Missionaries catch Olympic spirit

Volunteer effort busting stereotypes, yielding new friends in Greece

Even as nightly recaps of the Olympic Games in Athens reach sports fans worldwide, President John Ludwig and his wife, Sister Sandra Ludwig, anticipate Olympic news of their own.

As the final events conclude each evening, the phone in the Greece Athens Mission Home starts ringing — phone calls from usually exhausted missionaries reporting on the day's events. Scores of elders and sister missionaries, along with a few missionary couples, are working at sports venues as formal Olympic volunteers. (Please see Aug. 14 Church News, page 12.)

Now as the Games reach their ending, President Ludwig says his missionaries have been forever touched by the historic experience. The enthusiasm of the missionaries/volunteers is evident with each nightly call.

"I have seen the hand of the Lord at (these Games)," President Ludwig said.

"The missionaries are all doing well — they're enjoying themselves," Sister Ludwig added.

Missionary/volunteers are adhering to their agreement to avoid active proselyting. Instead, they are laboring each day to help the Games succeed. Along the way, they're making new friends while assisting Olympic athletes, officials and spectators. As evidence, Sister Ludwig points to a group of missionaries assigned to direct traffic at the main complex where the Games' opening ceremony was held. The elders have injected life into the mundane task — singing, dancing and having fun with arriving visitors.

Yes, the missionaries volunteering at the Games have had to bury their urge to share their demonstrative gospel message. Still, said President Ludwig, the missionaries have remained visible ambassadors for the Church, particularly among fellow Olympic volunteers. Having the elders and sister work together with rank-and-file Greeks has helped bust local stereotypes about the Church.

"The barriers are down," President Ludwig said.

"People can feel the (missionaries') countenances, even in their Olympic uniforms. People feel that same (missionary) spirit."

Friendships and respect have been forged, and folks are stepping forward to ask about the Church.

Security regulations have presented the missionary/volunteers from interacting much with LDS athletes. Still, some athletes have attended local Church services. Others stopped in at the meetinghouse in Athens Aug. 22 to take in an Olympic-themed fireside sponsored by the mission. LDS sportscaster Vai Sikahema, a former BYU gridder, spoke at the gathering, along with Deseret Morning News columnist Lee Benson.

The mission will gather at the Games' conclusion for a special meeting to share testimonies and experiences. Still ahead are the Paralympic Games in Athens. Many missionaries will be participating in that event.

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