News from the London 2012 Olympic Games
The events are exciting venues to be at but they are not the places to have a deep conversation with an athlete, coach or manager. The Olympic Village is the place for that. The night of the Opening Ceremony finished very late for me (1 am) and I had to be up at 5 am to leave at 6 am for the start of the 250 km Men’s Cycle Race at The Mall near Buckingham Palace. We had our own race through the early morning streets of London in cars and vans loaded with cycles and racing gear. After offloading men and bikes we had to rush ahead of the race, through the villages and towns south west of London to Box Hill near Dorking, Surrey, to man the refreshment and medical tents. It seemed like our own Formula One Race through these villages and towns, urged on by the police and race marshals. It was great being waved at by the crowds thronging the sidewalks, all shaking little flags at us. I felt like royalty driving the Citroen C4, waving back at the crowds. All during the racing circuits of Box Hill and helping the cyclists and officials, I forged friendships that would later lead to opportunities to talk with them.
Daily in the Olympic Village I was talking with athletes and officials. One meets some wonderful characters, like Wenlock the Games Mascot. I have got very close to the Belarus team and have had a great time sharing with the top management, the coaches, the athletes as well as the humble transport manager. I was privileged to be part of there own awards ceremony for the medal winners. Then I got to take a humble tennis coach named Mikail to Heathrow Airport. All through the delays of heavy traffic I was able to talk with him.
I also bumped into a group of happy Latvian athletes – Martins, Sandra, baby Eduard and Edvins – who were very surprised to hear that I’d ministered in Latvia for 20 years and supported 23 orphanages in their nation. One morning I was distracted by a baby crying. I turned to see a Ukrainian couple, Viktor, Viktoria and baby Diana – the team mascot, who had her own accreditation badge. They were also surprised to hear that we supported 19 orphanages in Ukraine. This always invokes the question, “Why do you do this? What motivates you to help the forgotten children?” That always opens the door to say, “50 years ago I embraced Jesus and began a relationship with Him. His love motivates me to do this.” What a privilege to share Jesus this way with top athletes.
Rushing back from taking Belarus athletes to Gatwick Airport, I saw two tall Australian athletes leaning against a tree talking strategy. They were Brad and Aliks, great guys from the Australian basketball team. Aliks is originally from Serbia and was touched at the fact we supported an orphanage of handicapped children in Panceva in Serbia. I wished them well as champions in the contests ahead at the Games. Brad and I have met up quite a few times in the past.
I was very privileged to get free tickets to watch two nights of swimming at the Aquatic Centre. I had the joy of seeing Michael Phelps swim – poetry in motion. I saw him win with humility and then I saw him beaten in the 200m butterfly by the South African swimmer, Chad le Clos. I saw Michael lose with dignity (although win silver) and congratulate the winner – hallmarks of a true winner. The next night he bounced back and won his record number of medals. I also saw a number of world records broken as well as a some new Olympic records – not something you see everyday.
Two nights later I was at the Athletics in the Olympic Stadium. What an amazing structure, with some 80,000 people cheering their favourite athletes. The atmosphere was electric. I was enthralled with it all when the Holy Spirit reminded me, “just you wait until that great day in Heaven when an innumerable number of people from all nations throughout history cheer and applaud Jesus for the great salvation he achieved for us. I watched the men’s and women’s shotput, women’s discus and the men’s 1,500. I noted who the athletes were and made a point to catch up with them in the Olympic Village and congratulate them – a good strategy to get close to them and talk.
Early one morning I was passing the athletes coffee vending machine when I heard a South African accent. I walked across and introduced myself to Marc Mundell, a 50 km walker from South Africa. He came from a town I frequented as a teenager when visiting my cousins whose dad (my uncle Horace) was a South African soccer captain in the 1950’s. Marc and I spoke about the needs of the country and how sport was a great factor in diminishing social barriers, but only one thing could bring lasting healing – a relationship with God through Jesus. Later that day in the dining hall I met the Jewish Chaplain, Rabbi Maurice. He asked if I’d been to Israel to which I replied, “Yes five times.” He said that I must really like tourism. I told him the reason I went was to conduct seminars to the marginalized Jews, from Russia, Latvia, Ethiopia and Finland to encourage them in their faith in their Messiah. He was very impressed and surprised that the teenagers were being touched as well.
A couple of Thai athletes caught my attention in the main accreditation gate, who had done well at their events. They were fascinated when I told them that my daughter and 8 year old granddaughter backpacked around Thailand for two months last year. One of their highlights was doing a weeklong Muay Thai Kickboxing training programme. These Thai athletes were impressed.
One bright day I was asked to drive the Belarus Chef de Mission to the Excel Event Centre the come back to the Olympic Village. Upon my return I had planned to have lunch, but that was aborted (that happened often) by an instruction to drive to Gatwick Airport to collect Belarus athletes and bring them to the Welcome Centre of the Village – normally a three hour round trip. After that I had planned to go to the Uniform Distribution Centre to collect my Paralympic Uniform (I had a small window of time to do that which if I missed, I would have no uniform and would have to forfeit my position at the Paralympic Games). Well things went wrong, the flight was late, traffic was unusually heavy and it was incredibly difficult to get from the Welcome Centre to the Uniform Distribution. My window closed and I couldn’t get there on time before the Uniform Depot closed. I just stood in “no man’s land” and said, “God this is too complicated.” And before I could frame the words, “I give up” two security guards that I just slouched past, said, “God bless you, sir, and give you strength to continue.” I turned and saw John and Joshua smiling at me with Jesus shining out of them. Two messengers of God planted there that day to cheer me and infuse me with new strength. It was a very emotional moment. They liked the Olympic pins I had on my lanyard and let them choose what they wanted to have. They could have taken all of them for the blessing they were to me. amazingly an impossible window of time opened the next day (that was even busier) to pick up my Paralympic Uniform.
Heathrow Airport was the venue of another exciting divine encounter. I was having a snack and a crowd of young guys with an older man sat down right next to me. They introduced themselves as Korean table tennis players, gymnasts (and their manager) who’d won a bunch of medals. When they heard I’d been serving the athletes for five weeks all around their Olympic Office, they gave me a beautiful Korean banner and all signed my Olympic Shirt. They asked me why I did all the volunteering for the Olympics and Paralympics. So I shared my testimony with them and told them how the Love of Jesus motivated me to do such service. What a great opportunity and a divine encounter.