EL CAJON, Calif. A new national Bible Bee, which is offering an impressive $260,000 in prize money, is creating quite a buzz in advance of its inaugural competition next fall.
Just weeks after opening its Southern California office in October, the phone lines jammed with queries from prospective host communities, said Mark Rasche, executive director of the foundation that is sponsoring the event.
"This is the first of its kind Bible Bee with this unprecedented amount of prize money. There has never been anything of this scope."
Although the prize money will be used to entice competitors ages 7 to 18, Rasche stressed that the focus is on spiritual development, not materialism or overzealous competition.
"I think it's important people understand the heartbeat of our ministry," he said. "Ultimately our goal is spiritual development in the kids and hiding Scripture in their hearts is going to be a huge part of the spiritual growth of the next generation."
Rasche heads the Texas-based Shelby Kennedy Foundation, a nonprofit ministry established in the name of a 23-year-San Antonio woman who died in 2005 of a rare form of cancer. One of 13 siblings, Shelby was a woman of strong faith who had a heart for Haiti and often served there through the work of her parents' Only a Servant Ministries, which also works in South America.
It was during Shelby's memorial service that a friend of the family became the benefactor for the foundation that would bear her name.
"He was so inspired by her life and her testimony that he had this vision to start this," Rasche said. "He saw the correlation between her commitment to Scripture and the fruit in her life. She had this tremendous joy of the Lord that was very apparent in her life. He wanted to see young people, young kids share in the same joy of the Lord."
Laying the foundation
Since February, Rasche and his team have been working on the Bible Bee's infrastructure by developing a comprehensive, 70-plus page procedural manual for local committees wishing to sponsor a bee. They have also been working on building a nationwide volunteer network before they begin the process of recruiting contestants.
Similar in format to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the team hopes to field at least 200 local planning committees nationwide to host bees, which will include competitions with brackets for primary (7 to 10), junior (11 to 14) and senior students (15 to 18). All of the local competitions will be held simultaneously on Sept. 12. The top 100 winners in each age group will advance to the national competition Nov. 5 to 6 at the J.W. Marriott in Washington, D.C. The top individual prize of $100,000 will be awarded to the first-place finisher in the senior category. The top prize in the junior category is $50,000 while the primary leader will earn $25,000.
To date, there have been several hundred inquires and more than 20 committees registered.
At the core of their work, Rasche said, is the bee's foundational slogan, "Learn it. Speak it. Live it."
"We built a philosophy of ministry behind that," the executive director said.
Rasche said the ultimate prize is not money, but developing ambassadors for Christ for the next generation. In the long run, he said, scripturally informed Christians form the impetus for healthy churches.
"It comes at a time when there is an opportunity for us to call not just kids back to the lost discipline of Scripture memorization, but also to call back their parents and grandparents," he said.