I’ve been watching Twenty Twelve, the BBC’s fictional take on the run-up to London 2012. The hapless Ian Fletcher, Head of the fictional Olympic Deliverance Commission struggles to deal with bolshie and incompetent colleagues while desperately trying to keep things on an even keel. The clock is ticking as the Games draw near but will Ian and his hopeless staff get it together in time for the Opening Ceremony?
I loved Twenty Twelve, but having read lots of cynical press about the Games too, I wondered if it was nearer fact than fiction. I needn’t have worried. From the first moment of Danny Boyle’s flamboyant Opening Ceremony, London 2012 has been an unqualified success. Let me tell you some stories.
Claire & Ryan Cartwright took their young children along to the first day of the Games at the stadium. “We’d read all the cynical stories in the paper,” explains Claire, “but when we got out at Stratford, the staff couldn’t do enough for us. They were so friendly and gave us such a good experience. At the stadium, we were amazed by the enthusiasm of the crowd who cheered every athlete during all the heats and semi finals as if they were all on track for a gold medal.” Claire’s husband Ryan travels to work in London on his motorbike every day. His route takes him past the Olympic Park. “I’ve seen such a transformation over the past few years. From a run-down, derelict, unloved area, I’ve watched new life being breathed into Stratford.”
Fiona Green works on the Accounts Examination Team at Stewardship. “I volunteered at the Cycle Race through Esher on 28th July,” she says. “All the roads were closed so no-one could use their car. The sun was shining, which always helps, and there was the most incredibly social atmosphere. People were out on the streets having barbecues and chatting to everyone. I spoke to one gentleman and asked him if he’d like to have a cycle race in Esher every weekend. He thought for a minute and replied “well, maybe just on Sundays!”
In Stratford and Forest Gate, a group of churches and Christian organisations have been running a festival, reaching out into their local community. Pastor of The Highway Church, Simon Clinton, has seen the positive effect the Games have had on the area. “We live in Forest Gate. My wife was indoors when she heard the fireworks going off at the Opening Ceremony. She ran into the street in her pyjamas to see, then realised that the whole street was full of our neighbours, also in pyjamas, gazing skywards!” At the stadium, one of the team was praying for a security guard who had trapped a nerve in his back. “He was healed instantly”, says Simon. “Everyone could see that it was real because he could touch his toes, which he hadn’t been able to do for ages.”
Perhaps this goes to show that you shouldn’t believe everything you see on television! Only a few are chosen to be Olympic athletes. But as Christians, I’m reminded that we can all make a difference and engage with others, friends and strangers alike. Have a look at 1 Peter 2: 9-10. “But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you – from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.”
The Generosity Challenge:
As the closing ceremony swiftly approaches, where might you reach out as God's holy people? Could you speak to someone new, get involved in a community activity, or simply start up a conversation on the tube or in the street? Offer to pray for someone, celebrate your country's victories alongside your neighbours and show an enduring love and generosity that extends long after the final firework explodes in the jubilant Olympic skies.
Image courtesy of London 2012, credit: Populous.
This summer will see thousands of tourists descend upon the city of London for the 2012 Games. But tourists will not be the only visitors to London during the Games. Some 5,000 volunteers from the charity More Than Gold will also arrive, working alongside churches to ensure they make the most of this summer.
And every single one of these volunteers - whether they are handing out cups of cold water, offering their homes to the families of athletes or welcoming tourists at Heathrow - have taken a step of faith and followed where God has called them.
My opportunity to step out of the boat came in April 2011 when I visited More Than Gold for a week’s work experience. At the time, I was in my final year of university, studying Journalism and English Language. At the beginning of my final year I prayed for clear direction from God about His call on my life. I knew I had a passion to use journalism and communications to further the Kingdom, but I just didn’t know how God would use me. Part of me wanted to have my life planned out…and yet another part thought that if we knew everything we were meant to do, would we be happy? Would we do it? I had to trust that God was in control.
On the second day of my placement at More Than Gold, the staff and I both felt God wanted me to come back and help on their communications team. This would mean leaving my home, my friends, my fiancé and my family, and moving to London with very little finances. I was terrified, but I knew God wanted me to take that step in trusting and serving Him. He provided everything I could possibly have needed. Accommodation, finances and friendships fell into place, all at the right time. Before I knew it I had packed my many suitcases and moved to London to start a new journey with God by my side.
A year on, I’ve seen more than many Christians could hope or dream of. I’ve seen churches take steps of faith - putting on festivals, cafes and sports quizzes in their local communities. I’ve seen people on the streets waving and dancing to worship music, and the most amazing thing…I’ve seen people ask questions about faith and God. I have also been privileged to work alongside local and national media, helping to spread the Good News and tell the world that the Church is alive and kicking! When Churches begin to step out of the boat and serve generously in their communities – giving away over a thousand cream teas in Falmouth, for example – people start to wonder why. In a world where we are taught that nothing comes for free, it is more important than ever for the Church to show that Jesus’ love is available for everyone, everywhere. Our faith and generosity has the ability to show Jesus’ love in action.
And what led me to all this? Well, the instruction Jesus gives us in Matthew 14:22-33 - to trust Him, to follow him out of the boat and walk into the unknown – that instruction is as true today as it was when it was first uttered. Even when the winds blow and the boat rocks, Jesus still stands firm ahead of us, guiding our paths and holding out His hand. Take His hand, trust where He leads you and follow Him. It was the best thing I ever did.
The Generosity Challenge:
If you haven't been able to engage with More Than Gold for the Olympics this year, perhaps you could consider showing generosity and faith in a smaller way. There are lots of sporting events being televised - why not invite a few neighbours round, provide some refreshments, and use it as an opportunity to show hospitality and Jesus' love?
Whether you’re excited about the forthcoming London 2012 Olympics or not (and I speak as someone so un-athletic that the mere sight of a running track induces queasiness), there’s no doubt that the Games will be the most talked-about event of the summer.
Up to 800,000 people are expected to travel through London on the busiest day of the Games and with 20 official Olympic sites across the UK, London is just the beginning. The Olympic torch will pass through the hands of 8,000 people in a thousand communities, covering nearly all of the UK.* Why does this matter? Well, aside from having major traffic implications, it also presents the UK church with a glaring opportunity.
The Olympics give us all an opportunity to show generosity and hospitality, kindness and community. Traditionally these qualities are already found in church environments; but the Olympics is a golden ticket to take church to the streets. More Than Gold is the initiative founded to mobilise the church throughout the Olympics; to enable them to reach out to the community in areas of Outreach, Service and Hospitality, and show them something of Jesus’ love.
If you’re into the creative arts, you can volunteer your drama, vocal or art skills to a local church outreach event. Use your football and rugby skills to set up a sports holiday club for kids. If hospitality is your gifting, you could consider hosting an Athlete’s family, saving them the astronomical cost of accommodation throughout the Games period. There’s also the opportunity to become a Games Pastor: essentially assisting visitors with practical advice and support at several key transport terminals and Games venues.
If you can hand out free cups of water or point someone in the direction of the nearest toilet, you can represent Jesus in your community this summer. And that's great news for those of us who can't tell our athletics from our elbow.
Visit the More Than Gold website for resources and application forms.
How are you planning on reaching out in your community during the Games this year? Do you think initiatives like More Than Gold will make a lasting difference in your town? Let us know in the comments.
*Figures and image courtesy of More Than Gold.
blogs by the Stewardship team and selected guest writers.