Ezra, Colleyanna, and Eliza Jane with LADS director, Roy Johnson
It’s the most spiritually rewarding weekend of the year. I have never, ever seen an eight-year-old have such a hard time studying for Bible bowl. But he was given a choice. You can do this IF you want to do it. We will help you get to as many practices as we can. We will help you learn the answers to the questions. We will make sure you have every tool you need. BUT, the determination factor is up to you. You have to decide if you WANT to learn a whole lot about Ezra and Nehemiah. And so, Bible Bowl became a daily part of his homework. All the other children on his team were homeschooled. That means their study could be done during the most attentive hours of the day and other subjects could be temporarily rearranged as the re-building of Jerusalem 600 years before Jesus was incorporated into the school day. All the other kids on the team lived in the proximity of the home congregation, so they could attend lots more of the practices. In fact, Ezra did not get to attend one single practice competition at other congregations. SO Ezra needed to apply himself doubly after he made the commitment. He knew he was prepping for both an individual written test in February and a team competition at the convention on Easter weekend. He was doing this while prepping for the speech event, the song-leading event and the oral Bible reading event. He was doing it while his mom was also prepping his two sisters for the song-leading event, the speech event and the Bible reading event.
And there were a couple of times when Ezra wanted to “change his mind.” I did not know it was going to be this hard!” …””I did not know there would be this many questions.”… “Can’t we just always play the KAHOOTS game online to learn this stuff?”… “Can I practice with Mammy on the phone, instead?”… “Will there be a machine and lights, like on tv, when we get to the real Bible bowl?”
It was like pulling teeth this first year, but I watched from afar as Ezra learned about things messed up by human sin and then rebuilt by people who were determined to put things back like God intended them. He learned about the vessels, the priests, the importance of the Word and the reverence given to sanctified things. He learned much about the importance of getting back to the Word and its instructions about consecration and worship. He learned about his name’s origin in scripture and he concurrently made his speech about building for our great God and praying “Remember me, O God, for good.” His speech ended with the hope that he can pray that prayer at the end of His work on earth for God. His song was “Make me a Servant” and he learned about that theme from Ezra and Nehemiah.
vintage lads, Ezra’s Mom (left) with founder Jack Zorn.
Even in the midst of the sometimes excruciating lack of focus and strain to keep going, there was a goal that was constant for an eight-year-old. There was the fun of knowing that there would be ten-thousand other people in a beautiful place and that every one of them would be supportive of the good that even an eight-year-old can do for God. While it was like pulling teeth, Ezra’s little sister did pull a tooth, literally, right out of the front of her mouth and the tooth fairy almost collided with the Easter Bunny right there in the Opryland hotel. There was that chance to walk across the stage with siblings while “Thank God for Kids” was playing on mega-speakers throughout that huge ballroom. There was the moment when Ezra’s Papa placed those red-coats on those “teenagers” up there who had done amazing things for the kingdom and were receiving the top award that Lads to Leaders conveys on it’s hardest-working kids.
There was, prior to all of these convention activities, the day that the test was to be taken. Because of circumstances beyond control that prevented Ezra from taking the test at home, Ezra got permission to take the written test at his school with his mom being proctor in a quiet room while his class was having recess. The test was submitted and the studying for the Bible bowl at convention kept happening at home, although it was crowded in between some pretty major school projects, several sicknesses and some fairly heavy-duty life challenges.
He did keep studying because his mom kept telling herself “It does not matter whether he wins a medal or not. It matters that he made a commitment, on his own volition, to do something for God.” She kept telling Ezra “When we promise to do something for God—no matter how hard it gets, no matter how much we want to reverse our decision, no matter how fun something else looks—we finish what we start. I do not care if you win the Bible bowl. I do care if you keep your promises. Other people are counting on you, too. You are part of a team that needs you.” Caleb and Clark and Timmy are counting on you. You’ve got this. Just keep on to the finish line!” Ezra developed great respect for Louis Botello, his Bible bowl coach.
But Ezra’s mother had no delusions. It seemed an impossibility that Ezra or his team would succeed….(Well at least not by the usual standards. It’s our prayer that true success is going to be a reality.) But Ezra was a second-grader on a team of older kids. Ezra kept mentioning at convention that he REALLY wanted a medal. “Medals do not come easy,” we said. We almost left the awards ceremony before they even got to Bible bowl. All three kids had runny noses. Eliza was coughing up a lung and dancing in the aisles. Colleyanna was saying “My body is not used to this many people.” The day had already held eight competitions we’d attended, all told. I could have slept standing up!
Hannah was in the back of the auditorium letting two-year old Eliza run a bit when they called “Ezra GEEEZelback” to the stage. No one could see the expression on his face because he was sitting in the front of our section with all “the guys”. But there was no lack of sprint in his step as he bounded on up to the stage! His mother got so excited that she forgot she had Eliza with her as she headed to snap a picture. While shooting the pic, she thought, “There’s a child in my lens trying to hoist herself up on the stage….Wait! That is MY child!”” Eliza was almost up there with Ezra and she wasn’t taking the stage stairs!
There has never been a prouder second-grader than Ezra was at this moment! There has never been a more shocked Mama than his. It ended up being the first of two medals. Ezra’s team placed second, so his little team of boys got to go up there, too, and Ezra had, not just his dream medal around his neck, but an extra one to boot! His chest was sticking out in the elevator as he kept examining them and he jangled up and down the hallway as loud as he could.
Now multiply this experience times about ten thousand all across American and in India and the Philippines, etc….See brown and white and ruddy and freckled faces in multitudes, See ribbons and trophies and high fives and hugs. See peers encouraging, both those who win and those who win-with-less-points. (There is no “lose,’ though we have been on the win-with-less-points side many times!) See memorization, creativity, prayer journals, scrapbooks, speakers, song leaders, debaters and coaches encouraging. See handicapped children and adults beaming with pride. See their teammates building victory runs down the aisles after their achievements. See red coats and parades of leaders and see new groups being welcomed each year. Just see the greatest faith leadership program I’ve ever seen working in thousands of little lives each year. I hope you can see LADS working in your home and congregation. It was our family’s 30th anniversary with Lads and we are so thankful to God for having seen the program work in our little troupe.
See, Ezra is not unique. ( I mean, well, he is in some ways.) But his hard work, teeth-pulling study times, and ecstasy in the end, is just a little microcosm of a great big picture of learning perseverance that happens over and over and over again in the program. This repeated process cannot help but build muscles in the big body—the ability to persevere through some hard times that surely seem to be knocking at our door as the society in which we live pushes out Christianity and its attendant blessings.
Maggie Colley–her very first medal for Good Samaritan.
Next year’s theme is “I am not ashamed.” Next year’s debate topic is centered on authorized music in worship. Next year’s Bible bowl book is Romans. You still have time to get involved. Let me know if I can help your congregation find its place in a win-win situation for the next generation.
And you can go here for a little levity. She didn’t know a lot about the program yet, but she did lead her song and do her “reading” and she wanted a piece of the ballroom experience. https://www.facebook.com/100082639660170/videos/155855607119567