For eight days, the streets of Vancouver and the viewing stands of competitions will be her mission field.
On Feb. 17, Paige Paquette of Phenix City heads to the Winter Games, on behalf of Action Ministries International. A total of 48 people will go in two shifts. Their aim: to share the gospel with people from all over the world, people who are gathering to cheer on the globe’s greatest athletes.
“Pins are what we use. A lot of the people want to trade (Olympic) pins. We tell them we don’t trade, but we’ll give them a pin if we can tell them a story.”
The story is written on a glossy tract: that Jesus came to earth, died and was resurrected to save people from their sins.
“It’s real easy and conversational,” she said.
Paquette, who recently got her Ph.D. from Auburn and teaches at Troy University, also ministers with her husband, Steve, with a group at Fort Benning called Club Beyond. It’s an evangelical outreach to teens, affiliated with Young Life.
This will be her fourth Olympics with AMI. She went to the Games in Sydney, Salt Lake and Beijing. All the sports chaplains, as they’re called, have to raise money to go. Though they are able to watch some of the competitions — Paquette has a ticket from Beijing when the U.S. won gold in soccer — they mainly focus on public gathering places like eateries and parks.
“We try to go out in groups. We wear our jackets and people stop to see who you are. You can usually tell who wants to hear (the gospel presentation) and who doesn’t,” she said.
The days are long but it’s a relaxed atmosphere, she added.
Operated by a ’68 Olympian
Action Ministries International is run by West Point, Ga., resident David Guinn. A wrestler through high school and college, Guinn wrestled for the United States in the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. His nondenominational group took its first team to the Calgary and Seoul Olympics in 1988 and have been on the road to major sports events and venues ever since.
He’s been in ministry for 40 years, working mainly with university students and athletes.
“Once I saw the opportunity (at Calgary), it fit like a glove,” he said.
Guinn also oversees a new training facility to train sports mission leaders. The first session is in April.
Amid their proselytizing to locals and fans, sometimes the chaplains run into athletes.
In China, Paquette and her friends met Diontay Wilder of Tuscaloosa, Ala.. Wilder was the only American to medal in heavyweight boxing that year. He and some friends invited the sports chaplains to the Bank of America area, which Paquette envisioned as a more casual setting than it turned out to be. The venue was a four-story luxury building.
“It ended up being an awesome place to be,” she said. “It was American territory and people were very free and open.”
Yet, of her three Olympics to date, China made her the most nervous — because of the country’s closed doors to Christianity.
One day, she and her group went on a “prayer walk” around Tiananmen Square. Paquette carried pins with the name Jesus inscribed, and pamphlets, in her backpack. She came to a checkpoint where a pair of guards stood. She said they checked her materials and let her pass through. She said they smiled at her.
“We were told that the worst thing that could happen was that we could get deported,” she said. “I don’t know if God blinded them or they were Christian. It was amazing that nothing happened. I was protected.”
She imagines the Vancouver Games will be less controlled.
The year she traveled to Sydney, Paquette was teaching at Phenix City’s Central High School. Her students thought it would be cool if she met an athlete. She named one she considered a role model: Gail Devers. A gold medalist in track, Devers worked through Graves’ Disease, a chronic thyroid condition, to win medals.
Right out of the gate, Paquette and Devers ended up on the same flight from Atlanta to L.A. They got to talk for two hours.
“I thought, ‘If God met my one desire before I even left Atlanta, what’s He going to do when I get to Sydney?’ ”