Christianity and the Olympics: UMCSC college senior in Korea studying religion and the Games

By Jessica Brodie

[caption id="attachment_6179" align="alignleft" width="150"]IMG-4804 Madeline Mulkey[/caption]

One South Carolina United Methodist college senior is in South Korea this week exploring how Christian outreach is impacting the Olympic Games.

Thanks to a Magellan Scholar grant from her college, Madeline Mulkey, a senior at the University of South Carolina, is spending 10 days (Feb. 7-17) at the Games to research the religious atmosphere of the Olympics and the various Christian groups that travel from around the world to be in ministry there.

“People a lot of times perceive the Olympics as a secular event, but God is definitely working within the Games and the athletes and the people there; it’s just not a story that often gets told,” Mulkey said.

Mulkey—who has a theater background, has never been to the Olympics and says she’s “not very sportsy”—said the opportunity was “clearly a call.” She became intrigued when she found out a group of Georgia Baptists was planning to travel to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games to do evangelism. Soon she learned the Georgia team was not the only group of missionaries. Christians of various denominations—from Texas, Virginia, and elsewhere in the United States—are partnering with churches in Korea to do whatever possible to foster a welcoming environment at the games, such as volunteering at water stations or using Olympic pin-trading as a Gospel opportunity (if asked, they explain how the “More Than Gold” pin represents the gift of Jesus Christ’s saving grace).

“It’s such an opportunity for evangelism,” Mulkey said. “One lady dresses up like a snowman! Just anything they can do.”

Mulkey’s project is her senior thesis, conducted under the guidance of Dr. Cecile Holmes at the USC School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

This is not the first time Mulkey, a member of Buncombe Street United Methodist Church, Greenville, has been to Korea. She was part of the “Parallels of Peace, Pathways to Justice” college delegation from the South Carolina and Mississippi conferences of the UMC that traveled to Korea in 2015 for the 60th anniversary of the armistice. Mulkey made some good friends in South Korea during that trip, and when the opportunity for the research grant came up, she asked friends there if they could help her find a place to stay. She is staying on the floor of a church with a bunch of Korean college students also doing Olympic ministry.

In addition to her research, the trip is also taking a journalistic turn; while there, she will cover the Games for the Religion News Service.

“My real hope is I’ll be able to speak to these people who’ve come from all over to be missionaries at the Olympics and the people being impacted by it,” Mulkey said.

The Rev. Jeri Katherine Sipes, associate pastor at Union UMC, Irmo, was the clergy leader for the 2015 Korea trip.

Sipes called Mulkey’s trip to the Games an “amazing opportunity (for) one of UMCSC’s finest college students.”

To learn more about Mulkey’s research project and keep in touch with her during her trip, visit her website

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