Mississippi 9-year-old shows knack for Bible memorization, among top competitors of National Bible Bee

Published 6:29 am Saturday, September 25, 2021

Aacen White of Big Creek is a typical 9-year-old boy in many ways. He likes hunting and fishing, taking care of his animals, and spending time with his family.

But in one way, White is rather unique: He has a knack for Bible memorization.

There’s a good chance White can recite more Bible verses from pure memory than most adults. And that’s a good thing, because in November, White will travel to Covington, Kentucky to compete in the primary division (ages 7-10) of the National Bible Bee Championship, where top competitors are expected to learn a whopping 579 verses.

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Win or lose, Aacen said he’s ready for the big day.

“I would like to win,” he said. “I’ll try my best, but the main goal everyone should have is to learn God’s word and to make God known. The win for me is just to make it there.”

Aacen’s mother, Whitney, is his coach and main cheerleader. She said Aacen first qualified for the competition two years ago, when he was just 7 years old.

“He was the youngest competitor and the only one from Mississippi,” she said. “He was just learning to read. That year, he was an alternate. This year, he’s ranked eighth out of 120 finalists in his age division.”

Whitney said the prep work, which began with an eight-week-long summer study, involves far more than just rote memorization.
“They’re not little bitty one-liners,” she said. “Some of the passages are 12 or 13 verses long, and they have to know cross-references and Greek root words. It’s harder than anything I ever studied for in college.”

Aacen compared the long season of study to a mountain climb.

“Every day it gets harder,” he said. “It’s like climbing a big steep hill. You get to the top and look up and there’s another one. I can’t imagine how hard it is for the junior and senior level. They’ve gotta be studying from morning til night.”

Whitney said in addition to memorizing hundreds of verses, Aacen and other competitors will have to master a certain level of abstraction to be viable contenders for the big prize.

“Some of the questions are just random,” she said.

She cited an example from the study guide: Which word best describes Jude 1:3: a.) remembrance, b.) exhortation, c.) benediction, or d.) command?

“I mean, I have no idea myself,” she said. “And he’s 9!”

Aacen said studying for competition is harder than his school work, but he gets lots of breaks.

“At school, it’s just nouns and adverbs and stuff,” he said. “But Momma breaks it up into parts, so I can still go swimming in the summer, and I can hunt and fish in the winter. That’s what I love about it.”

Whitney said she recognizes Aacen’s intelligence and wants to encourage his natural ability, but not at the expense of a normal childhood.

“He has a gift,” she said. “But there has to be a balance. I still want him to be a little boy.”

While he’s happy to be a little boy, Aacen is not afraid to step into adult roles when necessary. On several occasions, he has addressed adult groups, as well as filled in from the pulpit at New Hope Baptist Church in Webster County, where his father, Matthew, is the minister. He said he’s already thinking about his own future.

“I’ve always wanted to be an eye doctor when I grow up,” he said. “And I’d also like to be a preacher.”

On the Sunday before he and his family head the competition in Kentucky, Aacen will once again speak from his father’s pulpit. He said he’s already working on his remarks.

“I’ve already been thinking about what I’m going to say,” he said. “I was thinking about how our country is falling apart. I’m praying God will open the eyes of our leaders like he opened Saul’s eyes. I’m praying they will turn back to God.”

It’s advice just about everyone would do well to remember.