When 15-year-old Zarith Méndez of North Colombia heard her name called as the winner of this year’s Inter-American Division (IAD) Bible Boom competition, soon to be handed the 2016 Caleb Award Title Trophy, disbelief came over her face. Then, joyful tears rolled down her cheeks as the reality set in.
Méndez — the youngest winner in the 13-year history of the event — smiled as the swarm of eager photographers recorded the touching moment, as she stood in front of thousands of Seventh-day Adventists in San Pedro de Macorís, Dominican Republic, Saturday, Dec. 10, hardly able to control her emotions. As Mendez wiped her tears, she thought about the miracles that brought her to the final competition.
“I just could not believe it when I heard my name”
Just 24 hours before the competition, she flew on an airplane for the first time, having obtained her new passport only weeks earlier.
“I just could not believe it when I heard my name,” said Méndez.She was in 10th place when the first round of questions were revealed and moved up to the second spot in the fourth round. She scored 450 points in the shortest amount of time of 3:56 minutes to answer 45 questions on the Books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and chapters 1-12 of Ellen G. White’s book Patriarchs and Prophets.
As the top winner, Méndez, who will graduate from high school in a year and a half, received a brand new computer, two medals, and a scholarship to study at Montemorelos University in Mexico.
Méndez entered her union’s regional competition for the first time this year after hearing about it at a master guide camporee event in her region. “I live in a very rural area and have to go to another town to connect to the internet, so as soon as I heard in June, I decided to study,” she added. Six hours of studying the Bible every day in between school and picking lemons at her parents’ farm after school paid off.
In the process, she fell in love with the Book of Judges and Patriarchs and Prophets. “This has been an excellent experience for me,” said Mendez. “Just learning about the experience that others went through, the history of the world, has taught me so much more about God and how we need to be faithful and obedient to the Word of God.”
She smiles just thinking about telling her sister and parents about her adventure and how she wants to encourage the members of her small group in the Adventist District of Eden in Cucuta, to study the Bible more. Hours after winning she had not been able to communicate with her family.
Méndez marvels at all the blessings she has gained from the moment she entered the Bible competition.
Méndez marvels at all the blessings she has gained from the moment she entered the Bible competition. As the winner of the North Colombia Union event in October, she received a one-year scholarship at Colombia Adventist University in Medellin. She wants to study medicine and looks forward to entering next year’s Bible competition in her district.
For María González, 16, who grabbed the second place in the Bible finale competition, entering next year’s regional competition at her church in Maracay in East Venezuela is a no brainer. “I want to come to the Bible Boom again next year for the top spot,” said González.
“Spending time in Bible study brings you closer to God and takes you to see the mercy He has for us no matter how much we sin,” she said. In the Book of Judges, her favorite this year, she learned how forgiving God was with His people and drew her to memorize, re-read and study more the Bible every day when she didn’t have school or homework.
“Any time I study my Bible, I’m able to retain everything I read,” said González. It’s different than when she studies different subjects at school. “Whatever I read in the Bible, it stays with me, so I’m not going to stop.” She has already told her 12-year-old sister to start preparing to study the Bible intently because that’s what is important, she added. Gónzalez received an iPad Mini and a medal as the second place prize.
All but three unions were represented during this year’s finale competition. Because of visa and other issues, finalists from Cuba, French Antilles Guiana, and North Mexico were not able to attend.
The Bible Boom is not about a competition or about a quiz, said IAD’s Youth Ministries Director Al Powell as he addressed the finalists and audience during the finale event.
“The most important thing about this experience is that you have connected with the Word of God and have been transformed by His grace,” he said. Motivating the more than 1.5 million young people across Inter-America to dive into the Scriptures has been at the core of the mission to prepare young people to be a generation transformed and ready to witness in their communities, said Powell.
“The Bible Boom is fundamental for our youth to be grounded in the Word of God so they can be prepared to face the challenges here on this earth while making eternal connections,” added Powell. “We want to increase our involvement of our youth in studying the Bible more.”
Powell added he is working with top IAD administrators on expanding the Bible competition initiative ever further for next year.
“It is beautiful how involved our youth are in studying the Bible and serving the church,” said Israel Leito, president of the church in Inter-America. “The youth of today are so different than the youth from decades before,” he added. “It’s a digitally savvy youth, enthusiastic about their faith, they don’t take things lightly, they are honest, sincere, and they are not superficial.”
Mayor of San Pedro de Macorís Ramón Antonio Echavarría welcomed the more than 3,000 gathered at the Polideportivo Center at the Universidad Central del Este, and thanked them for the work in the community towards the youth and especially in the areas of health and family. Mayor Echavarría named IAD leaders as distinguished guests of his city.
Scores of young people spent the Sabbath day, Dec. 10, from early morning until the Bible Boom finale event in the evening in praise and worship. The day’s program also included drama performances and a youth leadership investiture.
Next year’s IAD’s Bible study books will include the Books of Daniel, Hosea, Joel and chapters 39-44 of Ellen G. White’s Prophets and Kings. The final territory-wide competition is scheduled to take place in Cancún, Mexico, Dec. 2, 2017.