Thursday, March 4, 2010

CBN News: Olympic Chaplain Reaches Out To Athletes

Top 21 Things I Will Remember About the Olympics

1. God is at work among the winter sports athletes of the world. Athletes, chaplains, and others all met each other, encouraged each other in the faith, and are more determined than ever to expand God's kingdom by reaching winter sports athletes with the gospel.

2. God is glorified when His people honor Him, whether they win or they lose. God was glorified by Christian athletes who won medals and by those who didn't. Their attitudes, words, body language, everything, said loud and clear, "I am a follower of Jesus Christ." My encouragement to athletes is this, "You do your best. The results are up to the LORD." When they keep that perspective, it's easier to be at peace with yourself and with God, and therefore easier to honor Him.

3. Every athlete who competed in the Games should be grateful for their opportunity to be in the Olympics. Not everyone can win a medal. Most people in the world will never even make it to the Olympics as an athlete. But every Olympic athlete in Whistler or Vancouver is an Olympian, one of the best athletes in the world at their sport. The athletes can be satisfied that they did their best with their God-given talents, and the should be grateful to the LORD for those talents. Congratulations to all Olympians!

4. The Christian athletes realize they are competing for a higher prize than a gold medal. They are competing for God's glory. Their focus is on Him. Their success is not tied to their accomplishments, the weather on the day of competition, etc. They are satisfied with their relationship with God. Of course they want to do their best. But at the end of the day, it is only a game. What really matters is where their fellow competitors, coaches and everyone else are going to spend eternity.

5. It was an honor to be a pastor to the athletes and to others inside the Village. One athlete said, "When we go on tour throughout Europe and wherever, we are away from church for a long time. Here at the Olympics, it is great to have a whole team of pastors available to me all day every day!" It was our privilege to be there for the athletes, coaches, volunteers and staff.

6. God uses all sorts of people to minister to people. Our Christian chaplains were from Canada and from all over the world. Some have Olympic-level sports backgrounds. Others have never played sports. Some are great listeners, others great encouragers, others great musicians, others great communicators... you get the point. The two things we all had in common was faith in Jesus Christ and a desire for God to use us to minister to athletes, coaches, volunteers, staff and anyone else the Lord brought our way.

7. There are some great churches in Whistler that I will continue to recommend for athletes who go there to train, compete, or just play on the ski mountains. Whistler Community Church (Pastor Tim Unruh) and Church on the Mountain (Pastor Chad Chomlack) are two churches I recommend. It was great worshiping with those churches and getting to know their pastors a little bit.

8. It is possible for many nations to live together in peace, and to really hope that other countries have success. Throughout the Athletes Village were representatives from almost 80 nations. At meals, at events, in the Whistler Village, and everywhere you went you saw people with national pride, yes, but also you saw people encouraging every athlete to do his/her best. At one bobsled race, I was sitting next to the boyfriend of a German women's bobsled driver. On the other side was my friend (aka, "mate") from Australia, chaplain Matthew. Behind us were Canadians. We all cheered for all of our nations, and many, many others.

9. The host homes I stayed in were all a blessing in many ways. It was wonderful to meet my first host family and to get to know them. A Christian family, they are originally from Hong Kong but have lived in Vancouver & Whistler for many decades. I got to hear first-hand about some of the work the LORD is doing in Hong Kong and throughout China. My second host home provided the opportunity to spend time getting to know some great folks who came to Whistler on mission trips to do ministry during the Games. Some of them I knew already and now know better. Others I met for the first time. Praise God for each of them. My third host home, with chaplain Nick Osborne, gave me a chance to get to know Nick better, to meet his kids, and to rest up before my long trip back home.

10. Free refills at Starbucks. I'm not even sure if this deal works in the USA (I'm going to try it out though), but it was nice to be able to use my Starbucks gift card to enjoy a Venti bold coffee (no room for cream) and then ask for a free refill (and get it). That allowed more time for talking with friends, Skyping with my family, reading the Bible and other books, and more. Located very close to the bus station, Medals Plaza (where they did the medals ceremonies) and the grocery store, it was easy to find, in the middle of the traffic flow, and a nice place to meet.

11. The blessing of using technology to communicate with everyone in a variety of ways. There were many ways: was my daily (or more frequent) phone calls with my wife and kids, text messages to meet up with people at events and for ministry, daily blogs to let people know what was going on and how to pray, talking to my family & some kids at schools via Skype, responding to email messages, posting photos online to share my experiences that way, online videos highlighting ministries at the Games, and more. Technology at times can be a burden, but it can also be a real blessing.

12. I will never forget the sadness I felt the moment I got the tweet from the NY Times that said, "Olympic luge athlete dies in training run." This was the first communication anyone from our Multi-Faith Centre had received about the tragic accident that killed Republic of Georgia luge athlete Nodar. It set our chaplain team in motion to do some amazing ministry that day and throughout the Games. And as one of our chaplains reflected, "It was estimated that 3 billion people watched the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics. When they paused for a moment of silence to honor Nodar, 3 billion people observed a moment of silence. His life impacted people around the world."

13. The events I attended were lots of fun. At every event I attended, I was able to watch the event with one of my colleagues from the Multi-Faith Centre or the family/friends of one of the athletes that we know, or one of my colleagues AND the family/friends of athletes. The events themselves are great and exciting. When you are cheering for someone you know personally, that is priceless. I had the opportunity to attended cross-country skiing, biathlon, luge, skeleton and bobsled. I'm very thankful.

14. Some of my favorite quotes:

The medalist who said to me, "You don't know how much the Athletes Bible study helped us grow spiritually and come together as a team to help win this medal." Wow. Praise God. That's humbling.

"Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Oh, sorry." That's what every Canadian says more than a dozen times per day. If you bump into them - even on purpose - they will say "sorry" to you, like it was their fault!

The lady I had just met just moments after the dramatic 3-2 overtime hockey game, who saw my USA hat, and said to me: "How'd you like that hockey game? We CRUSHED you guys!" I looked at her and said, "I'm sorry, what? I thought it was a one-point game decided in overtime. That's crushing someone?" She just laughed.

One day, a lady in the TV lounge who was making sure only authorized people came into the room, upon learning that I was a chaplain and pastor, asked me, "And what kind of pastor are you?" I think she was asking if I was Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, etc. My response: "I'm the kind of pastor who sits on the couch and watches biathlon with athletes." She thought that was a good answer. We all chuckled then watched the biathlon race.

"Eh?" Enough said about that one.

15. Security was at an all-time high at the Games. VANOC had a budget of $1 billion for security for the Olympics. We saw RCMP, Canadian army, local police forces, recently-trained security forces, helicopters, blimps, metal detectors, and more. With all of these people in place, it is truly the LORD who is our Protector. He was watching over us the whole time, even when the tragedy occurred.

16. Some creative evangelism methods that were effective:

Pin trading - engaging people in conversation through pin trading, then giving them a high quality "More Than Gold" pin.

Listening - may not seem incredibly creative, but it is a proven effective way to be ready to share the gospel: after you listen carefully to what the person you are talking to has to say, hearing their words and their heart. And since nobody listens much to anyone, if you will take time to listen you will seem unusual/creative to the person you're listening to.

Athletes testimonies on DVD - Athletes in Action put together a DVD with a few testimonies of Christian winter sports athletes

Sports New Testaments - with athletes' testimonies before Matthew and after Revelation

Personal evangelism - every conversation is an amazing work of the creativity of God, bringing your story, their story and the Word of God together to shine a light on the gospel so they can see Christ

The book "Soul Cravings" - a good book that discusses how inside our heart we realize we need God, and how God wants to show us His love, save us, change us, give us eternal life

17. It was exciting to be at the finish line of some of the events, watching the people celebrate with those who had won the medals. And likewise to be at the Medals Ceremony. And just to watch on TV at the Opening Ceremonies to see how excited everyone was to be part of the Olympics. But in the midst of it, I couldn't help but think, what if these people were all this excited about God? And, when you think about eternity, all of these earthly accomplishments pale in comparison to eternal pursuits.

18. It was comforting to know that my family and our church family were in good hands while I was away. Family & friends helped my wife with our three kids while I was at the Games. The pastors, elders and leaders of Lake Placid Baptist Church did a wonderful job of leading and ministering to our church family. And of course, the LORD was watching over us all.

19. Worshiping with Norwegians, Austrians, Canadians, Colombians, Australians, British, Lebanese, Russians, Swiss, and other nations. The Bible tells that heaven will be filled with people from every tribe and every tongue. Can't wait to see that!

20. Reading the Book of Numbers. My personal Bible reading each day had me in the book of Numbers during the Olympics. One day, I even posted a blog called, "No Person is Just a Number" (see archives). God spoke to me through Numbers like never before.

21. Making plans for Sochi, Russia in 2014. We will see what the LORD has in store for ministry at Sochi. I've already asked Kim to start thinking about going with me. I'm going to start with Plan A: go to Sochi, sit at a coffee shop all day, attend the events that the athletes we minister to are competing in, and then connecting with athletes for Bible study and prayer wherever we can get together. If the LORD opens up the door for more than that (like serving as a chaplain again) then I will be that much more rejoicing. If the LORD has other plans for me, then I will follow HIM. But I hope HE wants me to go to Sochi!

Thanks for all the prayers and encouragement while I was at the Games. May God bless you as you follow Christ!