By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Nearly 300 children and youths convened Thursday at Harrisburg Baptist Church for the next-to-last leg of eight months of learning major biblical passages.
Students from grades 4 through 12 enter the State Bible Drills, which familiarize them with the books of the Bible and with key scriptural references.
“Mississippi Baptists have the largest Bible Drill program in the nation,” said the Rev. Don Hicks, who oversees the program for the Mississippi Baptist Convention. “We’ll have 3,200 to 3,500 boys and girls from all over the state involved.”
Many of the churches involved sported Bible Drill T-shirts touting certain scriptures. One group’s shirts had a cartoonish ewe on front, with the caption, “I like sheep.” On the back it simply stated, “Luke 19:10,” which the NIV renders, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (The sheep may also be a subtle reference to Isaiah 53:6, which states, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”)
Harrisburg was the final location of 12 around the state hosting the State Bible Drills. The work starts in the local church, with students working on memorization throughout much of the school year. Parents and church volunteers coach the children and youths.
“It’s important – learning all the books and the key passages,” said Charlie Tidwell of Pontotoc, whose son Nathan, 15, and daughter Abby, 14, participate at West Heights Baptist Church.
Bible Drill finals will be today in Brandon, where the top three respondents will be awarded scholarships to any of the state’s three Baptist colleges. Until that point, however, Bible Drill is actually not a contest.
“We make a record of how well they do. They’re not actually competing against each other but against themselves,” Hicks said.
The drills involve a dozen or so children or youths lining up to answer Bible challenges. During the 30-minute exercise they are called on to quote the memorized verses after being given the reference, to complete the verses after hearing the first few words and to find scriptures either by reference or by theme. (For instance, Daniel in the lions’ den.)
“It’s an attempt to help boys and girls and young people memorize scripture and learn to use their Bible quickly and effectively,” Hicks said. The memorization scriptures never repeat during any nine-year cycle, so participants master new verses every year.
Nancy McDade, one of the Bible Drill organizers at Harrisburg, said she was motivated by having the same experience when she was a child, which still compels her to memorize scripture as an adult.
“It’s a way to hide God’s Word in your heart,” she said.
Current participants agree.
“Everybody in our whole church was in it in youth,” said Charlesy Lovorn of Calhoun City, who was about to complete her fourth year. “My faith has gotten stronger through Bible Drill.”
Her brother Brandon, now in his ninth and final year, said their parents compelled him to participate at first.
“After I did it a year or two, I got to like it,” he said. “Like Charlesy said, it made my faith get stronger.”
“It expands your knowledge,” said nine-year Driller Caleb Stubbs of Ripley. “If someone asks you a question on the Bible, you have more of a basis to answer it. It also deepens your relationship with God.”
He added that memorization’s discipline carries over into other areas of life.
“I’ve learned a lot about what I can accomplish,” he said. “I know that once I put my mind to something, I can do it.”
Hicks said whatever other value the drills have, the overarching one is to make young Christians familiar with the Bible for their personal benefit and for sharing with others.
“If you have listened to the news recently,” he said, “you know that we live in a world that needs God’s Word.”