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More Than Gold
For David Wells, Olympic competition takes second place to serving God.

When it comes to the Olympics, David Wells might not be a household name. But as Team Canada's sports chaplain, he has represented our nation at as many Winter Olympics as Nancy Greene, Elizabeth Manley and Ross Rebagliati combined, and he's about to take part in the 2010 Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic Games.

David Wells

The national superintendent for the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC) and chairman of the board of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is the vice-chair of More Than Gold, the Vancouver Whistler Games Network. In 2010, he'll be responsible for organizing the inter-faith chaplaincy programs at the Olympic Villages in Vancouver and Whistler, which will serve athletes, coaches and trainers from all over the world.

"It's a divine appointment and a wonderful opportunity to serve God," he says.

A sporting life

Born in 1955 to parents who weren't professing Christians, David grew up playing hockey in a northeast Edmonton neighbourhood. Sports was in his blood from the age of five. "So there's that whole winter-sports passion," he told The Vancouver Province. "But my wife says if there are two kids playing in a mud puddle and it involves sports, I'll watch it."

Thanks to a caring aunt and uncle, David started attending church. "That's where I first heard of Jesus," he says. And at eight, he began a personal relationship with God. After graduating from Bible college in Edmonton and earning a masters degree at a seminary in Saskatchewan, David served as a pastor in Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia.

David first connected with the Olympics in 1988 as a youth pastor in Calgary. That led to his participation in chaplaincy at three Commonwealth Games, and at the Athens 2004, Turin 2006 and Bejing 2008 Olympics, as well as to his involvement with the Multifaith Working Group in Vancouver.

"Each religious group has its own services," he explains, "rather than integrated meetings where all groups attend a sanitized service. In Vancouver, I'm working with a great group of people who are responsible for Olym¬pic Village preparations and services for the athletes."

Crisis and faith

During the Olympics, David also told The Vancouver Province, chaplains are required to be available in shifts to "zero in and provide chaplaincy to the Christian community of athletes, to counsel and minister to them within the context of Christian faith.

The More Than Gold symbol represents the network of Christian organizations, including The Salvation Army, that is providing outreach at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

"It's about being supportive," David goes on to say. "A number of chaplains with Olympic experience have been with the athletes over a period of several events, and friendships have developed. Critical incidents can occur where pastoral support and care are needed."

Some athletes select worship services or Bible study opportunities. Others seek time alone with a chaplain to read the Bible or pray. David feels privileged to receive one- on-one requests to counsel athletes. "A moment that makes a difference in an athlete's life makes the effort of being at the games worthwhile," he says.

"The key," David stresses, "is to be responsive. Athletes can be under stress or suffering disappointment. We pray with them, encourage them and give them a larger perspective within which to see their participa¬tion in the Olympic Games."

The wonder and the Presence

David tells the story of an athlete wrestling with her faith after a freak training accident. "It knocked her out of the Turin Games, but she was still invited to go with the team. We were in the chapel when she came in. God gave me Romans 15:13 to share with her." The Bible verse speaks of God's comfort and hope, and David believes it was a word of wisdom for her.

"I saw how the Lord used it to encourage her," he adds. "It's great to have the privilege of being the person God uses."

David recalls another incident where he and a friend—a former gold medalist herself—were on duty when a qualifying American athlete, struggling with her nerves, came to see them. "It wasn't about praying to win," says David, "but about doing her best to bring glory to God."

The story has a great ending. The athlete won the gold. "But it doesn't always have to happen that way," continues David. "She needed encouragement, and we tapped into it."

David points out that these two incidents represent "two diametrically opposed ends of the spectrum, where one needed hope because she couldn't compete, and the other needed encouragement to win."

David's is a spiritually demanding profession. "When you've been at it as many years as I have, you don't want to lose the intimacy of your faith in God and the wonder of His presence," he notes. "Sports chaplaincy is about being filled with wonder and a consciousness of the Lord's presence—and not losing that wonder as you share it with others."

Daina Doucet is a writer and editor based in Hamilton, Ontario, and edits The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada's website, Christianity.ca.

Originally published in Faith & Friends, February 2009.

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