The 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, B.C., offered plenty of opportunities for challenge, triumph and disappointment—the kinds of life-changing moments spectators expect when elite athletes from 80 nations compete for the top prize. This was especially true for the 132 athletes who won gold, silver or bronze medals. Much more was at stake, however, than the medal count of a nation—evangelism during the Winter Games this year was about changing the lives of everyday people and bringing lasting change to an entire city.
More than 4,000 Christians representing 1,300 organizations and churches banded together to bring eternal life-change to the city of Vancouver, and The Canadian Foursquare Church was directly involved in the effort. These Christians welcomed the city’s 2 million visitors with the “radical hospitality” of Jesus Christ.
In practical demonstrations of Jesus’ love, they provided prayer support for the nearly 5,500 Olympic athletes and coaches who competed in the games, and gave away more than 600,000 cups of coffee and hot chocolate at 23 commuter stations. Perhaps most important was when this army of Christians brought the presence of Jesus Christ to the destitute, and warm meals and blankets to the homeless.
Darlene Ketchum faithfully served The Canadian Foursquare Church as Foursquare’s representative with More Than Gold, an association of Christian organizations aimed at tangible ministry to the “least of these” (see Matthew 25:40) during the Winter Olympics. One of the primary tenets of the outreaches was extending God’s hand through acts of kindness and friendliness, literally becoming part of the fabric of the community.
“It is expressing the incarnate presence of God—not necessarily needing to verbally speak the gospel, but rather to live it,” Darlene told Foursquare.org. The story of the Good Samaritan is one of the models of ministry she and other team members followed. In that story, she notes, Jesus illustrated “compassion to a stranger who represented a culture in conflict with his own.”
Darlene says public opinion has been mixed about the Olympics over the years, specifically regarding the effect the games have on the poor. The Vancouver Sun accused officials of turning their backs on the homeless and diverting funds intended for the needy to the Olympics. The 4,000 Christians ministering throughout the city tried to pick up the slack by reaching out to help the homeless, preparing care kits for them, being in the streets providing food, making connections, finding beds and being a positive spiritual presence in their lives.
Sponsors of the Olympic outreach also confronted the problem of sex trafficking and prostitution. The Vancouver Observer reported that human traffickers had been setting up networks in Vancouver for more than one year to profit from prostitution and the sex slave industry during the Winter Games.
To combat the injustice, volunteers and organizations such as The Salvation Army, More Than Gold and REED, a group whose name is an acronym for “resist exploitation, embrace dignity,” systematically spread the message that “buying sex is not a sport.”
Through communitywide pressure and awareness campaigns, Christians throughout Vancouver were able to discourage and curtail some of the illegal sex trade. Although it is difficult to quantify the results, representatives from the various organizations agree this year’s efforts were highly successful, not only in interrupting the unjust behavior during the Olympics, but also in laying the foundation for future outreach among victims caught up in human trafficking.
More Than Gold CEO Karen Reed told the Gospel Herald: “Since networks are the best way to bring change, we are seeking to build the network far beyond the Olympics. We want this to be a hub that serves as a key avenue to connect people and resources and needs in a way that helps the church to work together.”
One highly effective vehicle for sharing the hope of Christ was through the creative arts, an approach that Foursquare’s Darlene Ketchum says provides Christians with a voice most people will listen to. The message was uplifting, God-honoring, and helped establish a mindset of social justice and godly respect for others. Foursquare pastor and area supervisor Johanne Spencer, from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, helped manage one of the 14 creative- and performing-arts venues in Vancouver during the Games.
The power of prayer was also critical during the Olympic outreach. “God is definitely doing something in the heavenlies over Vancouver,” Darlene says, describing the extensive prayer covering and Christian outreach in the city.
A 24-hour prayer vigil was held every day during the Games, on Keats Island near Vancouver, and 200 students from Youth With a Mission (YWAM) set up prayer stations throughout Vancouver, volunteering to pray with passersby. Foursquare congregations opened their facilities to host concerts or for public viewing of Olympic events, and volunteers provided prayer and personal ministry to people seeking more of God in their lives.
By comparison with the 2 million guests of the city, the relatively small band of 4,000 volunteers made a large spiritual dent in the unjust ways of darkness during this year’s Winter Olympics. The presence of God was established in the lives of those who welcomed Him. Toward the future, networks were formed to further the revival that was started. The church is working together, as Karen Reed observed, “in unprecedented ways to accomplish what only can be done together: the transformation of our city.”
By: Rod Light, an ordained Foursquare minister and educator serving with Foursquare Communications in Los Angeles