“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11
When I was young, I was a part of the Awana at a church my family had attended for many many years. If you are familiar with the structure of Awana – I started in Sparks, moved up to Truth and Training (TnT) and finally moved up to Trek. After much prayer and consideration, my family made a decision to leave that church (due to some internal issues that had arisen). Looking back, we made sure that decision wouldn’t be seen as a classic “church hopper” move. If you grew up in the church, you know what I mean by church hopper. If not, it’s pretty straightforward in its meaning – you don’t stick with one church. Anyway, I loved Awana! Being homeschooled, you didn’t always get to meet a whole lot of new people or see large amounts of people on a daily basis. Every Thursday night, I looked forward to being able to go and have fun with my friends.
The main point of Awana is in its name. It stands for Approved Workman Are Not Ashamed and its based out of 2 Timothy 2:15. You are greatly encouraged to memorize Scripture, build a Godly character in an environment where God is at the forefront, make friendships and ultimately reach out to the local community. I remember my Awana days with great fondness. Yes, things certainly were not always peachy, but there was so much good that I can’t help but smile at the thought of how God used that in my life.
Memorizing Scripture was the core purpose. You would earn awards (depending on what level/group you were in) when you had memorized and recited a certain amount of Bible verses. A good way to compare it to is Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.
In Sparks, for example, you would earn a jewel in a crown that you wore on a bright red vest after you completed a section the book you were working through. I still have some of the books somewhere from the many years, but I just am unsure where at this moment in time. But, I did find my old Sparks vest! Any fellow Awana alumni?? I do believe that I have my TnT shirt and I know I have my Trek shirt, but Sparks was a very crucial time in my life.
It was a crucial time for me because I was saved at the age of 5 and I started Awana a short time after that. If I recall correctly, I want to say that I was around 7 or 8 when my family started attending that church and then becoming involved with Awana. Memorizing Scripture became a daily part of my life. I had already been memorizing verses because my teacher (aka my Mom), had us reciting verses and Bible facts from an early age. Knowing the Old and New Testament books of the Bible (typically to a song) or being able to say explain the story of Jonah, from our youth, my little sister and I became known as the kids who “knew their stuff.”
Before Trek was started at that church, TnT was the oldest age group. Thankfully, just before I was done with Tnt, they started the process of implementing Trek into the club. That would be my last group to be a part of in Awana. I look back at that time with such a crazy mix of emotions. I was in my early teens at that point and going through the awkward stages of life – thankfully, right alongside my friends! 🙂
Before we left that church and Awana, we had heard through a Christian grapevine that a group was going to be starting a Bible bee. Sure enough, in 2009, the Shelby Kennedy Foundation started the National Bible Bee and its a pretty cool thing to say that I was in that inaugural group that first competed. It was way more rigorous than anything I had anticipated. The first year was certainly rough, but it was great! I got my score back later in the month and I wasn’t super pleased with it, yet I also hadn’t memorized or studied like I could have, so I wasn’t tragically crushed that I hadn’t made it to the national round. My little sister and I competed in the National Bible from 2009 until 2012 when I aged out.
To give a brief rundown of the Bible Bee (during the time we did it) – you got your study guide/the verses you had to memorize in June. Typically, the study guide followed a book of the Bible. I can remember two years where Ephesians and Colossians were the topics of study. We basically read whatever the book was every day and took it apart piece by piece. Just knowing who the author was or when it was written was not enough. Because Paul wrote the book of Ephesians to the church in Ephesus, we had to hammer down what was happening with the church at the time and where Paul was when he was writing. Then, we would dive deeper and deeper into the details until we could probably say what way was the writer’s feet pointed while he sat and wrote these books. (That’s an exaggeration, but it makes my point about it being quite intense.) The intensity was a good thing. Looking back, I know I could have put more in each summer, but I learned so much through all of that!
Once you had spent your summer going back in Bible times learning about these people and being intrigued by what God was saying and doing – as well as memorizing so many verses you started to get them all confused – it was time to compete.
Usually, at the end of August, they would have local round competitions across the country where you would go compete in your age group against a bunch of other kids your age that did what you did that summer and were ready to see what you could remember. The outcome of the local rounds was measured by points. The more verses you said correctly (including reference) and the more questions you got right on the written test (on the book that was studied all summer and beyond), the more points you got. My second to last year competing, I had broken my wrist in early July and I was going through a really crazy time that summer. I was off the summer swim team and life as I knew it had taken a spin off a cliff (so my 16-year-old self thought). But, I was reading my Bible more and I was seeing the fruit of memorizing Scripture. I was able to accept all that was happening with grace because God had shown me that He was in control. I couldn’t help but be captivated by Him.
At that year’s local round (2011), we drove a few hours away to a church that was hosting the competition. I remember thinking, “Whatever happens, glory to God.” I was just so thankful to the Lord that He had blessed me with another year to compete in a competition that was a win-win situation. Nobody loses the Bible Bee. You have hidden God’s Word in your heart, how can you lose? Yes, there will be that one person who will get a verse right and then another who will say their verse incorrect. That summer, I took home the first place in the sudden death round of my age group. To this day, I cannot believe it sometimes. I knew that the other girl had studied so hard and she knew the verse, but she got one word wrong. You see, we each have a version that we memorize out of to keep it consistent. I always memorized out of the NKJV and she had the ESV. I remember getting my verse, going up to the microphone and reciting the verse. I got to the middle of the verse where a contraction was and I paused (which if you do for a certain amount of time, you get a deduction) for a split second as I contemplated which word went next. It was either “and” or “but” and I had to keep going. The verse was one we all know and don’t stop to think twice about which word goes there. That day, I did. Proverbs 17:17 “A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity.”
Thanks be to God that I said AND and not BUT! Either way, I still look at that blue trophy thinking about how crazy awesome the Lord is. At the time, I thought He was awesome because of a competition on His Word that I had just taken first place in. I didn’t quite make the cut for the national round, but I was okay with that.
That trophy was not the first trophy I had won for memorizing God’s Word and being awarded for it. I had won the Timothy award in Awana at the end of 4 years of TnT. I had also won the Excellence award. While in Sparks, I had won the Sparky Award. And you know, my Timothy award still sits on my shelf to this day as a reminder of a time in my life where I had done something so crazy awesome. All the awards will go away when I die or maybe even get taken from me. I learned, looking back on those years, that I was not just competing or reciting Scripture just to win. At the time, that was all I saw or could think about. Now, I have so many verses coveted to memory that when I come across one, I think about how I probably learned it during my time in Awana or even competing in the Bible Bee.
Jeremiah 29:11 is my best friend’s favorite verse. I tend to remind him of that verse when he is going through a struggle or when something really great happens. But, God in His amazing nature just knows what we need when we need it. That verse was one of the first verses I can recall ever memorizing. When I think about this verse if I am talking with my friend, I realize that God has planned my steps before I was born. He used Awana and the Bible Bee to help give me that firm foundation and solid ground to walk upon as I fight the good fight as His ambassador. I love to look back and see God’s plan for me to be a part of groups that caused me to learn at a very young age to be devoted to Christ. Hiding His Word in my heart has given me comfort and wisdom and no competition or award can ever replace the feeling of knowing that so much of His Word is in my heart, always at the ready.