The Olympic Challenge

Once the final medal has been awarded and the final anthem played in Athens, the eyes of the world will shift eastward to Beijing, host city for the 2008 Olympic Games.

In preparation for its moment of glory in the international spotlight, Beijing is fast becoming a very different city. The majestic sloping rooftops of the Forbidden City, once an easily recognizable landmark for miles around, are now dwarfed by towering office complexes and new hotels. Block after block of traditional walled compounds that housed generations of Beijing families are being razed to make room for high rise apartments and condominiums. The few narrow hutong that remain have been refurbished as tourist sites.

Whereas languid store clerks in the 1990s would answer almost any inquiry with a tired meiyou (meaning— “We don’t have it.”), today—“Welcome!” and “Can I help you?” are becoming more common phrases as Beijing moves toward a service-oriented culture.

Newly built parks add color to what was once a very gray landscape, while overhead gigantic billboards proclaim China’s dream of hosting “the best Olympics ever.”

Into this transformed city will flood millions of visitors in the years leading up to the 2008 Games, among them many Christians from abroad. The experience of previous host cities has shown that the church can make a significant contribution to the success of the Games, providing needed services during the event, assisting with logistics, offering sports clinics for local aspiring athletes, even finding accommodations for families of Olympians who might otherwise have not been able to attend. Such activities don’t just happen spontaneously. They are the fruit of months, even years, of careful planning and coordination involving Christians from around the world.

The 2008 Games provides an unprecedented opportunity for the Body of Christ to come together in support of China’s Olympic dream. Doing so can show a regime that is, at best, skeptical toward Christianity, that followers of Christ do desire to be a blessing to China. Carefully planned and executed activities in the years leading up to the Games will leave behind a legacy that speaks well of the role of the church in Chinese society. As believers from outside assume a posture of servanthood, those inside China will increasingly find new ways to witness for Christ amidst the sports fervor that is already sweeping China.

The challenge for the church outside China will be to put aside organizational agendas and a tendency toward individual self-promotion, and to consider how best to support the long-term interests of the church in China given the variety of opportunities the Games presents. Will the watching world in 2008 see a visible witness of the unity of the Body of Christ, or will they see a series of disjointed one-off activities undertaken with little thought given to long-term impact? The choices made during the next four years will provide the answer to this question.

Let the partnership begin! 

Image credit: Journal Entry (Joel Montes de Oca) by Chris Lott, on Flickr
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Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Dr. Fulton served as the first president of ChinaSource until 2019. Prior to his service with ChinaSource, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding …View Full Bio