>> by Tim Ellsworth Baptist Press

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (BP)—Sid Hopkins is an eye-catching sight when he visits the Olympics.

The retired director of missions for the Atlanta-area Gwinnett Metro Association dons a hat and vest decorated with hundreds of pins that people aren’t bashful about inspecting. Hopkins trades pins with other Olympics fans while distributing pins made especially for the Olympics that tell the story of Jesus.

“There is an openness by people to talk with one another and to talk about spiritual things,” Hopkins said. “So sharing the seeds of the Gospel through the ‘storytelling’ witnessing pin is well-received. Then the seeds of the Gospel go back all over the world as the people return home.”

Hopkins is in Rio de Janeiro as the world is gazing on the first South American city ever to host the Olympics. The Games, which kicked off with the Aug. 5 opening ceremony, is the centerpiece of family entertainment and workplace discussions throughout the month and beyond.

Pre-event publicity for the Olympics has been largely negative, due to concerns over the Zika virus, Brazil’s economic struggles, the fitness of Rio’s water supply, the Russian doping scandal and other issues. But Brazil’s hosting of the 2014 World Cup proved to be successful, and Olympic organizers are banking on a repeat of that success in Rio.

The Games are expected to be the most-watched TV event in U.S. history, surpassing the 2012 Olympics in London. Americans will tune in to witness a number of significant storylines. Will Michael Phelps add to his record-holding medal count in his final Olympic competition? The U.S. swimmer has 22 medals, including 18 golds, to his credit so far. Both numbers are more than any Olympian in history.

Will Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, the fastest man in history, successfully defend his gold medals? Bolt won gold in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 4×100 meter relay in both 2008 and 2012, and Rio will be the last Olympics for the 30-year-old sprinter who holds the world record in the 100 meters.

Will U.S. gymnast Gabby Douglas repeat as a gold medalist? How will new events like golf and rugby fare?

Baptist Press coverage during the Olympics will focus largely on Christian athletes who are competing. U.S. men’s diver David Boudia won gold in the 10-meter platform competition in 2012 and is looking to add to his medal count in both that event and the men’s 10-meter synchro competition with his partner Steele Johnson. Both men gave strong testimonies of their faith in Christ following the Olympic trials earlier this summer.

“This is not what my identity is going to be the rest of my life,” Johnson said. “Yeah, I’m Steele Johnson the Olympian, but at the same time, I’m here to love and serve Christ. My identity is rooted in Christ and not in the flips we’re doing.”

Other BP stories will feature athletes like Vincent Hancock, a two-time gold medalist in skeet shooting; archer Mackenzie Brown; and volleyball player Christa Dietzen.

Sports ministry Athletes in Action launched a prayer campaign in which Christians can pray for specific Olympians as they travel to and compete in Rio. After signing up, prayer partners receive the names of five athletes and details about their home countries and events. AIA has chaplains in Rio, sharing the Gospel with Olympians and asking for specific prayer requests.

Information about the prayer campaign and other Olympics-related resources from AIA are available at athletesinaction.org/olympics/share.

In addition, a number of Baptist volunteers like Hopkins will be in Rio during the Olympics to share the Gospel both with local residents and with the thousands of visitors from across the globe.

“The Olympics is an amazing gathering of people from all over the world, much like the gathering in Jerusalem at Pentecost,” Hopkins said.

John Crocker, evangelism and missions pastor at Huntsville, Ala., Whitesburg, is leading a team of seven people who are engaging Rio residents with the Gospel through evangelistic block parties and pin trading.

“There exists no greater opportunity to reach people from over 200 nations in 30 days than the Olympic Games,” Crocker said. “We have seen many people who come to the Olympic Games open to listen to the Gospel because the atmosphere created is one of friendship on a global level. Ministry during the Olympics is simply electric.”