Organizers hoping to mobilize the broadest possible Christian involvement before, during and after the 2010 Winter Olympics seem convinced things are off to a very good start.
A kick-off event hosted by the newly formed Vancouver Whistler Games Network (VWGN) at Broadway Church in late September drew 275 people wanting to catch a glimpse of how they and their churches, ministries or businesses might be able to participate.
“It’s all God’s work,” said VWGN director of operations Jack O’Halloran. “You got [people from] Surrey over there, you got Delta over there, you got Langley there. Then you got Catholics sitting next to Baptists sitting next to Pentecostals.
“That’s what it’s all about. It’s not about sport. It’s not about the Games. It’s about coming together as the body of Christ.”
VWGN intends to keep the momentum going. At press time, a second mobilizing event was scheduled to take place November 1, at St. John’s Shaughnessy Church.
The Olympic and Paralympic events combined are projected to attract close to 7,000 world-class athletes from over 80 countries. With them will come their families, coaches and technicians, plus upwards of 10,000 journalists and thousands of spectators.
And like the VWGN, the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) has a vision that, as executive vice president Donna Wilson told the gathering, also extends far beyond sports.
“It’s about the partnership of many to help us build a stronger nation,” she said.
Thus, VANOC’s mission, Wilson added, is “the … delivery of an extraordinary Olympic and Paralympic experience with a lasting legacy — not just bricks and mortar, not just the venues … but after the event as well.
“We’re looking at the social and economic legacies that we can leave behind.” The entire enterprise, she insisted, is “truly spiritual.”
VWGN’s ultimate desire is to use the opportunities presented for a united Christian witness during the Olympics as a catalyst for transforming the communities of the Lower Mainland and Whistler long after the event.
Grayson Bain, the network’s CEO, said he believes God wants to use them to turn Vancouver into “a city set upon a hill. Imagine working together on … the plight of the poor and actually seeking out ways to minister to a hurting world together. The possibilities are just mind-boggling.”
This transforming power could well extend to Christians in the private sector. VWGN, said business owner Dianne Ledingham, could “help to bring heart and soul to a group that tends to put competitiveness first.” She added: “We need to open ourselves to the greater community for a bigger reason.”
Even Whistler — with only about 300 regular churchgoers among its 10,000 permanent residents — could experience spiritual transformation as a result, according to VWGN board member and former Whistler municipal councillor Kristi Wells.
“When you widen the network,” she said, “you create an opportunity for the smaller churches within Whistler to work together, to lean on the other resources just down the highway from us… It suddenly builds a new momentum.”
Wells noted the fact that Whistler attracts thousands of visitors and seasonal workers each year means that, if their lives can be touched with the love of Christ, “they’re going to take it home. More than the beautiful mountains or the party lifestyle or their chance to get better at their sport, they’re going to say, ‘I met an amazing group of people — and I found Jesus.’ No other community has that kind of ability.”
In May, VANOC formally invited VWGN to assist them in several ‘official’ capacities: chaplaincy; organizing home-stay billets for athletes; using church parking lots; car-pooling to and from events; and ‘sustainability,’ or helping build a lasting legacy. Wilson estimated they will “need an army of at least 25,000 volunteers.” In some cases, the people they require will need specialized skills.
O’Halloran, a veteran of numerous international sporting events, told the crowd that “only your imagination can limit what our 2010 [Olympics] can look like.” For example, he said, churches could offer “big-screen viewing events” or host barbeques or pack bag lunches. But they also need to be prepared and available for the unexpected.
At the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, he said, “they had these manned fire-pits all around the city. At the last minute, they had no one to man them. So they went to the Christian community and said, ‘Would you guys put volunteers here?’ Well, praise God.”
But since VWGN operates under VANOC’s umbrella, some discretion is required as to what Christian activities are permissible. A basic rule of thumb, said David Wells, VWGN’s liaison with VANOC, is that any non-intrusive ministry is acceptable.
“All those things that are viewed as being out of the free will of the athletes or the officials or even the volunteers — if they express an openness, a willingness, a desire — no problem,” said Wells.
“There’s always going to be a constituency that wonders, ‘Why do we have this?’ because it’s not a value to them. But most organizers just want to be assured somebody’s not out there doing overt things that are going to embarrass them.”
“If people come and say, ‘We want to be part of this and we’re very big into Christian witness and street evangelism,’ we’ll just make sure it’s done in a non-offensive way — not a soapbox way — to make sure everybody’s kind of on the same page,” said O’Halloran.
“We want to deliver that message, but we want to deliver it in love.”