Missionaries’ Olympic Efforts Are Golden in Greece
January 2005

“Missionaries’ Olympic Efforts Are Golden in Greece,” Liahona, Jan. 2005, N5–N6

Missionaries’ Olympic Efforts Are Golden in Greece

Missionaries in all areas of the world spend their time searching for “golden” contacts, but for two weeks last August missionaries in the Greece Athens Mission gave their time to help those who were in search of Olympic gold.

Of the 70,000 unpaid volunteers at the Athens Olympics, 76 of them were full-time missionaries, including 14 senior missionary couples, who spent hour after hour in the sun assisting with anything from rifle shooting to equestrian events, swimming to judo wrestling.

“[The volunteer supervisors] have been so impressed with our missionaries, which we knew they would be,” said mission president John B. Ludwig during the Olympics. “[The missionaries] are making so many friends.”

Having previously worked with many Church members at the Salt Lake Olympics, Lisa Wardle, volunteer coordinator for the Athens Organizing Committee, allowed the missionaries to be included on the list of volunteers. Since then she has received many comments about how there is “something different” about the missionary volunteers—“something in their countenances,” President Ludwig said.

“I knew that the missionaries would be watched over and administered to, spiritually and physically,” says President Ludwig. “I knew that others would feel of our presence even though the missionaries had taken off their ties and name tags.”

After receiving special permission from the Church, the missionaries and President Ludwig followed a long approval process to be able to help at the games. They filled out extensive forms more than 10 months before the Olympics began. They then had to pass security checks and prove they were legally allowed to be in the country.

Initially, the Olympic committee was hesitant about accepting missionaries as volunteers, afraid that they would proselyte. Lisa Wardle assured the committee that it would not be a problem. And after members of the Olympic committee met with the missionaries, they agreed they had never met a better group of young people and were excited to have them aboard, President Ludwig said.

In fact, once the missionaries started training, supervisors were asking if they could have more volunteers just like them. They were impressed with the variety of backgrounds and languages spoken by the group.

Members of the Olympic committee were not the only ones with concerns, however. “My first concern was safety. The other concern was the disruption to the missionary schedule,” President Ludwig said. Sometimes the missionaries had to be up by 5:00 a.m. and to their scheduled venues by 6:30. Other times they would start at 3:00 p.m. and not return home until 12:30 or 1:00 a.m.

To make sure all the missionaries were safe and sound, President Ludwig set up a “command center” in the mission home. All missionaries were required to call in and report every day.

“It has been hard to a degree because [the missionaries] have broken out of their normal schedule, but overall they have said it has been a beautiful experience seeing the Greek people in a different light,” President Ludwig said. “It has been a breath of fresh air to us in Athens.”

Some of the missionaries see the opportunity to volunteer at the games as an answer to prayer, because in the past there have been problems with the way the public perceived the missionaries. Now the missionaries are making friends and helping to change the image of Latter-day Saint missionaries in Greece. “When they see us now there will be a whole different attitude. Many will welcome us to talk to them,” President Ludwig believes.

The missionaries feel that even if they don’t get one new teaching appointment, they have done important work by showing that the Church is willing to love and help others.

Full-time missionaries serving in Greece found themselves in the middle of the Olympic action as volunteers for the 2004 Games. (Courtesy of Church News/Greece Athens Mission.)