While the focus of Paralympic opening ceremony celebrated the Enlightenment, led by special guest Professor Stephen Hawking, Christian faith is also present in these games.
Melvyn Bragg, writing for the Telegraph on the opening ceremony, says of Hawking, “He spoke of the Enlightenment. He embodies the Enlightenment.” Yet Bragg goes on to reflect that “The Enlightenment also made possible the implementation of the best of the Christian promise that was to reach out and help everyone – the lame, the sick, the blind…” which led to the development of Britain’s National Health Service, also acknowledged in the Paralympic opening ceremony.
Australian chaplain David Tyndall is in London to serve during the Paralympics, and has been in the Olympic village for a week now. While the opening ceremony dazzled the crowd, Tyndall was having a backstage conversation with one of the ceremony marshals as they waited to escort the athletes into the opening ceremony.
“The marshal told me that he did not think it was fair that a baptized ‘terrible person who tells God they are sorry when they are dying can go to heaven and a good person won’t,’” recounts Tyndall.
“I explained to him that is exactly why God sent Jesus, as none of us were good enough. But he did not like the idea of grace.”
“I asked him if he ever gave his children something they did not deserve. He said he did; I said, ‘That is exactly what God has done in sending Jesus’”.
Tyndall continued to talk to the marshal about the Bible. “I explained that while I had not seen Captain Cook, I believed that he came to Australia. I have to trust the people who were with him and wrote about his visit. Similarly I have to trust the people who were with Jesus.”
Since the opening ceremony, Tyndall has also spoken with a number of Australian athletes, taking the opportunity to pray with the Australian cycling team leader. He also prayed with a Niger weight lifter, “Who can lift 300 pounds!”
Tyndall is taking every opportunity to give out Bibles, to both athletes and those who are serving the athletes; for instance, he took the opportunity to give five Bibles to a Kenyan Physiotherapist to give to athletes he knows. Also, while he spent time with “Wheels for the World”, helping them give away wheelchairs to people from 16 countries, Tyndall says he “had good gospel talks and gave away Bibles.”
As well as chaplains like Tyndall who are on hand to have conversations about faith in God, many of the Paralympians competing are Christians who trust in God.
Jeremy Campbell from the US, whose right leg was amputated just below the knee, is competing in the London Paralympics in the discus ring. The 24 year old has previously won gold medals in the pentathlon and discus throw in the Paralympics in 2008 in Beijing, China, and told Athletes in Action, “My faith in Christ is the engine behind everything I do. It is an honour to represent my country … but it is always more important to me to represent my God and what He has done for me and blessed me with.”
Mallory Weggemann, who won gold in the pool last Sunday at the London Paralympics for the US, became a paraplegic as a result of an epidural operation for pain relief that went wrong when she was 18. Already a competitive swimmer, she thought her swimming career was over, but felt her opportunities open back up when she discovered the Paralympics.
“Though this has been a challenge, my beliefs have become stronger since my paralysis,” Weggeman told Athletes in Action. “It really did test me and make me stronger, made me go beneath the surface and figure out my faith more.”
“It tested my faith, left me wondering ‘why me?’ But as I have moved forward, I find that things really do happen for a reason, and I truly believe that God has a plan for all of us. You have to trust in that and have faith in that.”
Header image: flickr_nickmilleruk