Mission work & Olympic TV coverage

  • Sumo

In which a sports-loving blogger finds a link between TV sports and missiology …

Oi! Oi! Oi!

In Australia – and maybe the rest of the world also – Olympic games TV coverage is famously parochial. By this I mean that coverage not only tries to show as many Aussies as possible, but then fawns obsessively on those who gain success. Bleagh! (But we keep watching the sport/advertising, so we all must take some of the blame.)

Let’s assume that we somehow got the coverage ‘just right’ – perfectly pitched and balanced. What would it look like?  Perfect Olympic coverage would be the perfect example of mission practice.

Missiology is thinking about how to do Christian mission – how to announce to all that Jesus Christ is Lord. ‘How’ shows an interest in method. ‘To all’ is required, for mission crosses cultures. ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ is the message, and also implies the result, the invitation to repent and believe.

But back to what would make great Olympic coverage.

Talk to the local audience

The Olympics on Australian TV should show as many of the Australian performances as possible. It should celebrate victory. It should also cover athletes in obscure sports, or who have no great hopes of success. These team members represent Australia, so it seems wrong to bury them just because they fail to qualify for finals.

If an unknown Australia archer does not appear in Chinese or German TV coverage, fair enough. But if s/he is brushed aside in Australian TV studios that would be terribly rude.

Mission insight: speak the local language and dialect. Celebrate the high points for local people. Your Christian mission might be in Mongolia or in Melbourne. No matter where it is, talk so locals can understand.

Don’t be too parochial

Australia’s obesity problems might be the responsibility of our Olympic broadcasters: a constant diet of sugary-sweet slow-motion success-snippets.

It’s nice that we won that medal. But we don’t need to watch endless repeats of the winning move, do we? Or have inane interviews with every single participant, not to mention their ‘inspirational’ first grade teacher. (There seems no end to the number of ways to ask, ‘How did you feel?’)

This kind of coverage is all too self-glorifying: ‘Look, aren’t we good?’, ‘The whole nation is proud of you’, ‘We punch above our weight’, and so on.

Mission insight: as we love the local culture, the Gospel of Jesus will find fault. Therefore every missionary must have times of un-ease no matter how well they are enculturated. Every place and culture is touched by the ugliness of sin. It’s not love to glorify a human system beyond reality.

Tell the major story

The joy of international games, like the Olympics, if often in seeing huge stories that are not our own. Australia does well at swimming, but the 2008 Olympic pool was dominated by Michael Phelps. Even Down Under, Phelps had to be lauded. Australia had no finalists in the 100m track, yet it would have been our loss if we did not watch Usain Bolt.

Good TV coverage has to tell us the headline news from all sports. If it doesn’t, then we are uninformed.

Mission insight: all missionaries have to tell the world the big news, the account of Jesus crucified, risen and reigning. This is an obvious but essential reminder. Every mission – at home or abroad – has 1000s of opportunities. There is hospitality and care and communication and listening and giving family advice and practising compassion and showing sympathy and … All good things! In fulfilling these, we are to remember to talk about Jesus, because he is the major story.