the fruit of being flexible. This year she is cheering for three Olympians from Lake Tahoe — Marco Sullivan, Shannon Bahrke and Shannon’s brother, Scotty — who all grew up in the Big A Club Wohler directs as part of a ministry to children in Lake Tahoe funded by Southern Baptists’ North American Mission Board.

“I got to see Shannon take bronze this year on women’s moguls,” Wohler said, beaming a smile on a street corner. “Twenty years ago, when we were telling them Bible stories, did I think they would be here today? There’s no way I could have seen this day 20 years ago. There are so many God connections you can’t see at the moment but that become apparent over time.”

Making her way to the SkyTrain for an Olympic event up in King Edward, Canada, she’s planting seeds for the next 20 years. Her pockets are filled with More Than Gold pins, which provide spectators with a keepsake and a printed presentation of the Gospel.

She’s learned the value of preparedness and the simplicity of pins; in less than a mile it pays off multiple times.

She gives a More Than Gold pin and directions to a lady looking for the flaming Olympic cauldron downtown. She gives a pin to a SkyTrain worker monitoring the tracks. The three ladies asking directions outside the restroom — they get a pin, too. They volunteer e-mail addresses. They want to keep in touch.

“Those three ladies,” Wohler said. “Now we’re friends! And they gave me their e-mail addresses and were so grateful for my help and for the pins. You see? Who knows where this will lead?”

In Beijing and other Olympic venues of years past, it led to friendships she still maintains. Some have become believers.

“In Torino [at the 2006 Winter Games] I gave a pin to a blind man. He said he was a believer but that he wanted to use my pins to share with his friend.”

With her quick smile, wit and laugh, Wohler could make friends in any city. But she also shows the power of simply going and letting God work through you as you go.

“Whether we’re walking the wrong way down a one-way street or making our way to an event, God has given us many opportunities and many different ways to talk about Him,” Wohler said, recounting the interview she had the previous week with a Wall Street Journal reporter. She was at the wrong place at the right time.

“I’m just the conduit,” she said. “I just show up and who knows what’s going to happen?”

As the day grows late and her event nears, Wohler boards the train and looks around, a More Than Gold pin at the ready. Three iPhone “app” developers want to know where they can find some coveted Olympic red gloves.

“They’re updating their iPhone app with my information,” she says, as the train approaches her stop. “We have the same exact event schedule for the next three days.”

Wohler grins.

“You see? Who knows what God will do! All I do is show up and start talking.”
Adam Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board.

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  • Adam Miller