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LDS display touches Olympic visitors

For Elder Tom Adair and Elder Son Ngo, Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Games are an adventure beyond the fields of competition.

Since the Games began July 19, the two full-time missionaries have been living life beyond even the hectic pace of regular full-time missionary work. They've slept wherever they found themselves at the end of the day. Their daily routine changes, well, daily. They've contacted hundreds of people, organized training for dozens of full-time and stake missionaries, arranged complicated logistics - and they can't remember the last time they had a full-fledged P-day.But they've loved every minute of it.

Elders Adair and Ngo, assistants to Atlanta Georgia Mission Pres. Monte N. Stewart, have been given charge of "Strong Families Can Hold Our World Together," a traveling exhibit the mission is using to introduce the Church to some of the 2 million visitors in town for the 1996 Games. They've nurtured the exhibit from the beginning and watched and worked as hundreds of people have filed in to see it.

"We've had a lot of teaching situations come from the display," said Elder Ngo, who's from Santa Barbara, Calif.

But the elders' work really began many months ago.

In March, Pres. Stewart called them as his assistants, with the assignment of being in charge of the display - and they started from square one. They consulted with the Church's Public Affairs Department in Salt Lake City, contacted influential people in the Atlanta area, and tried to secure a site for the display inside the Olympic Ring, an area in downtown Atlanta where most of the Olympic events would be held.

"It was somewhat frustrating," said Elder Adair, who is from Hines, Ore. "Little successes would keep us going, but we just couldn't seem to find the right way to do it. But we felt very comfortable that the Lord wanted His Church to have a presence."

Locating the site seemed to be a major sticking point. Suitable sites within or near the Olympic Ring simply had too much commercial value for owners to consider donating space to the Church.

When hopes for using a "perfect" piece of property on Peachtree Street in central downtown fell through, things began to change.

"That took us in the direction the Lord wanted us to go," said Elder Ngo. "The very next day things began to fall into place."

Elder Adair explained, "That's when the idea hit us to go with three locations, involve the stake missionaries and other members and use the full-time missionaries even more. Even if no one came to the display, this plan would get the members thinking about missionary work and get the full-time missionaries out among the people."

The exhibit played for about a week at each of two suburban Atlanta LDS meetinghouses and another week at the University of Georgia LDS Institute of Religion in nearby Athens, the site of the Olympic soccer finals.

The display, consisting of four major parts, is, in a word, impressive. It includes:

  • A display of photographs used in the popular book "The Mission: Inside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." Supervising editor of the book, Acey Harper, a photojournalist from San Francisco, Calif., also hosted two firesides in the Atlanta area detailing the making of the book.
  • A multi-image presentation of slides from the book, produced by Stanley Menscher, a Church member from New Jersey who works for Nikon Inc. Nikon sponsored the project.
  • A display on families.
  • A Book of Mormon display in 60 languages.

When the display sets up in an area, Elders Ngo and Adair move in with it. They train missionaries, contract local media, work with local priesthood and auxiliary leaders to involve local members, and plan the logistics of who'll be staffing what areas when.

"We flood the area with invitations to visit the exhibit," said Elder Ngo, adding that 15,000 invitations have been printed. Generally four missionaries stay with the display while 10-15 more hit the streets and invite passersby to attend.

"And," added Elder Adair, "we've had some cases where people were interested and we've taken them to a classroom and taught them a discussion on the spot. If they feel the Spirit, we invite them to hear more."

"In the U.S., missionaries don't get a lot of opportunity for street contacting," said Pres. Stewart. "This has been a great opportunity for missionaries to mingle with the people."

Even with all the planning, there are many on-the-spot adjustments. "This project is very spur-of-the-moment. Every day there is something new," said Elder Ngo. The elders' enthusiasm has spread through the mission.

"This is very exciting and an animating experience for the missionaries. This is a great opportunity to talk to so many people. It has been a real great opportunity for the missionaries," said Pres. Stewart.

"This assignment has brought a wonderful spirit with it," said Elder Adair. "People are personally touched by what they see. Even if only one person is touched, then it is all worth it."

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