I was able to minister to so many athletes and officials in Athens. It was a delicate situation but what a harvest field. I found a lot of athletes with problems, to use as a point of contact.
The long days in the Olympic Village were very hot, tiring days but very fruitful, with a lot of sharing the Lord with different people. I had to watch my step in the Olympic Village, as it was not only against Olympic law to “convert or proselytize”, but it’s against Greek law. The folk had to request help.
A lot of chaplains and counsellors gave up before getting to Athens, because of the frustrating restrictions, and weighed up that it wasn’t worth the cost and the effort
I enjoyed ministering to South African athletes, Namibians, a Turkish athlete, Estonians,Greek reporters, a Ugandan boxer, Latvian athletes, Nigerian athletes, USA athletes, Russians, a South African swimmer , Darian Townsend, who won gold medal with his team in the 4x100mtrs freestyle relay (I even got to wear the gold medal), and also a German lady discus thrower, Franka Dietzsch – she was a giant, mind you they were all big next to me.
I had a great time talking with Ian Thorpe, the Australian swimmer. He really is a nice young man and very appreciative of prayer.
I met up with Glory (ex Nigeria).She runs for Spain now. She’s 5’1″ of dynamite. I prayed with her for her races (100 metres hurdles). This young lady flew into Sydney to compete at the 2000 Olympics to find that her childhood sweet- heart and fellow athlete had been killed by a car in
Sydney a few days before. No one had informed her of the tragedy. She was devastated and for two weeks didn’t feel like running, eating or sleeping. With the help of a fellow chaplain, Anne Iuliano, who counselled her, Glory bounced back to win silver medal in the 100 metres hurdles. Since then changed nations when Nigeria refused to fly her fiancé’s body back for burial – she had to do that at her own expense. She’s gone on to win in many competitions around the world. A truly amazing story of tragedy and victory.
I changed accommodation on one of my free days, and decided to sit and read in the Plaka – a famous shopping area in central Athens. I was minding my own business on a park bench, when three young Australian athletes came and sat next to me. We got talking and I found they were from the water polo team. After telling them that I played water polo in South Africa many years ago, they asked what I was doing in the Olympic Village. Well, that opened a huge door to share Jesus with them.
A few minutes later two Greek men came along handing out Gospel tracts, to me and a young lady who’d sat down at the other end of my bench. I noticed that she was struggling to read it and asked where she was from. She replied in broken English, “Khazakstan”. Her husband was the Khazak gymnastic champion. I greeted her in Russian and began sharing the Gospel with her. It was so easy as the Holy Spirit opened her heart to Jesus. Then her family arrived and she told them what I’d told her.
It was amazing that her first witness was to her family right on the spot. There I was having a rest on a day off, and the Holy Spirit had everything arranged. This amazes me..
One day there was a deluge of athletes to share with – they just came out of the woodwork – two German wrestlers – Boris and Pieter; two Russian boxers, three of the Brazilian volley ball team – Anderson, Sergio and Edson; and my old Latvian friends from the Sydney 2004 Games, Edvins and Aigars, the winner of the mens 20km walk.
Something beautiful happened as I was walking from the hotel to breakfast at a restaurant across the square. I passed an old man pushing a walking apparatus. He asked me if I’d seen somebody along the way. I answered “No” and walked on, but the Lord quickly impressed me to go back and talk to him. The thought crossed my mind as I walked back to him, “I’m going to be old too, in the not to distant future; don’t I want some one to give me special attention?” I asked him what he was doing, and he said he was Greek but visiting from Chicago. He told me his name was Nikolaos and was 87 years of age. He looked like he’d been sleeping on a park bench. We spoke about a lot of things, like the Olympics and nutrition, and the inventions he’d made, including one he’d come to introduce to sport in Greece. He said he needed to get to old Olympus about 200 kms away and didn’t have enough money. Prior to this the Lord was “telling” me to give him 50 Euro, which I did. He gasped and simply said, “Hi yi yi yi yi”. It’s been a long time since I heard that expression.
He then simply said to me that some people in the last few days, had asked him if “he’d found Christ?” He said to me that he didn’t know what that meant, and would I help him to understand that statement. This came right out of the blue as I hadn’t shared anything of the Gospel with him. I said to him that it was more that Jesus was seeking him that he was seeking Jesus. I told him that Jesus came to seek and save those who were lost – like the shepherd who left the 99 sheep in the fold and went out to find the one who was lost. He asked me what he had to do to be found. I said, “Just let yourself be found. Tell Jesus that you are lost and ask him to bring you home.” I told him how to pray and invite Jesus into his heart. He then that this was the simplest sermon he’d ever heard, and walked off to find a quiet place to “found.” I asked the Lord why had that meeting taken place, apart from the man’s need of the gospel. I felt the Lord saying to me, “You are going to old too. Don’t you want some one to give you personal special attention like that?
On the way to watch the final of the baseball between Australia and Cuba, I met three Australian girls from Bendigo together with a young Canadian Athletes In Action team member. When he mentioned who he was, I asked the girls how they’d got involved with an Christian athlete, they replied that they’d only just met him and didn’t know who he was. That opened the door for me to ask them where they stood with Jesus. Their hearts were really open to the Lord.