2016 National Bible Bee In Review

What a week it was. WHAT A WEEK. So many emotions. So good to all be together again. So good to rejoice together + see the Hand of the Lord at work throughout the week in more ways than I can tell you.

I am guessing that most of you watched the livestream, or in some way kept up with what was happening during the weekend. But for those that didn't, I am so thrilled to tell you all five of the contestants from our family were winners by hiding God's Word in their hearts. We rejoiced with all of them to be at Nationals together and be able to compete with the other top 360 contestants from across the nation.

In the senior division, Taylor won first place! He made Bible Bee history by becoming the first contestant ever to win two different divisions, two years in a row, and the first fourteen year old in BB history to win the senior division, which is ages 15-18. (he competed in the senior division because he automatically had to move to the next division after winning juniors last year) Denver came in for a close third place. Hudson also made it to the finals in his division and received fourth place. Elizabeth + Rebecca did not make it to semi finals and so were able to be in the crowd with the rest of us to cheer on their brothers, which they really enjoyed. =)

Now that those details are out of the way, here is a little recap of the week. There was so much packed into those five full days, that it is extremely hard to properly condense everything! However, I will give it a try. =)

Our journey started out in the bus on Monday evening at 7:30pm. This was one hour after our intended departure time. Unfortunately we were not only late, but about thirty minutes after we had been on the road, it was discovered that several important items had been left behind...so around we turned, and back we drove to retrieve the forgotten items.

We had only eight from our family along for the drive down (Josh flew down early, Allison flew over from Mexico and met us, and Carson + Mitchell flew down mid-week), but also had a few friends join us. With rotating drivers and a two hour stop Tuesday afternoon at a park in Oklahoma, the trip went quickly! We aren't used to driving during the day very much, so the full day's travel did seem long, but the afternoon stop, naps, and lots and lots of study and verse listening and conversations, helped to make time pass faster!
Early Wednesday morning, we pulled into San Antonio.
The above picture was taken right before these five headed in to the hotel for their official registration.

Josh flew down to Texas ahead of us, and was there Monday/Tuesday, training along with this group of alumni. (above) These nine have all competed together in the Bible Bee in past years, and they were selected as a group of "Commanders" to help with everything from registration to answering questions to directing contestants during the competition. From the stories + pictures Josh shared with us, it sounded like they all had an amazing time working together + sharing many fun times!
Our whole sleeping/eating set up with the hotel and all was quite an arrangement! Especially for country people like us, living in a fancy hotel for a week is a bit of a stretch. =) Thankfully the hotel had lots of walking areas and even some surrounding wooded spots. Denver found this fence the first night and apparently got some of his stress relieved by seeing how long he could balance on the fence while reciting verses...... Note the prolific cactus growing beneath. =0
Thursday was the first testing day! Here were Liz + Hudson, getting ready to take their written test for the junior division.
I had to get a picture with my two big little brothers. The big smiles are ones of relief that their written tests were finished and out of the way.
Fun times go down backstage. We like to say, "what happens backstage...STAYS BACKSTAGE." =)
Basically Denver has always been our family clown and life of the party. Here, he was demonstrating something as a part of an inside family joke, and looking just as goofy as could be while posing. =)

On Thursday night, our family led worship for the opening ceremony.

It was so wonderful to have these lovely ladies along with us. A group of us stayed at some friend's nearby home. This was our first night to have Allison back with us which naturally meant a very late night conversation atop the massive king size bed. An abundance of laughter + chocolate accompanied the chatting. SO GOOD to have Allison back in the USA!

Things "officially" kicked off then on Friday morning with the presentation of all of the National Qualifiers (120 in each of the three divisions) and then the announcement of the fifteen top scores (semi-finalists) from each division.

The announcement of the semi-finalists was so much fun. We've been through the Bible Bee for a number of years now but that anticipation + building excitement just never gets old!
We sit on the edges of our seats, holding our breath...and then let out wild screams of delight if "our people" are called. =)

The senior division finalists announcement. When we heard "both Bontrager brothers" we all exploded. It was so nice of the moderators to give them both to us in one shot and not string us out in agony like they've done in previous years. =)
Friday found us watching the semi-final rounds then! Here we have an excited Dad, Mom, + Rebecca in the audience-getting ready to cheer on Hudson!
Finally! The sisterhood reunited again! Coffee + a lovely chat was the first thing on the docket. =)
We sure do love all the friends we run into at the Bible Bee. What fun!
Met this sweet blog reader on Friday morning!

Junior final round, in which Hudson participated. It was a fabulous competition + Hudson was amazing! If for nothing else, you need to watch the livestream for the part when Hudson is chatting with the moderators who ask "what is life like in the Bontrager house?" and Hudson responds "Well, we don't really have any kind of schedule or anything". Poor Mother dear-she was so mortified. It was hilarious. =) Hudson ended out getting 4th place!
Time to go for the last competition..the big one...the 2016 National Bible Bee Senior Finals!!
I will never get tired of watching my brother's faces as they recite the WORD with such precision + power. 

Love this picture. Not because of the celebratory music playing. Not because of the wild and enthusiastic cheering of hundreds of people. Not because of the confetti or flashing lights or anything of that. I love this picture because I see the first place winner, that fourteen-year-old young man who had just won $100,000.00...looking upwards and signifying by doing so that ALL of the honor and glory was due to Jesus.

You really just have to go watch the livestream for yourself if you haven't already seen it. This ending moment was so incredible.

Hearing my little brother so humbly give all the glory to Jesus...was so precious.
Our dear friend Raphael Cruz was also at the hotel for a political meeting and he was able to meet up with us and watch the senior finals round. It was so good to see him again.
Interviews with the final five.
The formal dinner/celebration late Saturday night.
After the celebration dinner was over on Saturday night...was when the party REALLY started. You have to understand...people like Denver + Taylor (and basically anyone who make it on to finals) ended up spending the weekend studying in their rooms. Denver and Taylor didn't even come downstairs to watch the junior finals that Hudson was competing in, because every spare moment was being spent in intense study for the final round.
Smiles with friends from across the miles!
"So y'all...we may have studied for Bible Bee more than we did everything else...but now its all over for the current time and we are gonna go have us a good BASKETBALL GAME!!" At 1am, no less. =)
A group of alumni and older contestants.
Things may or may not have gotten a little wild during the wee hours of Sunday morning. =) All that pent up stress + pressure was GONE and Josh, Denver, + Taylor (who were the ones who stayed up longest) had a blast partying with their fellow contestant friends.
Josh loved his week working as a staff "Commander" with these guys and an additional group of girls.

This is one of the most beautiful things about the Bible Bee-the way it has knit together the hearts of young people around the Word of God. My siblings have been so encouraged + blessed by the incredible friendships God has blessed them with through the Bible Bee. Some of their very dearest friends are fellow BBers that they have met through the National Competition.
This picture is a National Bible Bee tradition-every year, a picture is taken with a group of the national qualifiers pointing at the first place senior winner. This year, it was our very own Taylor.

Our whole family, at the formal dinner, Saturday night. So much rejoicing + peace + HAPPY on this night. The food was amazing + the company superb. There were several speakers there that night, and we siblings also played sibling cooperation as a part of the event. It was a great finale to an incredible week.
"For all flesh is as grass, 
and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. 
The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away;
But the WORD OF THE LORD endureth forever.
And this is the Word which by the Gospel is preached unto you."
1 Peter 1:24+25

A few closing thoughts...

While at Bible Bee that week, a friend told me about a conversation that he had overheard between a random father + his son. In this conversation, the father was explaining to his son that he (his son) didn't need to feel bad for not advancing in the competition. This father said something along the lines of "only the Bontragers, and Pentimones, and Che's, or ________ are the ones capable of winning. You aren't one of them, so you won't ever win. It's okay; it's not your fault that you're not a ________".
Basically this father was telling his son that since the son wasn't one in "the" families, he never would advance very far, because only if you were from one of "the" families, could you advance on to semis or finals.

This conversation is so sad to me. Moving completely off of Bible Bee for a moment and discussing purely the practical application of this...the father is setting his son up for failure in life in general by giving him the mentality of "if you aren't so and so you can't accomplish anything". Children will perform to the level of which they are expected. This is proven time and time again. Negative thinking and training will reduce negative results. If you set the bar low for your children, then low is where they will aim and most likely hit.

Now taking it into Bible Bee...winner or not isn't the point. The point is that we need to have the character to ALWAYS aim for the top and give whatever we are doing, our very best effort. My siblings know that they are loved just the same whether they "win" or don't win. However, they also are very aware of the time + investment their parents + older siblings have put into the Bible Bee. They know that if they choose to participate in the Bible Bee, they are expected to give it their best and work hard. I have seen my brothers sacrifice pleasure and play and all manner of things, to spend that extra time in the Word instead. All over Bible Bee season, they said "no" time and again to parties + social functions. They would "leave the party early" so that they could go to bed in good time and then get up and study the next morning while the house was still quiet.

None of my siblings ever advanced to semis, or finals, because they were a Bontrager. They didn't advance because they were extra smart, or extra skilled, or anything like that. Our family is a very normal, down-to-earth, country-livin' type people. We live on a farm, we do the bare minimum for "textbook school", and our parents don't have college degrees behind their names. We would never have been considered brainy kids if we had been in the state school system.

There are two main things that our parents have taught us in life, and that is that if you...
1) follow God's principles
2) work hard
...there is NOWHERE you can't go, and NOTHING you are unable to attain. Taylor didn't win first place two years in a row, in two different divisions, because he is any smarter or more gifted than anyone else. He won because he honored + glorified God, and because he worked hard, sacrificing + giving, to study God's Word.

Friends, the Bible Bee is a study of a book. THE BOOK. Your knowledge of that Book, and how much time you spend in it, determines how much you know. Anyone can study it, as much or as little as they like. My siblings don't automatically know more than anyone else. They weren't born with extra Bible knowledge. They simply have chosen to make the Word a priority in their lives.

May we never forget that the greatest treasure of all is that of having the King of Kings ALIVE in our hearts! It is through that personal relationship with Him that we should desire to know His Word. His Word will stand the test of time, and never fade away. It is truly the GREATEST PRIZE.
"To God be the glory, great things He hath done
SO loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life gate that all may go in.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the earth hear His voice,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the people rejoice.
Oh come to the Father through Jesus the Son,
And give Him the glory great things He hath done."  


Family in Iowa || October Recap

The beginning of October (the 2nd) found us arriving home from our last tour of the year! 
Morning sunrise of champions. So beautiful.
October started out green and gorgeous. It actually stayed beautiful all month long, even though the green began to fade as the grass grew brown and the corn turned golden.
We began clearing out the gardens...
As I mentioned, the weather in October was amazing. Our peppers produced so well this year! Some days it felt like we were never going to finish canning jalapenos. There were SO many. 
Allison left the beginning of October for her missions trip to Mexico. (full post coming soon on that by her!) Before she left she had many meetings and goodbye visits with friends and also finishing up work projects. She loved spending a little time with this angel and her family. =)
Speaking of jalapenos? Try stuffing them with cream cheese + seasonings, wrapping them in bacon, and then throwing them on the grill. Oh MY...
Gluten-free, sugar-free dessert goodness right here.
Mother + daughter chicken cutting duo after getting a batch of butchered chickens from our Amish neighbors. 
Carson designed new business cards for one of our family businesses. 
Elizabeth is our up and coming decor queen. She and Rebecca and pinterest had a little meeting of the minds one sunny afternoon...
Finished product! Sweet!
We celebrated two birthdays in October-Moms + Hudsons!
Birthday Blitz, anyone?! Pretty sure the neighbors heard about it that night...literally. =)
Tractor rides with Josh, hauling grain!
A good morning out for Carson!
Such a treat to be able to attend two weddings in the north, back to back! A friend's wedding in Minneapolis on Friday, and our cousin's wedding in Wisconsin the following day. It was a grand sister trip. Pictured above with our cousin, the groom...
Never a dull moment spent with our beautiful cousin loves!
Sunday dinner + company + good food + what more can you ask?
Music practice! Taylor, teaching himself the dobro.
Oh, you know, just letting out a pen of cattle for their routine daily stroll gallop across the countryside, and the gardens, of course. Apparently some absent minded (or absent hearted? =)) Bontrager son left a gate open. Name withheld to protect the guilty. =)
Pizza party + movie night to celebrate Hudson's 11th birthday!
He decorated his own cake. True farmer style. And true Bontrager style with NO frosting. =)
Denver loading out hogs!
Mitchell and Carson, getting the equipment ready to go once again.
There are always those days when things just don't quite go as planned. As is our custom, names shall remain unspoken to protect the guilty. We shall just say that two certain middle brothers were the, er, first on the scene. Or that they WERE the scene. Or something of that nature.
Beautiful Iowa landscape outside my window while out driving one day.
Carson wielding something...and sparks flying.
Flowers from dad for moms birthday...
Rebecca has been growing up and stepping in to help with more chores around the house. She recently started mopping the dining room floor, and she does a lovely job of it!
Our church hosted a Sunday service on our town square. The idea was to make the "church experience" more comfortable + easily available for people who wouldn't normally step foot inside a church building. It was a great day; lovely weather, incredible food, and a good crowd.
October was full-blown harvest season! The combine started early in the mornings and ran til late at night. Denver + Carson both spent several days running the combine this year, in addition to Dad, who always does most of the harvesting. They loved it. 
Story time with the infamous "Miss Denver" (inside joke)
So these dear kiddos...their mother has been teaching them to call their babysitters/helpers,
"Miss ____". Well, naturally, Denver is the very wildest and most fun babysitter you could imagine. So you would probably call him "Miss Denver" too. =) =) =)
Our hard-working farmer crew. These guys spent days working almost around the clock, hauling manure for large-production hog farmers across our state. I drove with them a few times to bring an extra vehicle with moving things around and so I got to get a few shots of them on the job.
Moving equipment from one job site to the next...
Our Sunday noon table, filled, more often than not, with friends and family. We love this sight.
AMAZING feast.
Taylor, hard at work feeding those hungry babies!

The end of the month, Josh headed out to Indianapolis to attend the fall "Harvest Fest" at his college. He had a fabulous time connecting with old friends and making new ones. He especially loved spending time with his fellow student/amazing cousin, pictured above with him right after the 5K run.
Doesn't get much more precious than this. He's gonna make a great daddy someday!
Facetiming with Allison after a big family party one night. Ah, how we missed her. Gotta love Rebecca's expression in this picture. =)

Push ups happen everywhere. Thankful for this workout leader brother who keeps us all daily inspired to "in whatsoever state/place we find ourselves, stay fit!" =)
Mitchell singing in an ensemble with some of the other young people from our church.
Mom organized a homeschool history + music class that lasted for six weeks, several hours each week, taught by a friend of ours. The younger five participated along with a number of other homeschoolers. It was a great experience for them and they learned a lot!
Boys and football. This never grows old around here.
Matching friends, working in the kitchen together!
Four-man pushups with workout friends. This goes along fine as long as you don't start laughing. Its also proven that it is harder to do if you have approximately ten sisters looking on and laughing while videoing. =)
Our orchard produced abundantly this year. We thought we might be eating apples until 2020 at the rate they were growing!
Elizabeth is becoming quite the proficient chef. She helped out with a lot of the cooking while Allison was gone. 
School continues for the littles. Taylor is in high school and works mostly on his own, but mom still has these three little chicks under her wing!
Carson got this picture out in the field one morning. So much to love about this view!
Love this shot one of the guys took from on top of one of our barns. 

"Home is where love resides, laughter is plentiful, 
friends always belong, memories are created, 
and love never ends."