10 days sharing Gospel
By Brian Koonce
VANCOUVER, British Columbia– For one team returning home from the Olympic Winter Games, success meant something other than a bronze, silver or even gold medal. For them, 4,000 cups of hot chocolate were worth “more than gold.”
A team of nine from First Baptist Church, California, spent 10 days in the Olympic City ministering to local residents through something as simple as a warm cup of hot chocolate as they battled the influx of huge crowds.
“We called it ‘radical hospitality,’” said Gene Eulinger, the team’s leader.
This is the second Olympic Games a team from First California has partnered with More Than Gold, an interdenominational ministry associated with the North American Mission Board and the Canadian National Baptist Convention. More than Gold’s mission is to minister directly to the host community, rather than the athletes or hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the globe. In 2002, Eulinger was part of a team from California that went to the Winter Games in Salt Lake City. When he realized the Games were going to be relatively close to home again, he and others decided they would participate again.
The California team was assigned to a sky train (mass transit) station in a Vancouver neighborhood called Yaletown, away from the sporting events, but not away from the crowds. For 10 days they handed out hot chocolate and water and made balloon animals for children in line.
“We rode the train 55 minutes each way to get to our station,” Eulinger said. “You sat next to two different people and had an hour to find out about them and tell them your testimony. We were just planting seeds.”
Eulinger’s wife, Diane, said the talking with the people of Vancouver on the train was her favorite part of their time in Canada.
“We feel like that’s where God used us the most,” she said. “Many of them couldn’t quite grasp that we paid our own way and that we were here because we wanted to be. That made it easy to give a testimony.”
What was not easy was getting the hot chocolate into the hands of the thousands standing in lines.
“We had to fill cambros with boiled water in a kitchen eight blocks way, then four men carried them to the station where we mixed the hot chocolate,” Diane said. “We made up to five trips back and forth in a four-hour shift.”
“Vancouver is very hilly,” Gene said, “and it wasn’t very easy. Luckily after that first day the Salvation Army got us a cart to use.”
Part of the Olympic experience is trading commemorative pins, and that was another “in” the More Than Gold teams used. They handed out nearly 400 More Than Gold pins that were color coded to help them share the Gospel the tract with it. “Somebody would see our pins on lanyard and ask if we had any we wanted to trade, and that would open up an opportunity to talk with them a little more,” Gene said. “We always gave them the pin – not traded for it – and explained to them what all the colors meant.”
The team had been warned that the people were very tolerant when it came to religion, but they subscribed to a philosophy that said “you do what you want, and don’t bother me.”
“Personally, I had zero negative responses,” Gene said.
No one in their group got to lead anyone to the Lord, but others of the 1,000-plus More Than Gold team did, mostly through the pins.
Four of the group got to watch one of the U.S. men’s hockey games, and another pair got to view a medal ceremony after one of the hot chocolate recipients insisted they take his tickets.
“I don’t feel like I missed anything,” Gene said. “That wasn’t the purpose of the trip. I was where the people were. Besides, I got to watch some of the games on TV when I got back home.”
Of course, they did get to see the Olympic Cauldron, the rings and other sites of Vancouver. But even then, it was an opportunity to share the love of Christ through “radical hospitality.”
Over at the torch people were taking pictures of their families, so we’d offer to take the picture so everyone could be in the shot,” Gene said.
First California is already talking about talking a team to the 2012 Summer Games in London.
“I think everyone would say it’s worthwhile and that they’d be willing to go back and do it again,” Gene said.