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Winter Olympics stirs Baptists to action

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Canada (BP)–Baptist leaders in Vancouver are planning outreach efforts surrounding the 2010 Winter Olympics that they hope will lead to additional churches in the Canadian city.

“We’re catching another wave to carry us further,” said Alan Au, city director of Vancouver Focus, a church-planting and discipleship initiative sponsored by the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists. “It is an opportunity to be able to extend our growth into the future” beyond the 2009 conclusion of Vancouver Focus.

Au is on the board of the Vancouver Whistler Games Network (VWGN), a coalition of churches, ministries and individuals that is recognized by the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) as a partner in staging the February 2010 games.

The Olympic and Paralympic events combined are projected to attract nearly 7,000 world-class athletes from more than 80 countries as well as 10,000 journalists and 1.5 million visitors to Vancouver and its Whistler resort area. An estimated 40,000 volunteers will be needed to handle the influx.

VANOC has invited VWGN to assist them in four official capacities: chaplaincy, lodging for athletes, the use of church parking lots for carpooling to events, and helping the city build a lasting legacy after the games.

VWGN’s ultimate desire is to forge a united Christian witness that will continue long after the event and in ways never seen before.

“What we really hope is going to happen is that people are going to start to step outside their [walls] and really start to interact as the body of Christ … that the whole Olympic thing is our launching pad to a [wall]-less Christian body that’s just really working to reach people,” VWGN director of operations Jack O’Halloran said.

Jeff Wagner, manager of resorts and special ministries for the North American Mission Board, predicts the unity and momentum generated among Christians during the Olympics in Vancouver will not end when everyone goes home. Cities where the games have been held recently are proof of that.

“In Atlanta, the churches are much more open to doing community ministries. Salt Lake City is the same way,” Wagner said. “I’m already seeing that here. As long as we’re serving and lifting up Christ, controversies will just be minor. And so the ship’s going to rise.”

Even Whistler — a community with only four churches and about 300 regular churchgoers among its 10,000 permanent residents — could experience spiritual transformation as a result, said VWGN board member and former Whistler municipal council member Kristi Wells. One of those four congregations is Church on the Mountain, a CCSB member church.

With Whistler attracting thousands of visitors and seasonal workers each year, if their lives can be touched with the love of Christ, “They’re going to take it home,” Wells said.

“More than the beautiful mountains or the party lifestyle or their chance to get better at their sport, they’re going to say, ‘I met an amazing group of people and I found Jesus.’ No other community has that kind of ability,” she said.

Apart from mobilizing churches in the WestCoast Baptist Association, Au is working through the CCSB to raise awareness south of the border.

“We’re going to approach up to 10 partners with proposals,” he said. “The North American Mission Board is a major partner obviously, but we’re going to make requests of other Southern Baptist [entities] and state conventions as well.”

Au said Vancouver Focus has “built up a lot of contacts with partners in the U.S. and in Alberta as well. We want to build on that and approach those partners to be involved.”

Wagner likewise expects Southern Baptists from the United States to help in the Vancouver Olympics outreach efforts.

“We don’t have a whole lot of churches here, but that’s where Southern Baptists in Canada can say, ‘We got this army of volunteers [in the U.S.] who are trained and ready to come and are excited.’ This is what we can bring to the table,” Wagner said.
Frank Stirk writes for the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists.

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