The 2012 Olympics will hit the UK like a tidal wave, David Willson tells RUSS BRAVO. And now's the time for the Church to get geared up ...
The UK will not know what has hit it once the 2012 Olympics juggernaut really gets going. And the openings for the Church to get involved present "a once in a lifetime opportunity".
That's the view of More Than Gold Chief Executive David Willson (right), the man with the task of helping UK Christians engage with the biggest sporting event ever staged in this country.
"We have got to understand how the Olympics dominates every working moment," he explains. "Every church can do something and More Than Gold is a one-stop shop to help them.
"This will be the biggest outreach ever for an Olympics. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity."
And David is probably the most experienced sports ministry man worldwide at the moment, when it comes to being at the centre of major sporting events and helping Christians play their part.
Born in Wokingham to Salvation Army parents, sport and the Christian faith have woven a consistent thread throughout David's own story. A talented sportsman from a young age, he soon felt at home in just about any sport with a ball. And in his teenage years, a career in football looked possible.
"I started taking the game seriously once we moved as a family to Rochdale. I had trials for Liverpool and then when we moved south for West Ham at 16. I played for West Ham boys for a year, but I knew I wasn't up to that level."
The Salvation Army provided a sound base for his faith to blossom, and he became a youth band leader at Rochdale, playing the euphonium. "I never really got into teenage rebellion – the Army keeps you in! I had five services on a Sunday, and all my mates were there. I made a real commitment of faith at 19."
And it was a trip to Israel at that age to teach tennis and football on an outreach team that sowed the seeds of David's future career. Spotted by a US team member, he ended up coaching at George State University, taking a Masters in Sports Administration, and going to work with with the Salvation Army in Atlanta which led to involvement with the 1994 World Cup organising committee.
Meanwhile, More Than Gold had begun life in 1992 after a group of ministers from the US visited the Barcelona Olympics and came back with a vision for a united approach at major sporting events.
Since then, David has been closely involved with More Than Gold, the International Sports Coalition (that gave birth to Christians in Sport) and the Global Events Group, which has a vision to train church leaders around the world.
Working at major sporting events across the world over the last 15 years or so has seen a stack of highlights, including:
• The Athlete Family Homes programme, with close to 2,000 people housed in church family homes in Atlanta, 75% of the total
• seeing relationships develop at the 2004 Athens Olympics between the Greek Orthodox Church and the Evangelical Church following the success of festivals in local squares
• watching 150,000 children come through the Kids' Games in Madagascar, where MTG ended up running the official volunteer programme.
And what can we expect for 2012?
"This will be something you will never have experienced before. In Sydney – which has become the template for a successful Games – the place closed down for 17 days. It was one big party, where the atmosphere was created by the friendliness of the people."
So how do we get the people in the pew involved and doing something in the Olympics and Paralympics? David has some varied suggestions for starters:
* the Torch Relay will reach 80% of the population – huge numbers of volunteers and stewards are needed for this and other events
* people can pray
* people near the event centres can host an athlete's family
* churches can hold a More Than Gold Sunday
* you can get church out to the people – BBQs, facepainting, creative arts
* host big screen events
* get out in the local park and run sports tournaments, mini games etc
It may seem a long way off yet, but the work to be done now and through 2011 is vital, as is the developing prayer team being encouraged by More Than Gold.
"It's going very well so far – we are working with all denominations and networks to get the people on board."
Get on board at www.morethangold.org.uk
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