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OLYMPICS: Sharing coffee & Good News

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.

VANCOUVER (BP)–Making an impact at the Olympics means serving others beyond what they are expecting.

“I’m a Christian. Isn’t this what we’re supposed to do?” asked Irina State, a member of Hope Baptist Church in Las Vegas and part of Eastern European Connection, a Las Vegas church plant.

State echoes the feelings of more than 400 Southern Baptist volunteers from 25 states and two Canadian provinces who have joined in making Christ known among crowds in Vancouver for the Olympic Games.

With a home base at churches throughout Vancouver, “More Than Gold” volunteers fill large portable containers with hot chocolate and coffee and hit the streets as the days turned cool.

While it’s an awkward contraption to wear for three or four hours, there’s little doubt the large cylinder attracts attention from a distance — jutting out as it does among throngs in downtown Vancouver.

“Free coffee!”

From train stop to train stop, dozens of these backpack coffee dispensers bob around street corners, usually surrounded by volunteers wearing the trademark-blue More Than Gold jackets. Their backpacks filled with brand-new trading pins, city guides and copies of Mark’s Gospel, the volunteers engage passersby with conversation and coffee.

“People come to the Olympics for excellence, and that’s what we want to give them,” said Steve Timmons, director of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas’ Baptist Campus Ministry. The pins are premium quality, coffee is organic Nicaraguan and the pocket guides include profiles of Christian athletes and helpful city maps.

Timmons and a dozen college-aged volunteers form an assembly line along Granville Avenue just outside the doors of the nearby SkyTrain station. Coffee dispenser, cup bearer and sugar and cream holder all perform their jobs working out of pocket-stitched aprons and a large tank strapped to the biggest volunteer’s back. They remain mobile, going where the crowds gather.

If they’re serving hot chocolate, someone stands with a can of whipped cream at the ready.

A crowd will form around them, depending on how cold it’s become. The temperature drops by 15 degrees after sunset, and the Northwest offers its fair share of rain.

“People really respond to this,” says Justin Aldridge, a volunteer from UNLV who, just two nights earlier, had talked with an atheist for two hours.

“It was an amazing conversation,” Aldridge said later. “The guy has two kids and I’m thinking, ‘Why is this guy out in the cold after dark with kids at home?’ There were some deep issues there.”

Coffee isn’t the only thing that grabs tourists’ attention. So does pin trading, a longstanding Olympic tradition. When handing out the More than Gold pins, volunteers use the colors on the pins to tell about Jesus.

Developed for the 1996 Summer Olympics by the International Sports Coalition in association with the North American Mission Board, More Than Gold seeks to provide a tangible Gospel presence in host cities, benefitting Olympic committee work and as well as the witness of local evangelical churches. Nearly 1,000 volunteers — almost half of whom are Southern Baptist — joined the effort in Vancouver.

“This has been a very unifying experience for our churches,” said Alan Au, a local Baptist pastor who helped plan the More Than Gold outreach in Vancouver. “The results will extend far beyond the Olympics, both here and in the lives of athletes and spectators returning home. This is only the beginning.”

With more than a week left in the Games and volunteer teams continuing to arrive, there’s no telling what God will do with the time left.

“Our only hope is that God will use our efforts to create divine appointments,” said Debbie Wohler, a NAMB missionary in Vancouver deployed from Tahoe Resort Ministries in California. Wohler has been a presence at more than a dozen Olympics and maintains contact with people she’s shared the Gospel with over the years.

“The world is here,” she said. “This is our chance!”

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  • Adam Miller