While the rest of the globe prepares years in advance for major world sporting events, Athletes in Action is preparing as well for its own impact on those gatherings.
Organized by Global Events Director Reid*, AIA seeks to provide chaplains for the various athletic events and use the different AIA resources to reach athletes for Christ.
Global Events’ major goal is to minister to Christian athletes at the competitions by providing a place for them to come and pray, worship and sing praise songs, and to give them general encouragement to share their faith with others. AIA reps also build relationships with other athletes by giving away the Struggle & Triumph DVDs and just making conversation.
“The focus really is on the athletes at these events,” says Reid. “Sometimes we’ll do clinics with sports or tie in with churches for an evangelistic outreach, but really it’s about reaching the athletes.”
Global Events chooses five or six of the biggest events held annually around the world and works through accrediting bodies in order to gain the best possible access to the athletes. In some cases, this means securing housing in the athletic village and admission to the athletic competitions. AIA is committed to having a presence at the Olympic Games, the Pan American Games, the World University Games, the World Track and Field Competition and the All-Africa Games, although other special events are included if possible. Reid’s goal is to get at least 10 chaplains at the events.
Another important aspect is helping athletes move to a higher level of ministry in their home country by forging connections with national leaders and elite athletes. The goal is also to expand AIA’s presence in other countries by encouraging athletes to get involved in their homeland, especially in areas not already part of AIA’s scope.
A prime example is AIA’s work in Uganda, Africa, which can be traced to a chance encounter at the World University Games.
“I was sitting in the cafeteria in Thailand four years ago and an athlete came and started talking to us,” Reid says. “We invited him to chapel and to the Bible study, and he came to worship. When he left he asked how we could get AIA in Uganda. A while later, he came on staff full-time and had a huge network of volunteers. Within a year, it was one of the healthiest ministries in Africa.”
He says having the Global Media films like The Prize really helps to start conversations with athletes and present the gospel message in a non-threatening way using sports. He estimates that the DVDs have gone to athletes in 173 countries in the past three years.
Athletes find great encouragement and strength in the worship times conducted by AIA chaplains at these events, and many are able to hear the gospel for the first time. The setting also proves that the tie of Christian brotherhood transcends sport or even national boundaries. Chapel times often include team members from squads who faced off on the field but find fellowship in the neutrality of worship.
Reid is gearing up for the Olympics in London in 2012 and planning strategies for Brazil, the host country for the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.
*AIA does not publish last names of global staff members.
By Teresa Young, AIA Communications