Promoting Christ-centred Biblical Ministry

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reprinted from the December 2000 edition of Essentials  

  The Gospel and the Games.

David Tyndall

David Tyndall was the director of the Archbishop of Sydney's Olympic Games Task Force
  Processions, hymns and oaths were all part of the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Anyone watching it with the slightest religious background could have thought they were viewing a religious festival or a church service. The link between sport and religion is understandable as the ancient Olympics were held in honour of the god Zeus and the founder of the modern Olympics Pierre de Courbertin once studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood.  
  Sport and Christianity have been closely linked since the Gospel first came to Australia. Organised team sport began in England in the eighteenth century, before and in the early days of settlement in Australia. It took place on holy days, church festival times or at market fairs, principally because these were the only days that the working class had freedom from their labours.  
  Together with feasting and merriment, sports have long been associated with major church festivals, especially Christmas Day, Twelfth Night and Twelfth Day (the 5 & 6 January), Shrove Tuesday, Easter, May Day and St John the Baptist Day (24 June). Sports also figured prominently in the Patronal Festival.  
  Most of the sporting activities took place after feasting, trading or church. The most popular "games" included wrestling, boxing, ball baiting and a peculiar type of football.  
  However, in the latter part of the 18th century sport became more formalised and regular competition based on codified rules was played. Some of the sports that developed in England during this period and into the 19th century were horse racing, hunting, boxing, cycling, cricket and running. Slowly a small number of sports, like badminton saw the professional class or upper class take up sport. Organised team sport as we know it blossomed in England after the 1850's as transport communications, amenities improved and funds and population grew.  
  Turning then to Australia, both the church and sport as non-Aboriginal 18th century Europeans understood them came to Australia with the First Fleet. The first Christian church service was conducted by the evangelical chaplain to the colony, the Rev Richard Johnson under a great tree at Sydney Cove on  
  Sunday, 3 February 1788. This was 8 days after the officers and the marines of the "Supply" unfurled and hoisted the British flag at Sydney Cove.  
  With this simple ceremony, the colony had now received the practices of Australia and it has been said that the potential for sport came with the First Fleeters in the form of horses and humans.  
  The first sport played in Australia was billiards in 1795 by the officers of the regiment. Racing was probably the second sport to begin. There was a race ground located in the Windsor/Richmond area as early as 1805. It may well have been close to where the Richmond Anglican Church stands now. The first official sporting event recorded in Australia was a 3-day race carnival held at what we now know as Hyde Park in 1810.  
  As early as 1802 cricket was played in Sydney. With the Gold Rush and the economic boom of the 1850s, colonial sport developed as did sport in "the mother country". Over the next 30 years, boxing, rowing, baseball, rifle shooting, tennis, cycling, billiards and soccer began to flourish in the colonies.  
  Sport developed rapidly in Australia.  
  D H Lawrence when he came to Australia in 1920 commented:  
  "Australians play sport as if their life depended upon it".  
  The Rev Bevan of the Collins Street Melbourne Independent Church said in a sermon on 12 June 1892:  
  "No one can fail to observe the large part of public potential which sport and athletics and games take up at the present time. If you listen to the conversation in public places, in railway carriages or elsewhere, some reference is sure to be heard to an event, a race, a game, matches of all sorts between colonies, between cities, between nations!  
  So how large a space is devoted to sport in the newspapers?  
  "A king, a general or a statesman may die and the matter is dismissed in a few lines, but if two gentlemen who belong to the prize ring meet it occupies half a column. There is not the slightest doubt that your pugilist is a much more important member of society than any monarch, judging by the newspapers and they, of course, are unerring and certain guides of human thought in modern society".  
  The well known Australian author Donald Horne commented in The Lucky Country:  
  "Sport to many Australians is life and the rest a shadow".  
  Recent figures support these observations. In 1993 there were 6.4 million Australians registered with sporting clubs. 6.2 million Australians attended sporting fixtures on a regular basis. 98% of Australians watch some part of a football game on television every week and 60% of all business sponsorships is given to sport. In 1984 Australians spent $28 of their average weekly household expenditure on recreation. In 1994 it was $78.  
  How then should the church respond, especially when God gives the Olympic and Paralympic Games to such a sports-mad nation?  
  Shortly after it was announced in 1993 that Sydney had won the right to host the Games, a group of 6 people - Bishop Brian King, Mr Tom Treseder, Major Les Strong, Rev Mark Tronson, Mr Ross Clifford and David Tyndall – met to discuss how they might use the Games to share the truths of Jesus with people.  
  Three groups were targeted – the athletes and their family members, visitors to Sydney and Sydneysiders. The strategies included the following:  
  The concept of a sports clinic is to use qualified sports coaches to train people in particular sports and share the Gospel with them. I have been involved in running these clinics for a number of years and my experience is that between 33%-66% of those who attended usually have no church association. We conducted approximately 120 sports clinics over the period of the Olympics and Paralympics and some 4,000 children would have been involved. The sports included cricket, rugby, athletics, gridiron, baseball and basketball.  
  In targeting the three groups, it was decided that we should have high quality literature and tapes available. The Bible Society produced a New Testament which had the testimonies of 16 athletes and Mark's Gospel which had the testimony of 5 athletes. Hundreds of thousands of these were distributed. The single most popular piece of literature was the Interactive Guide produced for both the Olympics and the Paralympics. This guide listed all the Olympic events and the winners in Atlanta in 1996. It also included a Gospel presentation built around the Olympic ring colours. Early figures indicate that some 280,000 of these guides were distributed. The Jesus video was distributed to many of the athletes. One day in the Paralympic Village some 680 videos were distributed to the athletes in 10 minutes.  
  The aim of this program was to accommodate in the homes of Sydneysiders one or two family members of competing athletes. 1,000 hosts took part in this venture, the Christian churches providing nearly 50% of the hosts with the Anglican Church being the largest provider.  
  The festivals presented the churches with an opportunity to reach out into the community on a number of strategic occasions during the Olympics. Some festivals were conducted during the Olympic Torch Run or the Opening or Closing Ceremonies. Along with Gospel presentations and distribution of Christian material, they included such family activities as craft, face painting, games, mime artists, clowns, puppets, top performing artists and free sausage sizzles. It is amazing how God works. For example, before the festival at French's Forest where Nick Farr-Jones was the MC, the Pittwater Council included in its rates notice a flyer advertising the festival. It is estimated that 220,000 people attended 115 festivals throughout NSW during the time of the Olympics. For many of these people this would have been their first contact with the local church.  
  The Reverend Mark Fairhurst of Eastwood commented,  
  "Our Opening Ceremony festival gave us contact with over 500 people from our community, both Anglo Saxon and many Chinese and Korean Australians. Many took away the Interactive Guide to the Olympics, some a Jesus video. Our Chinese congregation gained a number of contacts by conducting a survey of people as they wandered around our  
  Festival activities. It is an opportunity we shall use again with other major sporting and community events."  
  With tens of thousands of visitors to Sydney for the Games, ministry through drama, face painting, puppetry, and performing arts, took place in 42 venues. Artists came from Sydney, interstate and overseas to fulfill 3,750 hours of programming. Included among the venues were the Town Hall Square, the Corso Manly.  
  The Olympic Torch arrived in Australia at Uluru on June 6 and for the next 100 days traveled the country. It arrived in Sydney on September 12. Some churches along the torch route in Sydney used the opportunity to provide hospitality and promote its activities and the Christian message. At St. Luke's Thornleigh 1100 people enjoyed a sausage sizzle and many hundreds took Christian literature. Neil Flower the rector of the parish of Pennant Hills/Thornleigh said "It was worth every second of the hard work that it took because of the enormous amount of goodwill it created towards the church of God and for the contacts with the local people that would have otherwise been extremely difficult to make. This gives us a good basis for future outreach.  
  Quest Australia on behalf of the combined churches of Sydney were able to negotiate a "free feed" of their telecast to large screens. A number of churches used this opportunity and held large screen events for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and for some of the major sporting events of the Olympics. Some churches provided a continual coverage. Allied to these large screen productions were literature distribution and Gospel presentations through taped or live testimonies of athletes.  
  It was arranged that Christian men and women would speak at evangelistic outreaches before and during the Olympics and Paralympics. These included breakfasts, lunches, dinners, Big Screen events etc. When Christian sports people speak, Australians take notice and the churches report an encouraging response. I hope such a valuable resource will be available and utilised in years to come.  
  The importance of Christian sports chaplains was emphasised before the Games even began! As I drove to the village early one morning to begin my chaplaincy duties, I heard on the news that a young Nigerian athlete Nyginus Anayo had been killed in a road accident. I was able to make contact with the team leader (Dr Boyd) who took me with him to the team meeting where the team was informed of the tragedy. Dr Boyd asked me to open and close the meeting in prayer. Subsequently I continued to exercise a ministry to a number of the team including Nyginus' fiancée Mercy Alozie. Mercy went on to win a silver medal in the hurdles. "The medal is very important to me," she said. "It means very much to me. It's been a difficult time and I am grateful to God that I was able to keep going" Over 60 Christian chaplains were appointed to minister within the village.  
  The Paralympics took place from 18-29 October and the ministries during that time will be sports outreach, tourist bus hospitality, chaplaincy in the village and Joni Eareckson evangelistic outreach as follows: -  
  Sports Ministry  
  A number of outreaches were held at schools throughout Sydney. They included teaching children some sports played by disabled athletes.  
  Tourist Bus Hospitality  
  The Quest Paralympic team aim to take Paralympians and their family members on tours of some of the better known tourist attractions around Sydney and its environs.  
  As with the Olympics, chaplains were appointed for the Paralympics. These chaplains conducted services and exercised a pastoral ministry to many of the athletes. I was able to arrange for a number of athletes and coaches to visit schools and share their testimony with approximately 3,000 children.  
  Joni Eareckson Tadi Visit  
  Joni visited Australia from Friday, 13 October to Tuesday, 24 October. On a number of occasions she spoke at evangelistic functions and these included the University of Western Sydney, St John's Park Anglican Church, Thornleigh Baptist Church, NSW Parliament House, Lotti Stewart Rehabilitation Centre and the Seventh Day Adventist Centre, Cooranbong. At each event she spoke to a packed house.  
  Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics and one time student for the Catholic priesthood, hoped for "the contributions the muscle would make to the moral education."  
  Others, too, have placed their faith in sport to resolve our human problems. Ex-Chief of World Soccer, Joao Havlange, once said, "Only football has the power to solve the problems of international conflicts". Those of us with a faith in Christ know full well that the hopes of these two men are forlorn. The Olympics and Paralympics have reinforced my own long held view that sport is a marvelous bridge to sharing the Gospel with people. As our church and Sunday school attendances decline, as the church's impact on the marketplace dissipates, the challenge before us is to find new ways to bring the love of God and the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to the people of Australia. We have just seen the influence that sport has on the Australian psyche. I strongly believe that the church must grasp without delay the enormous challenge that confronts it by using sport in general and major sporting events to share the Gospel with people! Remember Melbourne has the World Masters Games in October 2002, Sydney has the World Cup of Rugby in 2003 and Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006!  

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