Last week, the Olympics opened to thousands of spectators cheering on hundreds of athletes from around the world. Each group proudly entered the arena waving their country’s flag as the announcer shouted the name of their homeland.
But for the first time in history, one small group of athletes walked in under the Olympic flag – athletes without a home, a flag, or a country. These ten men and women make up #TeamRefugees.
The team is made up of runners originally from South Sudan (some of whom have been living in refugee camps in Kenya), swimmers from Syria, and others from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia.
These athletes promise to be some of the most inspiring at the games, and not because they are slated to bring home medals. Their “performance” is more about what they have done before the games – their survival in the midst of extreme hardship and oppression and their courage to train and then compete against the world’s best.
For instance, one 18-year-old athlete and her sister swam for their lives when their small boat capsized – as they escaped the civil war in Syria. For hours, she and her sister helped guide the boat filled with 20 people to safety. Now she will be swimming at the Olympics.
But each and every athlete in the group has a unique story, of course - read them here. And here’s what this group can teach us:
Everyone has a story.
Every person you will meet today – in line at the grocery store, the driver who cuts you off on the highway, the janitor who comes by your office to empty your trash – has a story. Many times that story is filled with brokenness, pain, suffering, challenges, and victories. Take a minute and ask that person a bit about their story. You might be amazed at where that leads…
We also know that every person we meet will have a story that ends with eternal suffering or eternal joy. So find out whether your new friend has a faith, and share with them how the power of God has transformed your life! (2 Corinthians 5:20)
There is tremendous talent, skill, and strength in the most surprising places.
We tend to think of power as residing in the steel and glass skyscrapers in our city, at City Hall, or in certain neighborhoods in town. Yet some of the most resourceful, innovative, and talented individuals come from some of the hardest places in the world.
In fact, when we focus on the assets… the resources… the giftedness that each neighborhood and each neighbor possess, we are well on our way to working with those we seek to serve. This is better than working for them or working on them, which only further marginalizes these people from hard or less "powerful” places.
Everyone has God-given dignity, worth, and giftedness – because every human was made in our Creator’s image. Yet not everyone has the same opportunity to develop and use these gifts. The church has the ability to help people identify, develop and deploy their giftedness as they grow in their relationship with the Gift-giver! (1 Peter 4:10-11)
Adversity can fuel and develop champions, physically and spiritually.
One reason the Refugee Olympic Team was formed was to highlight the terrible toll of war and devastation and the plight of refugees everywhere. As believers, we are called to respond to evil everywhere and work for peace as we meet the needs of those who are affected.
However, in the heartbreaking stories of these refugees, a theme emerges – a theme of adversity-fueled courage and hope. Suffering presents a crossroads, either making us despondent and depressed… or making us emboldened and disciplined to make changes in our lives and bring about a different future. As believers, we know that God uses suffering and trials in our lives to give us endurance, patience, and spiritual completeness. (James 1:2-4) Olympic-sized trials can create Olympic-sized faith, endurance, and maturity, if we allow it.
So over the next few weeks, let’s celebrate the accomplishments of these remarkable athletes, pray for the conflict areas they have escaped, and praise God for the ways He is using His Church to draw people to Himself – empowered, courageous, and hopeful.
Did you know the DFW Metroplex is one of the top locations in the country for refugee resettlement? You can get involved, and Watermark is taking a big new step in reaching refugees and other international peoples in our own backyard. We'll have an info meeting this Sunday (August 14th); contact Oscar Castillo for more info on that meeting or to learn more about our new Ends of the Earth initiative.
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Photo Credit (#TeamRefugees): UNHCR