Every spring, hundreds of high school students from around the country arrive on the BJU campus for the annual American Association of Christian Schools National Competition.
The AACS competition is a hectic time at the University. The additional visitors and activities can put a slight strain on an already bustling campus. But these small inconveniences shouldn’t distract from what can be a crucial time in the lives of competitors. A number of current students once participated in this competition, and for many of them, AACS week is filled with fond memories of spiritual lessons and life-changing experiences.
One such student is Matthew Wells, a sophomore cross-cultural service major. Every year for three years, Wells traveled with his classmates all the way from Denver, Colo., to BJU. Wells said being able to go on a road trip, getting to hang out with friends, and competing always made the AACS competition one of the highlights of his school year.
Not only was AACS an enjoyable time for Wells, he also says it was a time that changed his life. Wells’ life-changing experience came in his third year of AACS when he was competing in the categories of Oral Interpretation of Scripture and Old Testament Bible Knowledge. Wells said he was more concerned about doing well in the first category because it was a slightly more glamorous category than the more academic Old Testament Knowledge category.
“People had told me, ‘Oh, you did really well. You’re going to win,’” Wells said. “Then the night of the awards came, and I didn’t even place in Interpretation of Scripture, but I got first place in Bible Knowledge.”
Wells said he believes that disappointment helped affirm God’s calling for his life.
“That night the Lord was like, ‘Maybe I’m trying to teach you something: not [taking] glory for yourself, but instead, doing something where you don’t get the credit, and you’re serving Me.’ The next day I declared my major as Bible,” Wells said.
Wells also said the competition was a good introduction to campus because it allowed him to get a preview of life at BJU before he came as a university student. Being a former AACS competitor has also allowed him to appreciate the high school students more because he can remember what it was like to be in their position a few years ago.
Jess Katka, a freshman theatre arts major, is another current student with past AACS experience. Katka and a group from her school made a 19-hour drive each year from New Hampshire. She said the AACS competition was always an emotional trip: long travel time, anxiety over competing and being in an entirely new place.
Katka says the competition was especially good for her as someone who dealt with stage fright and was anxious about coming to a large university. This was her chance to attack both of those fears, as well as get to know the faculty at BJU, something both Wells and Katka mentioned as being an important part of their AACS experience. Katka said it was especially nerve-racking in the final round of a particular competition when she had to perform in front of Ron Pyle, a member of the theatre arts faculty whom Katka knew might one day be her professor.
Hankerson said the hospitality he received during each of his visits to campus was one of the main reasons he chose to attend BJU. Now as a student, Hankerson said he tries to return the same hospitality he was shown.
“It’s like the roles [are] reversed,” he said. “Now I’m the one giving the hospitality.”
All three students said coming to the AACS competition was a deciding factor in their choice to attend BJU. The competition allowed them to meet the faculty, learn spiritual lessons, experience the friendly environment on campus and see the quality of the programs the University offers.
For these three students and many others, God used the AACS competition to impact their choice in college and maybe even the rest of their lives.