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Winter World University Games an opportunity ‘for the Gospel to go forward’

Members of the 2023 FISU Winter World University Games organizing committee and a delegation from the International University Sports Federation (FISU) pose at the Olympic Speedskating Oval after an Olympians parade March 24. (Photo from LakePlacid2023.com)

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (BP) – The Winter World University Games are coming to the Adirondack region of New York in 2023, and Ryan Schneider, pastor of Saranac Lake Baptist Church and lead chaplain for the event, is looking for Southern Baptists to volunteer and minister in a variety of ways.

“Our area is one of the least Bible-saturated areas in America,” Schneider said. “When an opportunity to evangelize thousands and thousands of people comes into our area, and when God’s people get together and purpose to minister, I can’t think of any better way to partner.”

Opening Jan. 12, the World University Games are an 11-day international athletic competition that will draw about 1,600 college athletes from 50 countries to Lake Placid for 86 medal events in 12 sports, such as skiing, hockey, biathlon, snowboarding and skating.

Unlike the Olympics, which typically provides one athletes’ village where all competitors are housed, participants in the World University Games in Lake Placid will be accommodated in four different athletes’ villages around the region. Each village is required to have a chapel.

Schneider, who has served as an Olympics chaplain, will be selecting 17 other chaplains to help minister to athletes and their families during the event. Because of the logistics with four different athletes’ villages, Schneider said he is hoping to partner with local churches to hold revival-type meetings each night of the competition near each of the four housing villages.

The World University Games are expected to draw thousands of people to Lake Placid, a town of about 5,000. Schneider has heard estimates that 40,000 people may flock to the region for the event.

“We figured this is a great opportunity to serve the families and the spectators by just holding some services in the evening that will focus on worship and evangelism,” he said. “We’re already praying towards that as a church. We are going to be really preparing the soil with prayer and fasting as we prepare for this to come in.

“We feel like this is a great opportunity to reach people that we’ll never see again, but God is bringing them here. Really, it’s our job to reach them with the Gospel.”

Derek Spain, a Georgia-based realtor and former pastor of Lake Placid Baptist Church, said during his 10 years there he saw the value of spiritually investing and encouraging athletes in their walk with Christ. He’s planning to return to northern New York to serve as a chaplain during the Winter World University Games.

“People are oftentimes open to conversations – maybe conversations they wouldn’t have on a day-to-day basis,” Spain said. “At these special events, there are opportunities. People are visiting from all over the world, and many of them are open to spiritual conversations.”

Schneider said he still needs chaplains who are willing to serve the athletes. He also is seeking a handful of mission teams of five to 10 people each that would come for part or all of the competition and serve in a variety of ways – helping with parking, working as ushers, assisting with the nightly worship services – whatever tasks are needed for a large-scale event.

Northern New York in January is cold, Schneider said, so the volunteer opportunities are “not for the faint of heart.”

In addition to the on-site needs, Schneider said he hopes people will pray for the ministry that will be taking place during the Winter World University Games.

“We are legitimately needing people just to commit, to put this on their prayer list,” he said. “Pray for this ministry and pray for the soil to be prepared for the Gospel to go forward. We may not need a ton of numbers of volunteers up here, but the ones that are here, we want them to just have the mind of Christ. We want them to have their hearts prepared. We want to see this community coming to Christ.”

Those interested in serving during with Schneider during the Winter World University Games can find more information and apply to volunteer at the North Country Ministries website, www.ncministries.net.

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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