Nelda Smothers, her daughter SuVonne Sumner and her granddaughters Meredith Bunting and Madeline Sumner, all of Metropolis, along with her other daughter Celeste Stratemeyer and her granddaughters Natalie Stratemeyer and Audrey Stratemeyer, all of Centralia, were part of the 22-member Illinois conglomerate of the More Than Gold team.
“When (Smothers) first told us, we kept saying, ‘I don’t know’ or that we couldn’t go that close to school starting because we work two weeks in our room getting ready,” SuVonne Sumner said. “But I’m so glad we did not miss that now; I can’t imagine if we had missed it.”
What is More Than Gold?
The Christian community has been involved with the world’s major sporting events for over 40 years. In the early years, denominations and agencies mainly worked independently of each other. During the 1980s and early-1990s, a number of sports mission agencies helped local churches develop partnerships, making it possible for the churches to offer a wide range of officially sanctioned initiatives, such as hosting athletes’ families and providing chaplains in the athletes’ villages.
But with the build-up of the 1996 Atlanta Games, an umbrella Christian agency, Quest Atlanta, saw the need for a uniting name and identity. More Than Gold was developed by the International Sports Coalition, in association with the Southern Baptist Convention, as a non-profit organization to coordinate the volunteer efforts of the faith community at events including the Pan American Games, the Olympic Games and Paralympics.
The organizational title, Sumner explained, comes from the concept that while the Olympians’ goal is to achieve a gold medal, “it’s more than gold medals to share Christ with people.”
For the 2012 London Games, More Than Gold’s mission was to help churches in the United Kingdom reach out to their communities in a fresh new way. Churches across England partnered with volunteers from around the world to host sports camps, Bible clubs, street ministries and various hospitality venues.
A mission family
Mission trips are nothing new to Smothers’ clan.
A volunteer missionary for over 20 years, Smothers has been around the world, including China and 18 months in Africa. She currently is a trustee for the International Mission Board. She has been involved with More Than Gold since the 1996 Atlanta Games and with each summer Olympics since — Sydney in 2000, Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008. When the London More Than Gold opportunity arose, she wanted “her girls” to share the experience with her.
While the seven teamed together in various ways for missions over the years, this was the first trip they had all done together.
“We’re a mission family,” Sumner said. “It was Mom’s dream. She wanted us to be able to do that together.”
The group applied for More Than Gold through the Illinois Baptist State Association.
“We were a little bit nervous because there were seven of us and there was the possibility that some might have been chosen and some wouldn’t have,” Sumner said. “That would’ve been disappointing.”
They left for their two-week mission on July 23 and came back home on Aug. 4.
Upon arrival, they had two days of training with other American teams. Each member was given a pack filled with mini magazines that had stories about past athletes, a place to keep track of the medals counts and the plan of salvation; lanyards; and More Than Gold trading pins. On the first day of training, the mission teams were challenged to be open for any opportunity to share Christ with people they would encounter.
“The British people are not generally chatty on the Tubes (subway),” Sumner said. “They wear ear buds and avoid eye contact. The mission team’s challenge was to engage people in conversation quickly because they didn’t know when the person would be exiting.”
During their first ventures into London, “the kids watched Mom at first,” Sumner said, referring to Smothers. “Of course, Mom’s the veteran. She knows how to do all that so well. They watched her for a little while. Then immediately the teenagers got really comfortable with it. They were whipping out those magazines.”
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