He found the American flag tucked away in a church basement and right away had big plans for it.
John Christensen happened to be on the lookout for just such a flag to take with him to the 2014 Olympics — and within a week and a half of his arrival in Sochi, it had become not only exceedingly popular but also a helpful tool in the mission he was on.
“In the last 10 days, this flag has gotten more attention probably than in the rest of its life in the basement of that church,” says Mr. Christensen, a member of Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop H and of the recently formed Strong Tower Baptist Church.
The church was started about six months ago by a group from McCarthy Baptist Church and was given the building at 3406 St. Joseph Ave. that formerly belonged to Marvin McMurry United Methodist Church. It was there Mr. Christensen found the American flag that he took to Russia as part of a Southern Baptist missions endeavor called Engage Sochi.
“The flag was a huge catalyst for that,” he says, adding that as one of few people carrying American flags at the beginning of the Olympics, he drew a lot of attention and was able to hand out a number of booklets containing the gospel message in English and Russian. These tracts incorporated in their message the colors of the Olympic rings – using, for example, black to represent sin, red to represent the blood of Christ and white to represent purity.
The flag also opened doors for Mr. Christensen to participate in what he learned was the unofficial sport of the Olympics: pin trading. His group handed out pins that said “Engage Sochi”— but still, what he found people were most interested in was his flag.
“People from all over the globe wanted pictures with the flag,” he says. “People love America. This flag is a big, big deal. It really is.”
One instance in which he especially saw this was during the opening ceremonies, which he spent in a huge crowd watching the events on a screen at an overflow venue. He notes that he was the only one among thousands of people holding an American flag, which drew the attention not only of other spectators but also of reporters from The Wall Street Journal, CBS News and elsewhere who wanted to interview him about whether he felt safe showing himself to be an American in that setting.
And thanks to tight security, he did feel safe, despite warnings he received from the U.S. State Department prior to leaving for Russia that suggested he not take an American flag.
“But I wasn’t going to go and not take a flag,” he says. “I want to represent. I’m proud to be American. I had tickets to some Olympic events, and I wanted to support the Americans.”
Among these events were a couple of hockey games and the first-ever night of women’s ski jumping – an event new to the Olympics this year. Other memorable aspects of the trip were the festive atmosphere and all the people he met not only from Russia but also from Japan, Norway, Scotland, Belarus and elsewhere.
Mr. Christensen returned home Feb. 14. The flag is safely home now, too – although it will not be returning to its spot in the church basement. The plan is for it to be displayed in a glass enclosure, perhaps with some Olympic tickets and other memorabilia to encourage future mission trips.
Especially after the response the flag received in Sochi, this kind of display seems fitting.
“I didn’t realize so many Russians and people from other parts of the world would go out of their way to speak to me and have their photo taken with this flag,” Mr. Christensen says. “We see American flags and kind of take them for granted. My eyes were opened to how the world views the flag and what it represents.”