It's the 8th of June. In Bergen, Norway, about 100 young people are gathered in groups around their laptops. The excitement in the air is tangible. The stress levels are sky-high. Statements are hurled around: “A is true, B and C are false!” The annual church literature competition has started.
A team is sitting around a table, concentrating on the screen in front of them. You can hear mumbling around the table. “Which of these statements is correct concerning rest in God?” is the question. An answer shoots through the air. It comes from 16 year old Emil.
“We’re doing well in the competition,” he tells me, “but maybe I could have read even more.”
To prepare for the competition, Emil has read Elias Aslaksen’s book “I Am Crucified with Christ”, which is the theme for this year’s church literature competition.
“But I really read for my own sake,” says Emil, “so that I know the material myself and can use it in my own life. I haven’t just crammed.”
The other team members wave me away now, because they don’t have time. Each team loses a point for every minute used to complete the competition. But I think about Emil’s answer. He didn’t just want to learn the contents of the book for the sake of the competition, but because of the contents themselves. What makes the contents more interesting than the competition? And what’s actually the purpose of this event?
Reading to understand
I have a chat with one of the leaders of the youth group in Bergen. William Bernhardsen tells me that the competition is primarily so that the youth can obtain knowledge of the church literature.
“These books contain mysteries that we can get a much deeper understanding and insight in when we read them. We experience that what we read also works in practice,” says William. He explains that you can come into situations where you don’t know which choice you should make. “When I read, I get a greater understanding about what to do in situations like that— it’s like an eye-opener when it dawns on me.”
So the purpose of the competition is that the youth get a deeper understanding of the gospel, helped by books written by people who have been in the same circumstances, but who have had faith to live according to God’s word, and whom we have seen have been transformed and become happy by it. What these people have written contains much life wisdom, and this can be of great help and use to us if we want to go the same way.
Help in daily life
Another one of the young people who is well-prepared for the competition is 25 year old Silvia Nilsen. She has read the book several times, and agrees with William. She tells me that she often thinks about what she has read when she’s in difficult situations, and that this helps her make the right choices.
“So reading these books for the competitions has helped me a lot in my daily life.”
The book this year’s competition is based on is about Jesus’ crucifixion, but also about how we can live a crucified life together with Him.
I ask Silvia what made most impression on her when she was reading the book. She considers her answer carefully—it’s clear that many things have left their mark.
“What made the most impression was to read about Jesus who made it possible for us to overcome the sin that dwells in us people, like our self-will and egotism. He did this, and I can do the same by taking up my cross daily.” (Matt. 16:24)
Silvia also tells me that it’s more important to understand the contents of the book than it is to win.
“Of course it’s fun to win, but the book can also help me in my battle against my own egotism.”
The competition is soon over, and the teams can relax. The results won’t be known until Saturday. The youth group returns home with several months of reading behind them, but the value they have gained from the reading will be with them for a long time and hopefully be a help for them in the Christian life. The competition has given the participants the opportunity to obtain a greater personal development, and a greater faith and hope to become true followers of Jesus Christ.