The world is coming to Atlanta this month for the centennial Olympic Games-and Christian groups that have sent missionaries to the far reaches of the earth are eager to minister to the masses who come calling at home.
Ministries planning outreach during the games represent the country's theological and geographical spectrum. Religious volunteers are expected to outnumber by far the 10,500 athletes who will be competing. Thirty-seven volunteer chaplains alone have been recruited for the Olympic Village. Facilities have been set aside for worship, and Christian groups from across the country will be singing, counseling, and distributing tracts, New Testaments, and ice water to hundreds of thousands of visitors.
RECONCILIATION BEFORE OUTREACH: The Olympics also have forced Atlanta churches to examine their attitudes and relationships with God and with one another. When some of Atlanta's Christian leaders first met four years ago to talk about an Olympic ministry, they faced a hard truth: sometimes they did not show Christian love to each other.
"Before we talked about welcoming the world, we had to talk about welcoming one another," says Kirk Bridgers, an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America pastor who is heading an interdenominational committee to prepare for the games. Racial and denominational walls divided them, he says.
But Bridgers says that is changing with the Olympics on the horizon. Representatives from 1,800 churches in 29 denominations are carrying out a plan to reach the city's 2 million visitors and each other. "We want to make a statement to the world and leave a legacy for the future," Bridgers says.
Under the umbrella organization Quest Atlanta 96, the group divided its efforts into eight initiatives to make the ...