My Thoughts on the Beijing Olympics, and Darfur

I love the Olympics. Nanci and I were jumping and screaming yesterday when our American guys came from behind to win the 4 x 100 freestyle relay. An amazing race. Wow!

Sadly, last week China revoked the visa for Joey Cheek, Olympic gold-medalist and co-founder of Team Darfur, a coalition of 400 athletes from around the world speaking out about the atrocities in Darfur, Sudan. Team Darfur decathlete Chris Boyles' visa was also revoked last week. The Chinese government didn't give their reasons for denying or revoking visas.

Team Darfur's website explains the situation in Sudan: The current crisis in Darfur, a region of Western Sudan the size of Texas or France, began in 2003. After decades of neglect, drought, oppression and small-scale conflicts in Darfur, two rebel groups mounted a challenge to Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir. These groups represent agrarian farmers who are mostly non-Arab black African Muslims from a number of different tribes. President al-Bashir's response was brutal. In seeking to defeat the rebel movements, the Government of Sudan increased arms and support to local tribal and other militias, which have come to be known as the Janjaweed. Their members are composed mostly of Arab black African Muslims who herd cattle, camels, and other livestock. They have wiped out entire villages, destroyed food and water supplies, and systematically murdered, tortured, and raped hundreds of thousands of Darfurians. These attacks occur with the direct support of the Government of Sudan's armed forces.

It is important to realize that in the Darfur region, as in southern Sudan, there are "competing" factions (tribal groups or militias) which sometimes kill and destroy in addition to the genocide perpetrated directly or indirectly by the government of Sudan. Clearly, however, the government is the worst offender. Their practice of providing arms to both sides in southern Sudan (simultaneously, in some cases) illustrates their true intentions—they want non-Arabs eliminated.

Since China is a key investor in Sudan's oil industry and is also one of Sudan's biggest weapons suppliers, their relationship with the war torn country has been a main source of international criticism amidst the attention on China during the Olympics.

Since the Beijing Olympics were first announced in 2001, shortly after I finished my novel Safely Home, I've had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I believe it was wrong to award the Olympics to a country that has such a poor civil rights record. (In the next blog I'll talk about the question of whether Christians are still persecuted in China—the answer, despite claims to the contrary, is still yes.)


Beijing Olympics SymbolOn the other hand, I'm glad for the Olympics because it is putting China under the greatest world scrutiny it's been under in modern times. Since China is extraordinarily image conscious, this may restrain the hand of persecution against believers.

Whether or not it does, it is certainly resulting in the gospel being brought into China, because every Christian athlete, coach, trainer, and support personnel can bring gospel witness and many have brought in Chinese gospel literature. They won't have as much freedom to go about the countryside as with many Olympics, but they certainly will be taken to the Great Wall outside Beijing, and the summer palace and the temple of heaven and other places that bolster China's image. Ultimately, I believe the Lord will bring much good out of this. Also, with China being the focus of world attention, there is more prayer, and God will answer.

So, on ethical grounds I opposed the decision for the Olympics to be in China (just to clarify, no one called and asked my opinion). But for the reasons I cited, I certainly welcome many of the good things that will likely come from it. (The end doesn't justify the means, but when there are good ends we can still be glad for them. Like Joseph to his brothers who'd sold him into slavery: "You intended it for evil, but God intended it for good, to save many lives.")

Will China's general population benefit? Certainly there will be a huge flow of money into the country, likely a long-term increase in tourism as they enjoy this influx of tourist money (which should ultimately help the church and the penetration of the gospel). Beijing has demolished ghetto housing that's visible to cameras. Will these poor people be compensated and relocated to better conditions? Probably not. Will they be allowed to inhabit whatever nice structures are built in place of the old hovels? Probably not. But we'll see.

Overall, I think more Chinese will be helped than harmed economically by the Olympics. But if you and your child are the ones being harmed this doesn't make it easier. Everything is calculated for image and prestige and economic prosperity, especially that of the party, the elite. If the people benefit in the process, this is a nice bonus, but not the party's main concern.

Safely HomeThese 2008 Olympics are putting China before the world in unprecedented ways. There are two nations on the earth around whom more revolves than any others—the U.S. and China. (Ironically, in light of the current Darfur situation, eight years ago when I started writing Safely Home I narrowed my setting to either Sudan or China.)

Safely Home, by the way, is on sale this month for $8.39 (retail $13.99) at the Eternal Perspective Ministries website "in honor" of the Olympics in China.

So, Nanci and I will continue to enjoy the Olympics. And we will also pray that the touching unity and mutual respect and peaceful spirit of most of the athletes would carry over to the leaders of their nations (including Russia). And that the church of China will be blessed and that the cause of Christ will be furthered as people of every tribe, nation and language will bring worship and praise to the Lamb of God. 

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." Revelation 7:9-10

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries