Christian teams gear up for Olympic outreach

CBC News
November 23, 2009

The 2010 Winter Olympic Games will be held in Vancouver and Whistler from Feb. 12 to 28.The 2010 Winter Olympic Games will be held in Vancouver and Whistler from Feb. 12 to 28. (CBC)Billy Graham rapid response teams are among dozens of outreach efforts that Metro Vancouver's Christian groups are putting together for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

The volunteer teams organized by followers of the U.S. evangelist aim to provide support to people in crisis when the Games open in Vancouver and Whistler in February, says Abbotsford-based co-ordinator Melanie Neufeld.

"We just want to be on the ground, ready to deploy, should something happen," Neufeld said.

The volunteers have undergone a training regimen called His Presence in Crisis, to help others deal with everything from accidents to fights to stressed-out spectators, she said.

"We see ourselves as vessels that God can use, whether that's verbal or just in the ministry of presence … just being there and being available."

Billy Graham's rapid response chaplains previously have been deployed to natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes, and to tragedies such as mass shootings in big cities around the world, Neufeld said.

The volunteers plan to offer their support outside SkyTrain stations and other community gathering points, but they will not be looking for converts, she insisted.

"Definitely not proselytizing. We're not going to be pushing our faith on anyone or anything like that. We just want to be of support."
Offer 'radical hospitality'

Vancouver-area Christian groups plan more than a dozen public outreach efforts during the Games, according to co-ordinator Karen Reed of the Christian network More Than Gold.

"The church structure should be engaged in all of community life, and to contribute for good," she said.

The groups will practise what Reed calls radical hospitality, including hosting guests in a home-stay program, doing charity work in the Downtown Eastside and setting up warming stations to provide hot chocolate or coffee and perhaps a conversation about God at SkyTrain stations.

Reed also said they won't be looking for converts for their churches.

"Practices from 20 years ago aren't as effective today … [such as] proselytizing in ways that turns more people off than engages them," said Reed.

Instead, volunteers will hand out a glossy, pocket-sized brochure with maps of the city and other tourism information, plus profiles of athletes participating in the Games that are members of Christian groups.

The efforts are funded by member churches and private donations from Vancouver's corporate sector. More Than Gold has what Reed describes as an amiable relationship with Olympic organizers.
No official Olympic connection

Olympic Officials say the groups are not associated in any official way with the Games, but they are free to carry on their activities in public places as long as they don't break any laws.

"We are not going to have a lot of control around [what] people do, nor should we," said Taleeb Noormohamed, VANOC's vice president of partnerships.

"If people are coming together around specific ideas and values [and] it happens to be during the Games, that's great, but it's not up to VANOC to dictate or be concerned," Noormohamed said.

But not everyone believes the Christian mission should support the Olympic dream.

Dave Diewert, an organizer with the Christian social advocacy group Streams of Justice, which works on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, says it is inappropriate for Christians to associate themselves with the Olympic juggernaut.

"It seems unthinkable to align ourselves with the massive corporate enterprise as the Olympics," Diewert told CBC News.

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