Missionary ministers to Winter Olympic athletes
Mickey Noah, North American Mission Board
February 10, 2010

Missionary ministers to Winter Olympic athletes

Missionary ministers to Winter Olympic athletes
Mickey Noah, North American Mission Board
February 10, 2010


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


NAMB file photo

Derek Spain, seen here in 2005, is headed to the Winter Olympics to be a chaplain to athletes.

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

Lake Placid.

“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

Placid area.

“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.