About 10,500 athletes from more than 200 nations will be in Beijing this summer for the 2008 Olympic Games. Unlike previous games, however, there won't be a single foreign Christian missionary in the Olympic Village.
The Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) won't be sending chaplains to the games, because only Chinese chaplains approved by the government will be allowed into the village, where athletes live. Distribution of Christian literature and large-scale Christian gatherings will likely not be allowed, either.
However, these restrictions haven't stopped FCA from planning an Olympic outreach campaign. The Kansas City, Missouri– based organization is encouraging Christian athletes at the games to minister to other athletes. It's also enlisting former Olympic athletes, such as retired swimmer Josh Davis, who won three gold medals and two silver medals at the 1996 and 2000 games, to serve as unofficial, de facto chaplains.
"This is evangelism in its truest form, not the mass evangelism of counting heads that we're used to in the Western world," said Dan Britton, FCA's senior vice president of ministries. "It's not about huge rallies. It's about a player praying with another player. These Olympics are forcing us to simplify."
International evangelist Luis Palau encourages Christian athletes and those who attend the games to contact established Christian ministries, such as bookstores and house churches, while travelling in Beijing. Christian bookstores in China are stocked with Bibles and other evangelistic material, he said, pointing to his latest book as an example. A Friendly Dialogue Between an Atheist and a Christian, which recounts Palau's conversations with a Chinese government official, has sold well in China.
"Young people in the university district of Beijing are very open to talking to foreigners," Palau said.
He said Christians who share their beliefs in discreet discussions with others are unlikely to be arrested, deported, or otherwise punished while the world is watching. His hope, he said, is that the international spotlight shining on China during the games will open the country up politically, creating future opportunities for evangelism on a larger scale.
"That's what happened in Mexico, in Spain," Palau said. "My dream is to [someday] hold an open-air rally at Tiananmen Square."
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Evangelist Franklin Graham made headlines earlier this month by saying he "would not support any illegal activity" during the Olympics, including illegal evangelistic activity.
Our recent China coverage also includes:
Great Leap Forward | China is changing and so is its church. How new urban believers are shaping society in untold ways. (May 9, 2008)
Audio Slideshow: Changing China | The Chinese church is growing in size and influence (May 19, 2008)
Watching the Spirit Move | Some extraordinary moments in ordinary settings. (May 19, 2008)
Hungry for Jesus | A Chinese pastor on how he was 'called out of Egypt' to a thriving urban ministry. (May 9, 2008)
Inside CT: The China Paradox | 'Embattled and thriving' Christianity in China. (May 9, 2008)
From Mao to Moses | Artist He Qi, born again in China's Cultural Revolution, is painting a new peaceful identity for the Chinese church. (April 25, 2008)
The Dragon in the Belly: Patriarchs, Judges, and Kings | The Old Testament meets Beijing Opera in He Qi's art. (April 25, 2008)
A Friendly Dialogue Between an Atheist and a Christian is available from ChistianBook.com and other retailers.