Susan Kweon, a young New Zealander, has just flown into London from Destination Paradise, on Belize’s Ambergris Caye Island, in the Caribbean. She took three days to get here, travelling by speedboat, water-taxi, car, bus, train and plane. Susan has joined hundreds of other volunteers at the training centre of Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in Harpenden, to take part in YWAM’s ‘Forever’ outreach at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
At the orientation conference, David Willson (pictured, right), CEO of More Than Gold (MTG), welcomed the YWAM mission teams, telling them, “You’re part of the largest ecumenical outreach to ever happen at a UK sporting event.” MTG is the umbrella organisation helping the UK Church engage with the Olympic Games. More than 2,500 people are in the UK as members of MTG’s mission teams. Half of these volunteers, like Susan, have come through YWAM, which is a partner in MTG. They are people of all ages, and have come from some 50 different nations.
Jacques and Annick Bougault are a French couple from Reunion Island, in the Indian Ocean. Jacques became a Christian at the 1968 Winter Olympic Games in Grenoble, France. Since then he has helped coordinate outreaches alongside nine Indian Ocean Island Games. “I’m here to help wherever they need me,” he enthuses. “I just love sharing the message!”
Yolanda Olsen, with her daughter Roxanne and son Jeremy, has flown in from Hawaii. The Olsen family joined YWAM in 1974 and took part in the 1976 Montreal Olympics outreach. London 2012 is Yolanda’s tenth Olympic Games outreach. “I’m not an athlete of any sort, but God has used me in all these countries. I love it when the world comes together in one place and I’m able to share my faith.”
YWAM isn’t limited to young people. Gordon from Alabama (pictured, left), in the USA, turns 78 during these Games, making him one of YWAM’s oldest volunteers. This is his first visit to the UK, but age is of no concern to him: “Jesus said ‘Go into all the world’, so I’m here. Until God calls me home I’m still going!”
A village of 500 tents has been set up on YWAM Harpenden’s land. Teams of volunteers are camped out, thankful for the summer sun, enjoying two days of orientation before they hit the streets. Teams will partner with churches around the country, engaging with local communities and tourist visitors through different forms of outreach such as creative arts, helping to run family fun days and sports
days, serving at homeless cafes, and renovating community centres.
The party atmosphere surrounding each Olympic Games makes outreaches like this one amazing opportunities to build new friendships and to serve people. Anna Leitao, from Brazil, remembers being drawn to a football fan wearing a Brazilian shirt at the Atlanta Olympics. “I’d just been to a Brazil football game and got into a conversation with a guy wearing a Brazil shirt. He’d been really hurt by a church in his past but as we talked he opened up. It was amazing to pray with him in the street, standing beside an ATM, holding hands and crying together.”
For Anna, “crazy divine appointments” like this one are the highlight of the Games. “It’s great to be part of a team now in the UK, seeing young people so bold and courageous. I can’t wait to see the exciting things that God is going to do through them.”