LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Since
his teen years, North American Mission Board resort missionary Derek Spain has
worked himself up from parking lot attendant, ticket taker and track sweeper at
the winter Olympic Training Center at Lake Placid, N.Y.
Now he deals in cowbells,
hand-warmers and Bibles — whatever it takes to share the gospel with — and
minister to — the dozens of world-class Olympic athletes who either live in
Lake Placid or pass through — plus the thousands of fans who come to see them
Spain has not only served as
a NAMB resort missionary since 2001, but is also special ministries consultant
for the Baptist Convention of New York, pastor of Lake Placid Baptist Church
and director of North Country Ministries, a ministry focused on the athletes in
“Some of them live here year-round,
either at the Olympic Training Center or in town,” says Spain. “Some of
the athletes we only see for a few weeks a year. They could be in figure
skating, hockey, ski jumping, snowboarding, ski racing or bobsledding.”
Spain said Olympic athletes
are high achievers, set high personal goals, are dedicated to their sport, and
disciplined in their workout, eating and sleeping regimens. They must be
in order to compete at a world-class level.
“They do have struggles,
though,” says Spain. “As they get older and into their 20s and 30s, they are
traveling all over the world, living in an unsupervised environment. So
there are the challenges and temptations of the world. Even Christian
athletes struggle with the issue of pride as they compete for their nation. There’s
a temptation to be prideful about what they’re accomplishing personally.”
Spain heads up North Country
Ministries, made up of members of his Lake Placid Baptist Church and Southern
Baptist mission teams that travel to Lake Placid from other churches throughout
North America. Through the ministry, Spain has opened doors to share
Christ through serving and volunteering at winter sports events in the Lake
“We take these opportunities
to use creative evangelism tools to talk to others about God,” he said. It
may be a “goodie bag” filled with candy, gum, Chapstick and maybe a gospel
tract. It may be handing out free cowbells for spectators to clang when
their team does well. (A long-time tradition in Europe, cowbells help make up
for the fact that it’s tough for fans wearing gloves and mittens to make much
noise at winter Olympic venues!)
As part of North Country
Ministries, Spain conducts nightly Bible studies in Lake Placid, attended by
Olympic athletes when they’re in town. That’s how Spain got to know John
Napier, a member of the U.S. bobsled team that will compete in the 2010 Winter
Olympics in Vancouver, Feb. 12-28.
Spain first met Napier
several years ago when Napier’s father, William, was dying of cancer and Spain
ministered to the family in the hospital. Young Napier was a teenager but
at eight years old, he had inherited the love of bobsledding from his father
and mother. He competed in his first international competition at 16, and
raced in his first World Cup at 17.
“I later ran into John at
the Olympic Training Center and invited him to our Bible Study. Several
weeks passed and he began to come regularly. About a year-and-a-half-ago,
he started coming every week,” Spain recalls. Eventually, Spain led
Napier, already a Christian, into a closer walk with Christ.
“Over the last couple of
months, I’ve seen in John’s life a real hunger and desire to follow
Christ. It’s become very personal to him, and he has seen the transforming
power of God change his life from the inside out,” said Spain, who baptized
23-year-old Napier on a recent Sunday morning.
Napier says Spain has been
an “awesome spiritual guide for us as athletes in Lake Placid Baptist
Church. Derek is always at the top of the track volunteering his time and
just showing you that Christ is everywhere. He’s always here to support
the athletes and minister to us.”
Napier said it takes good
hand-eye coordination and good reaction time to drive the sled: “Driving
is not only seeing, but it’s about feeling what the sled is doing under you.”
After the Winter Olympics
closes on Feb. 28, Napier will return to his “day” job as a soldier in the Army
National Guard. Spain, who also will be in Vancouver for the Winter
Olympics, will return after the close of the games to Lake Placid to resume his
ministry as a NAMB resort missionary and a Baptist pastor.
Helping with the Olympics?
Are you a North Carolina
Baptist serving at the Olympics? Or do you know someone who is?
Let the Biblical Recorder
know by e-mail: [email protected] or phone: (919) 847-2127. We’d love
to share some photos and information about your mission.