Published March 16, 2006
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.
“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.”
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