Baptist leaders in London prepare for Olympics - Word&Way

Baptist leaders in London prepare for Olympics

LONDON—When Doug Shaw stands on the hill just outside Olympic Park in London, he can barely hear himself think.

Construction buzzes and roars in preparation for the Summer Olympic Games, which start July 27. The work's been going strong for years. Shaw can relate. He hasn't stopped in ages, either.

David Pile (left) of the London Baptist Association and Doug Shaw of the IMB chat over a diagram of the Olympic Park in London's Stratford area. Pile and Shaw have been working for months on strategy and volunteer coordination for ministry during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. (BP PHOTO/International Mission Board)

As Olympics volunteer coordinator for Southern Baptists' International Mission Board, he's been in motion for months preparing Baptists to meet the tens of thousands of sports fans coming to the United Kingdom this summer.

"We are praying that many people from all over the world who may not have an opportunity to hear or respond to the gospel without being persecuted by their neighbors might have that opportunity while they're here in London," Shaw said.

David Pile shares that hope. He and others are praying "that there will be lots of local events and lots of community engagement, and we'll be able to share and shine the love of Jesus with a bunch of people that we otherwise wouldn't have come in contact with," said Pile, Olympic and Paralympic church engagement coordinator for the London Baptist Association.

Shaw expects the help of about 400 Baptist volunteers from the United States, and Pile anticipates the parti-cipation of hundreds of churches in England.

Volunteers will help with festivals, face painting, distributing water and a range of other tasks. Some will assist churches in hosting big-screen events in parks, and sports teams will help with basketball and baseball events in neighborhoods around churches.

All these efforts fall under the banner of More Than Gold, a joint effort of Christian churches of many denominations worldwide. More Than Gold helps Christians collaborate for ministry during major international sporting events such as the Olympics or the World Cup.

And its most famous ministry—pin trading—will be in full force during the 2012 games.

"Pin trading is the biggest of the unofficial Olympic sports," Shaw said, noting thousands participate in the hobby.

Volunteers trade a More Than Gold pin that helps start gospel conversations in the area surrounding the Olympic Park, where blatant evangelism is not allowed, Shaw said.

"During the Olympics, you won't be able to do literature distribution or any kind of obvious evangelism within a mile of any of the venues in London or anywhere else in the U.K. These areas are closed off to direct evangelism," he said.

But pin trading is a traditional part of the Olympics atmosphere. And, Shaw said, "There's nothing wrong with talking with people."

Many local Baptists also are participating with a "big silent Christian witness" during the games, serving as official Olympic volunteers, or "Games Makers," Pile said. These volunteers serve as chaplains, drivers and part of the field setup crew and in a range of other roles.

"They would have had to apply two or three years ago for these kinds of roles, but they will put them in direct contact with athletes and other people involved in the games," Pile said.

Christian families in the U.K. also are opening their homes to the families of athletes during the Olympics.

Many athletes don't find out until the last minute they have qualified for the games, Shaw explained. And "many families come from places where a week in London would be prohibitively expensive, even in normal times," he explained.

Relationships built between host and visiting families often last well beyond the Olympics, he said.

Pile expressed thanks to Baptists in the United States for their long history of help during the Olympics.

"People have saved up money, taken time off work, come over here, with prayer support from their home church and have supported us in our historic moment so that the glory of Jesus can be shared with as many people as possible," he said.

For hopeful volunteers late jumping on the bandwagon, opportunities to serve in the U.K. still are available, but they "will come at a premium" for anyone who isn't local, Shaw said. He noted most mid-range hotels in the London area are fully booked.

He and Pile are asking for prayer support—and for potential volunteers to consider planning to serve at the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro.

Abel Santos, a Brazilian Baptist, is spending this year in England with More Than Gold to learn how it works and take the ministry back to Brazil for three back-to-back events—the Confederations Cup in 2013, the World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016.

"It would be great to have people coming in from the States to help us with missions teams and sports events," Santos said.

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