25th July, 2012
Along with the host of athletes, coaching staff and officials arriving in London this week for the Olympic Games is another group of people charged with the task of sharing their faith in Jesus Christ with those they encounter there.
Among them is Nett Knox, a veteran of several Olympic, Paralympics and Commonwealth Games, having attended her first – the Sydney Olympics – in 2000.
She will be working as one of the official Christian chaplains based at the Olympic Village’s Religious Services Centre along with representatives of other faiths.
READY, SET..: An aerial shot over Olympic Park in London, showing a view of the Olympic Stadium, The Orbit, Aquatics Centre and The Water Polo Arena. PICTURE: Anthony Charlton/ODA
ON A MISSION IN LONDON
Some of the key Christian organisations that will be working in London include...
• OLYMPIC VILLAGE CHAPLAINS
Each Olympic host city is required to provide a multi-faith centre (religious services) and these cover the five major world religions. Protocols are obviously important in such a setting and they are carefully adhered to. The Christian chaplains in each host city are made up of a local component and an international contingent, regulars at each Olympics.
• MORE THAN GOLD
An umbrella organisation for sports ministry at events like the Olympics, More Than Gold provides connections to a wide range of church and community activities such as sports clinics and to resources for churches to use during the Games. They are also fielding what might be referred to as "street chaplains" to welcome people to London and help visitors find their way around.
• ATHLETES IN ACTION
A global sports ministry which works with athletes in 94 countries around the world, Athletes in Action's Olympic Games outreach is being run under the banner of the Road2London project. This includes 11 AIA chaplains working in the Olympic Village as well as events such as a training and outreach project, 'London Eternal Triumph' and a 'Legacy Breakfast'.
• LAY WITNESSES FOR CHRIST INTERNATIONAL
Dr Sam Mings, the president of Lay Witnesses for Christ International and his team of former Olympians are known as "Chaplains to the World's Olympians" and have been engaged in Olympic ministry since Los Angeles in 1984. Headquartered at the largest church in London, the Kingsway International Christian Centre, their 'Bridging the Gap 2012 UK Outreach' will feature 240 'Evenings with the Stars (Olympians)' events held in large church venues throughout London.
• BIBLE SOCIETY
The Bible Society says that around 3,000 copies of commemorative English-language Scriptures are available as a welcome gift in the Olympic Village Religious Services Centre. There will also be nearly 1,000 copies of Bibles and New Testaments available in a variety of other languages through partnerships with national Bible Societies around the globe.
Know of another group involved with the 2012 Olympics? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org
- DAVID ADAMS with DAN WOODING, Assist News Service
As well as holding Bible studies and church services, Ms Knox - who can more usually be found teaching Religious Education at Knox Grammar School in Sydney - says the chaplains are “available to anybody who wants to come in and have a chat”.
“Really it’s kind of a ministry of presence to support people in any way we can,” she says.
Ms Knox, who describes being selected to serve as a chaplain at the Games is an “exciting opportunity and privilege”, says that her experience at past games has been that while some athletes seek out chaplains as a result of some crisis – the death of the Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Canada was an example – others just want to talk.
“(L)ots of people just kind of wander in and want someone to talk to and obviously the Christian athletes are interested in the Bible studies that are running and having people pray for them and that kind of thing…” she says,
She adds that the pressure the athletes face can be something they want help with.
“”It’s pretty high pressure, obviously - the world is watching them and they’ve trained for four, eight, 12 years to kind of get there. There will be over 10,000 athletes and less than 10 per cent of them will go home with a medal of any color, so that’s a lot of pressure that they put on themselves as well as the pressure that other people put upon them.”
Other issues athletes might want to talk about can include loneliness and homesickness.
“It can be not feeling very well on the day you compete or the day before you compete, not sleeping well, having a fight with someone that you’re close to – any of those things…We’re there to support people where they’re at, right at that moment, in whatever way they need.”
It will be Jessica Blake's first time at an Olympic Games (although she did attend the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006).
Ms Blake, who is employed by Athletes in Action to work with the athletes at Sydney University, has gone to London as part of the organisation's 180-strong Road2London mission team which will be providing a support system for and outreach to athletes attending the Games and running sports clinics in local communities.
Ms Blake, whose own focus will be on the athletes, says she is most looking forward to seeing “what God does”.
“A lot of what we’re going to be doing is not really extremely specific – I can’t tell you here’s our schedule for the two weeks of the Games. It really is about waiting on God and going to where we know the athletes are going to be and seeing (what happens).”
A lover of sport (her own background is in hockey), Ms Blake is also simply looking forward to being there. “I just think it’s going to be such a fun atmosphere”.
The Salvation Army’s Major Trevor Nicol is another of the Australians who has headed to London. He’s leading a team of five Australians that will be working alongside the local Salvation Army Corps around London where, working under the More Than Gold umbrella, they’ll be involved in conducting sports clinics and feeding programs for locals among other things.
Major Nichol – who usually ministers at the Salvation Army in Hurstville, south of Sydney – has a long history with attending major sports events as part of the outworking of his faith, going back to the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. He has since served as a chaplain at the 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Sydney and has also attended the last two soccer World Cups.
He says sport breaks down a lot of barriers with people.
“To be able to bring in the Gospel of Christ into the sporting arena is really a great opportunity for us…” he says. “It doesn’t matter where you come from, a lot of people love sport so it’s a great connection…”
One aspect which is crucial to the success of the teams attending the Games will be prayer. Ms Knox, like many others attending the Games, says there is a team of people back in Sydney who will be praying for her while she’s at the Games.
“For me, it’s huge,” she says. “I need people back here who are kind of removed from the excitement and the hype and all that kind of stuff whom I can just send an email back (to) saying...'Pray for this' – and I’ve got three children (25, 21 and 18-years-old) so it’s good to have them covered in prayer while I’m gone as well.”
As to whether they’ll see any of the Games themselves, while those involved in various ministries all say their mission comes first, there’s always the chance they might be able to see one of the events. But just being in the midst of it all will be exciting in its own right.
“There’s so much atmosphere going around - just walking around the streets, you get a great opportunity also to witness,” says Major Nichol.
THE INTERVIEW: NETT KNOX, OLYMPIC SPORTS CHAPLAIN... |