December 13, 2011 – San Juan, Puerto Rico…Libna Stevens/IAD
Hours after he was declared this year’s Inter-America’s Bible bowl winner, Waylon Johnson of the Atlantic Caribbean church region, was still in a state of disbelief. The three-foot-tall trophy, the first place medal, the $8,000 dollar scholarship, and the iPad2 he earned in this year’s competition reminded him of his journey to get to the finals. That journey, began in 2008, made his last-minute victory all the more shocking.
Johnson competed alongside 13 other top winners from throughout the Inter-American Division (IAD) territory in the Bible bowl final competition. Seven finalists were absent due to travel visa issues. The special event was held at the Eliezer Melendez Vazquez Youth Center in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Sabbath, Dec. 10, 2011. The IAD Bible Bowl is an initiative which began more than seven years ago as an annual competition which has inspired thousands of youth throughout the territory to study their Bibles for a chance to compete locally, regionally, and division-wide.
Johnson, 27, from Grand Bahama Island is the first winner to grab the Bible bowl title from among the four English-speaking church regions in the IAD.
“Every step of the way has been a surprise,” said Johnson. Johnson confessed he was very nervous as the first block of questions popped out on his laptop.
“He went from second place, to fourth, to sixth,” said Pastor Al Powell, youth ministries director for the church in the Atlantic Caribbean Union, who quietly observed the list of results displayed during the live program.
Finalists not only had to answer 35 questions correctly but in the least amount of time to remain at the top.
When Powell had the opportunity, like the rest of the youth directors, to go near their finalist during a question to offer support, Johnson told him he was nervous and had delayed in answering. “I just told him to forget about the time and just focus on getting the answers right,” said Powell. “I had full confidence in him because I had witnessed his potential before.”
Moving from the sixth spot to the first spot meant Johnson had to get the last set of questions right and faster than his five fellow competitors ahead of him. He ended with a top score of 165 points with a time of six minutes.
For Johnson, beating the odds was a surprise yet it’s another one of his many experiences to get to victory. Johnson missed his regional competition weekss ago after he was stranded at the airport for seven hours. The competition went on without him but when he finally arrived, he was able to take the test and beat his three other competitors, according to Powell.
With only one month and three weeks of studying this year’s assigned Books of Luke and Acts, Johnson said his experiences have only made him love the Scriptures more.
“When you study God’s Word, there’s something that happens to you,” said Johnson. “There’s a blessing not only for you but for others and little by little changes take place in your life and then you can help others change for the better too.”
Johnson, who won second place in 2008 and 2009, said his method of study for this year’s Bible bowl was simply by prayerful study of each chapter. No memorization, no questionnaires, just prayer and re-studying Luke and Acts, he said.
Johnson plans to take up his scholarship to Antillean Adventist University in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, and encourage other young people to dive into the Bible and participate in the Bible initiative. “I want them to challenge themselves and join many other young people who are studying, just like I did to enrich their lives and the lives of others,” Johnson said.
Urging and motivating young people to study the Bible is at the heart of the mission of the Youth Ministries department and a big part of the Bible bowl initiative, said Pastor Benjamin Carballo, youth ministries director for the church in Inter-America.
“We want our young people to base their decision-making in the Word of God and for them to realize that when they do make decisions based on the Scriptures, they are guaranteed success in the long run and so it is the best motivation for them to read the Bible,” said Carballo.
Second place winner Esther Alvarado of North Mexico said studying the Bible has been the best decision she has made. She was six seconds away from being the first place winner. She totaled a score of 165 and remained at the top three spots from early on in the competition. She earned a second place medal and an iPod touch.
Alvarado, 25, who has participated in two previous regional Bible bowls in Mexico, does not see it as a competition. “God has been so good to me, giving me this opportunity to learn more about Him, that my main purpose is to be a witness and encourage others to study the Bible,” said Alvarado.
Alvarado had that opportunity hours before the Bible bowl to record a poem and speak on the church’s radio waves at Sol 92 radio station on the island.
“What you learn from the Bible is something inexplicable and no one can take that away from you,” said Alvarado. “There’s no competition when you read the Bible, you’re just there to hear God and that’s the only way we can keep firm in our daily walk.”
She boasts about how she enjoyed the Book of Luke because it taught her the love Jesus had when He came to earth and the wisdom in which He addressed the Pharisees. Alvarado was also fascinated with the radical change in the Apostle Paul as written in the Books of Acts. “The fact that Paul went from persecuting Christians to a exemplary disciples just tells me how God can do the same with me and anyone,” she said.
Third place winner Job Magdiel Gonzalez of Central Mexico was thrilled to make it to the top three, he said. This was his first year time Gonzalez participated in the regional Bible competition at Ramos Millan Adventist Church in Mexico City, where he is a member, as a way to encourage some 40 young people to study this year’s books of the Bible.
Gonzalez is the fourth finalist from Mexico City to dominate in the three top spots during the last four years. His final score was 160 and 4:24 seconds. He earned a third prize medal and an iPod touch.
“I just didn’t expect to get this far,” said Gonzalez, a first semester computer engineer major. Raised as a Seventh-day Adventist from birth, Gonzalez has enjoyed leading the youth in his church and sharing what’s he’s learned.
His method for studying for the bowl was writing down outlines of what he learned and sharing that knowledge with master guides during AY meetings each week.
Gonzalez, 21, said he will encourage his fellow youth in Mexico City to seriously study the Word of God. “I want to tell young people everywhere to prayerfully study the Scriptures because it’s the only way we will get to know God and will give us the opportunity to see Him face to face one day,” added Gonzalez.
Getting more youth involved in the study of the Bible is what leaders have set their eyes on since the organized territory-wide Bible bowl initiative was set in motion years ago.
“We dream of having at least a 70 percent of our young people systematically reading the Word of God everyday,” said Carballo. “This will give them a doctrinal firmness that will allow them to defend their faith and share that faith with their peers in school, work and every environment in which they will be involved in.”
According to Carballo, there are more than 1.2 million young people in Inter-America. He said reaching more Adventist young people will be the goal as the Bible Boom will be in effect as of January 2012 throughout the territory. The Bible Boom will seek to also include and unify Bible competition initiatives for Adventurer clubs, Pathfinder and master guide clubs, as well as Adventist university students, in different competition levels.
“Our young people need to be fed with the Holy Word of God,” said Carballo. “If an Adventist youth does not read the Bible, he/she is malnourished and is in that weak state when they can be tempted. Reading the Bible gives them strength to overcome the temptations and all kinds of trials that they face during their adolescent and young years,” added Carballo.
Next year’s Bible Boom books to be reviewed include Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, and Galatians.
To see photos of Inter-America’s 2011 Bible Bowl event, visit our photo gallery at www.flickr.com/photos/interamerica
IAD Youth Ministries Resources can be found at