Adventists Active at 2010
Olympics and Paralympics
Vancouver events draw focus of church members, youth; one teen carries torch
and keeps the Sabbath.
BY GAILEEN WOYTKO, British Columbia Adventist representative, More Than Gold Canada
embers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church were up front and behind the scenes of the XXI Olympic Winter Games held in the last half of February in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Along with massive volunteer service by many church members, one young Seventh-day Adventist, 16-year-old Rita Bryant, was part of the select group of Olympic torchbearers, and was able to carry the torch on a day that would not conflict with the Bible Sabbath.
For the 17 days of the Vancouver games, Seventh-day Adventists and Christians from around the world, representing 15 denominations and 30 faith-based organizations worked side by side in a network called More Than Gold, serving 5,500 athletes and games officials; 10,000 media personnel; 300,000 visitors; 25,000 official games volunteers; and thousands of local residents.
The Canadian torch relay brought together communities, towns, neighborhoods, and cities in a celebration of Canadian unity and pride, as the Olympic torch traveled more than 45,000 kilometers across the country in 106 days. The torch was carried by 12,000 Canadians, and the relay covered more distance inside a host country than any in Olympic Games history. Many Christians, including Adventists, stepped out into public spaces to serve and connect with their communities.
TORCHBEARER AND PREMIER: Rita Bryant, a 16-year-old First Nations Adventist, became a torchbearer in Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia. She is shown with British Columbia premier Gordon Campbell.
• A Pathfinder Club in Prince George, British Columbia, set up a huge display at their local torch celebration center and engaged in dozens of meaningful conversations with community guests as they shared information about their values-based programs for children and families.
• Rita Bryant, a 16-year-old First Nations Adventist, became a torchbearer in Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia. A year earlier, Rita and her parents, Vi and Pete, as well as 2 million other Canadians, applied to carry the torch during the relay.
To qualify, each candidate had to write an essay on one of three topics relating to how they were personally caring for the environment, staying healthy, or supporting their community. The Bryant family went to work writing their essays, with Rita focusing on caring for creation.
She described how she and her parents regularly cleaned trash off the streets and pulled bottles out of the lake, demonstrating their respect for the environment. The family was delighted when Rita’s essay won her a spot as torchbearer in Terrace, British Columbia. But when the family realized the date for the relay was Sabbath, they wrote to the torch relay organizers explaining that Rita could not accept the honor because Saturday is the Bible Sabbath.
With disappointed hearts, the family believed they had lost Rita’s opportunity to carry the torch. But within days they received a letter stating that in honor of her conviction the organizing committee would offer her another date and location for her assignment. Sunday, January 31, found the Bryant family traveling eight hours to Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia, to live the dream of a lifetime.
• In Hope, Aldergrove, and Burnaby, British Columbia, Adventist Church members and Fraser Valley Adventist Academy and Deer Lake Seventh-day Adventist School students supported local torch celebrations by carrying full-size colorful flags of the 84 Olympic nations, and assisting with serving hot chocolate to the crowds, alongside The Salvation Army.
Looking for an outreach opportunity that was uniquely Adventist, a scarf-knitting campaign was launched in 2008. For months beautiful hand-knit scarves arrived from all over North America, Bermuda, and the West Indies. Knit by Pathfinders, retired residents in seniors’ facilities, women’s prayer groups, and hobbyists, 3,000 Adventist scarves became symbols of love and friendship in Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics. Distributed to tourists and social agencies during the Olympics, each scarf bore a label reading: “This scarf was knit with love by your friends the Seventh-day Adventists.”
Two churches—Aldergrove Adventist Church in Aldergrove, British Columbia, and Orchards Seventh-day Adventist Church in Vancouver, Washington—knit nearly 400 scarves each! Harold Blize, 91 years old, lovingly knit 50 scarves from his care home in Wetaskiwin, Alberta.
Inspiring scarf stories are still arriving in Vancouver. Jamie and Sharon Johns of Hamilton, Ontario, were impressed to stop on the side of the road on their way to the airport and share a scarf and conversation with a struggling young First Nations man. Young adults in Vancouver created signs saying “Free Hugs and Free Scarves,” and tourists lined up to chat, get a hug, and receive a personal gift from the Adventists. Two Christian women walked downtown Vancouver streets and offered to take photos for tourists—and as a farewell gift they offered them a free scarf. Again and again Adventists received amazed thank-yous and words of appreciation for their beautiful gift, knit with love by someone the recipients had never met. Hundreds of care kits containing personal hygiene items and a scarf were distributed to social agencies in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, one of North America’s most impoverished communities.
A key activity during Vancouver 2010 was the Canadian Adventist Youth Summit, attended by more than 300 youth and young adults from across Canada, Washington, and Idaho from February 18 to 21.
The first two days of the summit took place at Mountain View Camp, nestled in the midst of the Cascade Mountains in Hope, British Columbia. The event theme, “Service and Witness,” focused on empowering a young generation and preparing them for outreach. Plenary sessions addressed social issues in North America—human trafficking, creation care, homelessness, First Nations—and built anticipation for a day of service in downtown Vancouver.
FREE HUGS AND A SCARF: Seventh-day Adventist volunteers offer both during the XXI Winter Olympiad, recently concluded in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Adventist Church in Canada president Dan Jackson acknowledged the delegates attending the summit who represented many nations and cultures and reminded them they were all one in the Spirit of God.
Emcee Dwain Esmond, editor of Insight magazine, kept the event humorous and relevant, and Gordon Pifher, British Columbia Conference president, as well as guest speaker José Rojas, North American Division (NAD) director of volunteer ministries, challenged young people to trust God and take a stand for their beliefs. Manny Cruz, NAD associate youth director, encouraged this generation to be an example—to be different, and to feel confident in leading the church of today.
On day 3 delegates boarded buses for Vancouver and spent the afternoon serving hot beverages at transit stations, helping in social agencies in the city, hosting a kids’ festival in a local park, and distributing literature (Insight magazines, pocket guides with Christian athlete testimonies, Olympic statistics and venue maps, along with the Gospel of Mark supplemented with Christian athlete testimonies).
The summit ended with a “Celebration of Service” evening at Oakridge Adventist Church in Vancouver. Official 2010 torchbearers Bob Kramer and Rita Bryant, along with José Rojas, an official torchbearer from the Atlanta 1996 Olympics, led a delegation into the closing ceremonies comprised of two Adventist Olympic athletes, Gerald Kazanowski (Canada, basketball, 1984 and 1988) and Katya Antonuk (Belarus cross-country skiing, 1998); Mark Washington (B.C. Lions defensive backs coach); and Dwain Esmond. They were joined by More Than Gold London 2012 and Sochi 2014 delegates, including Adventists Eddie Hypolite, Nathan Stickland, and Colin Stewart of London.
A significant emphasis of More Than Gold has been on creating sustainable ministry opportunities—looking at ways to build a legacy for the future. Using sports to teach and connect intentionally with members and unchurched friends, More Than Gold created a resource called Life Series, a six-part Bible study based on the life of Moses. Using Scripture, athlete testimonies, and physical activity, the series explores topics of destiny, courage, strength, perseverance, meaning, and identity in a biblical context.
More Than Gold also participated in the Vancouver 2010 Paralympics, which began March 12. Partnering with the Invisible Nation Network, an institute for international development and people with disabilities, Christians in Vancouver provided support for Paralympics events in the form of beverage services, concerts, and local church awareness campaigns focusing on inclusion and recognition of people with disabilities.