Winner of this year’s final Bible Connection competition Edna Ventura (center) of Chiapas Mexican Union smiles from ear to ear as she is awarded the top trophy held by Pastor Daniel Torreblanca (left), youth ministries director for the Chiapas Union (left), as Pastor Al Powell (right), youth ministries director for Inter-America announces the award to the hundreds in attendance at the Belize Civic Center in Belize, on Dec. 1, 2018. Photo by Libna Stevens/IAD

December 6, 2018 | Belize City, Belize | Libna Stevens/IAD

When she heard that the second place winner had only missed two questions during the final Bible competition program at the Belize City Civic Center, she held back tears and contained her excitement with a smile because she knew she had only missed one.  Moments later, Edna Ventura Perez was declared the winner of this year’s Inter-American Division (IAD) Bible Connections competition in Belize on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018.

At 27, Ventura felt the rush of her entire journey this year, a mix of hard work, tough decisions, and personal sacrifice – yet one that led her to a joyful experience full of blessings and opportunities.

“I’ve been dreaming of getting here and taking part in this event to represent all young people from my church and my union,” said Ventura.  Ventura represents the more than 10,000 young people in Chiapas, Mexico, who took part in this year’s bible study books of Matthew and Mark and Chapters 6-15 of Desire of Ages by Ellen G. White’s—a co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

To focus on memorizing and analyzing the bible study this year, she had to scale back on taking orders in her seamstress business to support herself. She lives at home with her parents and younger sister.

Top three winners of this year’s Bible Connection final competition event pose for a photo with youth leaders. Photo by Libna Stevens/IAD

“I decided to focus on encouraging young people at my church to join the Bible competition at my church,” said Ventura, who directs the young people and also leads the cradle roll department at the Tuixcum Grande Adventist Church in Motozintla, Chiapas.

Focusing on the study of the Bible meant sewing less and making less money but still buying materials for youth activities and cradle roll class at church.  “I felt deadlines were stressing my ability to focus on my responsibilities at church and my desire to get deeper into studying the Bible,” said Ventura, who took second place at the union level of the Bible competitions in 2014 and 2015.

She memorized the book of Matthew and wrote out important parts from the book of Mark and read and re-read every verse and every paragraph in the assigned chapters in Desire of Ages.   “My prayers were mixed with tears and struggles throughout this experience of making the study of the Bible a priority in my life and it brought me closer to God every time,” said Ventura.

As the top winner, Ventura received a one-year scholarship to Montemorelos University in Mexico, as well as a medal and trophy. She is delighted to be able to go to university and pursue a psychology degree. Ventura also won a scholarship to Linda Vista in Chiapas Mexico when she won her union’s competition earlier in October.

FInalists answer questions on tablets during the competition. Photo by Libna Stevens/IAD

Studying the Bible has helped her stay faithful to God and encourage family, friends and young people at home to make bible study a priority.  “It doesn’t matter if you have very little money. If you have the Word of God, you can get to spiritual heights that are so much more valuable and that communion with God will open up so many more opportunities in your life,” Ventura said.

Communion with God is at the heart of the youth ministries Bible study initiative into which the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Inter-American Division (IAD) has invested so many financial resources.  This year becomes the 15th annual territory-wide bible initiative in which thousands of young people across churches have dug deep into assigned bible books and readings in an effort to enrich their spiritual life, explained Al Powell, youth ministries director for the church in Inter-America and main organizer of the event in Belize.

“It’s a great blessing to see the impact this initiative is having in the lives of so many young people,” said Powell. “We want young people to walk closer with Jesus, learn about His life, passion and ministries, so that they in turn can continue impacting the lives of people in their communities every day and every week.”

Formerly the Bible Boom, the Bible Connection competition saw all 24 finalists from the 24 unions, or  major church  regions, in the IAD take part in this year’s competition, a first in 15 years.  Because the finalist from Haiti and Cuba had visa issues to travel to Belize, arrangements were made for them to also participate live through the internet and compete with the 22 other finalist in the civic center venue, explained Powell.

Pastor Al Powell, youth ministries director for the church in Inter-America and main organizer of the bible competition hosts during the live program. Leslie Gillet, education director for the Belize Union of Churches translates. Photo by Libna Stevens/IAD

Finalists answered 60 multiple choice questions in three 20-question segments that varied in 5, 10, 15, and 20 points during the two-hour finale competition event.

No one was more surprised than Moises Puerta of the Panama Union, when he was named the second-place winner during the event. Puerta had trailed behind the first four spots in the first two segment of the competition and was shocked to win.

Puerta, who has seven siblings, had not fully committed to competing to the bible initiative himself until he decided to encourage a younger brother who is part of the pathfinder group he leads at church.

At 26, he is a medical doctor finishing his two years of service at the Municipal Hospital back home, Puerta said he took his vacation days in the month of September to memorize Matthew and read and study day and night Mark and the Desire of Ages.  “To deeply study everything that Jesus went through, leads you to really value the sacrifice that He did for each one of us,” said Puerta.  Puerta feels this experience has definitely changed him. “There’s something about really studying the Bible this way that takes you to new level of understanding and I take back this experience to encourage others in my church to do the same because it’s life changing.”

Pastor Dick Barron, former youth ministries director for the Adventist world church challenges young people to not only study and believe God’s Word but to obey it. Photo by Libna Stevens/IAD

Challenging young people to cling to the Bible truths was the main message Pastor Dick Barron, former youth ministries director for the Adventist world church, focused on during the Sabbath event.

“We are here to remind you about being connected to the Word of God,” said Barron as he spoke to more than 3,000 church members in the audience. “If you want the power of God unto salvation, don’t just read the Bible, don’t just study the Bible, obey the Bible.”

Barron said that every believer should be so in love with Jesus that when they open His Word, they should see His face on every page.  “There is power in the book, you can only unleash that power until you open, study and obey the Bible.”

Barron’s message really resonated with Holman Palacio, a bacteriologist from the North Colombia Union. Palacio grabbed the third place spot during the competition and said he has felt his life transformed ever since he began taking part in Bible competitions in 2014. This is the second year in a row that Palacio takes part in the IAD’s final bible competition. He has won two one-year scholarships from his union and will start his second year as a theology major.

Awards tables displayed during the Bible Connection competition. Photo by Libna Stevens/IAD

“God has been teaching me so many things as I’ve been studying His Word so in-depth this year,” said Palacio.  “While I was riding my motorcycle to deliver a package, I was coming to a traffic light when I heard the verse on Matthew 25:36 in my head: ‘I was naked and you clothed me’ and I saw a homeless man and I felt moved to give him my jacket and so I did,” said Palacio. “It is not just about reading and studying God’s Word but we need to act upon those principles that Jesus taught us.”

Studying God’s Word has become like second nature to Palacio and that’s really the main reason why the initiative is so important to be reinforced all across the IAD to prepare the church of today and the future as the Second Coming is near, said Powell.

Second and third places were given a one-year scholarship to the University of Southern Caribbean in Trinidad and Northern Caribbean University in Jamaica.

Earlier in the day the Minister of Immigration in Belize Beverly Williams welcomed the youth delegation and applauded the work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in strengthening education and the community in her country. Dozens of children and young people from several churches across Belize were pinned during a special investiture ceremony.

Hundreds of church members gathered to watch the bible competition finale program. Photo by Libna Stevens/IAD

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has nearly 46,000 members worshiping in 132 churches and congregations which are organized under the Belize Union of Churches Mission.

Next year’s Bible books to study for young people ages 16 to 35 include Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther as well as Chapters 45 -53 of Ellen G. White’s Prophets and Kings.

Inter-America’s 2019 final Bible Connection competition is scheduled to take place in Curacao, late in November.

To view a photo gallery of Inter-America’s Bible Connection competition in Belize, Click HERE

For the online program, Click HERE

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