When I first started attending Reedy Creek church on the Gold Coast (Qld) a few years back, I noticed a young man who always sat towards the back of the church. He would sit quietly in the corner, alone, with his head bowed and his Bible securely in his hand. Today that young man sits in the front pews of our church and if he’s not there, he’ll be up the front doing what he loves best: joyfully singing. Something has changed. His name is Vinjaria George Molisingi (known as George). This is his journey.
George, 20, is an elite athlete from Vanuatu. In Australia on a sports scholarship with Oceania Athletics, he has been training for the Olympics. I wanted to hear his story: about being a professional athlete and how he responds to the challenge of competing on Sabbath. After spending time with him, I found out that there is a lot more to George than just being an athlete.
Opportunity and talent are given from God.
George grew up in an Adventist home. He also grew up with the right athletic genes and was coached by his father, also a runner and a professional coach. By grade 10, George knew he had what it took to be a professional runner so he entered the Pacific Games in New Caledonia. Due to his success he made it through to the Oceania Championships in Cairns (Qld). George knew that if he performed well he could be selected for a sports scholarship and train overseas.
This was an opportunity that George had dreamed of so he prayed to God in the hope his prayer would be answered. However, after the championships, George wasn’t offered a scholarship. He accepted the decision and put the idea to the back of his mind.
George in action.
By grade 11 things had changed for George. He was caught up with the wrong crowd. He found himself drifting and his priorities had changed. His mum continued to work hard to put food on the table. Her strength, endurance, love and Adventist beliefs remained steady and left a lasting impression on George. During this time he heard a distinct voice: “George this is not the right way” and he knew that God was speaking to him. By grade 12 he was baptised and became a committed Adventist. On the very day that George was baptised he received a phone call, offering him a sports scholarship with Oceania Athletics in Australia. God had responded to George’s prayers.
When George arrived on the Gold Coast, he met with management who advised him that he had his first competition on Friday night. At first he agreed to compete but he knew it was not right. George asked God for strength and courage. He came back to his management and told them it was against his beliefs to train and compete on the Sabbath. He told them to send him home as he would not dishonour his God. Management offered George three months of training with no obligation to compete, so long as his times continued to improve. A reassessment would take place in three months.
Everyone knows that competing is an essential part of improving and making the Olympics, but George trusted in God. Three months came and went. Six months came and went. Then six months turned into one year and nothing was said about George over-extending his three-month stay. Management still wanted him to compete and reiterated that he was “training fit” but not “competition fit”. George continued running well, helping his peers and gaining a positive reputation among his sports community.
In May 2015, George was selected for the Oceania Championships in the 100m and 200m races. The races were being held on Saturday.
George prayed, “Lord you’ve got this in Your hands. I am weak and slow in speech. Please put words in my mouth.” A meeting was held with the executive director and George said he could not compete. He left the meeting with the expectation he was not going to the championships. Within 24 hours, George discovered the whole timetable had been changed and he was now able to compete. God’s mighty hand was at work. George proudly carried the Vanuatu flag in the opening ceremony of the championships and made first place, achieving his personal best in both races. George was considered a hero among his sporting community and within his country. He humbly thanked the Lord for everything.
George was selected for the 100m World Championships in July 2015. But the 100m was being run on Sabbath.
Management anticipated George would say no to competing but gave him the weekend to decide. George already knew in his heart that he would say no. Management offered him an invitation to race in the 200m instead. George prayed, “Lord I am not fit to run the 200m against the best in the world; please give me a way out.” He had pulled a tendon in the Oceania Championships so his coach suggested that he should not run the 200m. God had given him a reason and answered his prayer.
George recovered well and he was also training well. In January, the Olympic timetable was published. George was invited to compete but the 100m was being raced on Sabbath. By March a final decision had to be made. George received a lot of pressure from the National Olympic Committee in Vanuatu to race.
George gave his answer: “No.” “There are plenty of young people hungry for this opportunity,” was the message he received. “Opportunity and talent are given from God,” George replied. He was advised that if he could not compete in Rio his scholarship would be terminated.
In his decision not to compete, George is happy he has taken a stand for God. “The whole host of heaven is with me,” he boldly proclaims. “Everyone is in God’s hands. My Father is the King of the universe.”
George’s management offered him the opportunity to stay until July. George was undecided. He prayed, saying to God, “If You want me to go home, let it run smoothly. If You don’t want me to go, complicate things.” George went to his management with a notice date of May 1. When he arrived at the executive director’s office she was not there. George wondered if this was a sign. He continued to pray. When he returned the executive director was there. She expressed her sadness at his decision but accepted it.
But George still hadn’t received his passport from Vanuatu. It had been sent there for renewal two months earlier and it had been four weeks since Vanuatu officials had said they had returned it to Australia.
His flight home was booked for May 1. That day came and went and George still hadn’t received his passport.
When he looks back, he ponders what has been the real purpose of his time in Australia? He prays: “I have been here for three years but I don’t compete. Have I come to represent my country in athletics or am I here to do your service, Lord?”
While George has been a remarkable athlete for his country, he has also been a wonderful ambassador for Christ. He has shared the Bible with his athlete flatmates who have opened their lives to God and are now going to church. He has given them Bibles and they have come to him asking for explanations about Bible verses. His peers say, “George is a godly man.” George is asked to pray after training, to say grace over food and was even asked to pray before the start of the athletics Christmas function. He admits that his time in Australia has given him the opportunity to learn so much about the Bible and he is happy to share it.
Once, as he was reading his Bible on a train, he was approached by a lady who wanted to follow him on Facebook because he was reading his Bible! God is working in George’s life and George is working for God. This is a man who walks, no runs, with God and is motivated by the knowledge that he is accountable for sharing Bible truths with those he comes into contact with.
George’s personal best is 11.02 seconds in the 100m and 22.53 seconds in the 200m. However, right now he is putting his best foot forward for Christ and can aptly be described by 1 Corinthians 9:24: “Did you not know that in a race all the runners run. But only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” George has his eyes on that heavenly prize and nothing is going to take it away from him.
Natalie James is communication coordinator for Reedy Creek church, Qld. This story appeared in the church’s June 1 newsletter. George has since returned to Vanuatu.