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I love watching the Olympics… the grace and skill… the daring courage… the back stories of athletes and their families sacrificing to realize olympic-size dreams. While I am not a winter sports enthusiast, I find myself mesmerized by the speed of the skiers, the high-flying acrobatics of the snowboarders, the graceful spins and jumps of the ice skaters. I am cheering on Team USA, but still enjoy the skill and talent of the other athletes. Saturday night, I marveled at the 15-year-old ice skater from Russia- they say that Kamila Valieva is a once in a lifetime talent. Her short program took my breath away. I look forward to watching this ancient athletic competition play out on my modern TV screen.

The Olympic Games originated in Greece some 3000 years ago. In ancient times, these festivals were celebrations of Greek accomplishment held in the shadow of pagan temples. From the 8th century to the 4th century BCE the Games were held every four years in Olympia in honor of the god Zeus. The influence of these games was so great that ancient historians began to measure time by four-year increments known as Olympiads. In 393 CE, Emperor Theodosius I, a Christian, called for a ban on all “pagan” festivals, thus ending the Olympic tradition after nearly 12 centuries. It would be another 1,500 years before the Games would rise again, largely due to the efforts of Baron Pierre de Coubertin of France. His efforts inspired the founding of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the reviving of the Games in 1893. That year, Athens hosted the Games with 280 participants from 12 nations competing in 43 events. In 2022, the XXIV Winter Olympic Games are being held in Beijing, China, with over 2900 athletes (224 from the US) from 100 countries competing in 109 different events.

The Olympics will offer two weeks of viewing pleasure… but they also offer an interesting study in contrast:
Consider these contrasts:
  • The modern Olympic competition finds athletes, coaches and judges from different countries peacefully coexisting… following the same internationally developed rules… respecting the outcome… honoring each winning athlete and country as their flag is raised and their anthem played. In contrast, while the Games play in China, over 100,000 Russian troops are poised on the border of Ukraine threatening war. Ukrainian citizens are training to defend their homes. US troops have joined NATO forces preparing to defend our allies. We watch peaceful Olympic competitions even as we prepare for the possibility of war.
  • The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, attended the opening ceremonies, standing to honor the athletes from his country. In previous Games, US diplomats have also attended to support our team. But this year, the US has led a diplomatic boycott of the games, joined by the UK, Canada, India, Australia, Lithuania, Kosovo, Belgium, Denmark and Estonia, to bring attention to the human rights violations of China against their minority Uyghur population.
  • China’s President Xi Jinping and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin joined for a photo op, shaking hands just prior to the opening of the Olympics in Beijing. Handshakes at the Olympics have long been a sign of peace and goodwill between competitors and countries. This handshake, however, was not a demonstration of peace, but of their powerful partnership to stand against the West.
  • The theme of the Opening Ceremonies of the XXIV Winter Olympics was unity. The Olympics is often seen as a demonstration of what world unity could look like, but this was an elaborate display of Chinese unity for the world to see. As the Chinese flag was paraded into the “Birdsnest” stadium that night, it was passed along a line of colorfully clad participants, representing the 56 ethnic groups found in China. They were all smiling and cooperating in the movement of the flag across the stadium floor- what a beautiful display. But then the flag was passed to goose-stepping soldiers to finish the journey- their march eerily reminiscent of goose-stepping Nazi soldiers parading at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Was this a display of peace and unity, or power and oppression?
  • The Ceremonies climaxed when the Olympic flame was brought into the stadium by two Chinese athletes, one from the majority Han ethnic group, the other from the minority Uyghur ethnic group. For the last several years, China has been criticized for their treatment of their Uyghur population. Almost 2 million Uyghurs are currently detained in “re-education” camps in western China. The US government has joined the international community denouncing the Chinese government’s treatment of their own people as a genocide. Missionaries to China, supported by Lenape Valley, have confirmed the brutal treatment of the Uyghurs. To combat international criticism, China gave the world a smiling Uygher athlete holding the Olympic flame. Were we fooled?

I still plan to watch the Olympics… and I will still enjoy the feats of strength and grace… but I will watch with my eyes open to the other realities playing out before us. We live in a broken world that only the peace of Christ can truly heal.

With you praying for His healing peace,
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