LONDON — “We lit the flame and lit up the world.”
Doug Shaw had to smile a little when London 2012 chairman Lord Coe closed the Olympics with those words Aug. 12.
Because Shaw’s hoping that’s exactly what happened.
As part of More Than Gold, a joint effort of Christian churches worldwide, Shaw saw about 2,500 evangelical Christians reach out to thousands of Games goers in London. Volunteers met tourists, visitors, athletes and locals, and they ministered among London’s huge immigrant population.
And Shaw and others are hoping that soon some of the people they met might even take the Gospel back to the countries they came from — to “light up the world.”
“The world was here, and the cordial atmosphere was an excellent opportunity for sharing one’s faith,” said Shaw, who served as Olympics volunteer coordinator for Southern Baptists and worked through More Than Gold.
About 450 Southern Baptist volunteers have been on the ground in London —an epic milestone, Shaw said. "To my knowledge, this is the largest Southern Baptist volunteer response to any single sporting event outside the U.S."
It was a response that matched the numbers — the 2012 Summer Olympics was teeming with people. Seven million people saw some part of the Games live during the competition’s 16-day run, according to BBC News. And that doesn’t include the thousands who watched on big screens in parks all across the greater London area.
London’s Underground trains made 4.5 million journeys on their busiest days during the Games, BBC reported. Officials estimate visitors will be leaving via London’s airports at a rate of 200,000 people a day for a while.
The sheer numbers and friendly spirit surrounding the Olympics provided endless opportunities for Christians to engage in conversations with the masses, Shaw said. Volunteers have talked, counseled, shared, provided meals and offered hope, he said.In one instance, discussions at an open café "resulted in 400 guests visiting a local church for the first time.”
Volunteers helping run events like this have meant “strong engagement” for London’s local churches, Shaw said. “This type of ministry has gone extremely well.”
And prayer played a huge part too, he noted. It was beneficial, Shaw said, to have the eyes of the world on London. During the Games, BBC Sport registered a record 55 million hits worldwide. NBC reported an estimated 300 million worldwide watched the closing ceremony Aug. 12.
Shaw said he hopes many watched and prayed for London before and during the Games.
Ava Thomas is a writer/editor based in Europe for the International Mission Board.