Olympic kick-off takes place virtually

On Friday, the world convened around TV screens, commenting on the national dress and wardrobe choices during the parade of nations at the Olympic opening ceremony. Thousands of people were watching in awe of the 1,800 drones that formed a silent and synchronized symphony and cheering the lighting of the Olympic cauldron on the top of a replica of Mt. Fuji.

The day after the opening ceremony, people from Canada, Los Angeles, Honolulu and Tokyo joined IMB missionaries online for an English language exchange to talk about Olympic favorites and the timeless story of Scottish runner, Olympian and missionary Eric Liddell.

The English exchange allowed Japanese university students an opportunity to practice their English with volunteers in the U.S. Many of the volunteers had plans to travel to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics to minister alongside missionaries with the International Mission Board.

Missions got creative and moved online, not just with Saturday’s event, but in multiple virtual ministry events over the past two months that four Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary students organized.

Colton Dowdy, an IMB missionary Journeyman from Texas who is waiting for borders to open to move to Japan, led a prayer before the event started.

“It’d be easy to remember the impact of COVID-19 or one’s favorite athlete, but how much more incredible it would be for the Japanese to remember this time as the time they came to know Jesus,” Dowdy said.

Junji Kobayashi joined the event as a volunteer from Vancouver, Canada. Originally from Nagano, Japan, Kobayashi said in high school he visited his cousin, and his cousin took him to church for the first time.

He wanted to participate in an event geared toward ministering to high school and university students in Japan.

“I feel like when I am looking at them, I’m looking at me, so I just hope that it will become an opportunity for them to know Jesus,” Kobayashi said.

“Thank you so much for reaching out to Japanese people,” Kobayashi shared with an IMB missionary. “I [came to know the Lord] by people like you, so I can’t thank you enough for what you are doing.”

After playing games and breaking out into chat rooms to discuss questions, IMB missionary Journeyman Kacie Kubosumi shared Eric Liddell’s story.

Liddell’s life, as many may remember from the movie ‘Chariots of Fire,’ was one of  Christ-centered devotion that led to his sacrificing his dream of winning the 100-meter sprint during the 1924 Olympics. However, Liddell went on to win the 400 meters – a race he wasn’t favored to win.

A Japanese university student in an online English exchange event hosted by IMB missionaries recalls the names of the people in her Zoom breakout room. The virtual event was Olympic-themed and provided opportunities for students to practice their English.

In breakout rooms, Japanese students and volunteers talked about their impressions of Liddell’s story.

Kubosumi, who is from Idaho, said one of the students in her breakout room was interested in Liddell’s story, and they were able to share the hope of Christ with him. 

Dowdy said, “I was able to springboard off the story of Liddell and share my personal testimony and a condensed gospel message. Praying today that the seed sown would produce a harvest.”

A Japanese student in the group added Dowdy on a social media platform and said he was looking forward to meeting him when he moves to Tokyo.

IMB Journeyman Natalie Nation shared with her group that she was a competitive swimmer in high school and college and swam for the University of Hawaii. She competed against three women who are currently competing for the U.S. women’s swim team in the Olympics. After graduating she became a swim coach before moving overseas with the IMB.

She shared she had respect for Liddell and acknowledged how hard, if not impossible, it would be, especially in today’s sporting world, to not compete on a Sunday.

“As an athlete, I got teary-eyed, knowing that he did so well because any athletic triumph story really hits me in the heart, but particularly to see athletes who put their faith in God first,” Nation said.

Nation became a Christian in college.

“When I was an athlete, I didn’t really understand that I could have a relationship with Jesus. I just went to church sometimes, but I didn’t really understand that Jesus could be the Lord of my life until after I was finished swimming. As an athlete, I only went to church when I didn’t have swim meets.”

“To see athletes prioritize their faith … being an athlete is all that athletes care about, generally. For me, it was my identity. But for [Liddell] his identity was as a follower of Christ,” Nation continued.

The IMB missionaries created a chat group on a social media platform and plan to meet up on Aug. 7 with the Japanese students who participated to further strengthen the relationships they are building.