Hundreds of young Bible scholars are now gathered in Tennessee to compete in the 2012 National Bible Bee, an annual event where $260,000 in prize money is up for grabs.
The fourth annual Bible Bee kicked off Wednesday in Sevierville, Tenn., where 300 qualifiers from across the U.S. began competing in events designed to test their knowledge of the Scriptures. The books that will be focused on throughout this year's competition are 1 and 2 Timothy – letters written by the Apostle Paul to Timothy, a young pastor in Ephesus.
At the local level,contestants had thoroughly studied 2 Timothy and memorized at least 25 Bible Memory passages. Children in each age division – primary, junior and senior – at the national challenge are also responsible for having thoroughly studied 1 Timothy and having memorized several hundred additional verses from throughout both the Old and New Testaments.
Oregon resident John Smythe, a volunteer at this year's event, told The Christian Post on Thursday that the Bible Bee is about studying God's Word, not just memorizing passages, and "the intent is to have the parents right there studying with [their children]." Booklets for parents are published to help them lead their families in studying two sections of Scripture per week throughout the summer.
Smythe says his daughter was a finalist in the Bee in both 2010 and 2011, and, though she is now too old to compete, his family has a "deeper appreciation of God's Word" as a result of their studying together.
"We very much appreciate the program, and that's why we made the trip to volunteer," he said.
The Shelby Kennedy Foundation, the nonprofit organization behind the Bee, is named after a Christian woman who died of cancer in 2005 at the age of 23. Before her death, even in her weakness, Kennedy dedicated her time to studying the Scriptures and proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ to others.
The nonprofit was formed in honor of Kennedy with the goal of encouraging children to grow in their faith through Bible memorization, and the Bible Bee is the means by which that goal is being met.
In May the foundation's CEO, Mark D. McMahan, told CP that spiritual growth, not cash prizes, is the "greatest gain" the event's participants walk away with.
"It is not unusual for our participants to be drawn in by the significant prizes, but then to get hooked by the lifestyle of walking with Christ in a way they hadn't previously experienced," said McMahan. "Those who do win the large prizes, cite their growth in their relationship with God and their families as the greatest gain."
Nationwide participation in the Bible Bee has drastically increased since its inception. Just under 7,000 young people participated at the local level this year – a 20 percent increase from 2011.
The event will continue through Saturday, Nov. 17.