February 3, 2018

The Olympics, the Nations, and the Gospel

The games of the 23rd Winter Olympiad are just a few days away. And the Strassner family loves the winter Olympics! Every four years, we huddle together in front of the television for those 2-plus weeks, delighting in the artistry of phenomenal athletic skill brushed across the brilliant white canvas of winter scenery. I can’t wait!

One of our family traditions is that each of us chooses a different country (in addition to the USA) for which to cheer. And, since we want to actually see the teams and athletes for which we have chosen to cheer, we choose countries that tend to do well in the Winter Games. This year we’ve got Norway, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, France, Sweden, and the Netherlands – eight of the top ten medal-winning countries from 2014 (the others were Russia and the USA). 

But how fares the gospel in these eight countries? That’s the question that occured to me recently. For answers, I turned to the 2010 edition of Operation World (a must-have Christian resource, by the way). And the statistics I turned up were striking. Of the eight countries for whom we are cheering, none of them (as of the 2010 statistics) is more than 8.4% evangelical. In France, evangelicals make up only 1% of the nation’s populace. In Austria, the percentage is half that! And even in nearby Canada, there are less than 8 evangelicals per 100 people! This is striking. In fact, of the 26 nations that won medals at the 2014 Sochi Games, only four (the USA, South Korea, Australia, and Finland) have evangelical populations that number above 10% (percentages, again, according to Operation World). 

What this means is that, if and when you watch the Winter Games, chances are (first of all) that you’re going to be watching a great many men and women whose athleticism marvelously demonstrates the image of God in man … but who do not know that God, and who do not know “the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” Pray for them. Pray, too, for their countrymen who have travelled to see them (and who are part of the same statistical milieu). Pray for Christian athletes, coaches, and officials to be witnesses for Christ. And pray for the witness of local South Korean believers, of missionaries in the area, and of others who may come in on short-term mission trips specifically to share the gospel with those in town for the Games. The statistics indicate there will likely be plenty of folks who need evangelizing.

The statistics also mean that, if and when you watch the goings on in PyeongChang, you are also going to be seeing the regalia and hearing the names of a whole host of nations whose countrymen, back home, desperately need evangelizing as well! America is the most evangelized of any nation that won a medal at the last games … and you know how much we need the gospel here. So what must be the need in a place like Austria, or China, or Slovenia (0.1% evangelical!), or Japan? Think of this when you watch the games. Root for these nations, as it were, in prayer! And maybe someone who reads these lines will even be moved to go to one or other of them, carrying the gospel, and pursuing a prize even greater than Olympic Gold!

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