The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing were more than athletic competitions for Statesboro’s Dr. Jerry Johnson — they were a spiritual experience.
Johnson, the Georgia Southern University Baptist Collegiate Ministry campus minister, attended his fifth Olympics to minister and share the love of God with others who attended the games.
"The Olympics experience is about a lot more than just sports — it’s about connecting to people from all around the world,” said Johnson. “It’s about connecting to and sharing with people from all cultures and views. People are very interested in sharing their views and their beliefs.”
Johnson began volunteering in the 1996 Olympics held in Atlanta. At the time he was the BCM campus minister at Columbus State University. He said as a volunteer that year he provided water, ice, medical assistance, etc., for athletes and others attending the games.
This year, Johnson spent his Olympic time meeting new people, sharing his faith and learning about their lives.
Before he left for Beijing, Johnson said he and his partner, Marty Youngblood, BCM campus minister at Armstrong State University, were reminded of China’s communism and how dangerous it would be to openly witness to the people.
“We were told to be very careful when sharing our faith,” said Johnson. “If we were caught, it could be just as dangerous for the person we were witnessing to as it would be for us.”
Despite the dangers of sharing his faith in Beijing — and how expensive the trip was — Johnson knew he was doing God’s will.
“It was not convenient and was pretty expensive for me, but I saved my pennies and so (I think it was God’s Will) for me to go,” said Johnson. “If I’m arrested for sharing my faith as a Christian, it may not only hurt me but also who I’m witnessing to. I had to use great wisdom and listen to God as I moved forward in a conversation or halted when I felt that I might be speaking to someone who might report me.”
Johnson had a couple of techniques he used to open conversations with strangers. A few times he stood in an open area and made balloon animals for children and struck up conversations with the kids and their parents.
Even though the balloon animals may seem like a simple way to strike up a conversation, Johnson said there was another way that attracted others to begin the chat.
“Pin trading is a big deal at the Olympics,” said Johnson. “People wear their country, company or other pins on them and they like to trade pins with you.”
Johnson said the pins, like lapel pins, were an easy conversation opener because people would grab him by the shoulders in greeting on the street and want to trade.
Johnson had a special pin made to take to the Olympics with the letters “MTG” — meaning More Than Gold — printed on them with a rainbow of colors across the top standing for the different points of salvation. With this pin, Johnson explained to others that they are worth more than gold to God and explained how to receive salvation.
Johnson recalled one particular woman in the Silk Market — a place to buy name brand goods at a very low cost — who was amazed by the news he told her.
“To look the girl in the eyes and tell her that this pin means that I know that life with God is worth more than gold, and I know that you are worth more than gold to God, and to ask her, ‘Do you know that you’re worth more than gold to God?’ and to be able to say that to her and believe it fully is a powerful thing,” said Johnson. “The look on her face was like, ‘Wow!’ And even though she didn’t speak great English, I knew that she knew how powerful those words were.”
Johnson plans to continue to attend future Olympic Games, and is already planning for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Canada. He said his calling is to share his faith with others, and as long as God calls him to service, he will follow.
“This is a good use of my mind, ability, body and what God has called me to do. I’m able to share my faith easily, and at the Olympics I have access to thousands of people in one place,” said Johnson. “One of the things that I took away from the mission trip is if God is calling me away to do balloon animals for children or talk to people around the world … I hope God will make Himself known to other people about what faith and life in Christ can mean.”