When the second group showed up an hour later, Buckner took a head count and realized he had almost twice the volunteers he'd requested. "I'll just have to send more people out on roaming ministry," he said, scratching his chin.
Soon, the extra bodies, armed with handouts, were off to share their faith at one of the designated hot spots in Salt Lake City--transportation hubs, Gallivan Plaza, the Medals Plaza, and Temple Square, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' historic 10-acre headquarters complex--the Mormon Vatican.
The Mormons, wary of world opinion, have vowed not to proselytize during the Games. And unless you stray into Temple Square, where you are considered fair game, they seem to be keeping their promise. David Buckner is a Southern Baptist. The Southern Baptist Convention has sent more than 1,200 souls, mostly from Kentucky, South Carolina, and Georgia, to evangelize at Olympic venues from Salt Lake City and Provo to Park City, Ogden, and Heber City.
"My goal is for every person who comes in here to see, hear, or read something that will push a button," Buckner said. "Hopefully, that will spark a conversation leading that person to accept Jesus Christ. And if that doesn't happen, at least a button will have been pushed, and they'll go home with some literature. The trick," he added, "is to bring people in."
Outside the coffee shop, street performers sing and dance, paint faces, and twist balloon animals. Inside, a caricature artist offers free sketches. Upstairs, Christian bands play on a stage visible to passersby, and when the bands aren't playing, a huge television shows the Olympic events occurring downtown and in the hills and towns around Salt Lake. As foot traffic slows to watch, Buckner's volunteers mingle, creating what Buckner calls "intentional encounters." If a visitor wants to get down to business with Jesus, the Coffee House has a private prayer room in the back.
The Coffee House is one of only two places in Salt Lake that offers free Internet access. The other is Global Outreach's "command center" across town, which boasts its own vast hospitality lounge, while in the parking lot youth choirs, Christian drama groups and bands perform. Free coffee and water are available under three white tents.
Under various names, the Southern Baptists have been "doing Olympic ministry" since Lake Placid in 1980. "We've evolved a lot over the years," said Doran Dennis, coordinator for the command center. "For example, we learned that tracts become trash really quickly. That's why at the Atlanta Games we started distributing guides full of inspiring athletes' stories, fun Olympic facts, maps, and events schedules. People don't throw those away. Then in the back there's a gospel presentation that will lead them to Christ."
Global Outreach's preparation for this year's Olympics rivals many of the athletes'. Buckner, on his fourth Olympics, has been in town six months. Doran Dennis, a Johnsonville, S.C. native, has been in Salt Lake since graduating from Francis Marion University last May. Global Outreach Director Beth Ann Williams, has been laying the groundwork in Salt Lake City since the middle of 1999.
Global Outreach also has tremendous support in the home congregations. "There's the Prayer Partners program," said Dennis. "We've got thousands of people praying for our needs posted on our website." The Kentucky Southern Baptist Convention is sponsoring something called "24/17"--churches across Kentucky are taking turns praying 24 hours a day for the 17 days of the Olympics.