AIA Olympics Update from Carl

Are you a fan of the Olympic Games? So many people around the world get captivated by them… watching the world’s best athletes compete in various sports…some of which we never watch at any other time. There is something about the hype, the intensity, the joys and sorrows, the global nature of it all that pull you in. Well, at least for some, others wonder what all the fuss is about.

As a Christian you may have thought or wished that folks would put the same kind of interest, passion and intensity into pursuing God, discovering Jesus or developing a relationship with Him. Are the Olympics just a great distraction or even worse a form of human idolatry? Have you ever thought that God is present at these Games and could be working in the hearts of those who are involved?

These “modern” Olympics were the vision of a French baron, Pierre de Coubertin. He was educated by Jesuits but seemed to have lost or given up his Christian faith or heritage. He was fascinated by the “Ancient” Olympics from Greece and by a British form of Christian education and sport nicknamed “Muscular Christianity”. He dreamed of and worked toward a renewal of those ancient games where the youth of the world would unite, compete and help bring peace to the world. It was all summed up into a philosophy that is supposed to drive these modern Games known as Olympism.  For the latest 2 minute video produced by the International Olympic Committee to inspire the athletes one month before the games begin. Note the themes of bringing things out of darkness into the light, accomplishing great things through unity, building a place for everyone and we are stronger together. These are all noble themes that resonate with the human heart. Click Here The World Only Moves Forward When We Move Together ft. Usain Bolt, Naomi Osaka | #StrongerTogether - YouTube

But without Jesus humans will never become who they were created to be by their loving Father, nor fully accomplish great dreams of unity and peace. The Olympic games brings both inspiration and disappointment to many.

Since 1966, AIA has been helping athletes experience the hope and purpose that comes from following Jesus, and equipping them to use their platform to be part of God’s mission in the world to make disciples of all nations.  By serving, training, and sending athletes as influencers into the world, we are building spiritual movements everywhere through the platform of sport so that everyone knows someone who truly follows Jesus. 

For about 50 years AIA have had staff and volunteers at the Olympic Games ministering to the competing athletes and using the platform of the Games to share the gospel. For example, I was at the USA Wrestling Olympics Trials in 1972, and was an alternate on the 1976 and 1980 US Teams (we boycotted Moscow 1980). After ministry at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo and Los Angeles and at Seoul in 1988, I had the privilege of being a chaplain inside the Athletes Village at the Barcelona 1992 Games.  I have been at every Summer and Winter Olympics since 1996 as an official volunteer or chaplain.  I have been selected as one of the international chaplains for Tokyo 2020 (21) but all ministry will be virtual. 

 In a few weeks the postponed 2020 Tokyo Games are scheduled to begin. Due to the Covid restrictions these Games will be like no other. Athletes normally are under great pressure at an Olympics… they have trained for years, they have high hopes, there are great expectations coming from their family, sport federations, the press and their nation. A great performance could change the destiny of their life. These upcoming Games will be even more stressful for the athletes. They must adhere to a large number of Covid safety protocols before they depart, when they arrive and during the Games. They cannot go anywhere in Japan except the Athletes Village and their competition site. No family members can come and watch them. There will be many restrictions inside the Athletes Village which normally is a great meeting place with lots of entertainment, unlimited food and the mixing of athletes from around the world. These athletes will be lonely, isolated from the normal support people in their lives but still expected to deliver great performances.

Since Noreen and I moved back from Russia in 2010, we have been part of the AIA Global Events Team.  Until 2020 I was often traveling to Eurasia (Russia, Moldova, Ukraine, Kazakhstan) or to other countries hosting Multi Sports Events (Pan Am Games, World University Games, Asian Games, World Championships). This month the Global Events Team is partnering with AIA Canada, AIA Singapore and some of our International staff from Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia to serve the Olympians.  We want to ”be there” for any athlete, coach or support staff as they deal with these challenging circumstances. We have a twofold strategy to connect with Christian and seeking athletes to minister to them during the Games and to create a community of elite believers that can be assisted at these Games as well as in the future.  

AIA Teammates have created a closed and safe Facebook group that athletes will be able to join. There they can connect with, encourage, pray for and be prayed for with others from all over the globe. This community will grow over the months and years and be a go to resource for fellowship, good teaching, encouragement, ministry training, and more.

Secondly we are creating a daily, live, online “zoom chapel” meeting each evening during the Olympics. Competitors will be able to join online from their location in the Athletes Village or a pre training site they might be staying at before they head to Tokyo. During our chapel they will be welcomed and encouraged, there will be a short time of worship, a devotional talk from the scriptures and an encouragement from a former Olympian. Athletes can stay longer on the call for personal prayer or just to meet other athletes who are competing.

You can imagine all the technical details that have to come together in the next couple of weeks to prepare these events as well as the internet connections that must come together during the chapels.

Please bring all these details to the Lord in prayer!

•   The recruiting and recording of messages by devotional speakers and Olympians

•   Training of emcees and zoom hosts

•   Selection and streaming of worship songs

•   Figuring out some kind of translation strategy for non-English speakers

•   That the athletes will feel safe, confident and will have time to join us.

These ideas are a new experiment and also a trial run for the future. If we use Facebook and other Social Media platforms to create a community of elite athletes around the world, we will have a tool to continue to minister to them year round despite their busy schedule and travel commitments. We also want to learn from this online chapel idea and then utilize it for a myriad of elite athletic events that take place all year around the globe.

Thank you for your prayers---my role on the daily chapels is to help train the emcees and recruit speakers and athletes to be part.  I need your prayers as I continue my learning how to better use social media, Zoom, WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, and Google Docs.  I will send another update before the Games begin, with some links so you can see what we are doing and join in praying for some of the Olympians.

Thanks for your partnership. 

Carl and Noreen

Athletes In Action Global Events Team


“But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” I Peter 3:15