RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Sid Hopkins is an eye-catching sight when he visits the Olympics.
The retired director of missions for the Atlanta-area Gwinnett Metro Baptist Association dons a hat and vest decorated with hundreds of pins that people aren’t bashful about inspecting. Hopkins trades pins with other Olympics fans while distributing pins made especially for the Olympics that tell the story of Jesus.
“There is an openness by people to talk with one another and to talk about spiritual things,” Hopkins said. “So sharing the seeds of the gospel through the ‘storytelling’ witnessing pin is well-received. Then the seeds of the gospel go back all over the world as the people return home.”
Hopkins is in Rio de Janeiro as the world prepares to turn its gaze on the first South American city ever to host the Olympics. The Games, kicked off with the Aug. 5 opening ceremony, will become the centerpiece of family entertainment and workplace discussions for more than two weeks.
Pre-event publicity for the Olympics was largely negative, due to concerns over the Zika virus, Brazil’s economic struggles, the fitness of Rio’s water supply, the Russian doping scandal and other issues. But Brazil’s hosting of the 2014 World Cup proved to be successful, and Olympic organizers are banking on a repeat of that success in Rio.
The games are expected to be the most-watched TV event in U.S. history, surpassing the 2012 Olympics in London.
Baptist Press coverage during the Olympics will focus largely on Christian athletes who are competing. U.S. men’s diver David Boudia won gold in the 10-meter platform competition in 2012 and is looking to add to his medal count in both that event and the men’s 10-meter synchro competition with his teammate Steele Johnson. Both men gave strong testimonies of their faith in Christ following the Olympic trials earlier this summer.
“This is not what my identity is going to be in the rest of my life,” Johnson said. “Yeah, I’m Steele Johnson the Olympian, but at the same time, I’m here to love and serve Christ. My identity is rooted in Christ and not in the flips we’re doing.”
In addition, a number of Baptist volunteers like Hopkins will be in Rio during the Olympics to share the gospel both with local residents and with the thousands of visitors from across the globe.
“The Olympics is an amazing gathering of people from all over the world, much like the gathering in Jerusalem at Pentecost,” Hopkins said.
John Crocker, evangelism and missions pastor at Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala., is leading a team of seven people who will engage Rio residents with the gospel through evangelistic block parties and pin trading.
“There exists no greater opportunity to reach people from over 200 nations in 30 days than the Olympic Games,” Crocker said.