Winter Olympics Guests Visit Mormon Helping Hands Center to Warm Up, Recharge, and Do Family History
Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News associate editor
- Visitors can drink a hot beverage, recharge cell phones, do family history, and talk to missionaries.
- To build the center, the Church miraculously obtained land near a train bringing Olympic visitors.
- The center has attracted members visiting the area, including Noelle Pikus Pace and Alex Boyé.
“[The center’s main goal] is for as many as possible to see the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the eyes of the members and missionaries.” —Oh Hee Keun, public affairs manager in South Korea
GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA
The Mormon Helping Hands Center here offers just about everything a cold and tired Olympic spectator, volunteer, media representative, or even athlete could ask for.
It’s a place to warm up, enjoy a hot beverage, and recharge cell phones. And visitors not rushing to, say, a hockey match or a skating competition, can even explore their family history and chat with missionaries in a variety of languages.
But the center’s main goal, according to local public affairs manager Oh Hee Keun, “is for as many as possible to see the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the eyes of the members and missionaries.
“Our secondary goal is to teach members the joy of giving service and working together with the missionaries. All who serve find that volunteering brings joy and happiness.”
The blue two-story Helping Hands Center has already become a popular locale in Gangneung, home to the Games’s ice events.
“Miraculously, the Church was able to obtain permission to use a piece of property ideally located across from the new bullet train station in Gangneung that brings visitors to the Olympics,” wrote Korea Seoul Mission President Richard Craig Sonksen in an email to the Church News.
The Church’s public affairs team in Seoul directed construction of the temporary building with assistance from a team of volunteer electricians, carpenters, painters, and IT professionals. The facility’s completion is being called a miracle, said Oh Hee Keun.
“Even though the [construction] site was found so late, we were able to open the center 12 days prior to the opening of the Olympics.”
Elder Yoon Hwan Choi, a General Authority Seventy and a member of the Asia North Area Presidency, presided at the center’s January 27 grand opening. Several local civic leaders joined him in the ceremonial ribbon cutting.
Since then, the Helping Hands Center has become a second home to a team of missionaries, including senior missionaries Elder Rocky Nielsen and Sister Adele Nielsen, who extended their 18-month mission to assist at the center.
Open daily during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games, the center is staffed by a rotating team of missionaries and member volunteers trained to provide translation and other services.
Visitors in transit between sporting events and train rides can duck inside the center to recharge phones, utilize the free Wi-Fi, watch live Olympic broadcasts, enjoy activities for the kids, and snap fun shots from a winter sports photo zone.
“We also have family history resources available for our visitors,” wrote President Sonksen. “We have missionaries that speak Japanese, Chinese, French, Dutch, Spanish, Russian, and Norwegian, as well as English and Korean.”
Media crews from around the world who are curious to see what’s happening inside the inviting blue building have interviewed many of the missionaries and volunteers.
Even amid the excitement of the Games, the missionaries not assigned to the center are maintaining their typical proselytizing duties, noted President Sonksen.
The center has already become a must-see venue for members in South Korea for the Games. Mormon visitors in recent days have included Olympic medalist Noelle Pikus Pace and performing artist Alex Boyé, who stepped outside the building to offer an impromptu “concert.”
“People felt the enthusiasm and light coming from the volunteers,” he told the Church News. “I had so much fun performing outside the office, entertaining passersby, and [meeting] some incredible people.”
Missionaries, volunteers, and visitors gather outside the Mormon Helping Hands Center in Gangneung, South Korea. Photo courtesy of Helping Hands Center.