SOCHI, Russia

After church leaders Ivan Chehunov, Richard Page and Vladimir Samoilov, the primary organizers of the Christian Hospitality Center in Sochi, solemnly cut the ribbon at the entrance to the tent Feb. 7, the center was open for business.

In the ensuing program, Sochi musician Sergey Strakhov performed the spiritual “Let my People Go.” The program included special guest Alexander Manchenko, a world champion in power-lifting. Manchenko amazed the audience by turning a 16-inch metal rod into rings—a symbol of the Olympics. The center’s visitors also took part in a dance flash mob. 

In an open cafe area, guests were offered tea and coffee. At exactly 8:14 p.m. locally, the center began a live broadcast of the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. A large number of children gathered for entertainment organized by the center. 

The Sochi Olympic Games have contributed to the life of the city of Sochi and the entire country in a unique way. Visitors to the hospitality center shared their impressions about the changes to their lives brought about by the Olympics. For a team of volunteers from the United States, ministry to these people has become an integral part of their current ministry. 

A video welcomes visitors to the Olympics in Sochi and invites them to participate in the work of the hospitality center. In the video, Richard Page, director of SOAR International Ministries, reports on the work of his organization in Russia. The organizers of the center speak about their contribution to the development of the Olympic volunteer movement and the planning of cultural activities for guests at the Olympics.  

Day one in Sochi 

The first day of the Olympics in Sochi turned out to be rich in events. The first matches and gold medals as well as exciting events will be remembered for a long time. The International Christian Information Center began its work, with its journalists sharing the latest news. 

On the first day of the Olympics, the guests of Sochi were greeted by the life-size mascots of the Olympic games: a bear, a hare and a snow leopard. The costumes were prepared by the administration of the city. Tatyana Starodub, director of Sochi’s cultural center, talked to a hospitality center reporter about the events planned in the city.

She said dozens of concert and entertainment stages have been set up throughout the area. Consequently, sports are not the sole drawing card attracting spectators to Sochi. Twenty-three open-air musical events are to be held in the city. 

Sochi’s recreation areas are much-loved by the public. Cultural and entertainment events start around midnight and attract large crowds. Russian pop singers and stars entertain the listeners, and each event ends with fireworks. Sochi sites are a comfortable place for visitors to catch up on the latest Olympics developments, with main events being broadcast on large screens. 

On Feb. 8, the second day of the games, a conference called One Step Closer to Quitting Smoking was held. Dmitry Nosov, bronze medalist at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and deputy of the Russian Duma, reported on how the special non-smoking environment in Sochi was created. According to him, this unique experiment should be applied to other regions of Russia. 

Our three hospitality centers in Sochi, Khostal and Krasnaya Polyana are participating in the cultural life of the Olympics. On Feb. 8, the centers offered programs supported by volunteers from the Wave of Hope movement. The head center in Sochi offered board games and workshops; a photo display drew special attention. It featured snowboarding equipment with the symbols of the Sochi Olympics. 

Report delivered just before the opening of the Games 

On Jan. 22, the TV News channel Russia showed a film on projects that Evangelical Christians planned to carry out during the 2014 Olympic games  The report stated that an unusual tent of impressive size had appeared on Kurortny Prospect, a central Sochi street. Local Christians put up centers of hospitality on their properties near Olympic venues for anyone interested in watching live broadcasts of the games, or to relax and enjoy a hot drink. During the games, those tents will be filled with chairs, tables, computers and a plasma screen with projector. This tent can accommodate 150 people.     

Near the general Sochi Media Center, an additional tent will be put up by the International Christian Information Center for journalists from throughout Russia. The center will be gathering information not only from Sochi, but also from other regions of Russia. In Sochi, these journalists will be interviewing spectators attending events as well as passersby. 

Andrey Korenev, one of the project managers, assured: “We are very interested in hearing the opinions of people regarding our hospitality centers.” This information center will actively cooperate with the representatives of the international Christian and secular media. Irina Mitrofanova from the media outlet Protestant will be managing this center. 

Amir Usmonov, leader of the Wave of Hope movement, is constructing a network of partnerships from as many as 36 Russian cities to organize playgrounds or so-called “fan zones” ― sites where people can watch broadcasts or play games similar to those offered at the Sochi hospitality centers.

William Yoder is a freelance journalist and occasional contributor to Presbyterian News Service.