RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL — Georgia Baptists are in Rio sharing their faith and telling the story of Christ’s redeeming love, but they aren’t the only ones who serve as ambassadors for Christ at the 2016 Olympic games.
In fact, there are a significant number of Olympic athletes who are unashamed witnesses for Christ. Some fly the Christian flag with great boldness.
Gabby Douglas, a member of the U.S. gymnastics team, became the first woman of color in Olympic history to win an individual all-around competition. She told Christian Post, “It was definitely important for me to praise God, because He has given me this God-given talent to go out there and represent Him and share my faith with everyone. I mean I’m not going to hold it in, because He’s blessed me so much throughout my gymnastics career.”
Kevin Durant, NBA basketball star and a member of Team USA Basketball, was baptized three years ago at Hillsong New York City and claims that his faith in Christ is growing consistently. He said, “We now live by the blood of Jesus.”
Tobin Heath, the midfielder for the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, is more interested in reflecting the love of Jesus to other people than anything else. She told Beliefnet, “Becoming known or noticed in my sport isn’t what drives me to work hard and want to be the best I can be. It’s Jesus. That’s why I play. I play to glorify Him.”
When Steele Johnson qualified to represent the United States at the Olympic diving trials, he said, “This is exciting. This is fun, but this is not what my identity is going to be the rest of my life. I am Steele Johnson, the Olympian, but at the same time I am here to love and serve Christ.”
After David Boudia nailed his final dive to win a place on the U.S. Olympic diving team, he remarked, “We can’t take any credit for this. We must say, ‘To God be all the glory.’ We have had to sacrifice to get here, but that is nothing compared to the sacrifice that was made to secure our eternity.”
Just days ago when Simone Manuel became the first black woman to win a gold medal in an individual swimming event, she responded to an interview with NBC by saying, “I don’t know; all I can say is all glory to God.”
Even Michael Phelps, who has amassed 23 gold medals and 28 total medals for his swimming prowess, has had an apparent change to take place in his life. His Christian friend and fellow athlete Ray Lewis gave him the book The Purpose Driven Life by Pastor Rick Warren. In turn, Phelps told ESPN the book has “jumpstarted a newfound faith” in his life.
While Phelps may not be where many believers would like to see him in his walk with Christ, recent interviews indicate he is different from previous years when he struggled with fame, substance abuse, and even suicidal tendencies. We can certainly pray he is about to become a new man in Christ – or perhaps he is already there.
When focusing upon the faith of Olympic athletes, let’s take a closer look at an amazing 31-year-old woman whose faith is as solid and steadfast as they come – Allyson Felix.
There is something about Allyson Felix that makes her special. She has an infectious smile, pleasant disposition, and fierce determination that sets her apart from many others.
Felix is an American track and field athlete who has competed in the 100 meters, 200 meters, and 400 meters. At the Olympic games in London in 2012 she was the 200 meters gold medal winner. She was the silver medalist in Athens, Greece in 2004 and in Beijing, China in 2008. In 2015 she became the World Champion in the 400-meter race. She has also won three additional Olympic gold medals as a member of the United States’ women’s relay teams. She has won a total of six world championships.
Felix is an unashamed believer in Jesus Christ and acknowledges that her grandfather, Dr. Whalen S. Jones, was a great source of inspiration in her life. Jones was the founder of Messiah Baptist Church in Los Angeles, CA, where he was pastor for 34 years.
On the occasion of her grandfather’s 100th birthday Allyson was reported as saying, “The thing that amazes me so much about my grandfather is that he has been through so many things in his life both wonderful and tragic, yet he continues to be a perfect example of a godly man.”
Day by day
Allyson’s grandfather died last month – July 13 – at 107 years of age. Six years ago the Los Angeles Sentinel wrote an article about Rev. Jones and indicated he was standing steadfastly for the Lord.
Jones was quoted as saying, “I’m evidence of what God can do with a person who puts his trust in Him. It’s as simple as that. I said, ‘Lord here I am; my mother is gone, my father is gone, my sisters and brothers are gone. I’m out here by myself, but I am trusting You. I pray, read the Bible, and day by day that’s what I do.”
The Sentinel explained, “Dr. Jones’ prayers were answered. He’s living a full life at 101, in good health, and on no medication. He’s self-sufficient. His driver’s license was renewed this year for another five years. The plan is not to slow down anytime soon.
“He was seen watering his grass in his front lawn recently. And the observer asked him why was he wearing a suit and tie when watering his lawn. Dr. Jones replied, ‘You never know when you’ll be called or needed.’”
Then The Sentinel made an apt comparison between Allyson and her grandfather, stating, “The apple does not fall too far from the tree; [Allyson] is running in her grandfather’s footsteps by conquering the world full speed ahead. They’re both on a mission serving the Lord and helping spread the Word of God.”
Winning the crown
Felix testified, “My faith is definitely the most important aspect of my life. My dad is a seminary professor and I grew up in a very strong Christian home.
“Our family was very involved in our church. I am so blessed to have my family and the upbringing I had. It means so much to me to have two very godly parents who both have so much wisdom. They are amazing role models that I have had the privilege to watch as I grew up.”
The Christian Examiner reported that while Felix hopes to win more gold medals at the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro, “she is more interested in winning the crown of life.”
Felix told the L.A. Times last week that her Christian faith is the reason she runs, and she said she knows the ability she has to virtually fly around the track was given to her by God.
The U.S. Track and Field star stated, “I came to know Jesus Christ as my personal Savior at a very young age. Ever since then, I have continually been striving to grow in my relationship with God. I was nowhere close to the perfect child. I had my share of difficult times along with some disappointing choices I made, but thankfully God never stopped loving me.”
Felix continued, “I am currently a work in progress and like anyone else I face struggles every day. My goal is to be more Christ-like each and every day; and that is not an easy task. I know I’m trying to be something different from some of the other Olympic runners. And, after I run I hope that people can distinguish in me a Christ-like character in the way I present myself.”