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Georgia Baptists travel to Turin spreading golden news

 

Chris Boltin

Sid Hopkins, left, shares with tourists near the set of the Today show in Turin, Italy at the winter Olympics in February. Hopkins was part of a five-man team from the Georgia Baptist Convention at the games witnessing to others about Christ. Hopkins serves as associational missionary for Gwinnett Metro Baptist Association.

TURIN, Italy — The “More than Gold” pins designed by the Georgia Baptist Convention have garnered their fair share of attention at recent Olympic games. The trend continued last month as five Georgia Baptists swapped pins and stories while witnessing to revelers and locals at the 2006 Winter Olympics.

With the cumulative experience of attending 20 Olympiads among them, the team of Sid Hopkins, associational missionary for Gwinnett Metro Association; Chris Boltin, specialist with GBC Mission Volunteers; Jeff Wagner, manager of special ministries for the North American Mission Board; and campus ministers Marty Youngblood and Jerry Johnson traveled to Italy for relationship-building and witnessing opportunities on a global stage.

The Georgia group joined with a team from the California Baptist Convention, in the process becoming part of a 31-member team at the games ministering through relational evangelism.

“We had a good combination of people,” said Boltin, who has attended every Olympics since the Sydney games in 2000. “Everyone had different skills that helped us specialize in how we communicated to others.”

While in Turin, team members were interviewed by Atlanta’s 11Alive and rubbed elbows with family members of athletes. Youngblood, campus minister at Armstrong Atlantic State University and Coastal Georgia Community College in Savannah, became so familiar in one particular venue security came to know him by his first name and would wave him through.

Every day Youngblood and Johnson, campus minister at Georgia Southern, stopped by the set of a certain American news show to visit with pages and security. While on a train one day another passenger identified Johnson as “that guy from the Today show,” presumably due to the regularity of his visits to the set and not to any conceived similarity to Matt Lauer.

Youngblood’s familiarity with the show’s security team led to other witnessing opportunities, as he was eventually granted access to the area where guests were escorted. One of those he encountered was the head of the Olympic organizing committee for Italy.

“She was very excited about receiving the More Than Gold pin when Marty presented it to her,” said Boltin. “He was able to share with every guest they had on the show.”

Perhaps one of the more important chance encounters came when Johnson and Youngblood came into contact with a major player in training volunteers for the 2008 summer games in Beijing.

Boltin said one obstacle for team members to overcome was a lower number of those speaking English than at previous games. Getting to know others through familiarity became key in telling them about Christ. The main tool in telling the Gospel were the pins.

“The pins we designed in Georgia and produced in the Baptist Building were the ones used by all the evangelical groups,” he pointed out.

Chris Boltin

“Several churches in Georgia took it a step further and used the pins for outreach at viewing parties,” added Boltin. “They would invite the public in and while watching would pause at times to hand out the pins and pocket guides and present the plan of salvation.”

Johnson said preparation was important in establishing relationships. The team arrived in Turin Feb. 6 – five days before the games began – and commenced to scout prime locations for evangelism.

“We would follow a similar pattern [going throughout the city] to talk to others,” he said. “The Olympics stand for more than gold; they stand for unity and camaraderie around the world. We would talk about that and use the pins to speak on the highest ideal – having a relationship with Jesus Christ.

“Each day walking around the city we would get more familiar with the people. By the end, most of them knew who we were, why we were there, and that we were the funny, crazy Christian guys.”

Once while standing near the Today set, Johnson’s More Than Gold pin caught the eye of U.S. bobsledder Brock Kreitzburg during a break in his interview. Kreitzburg remarked on how much he liked the pin and asked if he could put it on. Johnson was happy to oblige and when the cameras came back on the pin was displayed on the athlete’s jacket.

Johnson said that many “God appointments” seemed to happen while in Turin. An encounter with the Italian police brought this home to Wagner.

“Every time I turned around I had a new experience. My last Thursday there, I struck up a conversation with a couple from Minnesota and witnessed to them on the train to the snowboardcross. I didn’t have a ticket but ended up getting one for free.

“After the event I walked outside and heard yelling and a car coming up to me. I turned around and it was a police car, now joined by another, with both of them blocking traffic. The officers were yelling at me, which got me thinking about Athens.”

Rewind to the 2004 games in Greece. It was there that Wagner and California missionary Debbie Wohler were giving out pins when an official thought they were sharing the Gospel without authorization. Wagner thought they were about to get ejected from the area for a moment.

The difference at Turin was that the officers were shouting, “Piu dell ‘oro!”– “More Than Gold” in Italian. The policemen remembered Wagner when he shared the pins with them the week before and now were wanting more pins to give to others.

Armstrong drew a parallel between his job as a campus minister with being at the games.

“We’re always challenging our students to go and get outside their comfort zone to talk and witness to others about Christ,” he said. “It renews us to go and do something like this.”

Sid Hopkins

An attendee at the winter games in Turin holds a gold medal earned at the 2002 winter Olympics held in Salt Lake City, Utah. Jeff Wagner, manager of special ministries for NAMB and member of a team of Georgia Baptists in Italy, likened Olympic ministry as “a family that gets together every two years.”

Jerry Johnson

The Olympic flame is passed on from one torch to another in the streets of Turin, Italy the day before opening ceremonies. Jerry Johnson, campus minister for Georgia Southern University and a member of the team of Georgia Baptists to attend the games, said parallels can be drawn between the Olympic spirit and More Than Gold emphasis. “The Olympics stand for unity and camaraderie around the world. We would take that and talk about the highest ideal – having a relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Five Georgia Baptists traveled to Turin, Italy to spread the golden news at the 2006 Winter Olympics. Experience gathered over the course of attending 20 different Olympiads among the group proved useful in witnessing among tourists, athletes and their families.

Memorabilia was handed out as witnessing tools during the Olympics held in Turin. One tool was this pocket-sized book of the Gospel of Mark translated in six different languages pictured.

A booklet called “Guide to the Games” is filled with the Winter Olympic history of the games and torch, a general map of the venues, Olympic disciplines, a description of the meaning of the More Than Gold pin, and most importantly a section titled “Gold is not the most important thing: Rosalynn Summers.”

Purple represents darkness, the darkness of our sin that separates us from God.

Blue represents hope. The hope we have in God’s love, and His desire to give us eternal life through Jesus Christ.

Red shows Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. He shed his blood to pay the penalty for our sin.

Gold represents eternal life through faith and trust in Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior.

Green means to grow! As a Christian, that is what God wants us to do based on our personal relationship with Him.