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U.S., Australian Baptists gear up for 2000 Olympics in Sydney

SYDNEY, Australia (BP)–American and Australian Baptists are shooting hoops and honing their soccer skills in preparation for the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. But they’re not out to win medals.
They’re out to win souls.
All 330 Baptist churches in New South Wales are joining forces to create “Reach Out 2000,” an evangelistic outreach to the 3 million international visitors expected to pack Sydney for the Olympics.
Led by general superintendent Phil Skinner, these churches will partner with an estimated 1,000 volunteers from Southern Baptist churches in the United States to lead sports clinics, street drama, construction teams and more — all in the name of Christ.
With the games drawing closer, Baptists everywhere are picking up the pace, said Cheryl Wolfinger, sports evangelism consultant for the International Sports Federation, which recruits and promotes sports evangelism projects on behalf of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.
And since sports will be a focal point of the Olympics, sports evangelism will be the ticket to getting through to non-believers. With 3 million visitors on the way, volunteers will have a wonderful opportunity to make a strategic impact for God’s kingdom, organizers say.
“One of the main things [Australian Baptists] will do is receive volunteer teams from Sept. 15 to Oct. 1 [2000],” Wolfinger said. “All summer long there will be sports clinics. Churches will volunteer for basketball, softball, soccer and American football clinics. We want to undergird the work they’re already doing.”
The clinics use sports as a platform for sharing the gospel.
“College students will be sent to disciple participants. Younger children sign up for drills, improve their skills and go through an evangelistic station where the leader gives his or her testimony,” she said. “[The churches] are so excited.”
The idea is catching on among Australians, she said. Case in point: A 115-member Baptist church transformed its building into a “cutting-edge” sports complex for evangelistic clinics. Membership has climbed to more than 600.
In addition to sports ministry, Reach Out 2000 is mobilizing Baptists to touch the transient Olympic crowd.
“We’re helping [Australians] realize that the world is coming to their back door,” she said.
Plans are in the works for mass distribution of tracts in downtown Sydney, coupled with backyard Bible clubs, street drama, touring choirs and other general evangelism projects in strategic locations.
And during a festive season like the Olympics, Wolfinger said there is an “incredible openness” among people. People are vacationing, sightseeing and relishing the chance to meet and talk.
“The Olympics is the only thing that’s worldwide with no barriers,” she said. “[It] is the single event that brings the entire world together in a peaceful setting.”
Reach Out 2000 also will give Australia, which is less than 2 percent evangelical Christian, a chance to see Christ’s love demonstrated by Baptists.
“One of the main goals … there is to let the general public see what good work the Baptists do,” Wolfinger said.
Some people consider Australia a “godless” nation because its people demonstrate no interest in any religion, Wolfinger said.
Only 11 percent of Australia’s population attends church. Traditional churches like Anglicans and Lutherans are on the decline and New Age religions and Scientology groups are popping up in their places. Baptist churches are growing slowly.
“We want people to realize that the [Baptist] church is not a cult and show them that it is a place of love, friendship, compassion and encouragement,” Wolfinger said.
For more information about Reach Out 2000 or volunteer opportunities during the 2000 Olympics, contact Cheryl Wolfinger at the International
Sports Federation at 1-800-999-2889, ext. 1512.

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  • Jenny Rogers