A Sydney church opens its arms to the world in spectacular fulfillment of one man’s vision
Long before Sydney, Australia, was named host city of the 2000 Olympics, ex-naval engineer Bill Whelan had an unusual dream. He dreamt that he was indignantly asking thousands of young people what they were doing on the sprawling acreage property of his home church, Windsor District Baptist. They replied, ‘We’re here for the Olympics, of course!’
Years later, Windsor Baptist is preparing a huge tent city on its grounds. It will be a low-cost base for around 3,000 Christians from around the world to reach out and share their faith with the millions of visitors expected for the Olympics.
The church is set in the peacefully rural Hawkesbury Valley, but the Sydney Olympic site is not too far away. I was amazed at the courage and vigour with which the pastor, Noel Edwardes, and his congregation of 130 have taken up the vision. After a careful business analysis showed that they could offer accommodation, quality meals and transport (with eight hired buses) at a fraction of elsewhere and still be commercially viable, a bank advanced them nearly $1.5 million. This will not only buy the high-quality 6-8 man tents, but will add a huge extension to the church to act as a dining-room.
I spoke to Bill and Pastor Noel, having just given a creation presentation at their morning service; their enthusiasm for the project, named ‘Operation Open Arms’, was infectious.
The church has already seen amazing things in response to prayer. When originally buying the property (two plots of land combined), they could only just afford the asking price of one of them. They found out that the owner of both plots, well-known entrepeneur Alan Bond, planned to erect a pub on the sites. So they had a 38-hour prayer session the weekend before the deal had to be done. Bond’s lawyer rang the next day, and for no apparent reason offered them both plots for the price of one! They did not realize at the time that the extra land would be required to accommodate their ‘Olympic tent city’.
The accommodation charge is so much lower than the ‘going Olympic rate’ that there is little chance that they will not be booked out (they have already had hundreds of bookings at the date of publication) and so the church will not end up with any debt. I was particularly encouraged to hear that this is even after allowing for 240 people from developing countries to be accommodated free.
The ministry of these 3,000 visiting evangelists will be organised by the various churches and mission agencies sending them. But it will be co-ordinated with other large-scale, officially approved evangelistic programs for the Sydney Olympics.
The concept will also reach out to people in the Hawkesbury District itself. Locals will be able to watch major Olympic events free on a very large TV/video screen. There will also be evening worship, Christian videos, live theatre, and a coffee shop. Creation Ministries International will make available documentaries like Frog to a Prince. CMI is also preparing giveaway materials which people like these volunteer evangelists can give to Olympics visitors who want answers in the area of creation/evolution/Genesis. These will provide our web address, and visitors will also be able to browse at the Sydney CMI premises and showroom —only minutes from the Olympic site.
Pastor Noel Edwardes has a keen understanding of the vital importance of the Creation Ministries International message about the truth and authority of the Bible, particularly in regard to evangelism.
I asked about the post-Olympics fate of the tents, and was told that emergency relief operations often have to wait weeks for extra tents to be manufactured following disasters. The church’s 500 tents will be in onsite containers, ready for immediate delivery to wherever in the world they are needed. I left greatly encouraged by having seen the clear hand of God at work.
(Ed.–Article updated 31 Aug 2006 to reflect our ministry name change.)