It’s about not returning void

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Honesty and integrity out the roof.

That’s what Marcus Peagler told a group of students gathered in Clinton last weekend they should have – must have – in order to make an honor system competition like the one in which they were about to participate work. I liked the sound of his admonition. I liked it about as much as I liked watching more than 190 teens from across Mississippi agree to it.

You’ve heard of select teams for soccer and baseball standouts, and science bowls and spelling bees for academic whizzes. Saturday’s event was that sort of thing for the best Bible drillers in Baptist circles – an afternoon of page flipping and verse quoting like none other.

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l was there at the final stage of the series of competitions sponsored each spring by the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, and I heard the hometowns of those who had signed up for the challenge called as they went forward – places like New Albany, Cleveland, West Point, Bay Springs. That’s a lot of interstate to cover for an opportunity to earn a plaque, especially with first-round elimination staring you in the face. Even so, it’s a risk these students were willing to take.

“Last year I made it to the semi-finals,” a Hernando resident who drilled next to Daughter No. 2 told us. She was headed home hardly an hour after her arrival. “I was fast then, maybe the fastest eighth-grader of all,” she explained. “This year, everybody is fast.”

That was for sure. Could you find Nahum 1:7 in eight seconds? How about four? Scores are determined from such skills, as well as the ability to quote Scripture and respond to questions like “how should I treat others?” with the appropriate passages. All the while there are six judges in each room of 12 contestants – three watching for the first and second drillers who step out, and three serving as penalty judges.

Penalty judges? Yes. There are errors, false starts, irreverent handlings of the Bible to catch – things that mean automatic point deductions and cause the cream rise to the top.

I watched the action in Room 2126, where fresh-faced junior high students with frayed nerves hung on every word coming from the caller, gray-haired Ms. Tilly from Vardaman.  “As in the Sweet Potato Capital,” she politely pointed out to spectators, who by then had filled every available chair and were beginning to line the walls.

In other rooms down the hall, the stakes were a bit higher. For students who began competing in elementary school, there’s a special opportunity open only to nine-year participants. The winners of that contest receive scholarships to one of three Baptist colleges in the state – MC, Blue Mountain and William Carey. Junior Eli Kilpatrick of Louin walked away with the top prize.

“I’m still very excited,” he told me a few days after the news had sunk in. “I really didn’t think I had the top score until they announced it.” Accustomed to wins on the football field and basketball court, Kilpatrick, 17, described his Bible drills achievement as a one-of-a-kind, adding that memorizing Scripture is its own reward.

Tim Robertson, a pastor from Smith County who manned one of the registration tables Saturday, told me Mississippi leads the nation in Bible Drill participation. “We’re number one in the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention),” he shared.

I asked for the numbers.

“More than 3,000 kids participated this year,” he confirmed. That means 3,000 participants began the hard work of memorizing Zephaniah 3:17 and fingering for Philippians last fall, then took part in organized drills at the church, association, and state level. All that took place before Saturday’s competition, which represented the final whittling.

To put that in perspective, I called Bible drill organizers in Texas, a state where the population is nine times ours, and there are enough Baptist churches to justify two state conventions. Between them both, there were a reported 1,002 drill participants.

(Way to shine that buckle on the Bible belt, Mississippi.)

In a day when lots of activities vie for students’ attention, surely Bible drills deserves some serious consideration. Tasha Presson at the Baptist Board in Jackson told me their materials are available to the public simply for the asking. “Anyone can compete locally and even go to state,” she clarified.

And while the selection tournament and scholarship rounds are open only to members of SBC churches, that’s really not the point. Families like ours who make drills a graduation requirement aren’t expecting scholarships from the effort (or perfect kids either, for that matter). We’re just simply trusting in that truth tucked away in Isaiah 55:11, the one that says God’s Word will not return void.

If some of that out-of-the-roof honesty and integrity just happens to rub off on them in the process – well, that wouldn’t hurt, either.

Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at