VANCOUVER — Making an impact at the Olympics means serving others beyond what
they are expecting.
“I’m a Christian. Isn’t this what we’re supposed to do?” asked Irina State, a
member of a Romanian Southern Baptist Church in British Columbia.
State echoes the feelings of more than 400 Southern Baptist volunteers from 25
states and two Canadian provinces who have joined in making Christ known among
crowds in Vancouver for the Olympic Games.
With a home base at churches throughout Vancouver, “More Than Gold” volunteers
fill large portable containers with hot chocolate and coffee and hit the
streets as the days turned cool.
While it’s an awkward contraption to wear for three or four hours, there’s
little doubt the large cylinder attracts attention from a distance — jutting
out as it does among throngs in downtown Vancouver.
From train stop to train stop, dozens of these backpack coffee dispensers bob
around street corners, usually surrounded by volunteers wearing the
trademark-blue More Than Gold jackets.
Their backpacks filled with brand-new
trading pins, city guides and copies of Mark’s Gospel, the volunteers engage
passersby with conversation and coffee.
“People come to the Olympics for excellence, and that’s what we want to give
them,” said Steve Timmons, director of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas’
Baptist Campus Ministry. The pins are premium quality, coffee is organic
Nicaraguan and the pocket guides include profiles of Christian athletes and
helpful city maps.
Timmons and a dozen college-aged volunteers form an assembly line along
Granville Avenue just outside the doors of the nearby SkyTrain station.
dispenser, cup bearer and sugar and cream holder all perform their jobs working
out of pocket-stitched aprons and a large tank strapped to the biggest
volunteer’s back. They remain mobile, going where the crowds gather.
If they’re serving hot chocolate, someone stands with a can of whipped cream at
A crowd will form around them, depending on how cold it’s become.
temperature drops by 15 degrees after sunset, and the Northwest offers its fair
share of rain.
“People really respond to this,” says Chris Clifton, a volunteer from UNLV who,
just two nights earlier, had talked with an atheist for two hours.
“It was an amazing conversation,” Clifton said later. “The guy has two kids and
I’m thinking, ‘Why is this guy out in the cold after dark with kids at home?’
There were some deep issues there.”
Coffee isn’t the only thing that grabs tourists’ attention.
So does pin
trading, a longstanding Olympic tradition. When handing out the More than Gold
pins, volunteers use the colors on the pins to tell about Jesus.
Developed for the 1996 Summer Olympics by the International Sports Coalition in
association with the North American Mission Board, More Than Gold seeks to
provide a tangible Gospel presence in host cities, benefitting Olympic
committee work and as well as the witness of local evangelical churches.
1,000 volunteers — almost half of whom are Southern Baptist — joined the effort
“This has been a very unifying experience for our churches,” said Alan Au, a
local Baptist pastor who helped plan the More Than Gold outreach in Vancouver. “The
results will extend far beyond the Olympics, both here and in the lives of
athletes and spectators returning home. This is only the beginning.”
With more than a week left in the Games and volunteer teams continuing to
arrive, there’s no telling what God will do with the time left.
“Our only hope is that God will use our efforts to create divine appointments,”
said Debbie Wohler, a NAMB missionary in Vancouver deployed from Tahoe Resort
Ministries in California.
Wohler has been a presence at more than a dozen
Olympics and maintains contact with people she’s shared the gospel with over
“The world is here,” she said. “This is our chance!”