As the Olympic torch makes its way across Ukraine, Turkey and Bulgaria this week, Christians are gearing up for ministry during the two-week event. "Flame," a united evangelical Olympic ministry formed by the the International Athletic Organization "More than Gold" and the Christian community in Greece, is cooperating with the International Olympic Committee and hundreds of volunteers from Greece and beyond in an effort to meet the spiritual needs of locals, athletes and others in Athens for the Olympic Games.
"The churches and Christian agencies are joining hands there to have an outreach, not only to the Greek nationals, but also to the millions of visitors who will be there to enjoy the games," said Paul Jenks of AMG International, one of the participating organizations.
Currently, 58 local churches are working together with organizations such as AMG International, International Bible Society, Athletes in Action, Southern Baptists, Jesus Film, and RBC Ministries for Flame 2004.
So far, since June, sports camps have been conducted in Thessaloniki, Greece, to capitalize on the pre-Olympic interest among the youth of Greek. They will continue to run through the month of July.
During the Olympics and the Paralympics that immediately follow them, a wide variety of outreach activities will include hospitality areas, refreshment stands, showings of the “Jesus” film, craft venues and presentations (sports, music and drama). Personal evangelists, short- and long-term missionaries, and relationship builders will work one-on-one alongside each other. Special Christian festivals are also planned at the conclusion of the Olympics, as is evangelism to the whole of Greece (hoping to reach locals who’ve stayed away to avoid the crowds and fanfare surrounding the events in Athens).
Also, as part of the effort, "a special concert that has Scriptural significance" has been organized for the Olympic Games, said Jenks. "One of the things that we're really looking forward to is the tribute to the 'Known God' concert that will be organized in the middle of the games. This will be an opportunity to invite the community of unbelievers to come an hear what the Apostle Paul proclaimed there at Mars Hill so long ago to people today who in many cases still don't know Him personally."
AMG will also be operating an Olympic village located at the new Cosmovision sports center. Since housing is predicted to be one of the biggest problems in Athens, Flame 2004 organizations are setting up the Olympic village to serve as a hub for the outreach.
Free Methodist World Missions, one of the participating organizations that is financing and building up to 10 modular units in the Olympic village, have also been distributing pamphlets throughout Athens. The pamphlets read: “As the world strives for excellence and perfect performance, let the gospel-bearing believers of the international community make a gold-winning presentation.”
“Let’s do as Paul says,” the leaflet challenges: “‘I lengthen my stride, and I run straight’ for the goal of the high calling of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:13-14).
It concludes: “This is a historic moment for Athens and Greece. The civilization that gave to the world democracy, great food, the Olympics … and (let us not forget) the New Testament, needs the world of believers to give back to it the love and forgiveness of our Lord Jesus Christ!”
According to the Free Methodists, after the last medals have been awarded in September and the competitors and visitors have all gone home, the work will continue as they and other Evangelicals seek to "nurture into lasting fruit the seeds planted before and during the Olympic experience."
The Olympic Games will take place August 13-29, while the Paralympic Games will take place September 17-28.