(Photo: Facebook/SOAR International Ministries)
SOAR International Ministries, an Alaska-based organization dedicated to missions and outreach in Russia, has partnered with local Russian churches during the Sochi Winter Olympic Games to spread the Gospel to tourists and communities converging on the event.
The ministry sent 40 volunteers to Russia to establish a number of "fun zone" hospitality centers in local church buildings. They will also go out into parks and other public venues to invite others to partake in their activities.
"The team will assist the local church in introducing the community to Christ and who they are in Him," said Greg Mangione of SOAR, according to Mission News Network. "They'll do that through Gospel magic shows, somebody making balloon animals and face paintings, and just a variety of activities and entertainment. The primary goal is to reach out to the people. We pray it'll be a beginning of a long-term relationship with the local churches."
During the two weeks of the Games volunteers will divide their time between the coastal and mountain cluster areas of Sochi while each hospitality center will have the Olympic events projected on big screens along with evangelistic videos.
Given the security measures in place for the Games, SOAR's team will be limited to how they spread the Christian message.
"[The restrictions are] no street preaching. No proselytizing out in the parks and all that," said Mangione. "We want to try to create a relationship. We're looking for people to ask, 'Why are you here?' Hopefully that opens the door to share a personal testimony and to share, 'I'm here because I love Christ.'"
Similarly, some Christians in the U.S. have taken on relative evangelistic efforts such as the Engage Sochi initiative. The project is an International Mission Board initiative that mobilizes Southern Baptists to reach Sochi and tourists through broad sharing of the Gospel and planting of churches before, during and after the Games. Engage Sochi primarily focuses on reaching individuals who live and work in the Olympic city.
"I think it is important for Conventions to be leading out in Olympic ministry," said Georgia Baptist Convention staffer Marty Youngblood, according to engagesochi.org. "It allows us to reach the world in a much more responsible way, as far as our resources go."
The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics kicked off Friday after the anticipation to the games was temporarily overshadowed by recent controversy over terror threats, Russia's anti-gay policies and hotels in poor conditions.