Middleburg native leads IMB initiative for Sochi Olympics
Feb 12, 2014

EDITOR'S NOTE: Marc Ira Hooks, creator/co-director of Engage Sochi is a Middleburg native and member of First Baptist Church in Middleburg. For more information on Southern Baptists' efforts concerning the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, visit commissionstories.com/sochi-winter-olympics. The site will be updated with stories, photos, videos, prayer requests and more during the Feb. 7-23 games.

SOCHI, Russia (BP)—Will Baptists have a witness at the Winter Olympics in Russia? Will it be safe from terrorists? Will other issues arise?

Marc Ira Hooks, as co-director of Engage Sochi, is leading a focus on church planting in Sochi, Russia, as part of Southern Baptists outreach for the Winter Olympics. BP file photo

Marc Ira Hooks, one of International Mission Board's main strategists for the Sochi Olympics who was involved in outreach at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, spoke to such questions in an interview about this winter's Feb. 7-23 games.

Hooks is the creator/co-director of Engage Sochi, the IMB's initiative focusing both on church planting in the Winter Olympics host city and on outreach to Olympic competitors and guests from throughout the world. Earl Gillespie* is the other co-director of the project for the Feb. 7-23 Olympics in addition to serving as the Sochi city strategist.

Q: Where did you get the idea for Engage Sochi?

Hooks: For whatever reason, maybe it was the time difference, it was late at night, we [Marc and his wife Kellye] were sitting on the bed and I just remember the guy pulling out the envelope and saying, "The next Olympics will be in Sochi, Russia." I remember looking at Kellye and saying, I don't know how, why or whatever, but we're going to be involved in that."

Q: What did you learn from the Vancouver Olympics that applies to Sochi?

Hooks: As we came away from Vancouver, we started saying, we as the IMB, our concentration, our focus is on church planting. And while mass seed sowing is good and should be done, there's more to reaching people with the Gospel than just giving them the Gospel and walking away. So, we wanted to create something that as people came into contact with the Gospel, that they were touched for a long period of time.

Imagine an archery target, explains IMB missionary Marc Ira Hooks, as long as youre talking to somebody you are on target. For us the bullseye, the absolute success story, is reaching people who live and work in Sochi. The next ring out is people that you meet from other places of Russia. The next ring is people we meet from all over Europe. Then the last ring is people we meet from all over the world. Being the IMB, we have nearly 5,000 missionaries spread worldwide, so theres not really a person whos going to be at the games who doesnt have the potential to have a personal touch from a church planter whos either in their city or near them.

Q: What is Engage Sochi?

Hooks: We want something that is a multi-tiered approach and … not just [during] the fortnight of Olympic competition in Sochi. We're talking about reaching the people of Sochi before, during and after the games.

Q: What are the plans for following up with people who respond to the Gospel?

Hooks: We want everybody that we come in to contact with to have the opportunity to continue the conversations that were started in Sochi. So, regardless of where that person is from, we want to connect them with a believer in their area who can make a relationship with that person and continue to speak with them about issues of faith. 

Q: What has gone on in Sochi in preparation for those coming? 

Hooks: For two years, we've had people coming and working with our church planters in Sochi, in winter and in summer. In the winter they are doing ministry in the mountains at the ski resorts and that kind of thing, and in the summer they're doing beach reach ministry and ministry in the city. So as our friends come in these next couple of weeks, it's just another phase of building Christ's church in Sochi.

Q: What sort of training has been given to those coming?

Hooks: This is a relational ministry and our folks will be coming and making relationships. Interestingly enough, the majority of our groups that are coming are performing arts kinds of groups. So we have a large men's choir, we have a bluegrass band and a Dixieland band. We have a drama group coming and a church choir coming, and some people doing clowning. Basically, they're going to be walking through areas, come together, perform, talk to people and disperse again. So a lot of it will have that flash mob kind of feel. They're not doing scheduled performances on stages, they're there to meet people and their performing arts are a way to be able to do that.

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