BROOKSVILLE — Bolstered by first- and second-place wins in New Port Richey in February, 18 students from the Fire Xscape youth group at First Baptist Church traveled to Jacksonville last month to participate at the regional level in "Teens Involved," a Bible-based ministry competition sponsored by Word of Life Bible Institute.
Thirteen of the teens came home with trophies.
"It was exciting, though I was nervous," said Stephanie Harris, a junior at Hernando Christian Academy who was a member of one of the church's quiz teams that took both first and fourth place in the Bible Blitz portion of the event. "It was fun to be a part of it."
This was the second year the church entered the competition, which tests the students on their Bible knowledge and judges their ministry skills in categories that include preaching, teaching, drama, writing, singing and playing musical instruments.
Now, the winners from the regional level are preparing for the international competition, which will be July 15 on the Word of Life campus in Hudson, where last year six students from the church won trophies and scholarships to the institute.
Hernando High School junior Jen Brooks, who won trophies for her trumpet solo and vocal solo, said it's hard work getting ready for the competition, but it's well worth the effort.
"I really like to be able to use my talents for God," she said. "When people ask why I play the trumpet, I like to tell them about God that way. It's a form of ministry."
For Harris, the preparation is an opportunity to refresh her knowledge of the Bible.
"You definitely learn a lot," Harris said. "Being able to go over the lessons in God's word again was really neat."
Brian Brijbag, student ministry pastor at First Baptist, coaches the majority of the teens. His wife, Amy, assists with the drama events and the writing categories. Worship minister Mark Reeves assists with the instrumental and vocal categories.
While Brijbag is happy that the students win many of the events, he said the coaches want the teens to look at their abilities as a form of service.
"The whole time, we encouraged the students to not focus on winning but instead have fun and do the best with the gifts and talents God has given them," he said. "They were not performing for judges but were serving their God."
Brijbag, who is also chairman of the Hernando County Fine Arts Council, said that along with developing the students' ministries, the competition also helps them develop artistic skills.
"We want a vibrant, growing youth program," he said. "We want to encourage drama, singing, preaching and all the other gifts and talents to be used for God's glory here at (the church) and out in the community."
Trophies were awarded to students who finished in the top four in their respective categories in the regional competition.
David Seale was on the fourth-place quiz team. Kalene Parker was on the first-place quiz team and also won in the creative writing category for her short story, Kara's Lesson.
Kaylee LaPlace and Kristy Madden were on the fourth-place quiz team and placed third in the video category. Timmy Carter was a member of the first-place quiz team. Niki Tucker was on the first-place team, placed third for her clarinet solo, Came to My Rescue, and placed fifth for her individual drama, Hands.
David Reeves finished second in evangelistic preaching and third for both his vocal solo and his video. Jen Brooks won for her trumpet solo, Sweet, Sweet Spirit, as well as for her vocal rendition of The Stand, by Hillsong.
Jackie Harris finished second in teaching children. Phillip Reeves finished third for his video. Rachel Reeves finished second for her vocal solo, Does Anybody Hear Here, was on the first-place quiz team and won for her piano solo. Stephanie Harris was on the fourth-place quiz team and won a trophy for her video.
Samuel Van Scoyoc, a senior at Hernando High, won a trophy for his preaching about "The Power of God's Spirit" and took first place for his original poem, The Past.
The inspiration for his poem came to him after church one day.
"I'd been going through a lot of relational issues lately, and I was trying to let go of the past," Van Scoyoc said. "I was praying so much to God to help me let go, and I sat at the computer and typed in the title, "The Past." From there it was entirely God-led. He guides all my poems. That's why I don't have so many, because it's always at the perfect time that he wants them done."
Van Scoyoc said he'd like to win one of the scholarships to Word of Life that are awarded at the international competition.
"I just hope that God's will would be done above all else," he said.
Brooks said she just hopes that she is able to bless people with her music.
"That's about it," she said. "Just make God proud of me and bless other people with my ministry."