RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–As China races to spiff up for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, Southern Baptist workers are preparing for a different kind of gold.
Ministry teams are working with churches in the United States for thousands of volunteers to sow Gospel seeds through Olympic-related ministry events.
“It’s encouraging and exciting to see the interest level among Southern Baptist churches,” said Richard Darby*, a Southern Baptist worker helping organize ministries for the games. “Our people understand that coming into China for the Olympics is more than the games. It’s about actually impacting the country and the people of China. To me, that’s what it’s all about.”
Anticipation is at a fever pitch in Beijing. Advertisements displaying the “Friendlies,” the five Beijing Olympic mascots, dot the city’s buses and billboards. A citywide tangle of construction cranes signals the progress of new sporting venues. The government even has mobilized a squad of “hygiene police” who levy fines against Beijing residents found spitting or littering.
And while China prepares for an Olympiad unlike any other, Christian ministry teams are preparing for a spiritual harvest unlike any other, with Darby noting that the games have motivated a focus on China among both small and large U.S. congregations, many of whom previously have shied away from the magnitude of the China task.
“We are seeing an awakening of our people to go through that window of opportunity into what has long been seen as such a closed-off place,” he said.
As the Olympic Games draw closer, Chinese organizations from all sectors are seeking innovative ways to connect with the world. For Southern Baptists, these relationships are a natural bridge to share Christ with a spiritually hungry nation.
Opportunities abound for involvement before, during and after the games. Possibilities include crisis intervention, counseling, first aid, sports camps and clinics, dramas, musical performances, face painting and humanitarian work.
Project leaders emphasize that volunteers are desperately needed long before the torch is lit in 2008. Prayerwalking teams are a necessary precursor to a successful ministry during the Olympics. English speakers also are in high demand to help public-sector workers struggling to meet mandatory English requirements before the games start.
Darby is strongly encouraging those interested in leading volunteer teams during the summer of 2008 to participate in one of several familiarization trips during 2007. Leaders need to be prepared to manage their teams with little oversight from the overall Baptist Olympic ministries team amid the crush of volunteers expected in 2008.
“People who bring groups to China [during the Olympics] without having been to China before will be limiting their ministry potential,” Darby said.
Participants in pre-2008 familiarization trips not only will receive necessary training but also will have a chance to develop a spiritual burden for the Chinese people as they travel to different cities and regions.
“I want them to look in the faces of the people of China and understand their need for Jesus,” Darby said. “They can then lead their team with a broken heart so we can help the Chinese see their need for Jesus.”
Southern Baptist workers are anticipating a great spiritual harvest through Olympic ministry, but they know that nothing can happen without a strong undergirding of prayer. Several churches already have committed prayer teams to meet weekly until the games end. The team wants both churches and individuals to commit to faithful prayer for God’s Spirit to blaze the way for His message in China.
While Southern Baptist organizers are excited about the spiritual possibilities, they recognize that working in China will be different from other locales.
“In Athens or in Australia, teams already had support from a strong network of Baptist churches on the ground. We don’t have that,” Darby said. “But God is already doing some miraculous things to prepare the way.”
*Name changed for security reasons. To learn more about how to volunteer at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, visit easia.imb.org or contact [email protected].