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Tragedy to Triumph: JBQ National Festival

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When the Guardians of the Gospel, the Junior Bible Quiz (JBQ) team from First at Firewheel church in Garland, Texas, won the 32nd national JBQ championship held June 8-10 at Trinity Church in Cedar Hill, Texas, it may have very well marked the “comeback” story of the year. 

In February, one of the team’s quizmasters and biggest supporters, Brandon Pugh, along with two of his sons who participate on the JBQ team, were in a tragic car accident. Brandon, 36, died in the accident, while his son, Reese, 10, was in a coma for two weeks. Son Riley, 11, escaped physical injury, but faced the emotional loss of his father and brain injury to his brother, in addition to his mother, Lindsay, now being left to raise six children, ages 1 to 16. 

“When Reese awoke out of his coma after two weeks, the speech therapist wanted to challenge his memory,” recalls Kellie Koch, 36, the JBQ team coach. “Lindsay suggested the JBQ questions, so a few days after he woke up, I was up there with my buzzers and questions — he didn’t miss one! At that point, we knew he was going to be okay.” 

Koch says that the support from the JBQ family in the area and around the country was overwhelming, with messages and prayers constantly being sent to the family and team. “People from all over [during nationals] came and told us they were praying for us, and we all felt that support the whole season,” she says.

What makes the national title an even more unlikely scenario is that Guardians of the Gospel only came together as a full team the week before district competition. They placed second at districts and fourth at regionals, and were invited to participate at nationals. Even after managing to make it into the top 10 (out of 80 teams) finals, three of the other teams in the finals were teams they had faced at regionals. 

In all, teams quizzed 24 times (15 times on Friday, nine times on Saturday). During Saturday’s final rounds, Guardians of the Gospel, Calvary Church’s Naperville (Illinois) M team, and Braeswood (Houston) AG’s The Chosen Ones, were all tied in the top division at 6-3. But as Guardians of the Gospel had scored the most points in Saturday’s rounds, they won the tie-breaker and were crowned champions. 

“We’re all still in shock. We can’t believe we won,” Koch says in a voice that is still filled with the wonder of the win and the emotion of the loss of Brandon. “We all shared at different times how Brandon would have been cheering so much for us . . . To see all the things these kids have walked through — JBQ is just such an amazing program, as in the midst of tragedy these kids were able to know and stand on God truths that they knew because of this program.” 

Guardians of the Gospel team members included team-points leader Nathan Koch, team captain Makenna Koch, Andrew Lopez, Joanne Ramesh, and Reese and Riley. 

Although Calvary Church of Naperville did not win the title this year, with its “M” team finishing in a tie for first (prior to the tie-breaker), the church deserves special recognition as it placed four different JBQ teams in the top-10 division.

Pastor Barry Jorris of First Assembly in Fort Wayne, Indiana, who has been the JBQ National Festival coordinator for the past 8 years, says the entire weekend was full of God’s presence. Dan Dangerfield, lead pastor of Minot (North Dakota) First AG, was the special speaker for the Thursday and the Friday evening services. 

“On Friday night, he spoke about the Holy Spirit,” Jorris says. “He did a marvelous job. The Spirit of God was there in a great way and at least one adult and many, many children were baptized in the Spirit.” 

Jorris also put aside time on Saturday to share with the festival audience the testimony of the Guardians of the Gospel team and introduce them — many in the audience had been praying and interceding for the team over the past 5 months, but did not personally know them. 

“What this team has gone through, and then to still win nationals, is amazing!” Jorris says. 

Individual honors were also awarded at the JBQ festival. The top five high scorers included:  Samuel Jebaraj, Bethel Church, San Jose, California, 3,095 points; Hannah Alapati, Angleton First, Angleton, Texas, 2,995 points; Shaymis Powell, Calvary Church (M), Naperville, Illinois, 2,955 points; Shawn Timothy, Calvary Church (C), Naperville, Illinois, 2,765 points; and Hannah Plake, Central Assembly, Springfield, Missouri, 2,725 points. 

According to Jorris, the 2018 JBQ National Festival has already been scheduled. It will return to Orlando, Florida, for the 33rd event. 

For more information about the National JBQ Festival, including match results, individual scoring, and final results for each of the eight divisions, see jbqfestival.org. To learn more about the JBQ program, click here.

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