Volunteers tap creativity to relay 'More Than Gold' at Salt Lake Olympics

SALT LAKE CITY (BP)--It doesn't take much to start a conversation during the Winter Olympics: a funny costume, an offer of a free collector pin, a shared ride on a commuter train, a shared moment around a warm fire.

For about 1,000 volunteers from 21 states over the next few weeks, those casual encounters are becoming opportunities to share the one thing in life that means "More Than Gold" -- a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The volunteers are part of Global Outreach 2002, a Southern Baptist outreach ministry that has been gearing up for the Feb. 8-23 events for more than a year. The ministry is sponsored by the North American Mission Board in partnership with state conventions in Utah-Idaho, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Colorado.

Some of the volunteers -- housed at local Southern Baptist churches -- are involved more directly with the games, such as partnering with the Salvation Army in providing free water for spectators and delivering boxed meals to official Winter Olympics volunteers. At other times volunteers are assigned to the streets around major venues, where they are free to get to know people and share Christ as opportunities arise.

"I just led that man to the Lord, and I'm going to put him in touch with a good Bible-believing church," said Barbara Dial, a member of Faith Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Fla., the evening of Feb. 8 as the opening ceremonies were about to begin. She was standing in front of the Main Street Coffee House -- a business operated by a new Southern Baptist church in downtown Salt Lake City that is a center for much of the Global Outreach effort in Salt Lake City.

"I've probably shared the plan of salvation with 100 people today," she said, adding that she had led three people to Christ that day alone.

The "More Than Gold" theme is central to all outreach efforts. Volunteers offer both an "Interactive Pocket Guide" to the games that includes Winter Olympics history, maps, a chart for tracking event winners and other useful information. But tucked into the back is a presentation of the gospel geared around the five colors of the snowflake in the "More Than Gold" logo.

The "More Than Gold" pin also is a draw for the ubiquitous pin collectors, who are ever in search of new pins or fodder for trades. The pins are free to anyone willing to listen as a Southern Baptist volunteer explains the significance of the logo.

The brief encounters sometimes result in immediate professions of faith, but more often the effect is more gradual -- what organizers call a "positive Christian touch" that plants seeds of the gospel that can later bear fruit in changed lives.

Debbie Wohler, a North American Mission Board missionary from Tahoe City, Calif., is a veteran of Olympic ministry whose love for the games was honored in January by participating in the Olympic Torch Run as it came through California. In Salt Lake City she wears a snowman costume, passing out stickers to children and sharing pins with adults

"I think there's a strategy of ministry that you meet the felt needs -- that might be pins or Kleenex tissues in hospitality bags -- so you can talk to them about their real need, which is Jesus Christ," she said.

In the nearby ski village of Park City, the real need on many people's minds as they walked down the picturesque Main Street was the sub-freezing cold. Park City Celebration Committee organizers had seen fit to place "warming stations" -- small propane fireplaces -- for people to warm their hands. And stationed at each was at least one Global Outreach volunteer helping maintain the fires and making visitors feel welcome.

"A lot of people just want to hang around here a long time to talk, so it's really great," said Monica Lopez de Victoria, a college student from Miami, who found numerous opportunities to share her faith in Christ causally around the fire.

"People are interested in what we have to say. Just standing out here establishes a lot of credibility," added Jonathan Clark, a Baptist Student Union volunteer missionary at the University of Kentucky.

Also working the streets is a guy in a moose costume -- an odd sight in most settings but just part of the scenery here. There apparently is no shortage of fans ready to give a moose a hug and pose for a picture.

"Sometimes we tell people that he's the unofficial mascot. He got beat out by the coyote," said Marty Youngblood, a campus minister from Savannah who accompanied "moose" Andrew Jones, a youth minister in Stone Mountain, Ga.

Youngblood said on the moose patrol and at other venues they often wait for people to ask them about the pins they are wearing, ensuring people are interested in what they have to say.

"When we have conversations with lost people in a natural setting, we're following their lead," he said, noting that many Olympics fans have grown accustomed to numerous aggressive evangelism efforts and welcome the low-key approach. The result is that while he often sees other evangelistic literature on the sidewalks, he has yet to see a discarded More Than Gold pocket guide.

Suzy Wall of First Baptist Church of Hereford, Texas, uses balloon animals for kids as a conversation starter with parents. One of her most significant encounters came during a shift at the coffeehouse while talking with an elderly man.

"He just began to sob, and he said when he was a kid he went to church, but he had never made a commitment to Christ," she said, adding that people often want to hear her talk just because of the Texas accent.

For many of the volunteers, the involvement in Olympic ministry is an eye-opener of sorts, the exposure to personal evangelism that makes them realize that telling people about Christ is not that difficult at all.

"I was terrified to come and do this," said Nancy Gostic of Lakeside Baptist Church in McMurray, Penn. "It's amazing to me how easy it is to share and how open the people are. It's like the games have just increased their openness. I just feel like God has gone before us."

That was also the case with Dial, the Florida volunteer who led three people to Christ and shared with about 100 on the same day. It was her first such experience and likely will not be her last.

"Today I just told God I would wait on him," she said. "I realized God just wanted me to put the word out there, and it won't return void. ... I can go home now and share the gospel, and it will be a natural thing."

Wohler said it is a process she has seen repeatedly as Christians participate in mission projects, finding the freedom in a new environment to be outspoken about their faith -- and the confidence to do it more comfortably at home.

"Everybody should go somewhere on some kind of a mission trip, because it puts us outside of our comfort zone," she said. "And then we actually have to trust God."


(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: MOOSE OF OLYMPIC PROPORTIONS; GO, JOHNNY GO!; BUNNY EARMUFFS and WARMING UP.

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