Olympics: Bapt. volunteers share Jesus, see lives changed

by Tim Ellsworth, posted Monday, August 22, 2016 (one year ago)

James Gardner (left) and Steve Paquette (right), of International Sports Chaplains, were part of a team ministering in Rio.
Photo by Tim Ellsworth.
RIO DE JANEIRO (BP) -- While the Olympics may draw fans from all over the world to celebrate athletic accomplishment, they also draw missions volunteers interested in taking the Gospel to the nations.

Steve Paquette, of Golden Acres Baptist Church in Phenix City, Ala., and James Gardner, of McClendon Baptist Church in West Monroe, La., were part of a team of about 25 volunteers from International Sports Chaplains who witnessed to people at various Olympics sites in Rio.

"We have a pin designed for this Olympics that we believe is the best pin in the Olympics," Paquette said. "Pin trading is huge. When people ask us to trade, we say, 'We will give you this pin. We won't trade, but we'll give you the pin if you listen to the story behind it.'"

The pin is designed with bright colors that can be used to share the Gospel. Flags around the outside of the pin show that God loves the whole world, Paquette said, while a dark color represents sin, red stands for the blood of Jesus, white is the purity that comes with forgiveness, green is growing to be more like Christ and gold is heaven.

Pin trading is a common activity during the Olympics, and Gardner said a pin like the one they use makes it easy to begin conversations with people about the Gospel.

"This is my sixth Olympics," Gardner said. "I love Jesus and have a relationship with Him, and I want other people to experience what I've experienced -- having that peace and hope through Christ."

John Crocker, of Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama, shares the gospel in Copacabana near the beach volleyball venue.
Photo by Tim Ellsworth.
John Crocker, the evangelism and missions pastor at Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala., led a team of seven from his church who also spent time in pin trading. Though the pins they used were different from the International Sports Chaplains pins, the message was the same.

"Almost every single person we have stopped loves these pins and has listened to the Gospel," Crocker said. "When you have a tool like the pin, it's so easy to be able to share Christ."

Jon Busk, the middle school minister at Whitesburg, and his wife Jordan were part of the team who came to minister both at Olympic sites and in the poor favela neighborhoods through block parties.

"I enjoy experiencing other cultures and seeing that how we worship Christ in America is not the way other people in different countries worship Him," Jordan said. "Yes, we all worship the same God and we all believe in the same things, but how we express those feelings of adoration can be different."

The Whitesburg team worked with Eric Reese, a megacity strategist for the International Mission Board based in Rio. Reese and his wife Ramona have been in the city of 11 million people for 16 years. Crocker found out about Reese a few years ago through an IMB publication and visited the city to determine if a possible partnership was a good fit.

"What we saw was an IMB family filled with the love of God for the people of Rio," Crocker said. "We saw about the most intelligent strategy for reaching a mega-city that I've ever seen in my life. We wanted to be a part of it."

Since then, Whitesburg has brought multiple ministry teams to Rio, and Reese has been to the church to speak.

"This is one of the most effective and beautiful mission relationships we have ever had at Whitesburg Baptist Church," Crocker said. "We absolutely love coming and sharing Jesus with Eric and Ramona Reese and their ministry."

Reese said Brazilians are some of the most open, loving and accepting people he's ever met. And while Olympic ministry is good, Reese said those attending the Olympics are just a small percentage of the Rio population. A majority of people live in the favelas and are too poor to participate in the festivities. That's why he took missions volunteers to minister there in addition to the Olympic sites.

In one favela where he took two students from the University of North Carolina, they shared the Gospel with a drug dealer and saw the body of a snitch who had been shot multiple times. Such is life for the poorest of the poor in Rio.

The message for people living in such extreme poverty?

"No Olympics, no World Cup, can change your life like Jesus can," Reese said.

Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.
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