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A Life-Saving, Near-Death Experience

Bernie Elliot heads the AG's national Bible Quiz discipleship ministry. A pair of close encounters with weapons led the former police officer to the Lord.

Working a plainclothes detective shift in Syracuse, New York, Bernie Elliot believed he was going to die facing an angry robbery suspect pressing a sawed-off shotgun against his chest. 

"I stood there frozen with my hands in the air," Elliot recalls. "My feet felt like concrete blocks."

Just one week before, a police officer friend had invited Elliot to a Bible study and gave him a gospel tract asking, " If you died tonight, do you know where you are going?"  The tract's burning question flashed through Elliot's mind as he shook in front of the man intent on killing him. But somehow the trigger stuck. When more police arrived, the man inexplicably dropped the shotgun and ran.

Elliot's near-death event exposed his inner pain. He had hit rock bottom with a troubled marriage and frequent drinking bouts unwinding after work at a local bar.  One week later, he showed up at a home Bible study sponsored by Grace Assembly of God in Syracuse. The Holy Spirit softened his heart and he responded to an invitation to accept Christ as Savior and Lord.

After several months, another turning point surfaced, sealing Elliot's commitment to youth. It involved pointing his .38-caliber special revolver at a teenage girl who desperately needed the Lord. The thought of shooting her stunned him.

"That day the Lord put a special love for teenagers in my heart," he says. "I strongly felt the Holy Spirit calling me into teen ministry and that I would never arrest another teenager again."

Meanwhile, Elliot and his wife Jean, already a Christian, joined Evangel Community Church in Chittenango, New York. Growing spiritually, he saw the urgent need for a youth program and began rounding up street kids. Working with teens influenced his exit from law enforcement in 1980, to a full-time position as Evangel AG's youth pastor and janitor.

Youth ministry opened his eyes about the lack of Bible knowledge among students, which led him to Bible quizzing. He cites a survey of 2,000 born-again students, revealing that 92 percent have not read the Bible on their own in the last seven days.

Four years later Elliot joined Bethel AG in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, as associate youth pastor, and serving concurrently as Bible quiz coordinator of the PennDel AG district . He left Bethel in 1993 to focus on quizzing and conducting Bible camps and seminars nationwide. In 1999 he was appointed the AG's National Bible Quiz coordinator and now leads the Bible Quiz ministry, which has seen a 14 percent increase in teams this current quiz season.

Teen quizzers are serious, Elliot stresses. They practice at home one to two hours weekly and meet two hours every week in a team setting. "My worst quizzers know more about Romans and James than 99 percent of Christians in our churches," he says. 

Elliot's wife Jean, who assists him coordinating events and editing materials, is an avid supporter of the ministry.

"It's so important that young people have the Word of God in their lives to draw upon for direction," she says.

Many former Bible Quiz students have done very well, Elliot reports, serving as pastors, missionaries, and godly business people. John Blondo, an AG missionary for 16 years and currently pastor of Bethlehem Church in Richmond Hill, New York, believes the Scriptures he studied and memorized as a teen quizzer have impacted his ministry significantly.

"I still have 120 prayer partners linked to our quiz team and have built relationships with pastors and missionaries lasting for 30 years," Blondo says.

Bernie Elliot looks forward to the 2015 Bible Quiz Nationals in Phoenix (June 27-July 3).

"I've got the biggest church in the world - America's teenagers," he proclaims. "And Bible quizzing and youth ministry in general is the best crime prevention weapon around."


Peter K. Johnson

Peter K. Johnson is a freelance writer living in Saranac Lake, New York. More than 500 of his articles and short stories have appeared in Christian and mainstream magazines and newspapers, including the Pentecostal Evangel,Charisma, the Saturday Evening Post, Guideposts, and Decision. He also serves as a consultant and contributing editor to a scientific journal.