The Rio Olympic Games closed yesterday but the effect of the games will go on. There will be many stories in the coming months and years about the legacy of the games in Rio. Will the new building fall into disrepair or will they be repurposed for the fast growing population? Will the economy really see a rebound because of the games? Will the press from the games help or will the Ryan Lochte incident further erode the reputation of Rio? The answers to these questions will be debated among many, but the real difference will be the spiritual legacy left by those who took this opportunity to impact Rio with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Every 4 years the Olympics visits a major city in the world, and almost always this is a city
in desperate need of the gospel. This was the third time I have had the privilege of leading a team on mission during the Olympics and I am even more convinced today that this is a key opportunity that must be capitalized on by believers, and especially by Southern Baptists. In
In Beijing we were able to support and encourage believers while also building relationships with local business people and taxi drivers. We gave the gift of the gospel message to many people even though there was a great language barrier. In London we worked with local churches that took advantage of the Olympic spirit to hold children’s Holiday Clubs and other activities. These were doors that opened in part because of the
presence of the Olympics. In Rio our opportunities were greatly increased by the work of our great translators who helped us take conversations from the Olympics to the gospel. In each of these cities I’ve seen the effect of the Olympics on the ability to have conversations with locals.
The Olympic presence goes far beyond the events and those working at the venues. Everyone in the host city, and in the host country, is tuned in to what is happening.
They watch the opening ceremonies and take pride in the presenting their history to the world. They see the increased traffic. They have watched the building of venues and special housing. They have seen the Olympic signs go up, local TV coverage, and special lanes cordoned off for the participants. The entire city is affected by the Olympics and they are ready to talk about it. They know there are many visitors from out of the country and they are ready to be official hosts for the Olympics. I’ve found so many who are willing to visit, to ask where we are from, to hear why we have come. Conversations are easy to have during the Olympics because everyone is talking about it. Almost every person we met would eventually ask, “Are you here for the Olympics?” Our answer was always, “Yes, and we’ve also come to pray with people.” That answer would lead us to a presentation of the gospel that yielded at least 16 professions of faith in Christ.
Some fear going to the Olympics because of the threat of terrorism or other violence. My
experience has been that the security around the Olympics is higher and it is usually safer to travel during the games. Cities and countries have so much pressure to not be the place
where something happened that they go to great lengths to keep everyone safe. In Rio there was abundant police and military presence, but they were also very kind. They were helpful and evening willing to have their pictures taken.
Of course, when you are putting together a mission team it doesn’t hurt to be going to the Olympics. The games are exciting to attend and unique in the realm of sports events. Often you attend a game or event where you have no real rooting interest. We watched Brazil and Canada play men’s volleyball. With no one to cheer we just enjoyed the game and the Brazilian fans who were definitely enthusiastic. Those games also provide opportunities for witness and for impact. We loved taking our new found missionary friends to the games and blessing their lives.
Which brings me to one of the other reasons to go to the Olympics, and overseas for mission. As Southern Baptists we have many missionaries serving overseas who need our encouragement. We encourage them by giving to missions and by praying and sending notes of encouragement. But there is nothing better than being on the field with them and seeing where they are and what they are doing. Stand alongside them, walk the streets with them, give them a hug and stand with them in prayer. Learn what their lives are really like and then you will be a real giver to missions. I believe that one of the best things you can do on a mission trip is to encourage those who are doing the work everyday. Local pastors and missionaries living on the field need to know they are supported and prayed for by others. The Olympics is a great opportunity for them to impact their field. We need to stand side by side with them to help them increase their footprint.
We loved staying with Eric and Ramona Reese and getting to know their two beautiful daughters. It was a privilege to be able to help them with the ministry they have established in Rio. The Olympics provided us a great opportunity to take the gospel to the city. That opportunity will come again in four years in Tokyo. We must begin preparing now for the open doors that will be abundant in Japan. Southern Baptists, let’s begin today making plans, saving money, preparing ourselves to take the gospel to the Far East. These are unique opportunities. We must walk through these doors while they remain open.