As the Soviet flag inches upward in gymnast Svetlana Boguinskaia’s moment of Olympic gold-medal glory, William King has a different offertory to make.
He zips to the front row of Samsung Gymnasium, right behind the spiffy white-suited color guard.
Up go the flags of the Soviet Union, Romania and Romania. On blinks a live NBC-TV camera.
And King’s arms stretch apart, flashing a black-on-yellow banner.
It reads “John 3:16.”
America’s most unusual TV ministry--a subliminal effort to make people reach for their Bibles--is in Seoul for the Summer Games.
Chapter 3, verse 16 of the Book of John reads: “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
“It means God loved us enough to let his son be murdered for our sins,” King says, “so that if we believe, we can then have eternal life because our sins are paid for.”
This man in the white “Jesus” baseball cap and black “Lay Witnesses for Christ” T-shirt is one of three men who travel the United States, sneaking their banners and posters into primetime TV venues, including most major sporting extravaganzas.
“We’re the only people sending a message through TV without either getting permission or paying for it,” King says.
Rainbow-wigged Rollen Stewart of North Little Rock, Ark., started the sign-toting. King signed on at the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas.
“He asked me to help him,” King says between gymnastics events. “It seemed to me the most effective way to reach the country and the whole world. In the first year, I hitchhiked 25,000 miles and did 77 TV programs, mostly golf, plus the Miss America pageant. We’re doing a lot more non-sports now. My partner was on Dick Clark’s 25th anniversary program.”
King, 42, says home is a post office box in Naples, Fla. In reality, it is a van he drives from event to event. A network of people who arrange for event tickets, give him gas money, put him up for a night or two or feed him.
“We want to get people curious enough to find out what it means, then to direct people to other verses of the Bible,” he says. “We hope, at some point, people just read the whole Bible for themselves.”
Buying an airline ticket with Christian donations, he flew to Seoul with Athletes in Action, which arrived for a world sports congress the week before the Summer Games began.
King finds it is getting harder to outfox TV’s quick-fingered directors.
He sneaks in his banner and two smaller posters in a plain blue canvas gym bag. He pinpoints camera positions with binoculars. He holds a pocket TV in the palm of his right hand. When that camera comes on, up comes “John 3:16.”
The gymnastics action shifts to the uneven parallel bars. King moves three sections to the left, scans for an empty seat, and dashes down to the front row.
“This is turning out to be tougher than I thought,” he says. “There are so many cameras on the girls that a director has 10 angles to choose from and get me out of the picture.”
For him this is a busy Olympics. Besides gymnastics, he’s been to track and field, basketball, volleyball and platform diving.
In a land where the native religions are a mixture of Confucian ethics, Buddhist rites and Taoist beliefs, Koreans are fervent about their spirituality. There are more than 8 million Christians in Korea, a country of 42 million. Churches are everywhere, 80% of them Protestant. Korea’s first missionary arrived with Japanese invasion forces in 1592.
“Crowd reaction is just about 100% positive,” King says. “I have not had one negative reaction in Korea.”
As gymnastics continues, an Olympics official politely asks King not to raise his banner during the next medal ceremony.
“She asked me not to, so I will skip this one and do the next event,” he says, rushing to a spot behind the balance beam.
After Seoul, he will zip back to the United States just in time for the baseball postseason and more NFL games.
“We try not to miss Monday night football,” King says. “When people see us every week, they think we hit every game.”