Zarith Méndez of North Colombia, smiles as she holds her trophy for becoming this year’s IAD’s Bible Boom grand prize winner during the final competition event held Dec. 10, 2016, in San Pedro de Macorís, Dominican Republic. Youth Ministires director in North Colombia Pastor Mauricio Buitrago stands next to her in celebration of her victory. Images by Libna Stevens/IAD

December 11, 2016 | San Pedro de Macorís, Dominican Republic | Libna Stevens/IAD

When she heard her name called as the winner of this year’s Bible Boom competition, disbelief came over her face. Then tears rolled down her cheeks as reality set in.

Nearly 3,000 church members from across the island witnessed the event at the Polideportivo Center in Universidad Central del Este, Dec. 10, 2016.

Zarith Méndez of North Colombia was declared the winner of Inter-American Division (IAD) Bible Boom competition and given the Caleb Award Title Trophy for 2016.  At 15 years of age and the youngest Bible Boom winner in the 13-year history of the territory-wide competition, she stood in front of thousands of Seventh-day Adventists in San Pedro de Macorís, Dominican Republic, Saturday, Dec. 10, hardly able to control her emotions.

Méndez smiled as the swarm of eager photographers recorded the touching moment. As Mendez wiped her tears, she thought about the miracles that brought her to the final competition.

Just 24 hours before the competition, she flew on an airplane for the first time, and obtained her new passport only weeks earlier.

“I just could not believe it when I heard my name,” said Méndez.  She was in 10th place when the first round of questions were revealed and moved up to the second spot in the fourth round. She scored 450 points in the shortest amount of time of 3:56 minutes to answer 45 questions on the Books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth and Chapters 1-12 of Ellen G. White’s Patriarchs and Prophets Book.

As the top winner, Méndez, who will graduate from high school in a year and a half, received a brand new computer, two medals, and a scholarship to study at Montemorelos University in Mexico.

Second place winner María González of Venezuela stands next to Pastor Moises Prieto, youth ministries director of the East Venezuela Union minutes before the competition began.

Méndez entered her union’s regional competition for the first time this year after hearing about it at a master guide camporee event in her region. “I live in a very rural area and have to go to another town to connect to the internet, so as soon as I heard in June, I decided to study,” she added. Six hours of studying the Bible every day in between school and picking lemons at her parents’ farm after school paid off.

In the process, she fell in love with the Book of Judges and Patriarchs and Prophets. “This has been an excellent experience for me,” said Mendez. “Just learning about the experience that others went through, the history of the world, has taught me so much more about God and how we need to be faithful and obedient to the Word of God.”

She smiles just thinking about telling her sister and parents about her adventure and how she wants to encourage the members of her small group in the Adventist District of Eden in Cucuta, to study the Bible more. Hours after winning she had not been able to communicate with her family.

Méndez marvels at all the blessings she has gained from the moment she entered the Bible competition. As the winner of the North Colombia Union in October, she received a one-year scholarship at Colombia Adventist University in Medellin.  She wants to study medicine and looks forward to entering next year’s Bible competition in her district.

Third place winner Hernán Pérez of Guatemala takes in his accomplishment with Pastor Estuardo Guerra, youth ministries director in the Guatemala Union.

For María González, 16, who grabbed the second place in the Bible finale competition, entering next year’s regional competition at her church in Maracay in East Venezuela is a no brainer. “I want to come to the Bible Boom again next year for the top spot,” said González.

“Spending time in Bible study brings you closer to God and takes you to see the mercy He has over us no matter how much we sin,” she said. In the Book of Judges, her favorite this year, she learned how forgiving God was with His people and drew her to memorize, re-read and study more the Bible every day when she didn’t have school or homework.

“Any time I study my Bible, I’m able to retain everything I read,” said González. It’s different than when she studies different subjects at school. “Whatever I read in the Bible, it stays with me, so I’m not going to stop.”  She has already told her 12-year-old sister to start preparing to study the Bible intently because that’s what is important, she added.  Gónzalez received an iPad Mini and a medal as the second place prize.

Hernán Pérez of Guatemala, who took the third place, said studying the Bible has been non-stop for the last three years. He studied for five hours every day – two in the morning, one after lunch, and two at night. Pérez trailed behind by 10 points but was overjoyed to make it to the top three. Pérez also took home an iPad Mini.

Pastor Al Powell, youth ministries director for the church in Inter-America encourages the youth to remain connected to the Word of God.

At 25, he feels like a veteran compared to the more than a dozen teenager finalists this year. Pérez obtained the second place spot in his country last year and was determined to get to the Bible Boom.

“What a difference studying the Word of God has made in my spiritual life,” said Pérez. “I never imagined how it could transform my life, how much wisdom I have gained, it’s been amazing.”

All but three unions were represented during this year’s finale competition. Because of visas and other issues finalists from Cuba, French Antilles Guiana and North Mexico were not able to attend.

The Bible Boom is not about a competition or about a quiz, said Inter-America’s Youth Ministries Director Pastor Al Powell as he addressed the finalists and audience during the finale event.

IAD President Pastor Israel Leito challenges young people to let the Bible guide them in every aspect of their life.

“The most important thing about this experience is that you have connected with the Word of God and have been transformed by His grace,” said Powell.

Motivating the more than 1.5 million young people across Inter-America to dive into the Scriptures has been at the core of the mission to prepare young people to be a generation transformed and ready to witness in their communities, said Powell.

“The Bible Boom is fundamental for our youth to be grounded in the Word of God so they can be prepared to face the challenges here on this earth while making eternal connections,” added Powell. “We want to increase our involvement of our youth in studying the Bible more.”

Powell stated that he is working with IAD top administrators on expanding the Bible competition initiative ever further for next year.

Pastor Israel Leito, president of the church in Inter-America, congratulated the finalists and challenged them to continue studying the Holy Scriptures.

“We must let the Word of God guide us in every aspect of our lives,” said Pastor Leito. “We must be saturated by the Word and reflect God.”

Finalists had to answer 45 questions correctly in the shortest amount of time on provided computer laptops.

Seeing the enthusiasm for the Bible take over like wildfire in Inter-America has been satisfying to see, said Pastor Leito. Pastor Leito was involved in youth ministries at the start of his work for the church in Curacao and has continued to be involved to this day.

“It is beautiful how involved our youth are in studying the Bible and serving the church,” said Pastor Leito. “The youth of today are so different than the youth from decades before,” he said. “It’s a digitally savvy youth, enthusiastic about the faith, they don’t take things lightly, they are honest, sincere, and they are not superficial.”

The church needs to continue preparing young people so they can lead the church today and beyond as well as reach into their communities, Pastor Leito said.

Mayor of San Pedro de Macorís Ramón Antonio Echavarría welcomed the more than 3,000 gathered at the Polideportivo Center at the Universidad Central del Este, and thanked them for the work in the community towards the youth and especially in the areas of health and family. Mayor Echavarría named IAD leaders as distinguished guests of his city.

Young people from the East Dominican region welcome the congregation during the day’s program.

Scores of young people spent the Sabbath day, Dec. 10, from early morning until the Bible Boom finale event in the evening in praise and worship. The day’s program also included drama performances and a youth leadership investiture.

Among them was Neida Pérez of the Dominican Republic, who back in 2006 took part in IAD’s Bible Bowl competition finishing in 4th place, and later in 2010 for IAD’s Super Bible Bowl finishing second place.

“I couldn’t miss coming to see this event,” said Pérez. “Taking part in the bible initiative and deepening the study of the Bible is something that will stay with you for the rest of your life. It’s an immeasurable treasure because the Bible becomes part of you.”

Next year’s IAD’s Bible study books will include the Books of Daniel, Hosea, Joel and Chapters 39-44 of Ellen G. White’s Prophets and Kings Book. The final territory-wide competition is scheduled to take place in Cancun, Mexico, Dec. 2, 2017.

For updates on and information on Inter-America’s Youth Ministries Department, visit us at

To view a photo gallery of IAD’s 2016 Bible Boom Finale event, click HERE.

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