GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA (BP) – On an uncharacteristically warm day during the Winter Olympics, visitors to the train station were greeted by a number of different religious groups. The Mormons wore yellow vests. The Jehovah's Witnesses had their literature racks set up. Methodist Koreans were carrying yellow bags as they handed out literature. Among these were a group of volunteers from the SBC of Virginia distributing copies of the books of Romans and John in 24 different languages.
"The world comes to one location, so this gives you an opportunity to share the Gospel and to give them something in their hand that they can read and follow up with even after they leave," said Steve Bradshaw, director of evangelism for SBCV. "We're to go into all the world, so it's really just doing the work of the Great Commission." The Virginia volunteers were just a few of the many Baptists, both from the United States and across the world, who traveled to South Korea to minister and evangelize during the Olympics. "There's a sense of unity in the games," said Mindy McCord, administrative coordinator at SBCV. "We're all cheering for our own people. It's all competition, but once you're outside of the venue or the event, there's not contention between countries. It's just so easy to strike up conversations with people who you wouldn't normally interact with."
David Crim, a long-time Southern Baptist who serves as pastor of International Baptist Church of Manila in the Philippines, brought 14 of his church members to South Korea to seek opportunities to share the Gospel with people. Crim said his "disciple-makers" were trained to start "Gospel conversations" using the acronym "LOVE." They'll ask people what they "like" about the Olympics, what their "opinions" are about what the world needs most to experience the kind of unity seen at the Olympics, what is most "valuable" about the Olympics that can lead to peace and unity and then "engage" them in a short message about how they can be connected with God's love for them.
International Baptist Church also established a website, godspassionconnected.info, where they could direct people they encounter who wanted more information about what it means to be a Christian. Those who respond through the site will be directed to a church in their community. Overall, Crim said his church's interactions had been positive. "There have been a few rejections and even a few unkind responses, but most people have been willing to engage," he said. "We are leaving the results of our conversations to God. We see our role as simply planting seeds of the Gospel."
Randall Aldridge, an SBCV church planting strategist and part of the South Korean ministry team, went to the Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro and connected with Outreach Bible Project, a ministry of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Acworth, Ga. (an American Baptist congregation). OBP is a ministry that takes short-term volunteers to Olympic host cities to help distribute Bibles, tracts and pins that are used as a means of sharing the Gospel. "We just wanted to see if it was something that our churches could get involved with, if it would be another opportunity that we could offer our churches to do ministry around the world," Aldridge said. "God always provides for us divine appointments and opportunities to share the Gospel and also to connect with other Christians."
The SBCV group also spent time, in addition to the train station, at Olympic Park for the ice events and in Alpensia for the ski events. Bradshaw said they were already thinking about how SBCV churches might be involved in the 2020 Olympics in Japan and come alongside local churches there to assist them in sharing the Gospel. For McCord, the trip to South Korea was a trip home. The daughter of International Mission Board missionaries who served in South Korea, McCord lived there until she was almost 14.
"For me to be able to come back home and do ministry where ministry began for my family is a pretty incredible opportunity," she said. "I love these people. I love this country. This is home. To remember that, to see that again 20 years later, is pretty special."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tim Ellsworth is a sports correspondent for Baptist Press and associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. He is covering the Winter Olympics in South Korea for Baptist Press, previously having covered four Olympics -- 2008 in Beijing, 2010 in Vancouver, 2012 in London and 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.