They kept score and gave away medallions at the end, but organizers of this year's Bible Bowl finals emphasized that everyone who studies God's Word and allows Him to change their lives is a winner.
Three teams competed for the Territorial Bible Bowl Championship at a Methodist church in Hershey, Pa., during the Mission Kaleidoscope Congress 2007 Bible Bowl finals. Behind the buzzers were kids whose lives have been transformed in more ways than one.
Take 17-year-old Fritz Fran?ois. A leader on the championship team from Greater New York, Fran?ois was into gangs and had some brushes with the law before finding Christ at the Salvation Army corps in Westbury, Long Island.
"It helped me stop sinning, lying, stealing, and doing things I shouldn't be doing," Fran?ois said of Bible Bowl. "It helped me learn about the Word of God."
Fran?ois' pastor and corps officer, Captain Joseph Lubin, said, "I've seen a change in his life."
Fran?ois said he was born prematurely and once suffered from epileptic seizures; doctors told him the condition would never go away, but he prayed that it would and he believes that it has.
"I'm here standing before you right now," he said.
Another person standing tall at Bible Bowl was 12-year-old Sam Barnett from the Western Pennsylvania team. Barnett suffers from chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP), a neurological disorder that causes progressive weakness and impaired sensory function in the legs and arms.
In January, with his Bible Bowl team competing in the first round, Barnett prayed that he would have the strength to appear and called on verses he learned from Bible Bowl. Amazingly, he was able to leave the rehab hospital and join his teammates.
"I just really wanted to do Bible Bowl," he said.
The fans for the three teams began chanting and cheering even before the competition began. In the end, the Greater New York Division (Westbury, Long Island) racked up 560 points to win the championship over Western Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh Northside, 270) and Southern New England (New London, Conn., 140).
Commissioner Eva D. Gaither, the national president of Women's Ministries, was on hand, along with Commissioner Israel Gaither, national commander, to hand out medallions to the participants.
"Nobody here today is a loser," said Gaither, a former Bible Bowl coach. "Bible Bowl lays a foundation for our future life."
Using a metaphor the winners from New York could clearly understand, Gaither noted how the skyscrapers in that city have tremendous foundations to hold them up. In the same way, we need the foundation of God's word to grow in Christ.
"All of that will happen when we study God's Word," she said.
Major Ivan Rock, territorial youth & candidates secretary, said that about 70 teams took part in Bible Bowl across the territory this year; for the first time, there was a Spanish Bible Bowl competition.
"Bible Bowl in the territory is growing," he said. "Junior Bible Bowl is growing around the territory. We have young people getting into the Word of God early on. Isn't that wonderful?
"Every last one of them are winners. They're winners because they're into the Word of God. You can't study the Word of God without being changed."
Just ask Fritz Fran?ois or Sam Barnett.