Every year, the Shelby Kennedy Foundation gives a special award to a National Bible Bee contestant who endured and overcame significant hardship in their journey. This year, that award was given to the Jaster family, who suddenly and tragically lost one of their six children, Nehemiah, shortly after he qualified for the 2021 National Bible Bee Competition (NBBC). Nehemiah’s family desired to share his story and the work God did through him by answering a few questions about his short life here on earth.
How did studying scripture for NBB impact Nehemiah?
Within the last year or two, we definitely saw a change in his love for the Word. While initially he read his Bible as an academic process in order to be able to answer quiz questions correctly, we started seeing a self-propelled diligence and hunger for God’s Word, regardless of NBB prerequisites. His thirst for truth and lessons found in his studies of Scripture were beginning to be motivated by His love for getting to know Jesus better. No longer did we need to encourage and hold him accountable to have a regular and daily time of Bible study, he was consistently the first one of the kids up to offer the first-fruit of his day to Him. Nehemiah grew in wisdom over the last few years and we saw him grow into a more thoughtful, humble, and mature son and brother. Nehemiah also recognized the true motivation for NBB. While encouraging one of his friends on his chats, he stated, “All the glory that could ever be obtained in this world will pass away even if you got first at [NBBC], but the time you spent this fall studying and memorizing God’s Word you will never regret. His Word never returns void.”
How did Nehemiah show his love for God?
Nehemiah’s last few years can be summed up with an ever-increasing understanding of the Scripture from Matthew 22:37-40, “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” He always sought out the lonely, or outcast in a group. When he did an extra act of kindness for someone and his younger brother would encourage him to share that with us, his parents, he would tell him, “I would rather they don’t know because I want my reward in heaven.” Somewhere in the span of the last several years, he stopped seeking his friends’ acceptance and approval and became secure in His own worth as God’s child. Honoring God in the simple, everyday activities became his focus. He was usually the first to volunteer and help out in a family chore and the last to leave a job, even if it was cleaning up after a meal. His love for God was also seen in His love for God’s presence. The last night of his life, even while staying at his cousins’ house, I noticed that he had slipped quietly away and ended his day, kneeling by his bedside, reading his Bible.
What impact did Nehemiah have on those around him?
Nehemiah became less aware of his own wants, comforts, and personality shortcomings and increasingly aware of the needs and concerns of others around him. While the boyhood Nehemiah always vied for the biggest piece of pie or his choice of playing a game, the maturing Nehemiah now began deferring choices to his friends or siblings. He started seeing his friends as people to invest in rather than just people to goof around with, although he did plenty of that too. He became more conscientious that even his goofing around was to be honorable before the Lord, by coming to us every so often to get our opinion on a specific encounter with a friend or sibling. He would ask, “Do you think this was not appropriate or okay?” Or he would recognize it for himself and say, “Mom/Dad, I think I wasn’t acting appropriately. Would you please forgive me?” as if such an act would tarnish his own reputation as a child of God or as our son.
What aspect of ministry was Nehemiah most passionate about?
Nehemiah was probably most excited about witnessing and praying for the lost. On many occasions he loved going street witnessing with his brothers and a group of his friends. In fact, the Saturday a week before he died, he was in the city of Dearborn, MI handing out the book of Romans and John in Muslim neighborhoods. He spent the next week earnestly praying for a Muslim man that he had witnessed to on that day. He shared with one of his friends, “It’s not about how well we share the gospel with them because we are sharing about Jesus. We are His servants and His tools and He will accomplish what He desires through us as long as we are willing to be used by Him.” He also wrote on one of his chats to his friends, “People are so blinded! They so badly need Jesus. We NBBers have His word in our hearts so we are equipped and should never pass up an opportunity to share His love and truth with others! We need to make a difference in this world!”
What wisdom did you learn from Nehemiah that you think would be beneficial for others to hear?
Nehemiah lived ready. Very regularly, while already in bed, we would hear Nehemiah’s footsteps come up the stairs to our bedroom and he would ask us questions like, “Mom/Dad, is there anything today that you feel I could have done better on?” or “Mom, I wasn’t the most gentle with you today. Would you please forgive me?” He did this not only with us as parents, but with his siblings as well. Never would we or he have imagined that he would not be given an opportunity to make himself ready. We are so thankful that he practically lived out the Scripture, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:” (Hebrews 12:14), so that we are sure that he left this earth without regrets and ready to meet His Savior.
How was Nehemiah saved?
Nehemiah was by far our most difficult child to raise. He was active, creative, impulsive, immensely determined and stubborn, and above all, generally lacked self-restraint. Most punishments, consequences, or rewards did not sway his own desires for a particular thing and so we as parents often felt at a loss as to how to impart character and wisdom into his heart. During the years that Nehemiah was between 10 – 13 years old, we often spent time on our knees weeping over his selfish, sinful heart condition and would ask God to instill in him a fear of God and conviction and Godly sorrow over His sin. God answered that prayer when Nehemiah was 13 years old. On his own Nehemiah would come to our bedroom late at night and start confessing sins that we never even knew about. He did this every night for about a week, bearing his burdens and heavy conscience before us and the Lord. Each night he left with greater peace and experienced the joy of the gift of a guilt-free and forgiven conscience. From then on, Nehemiah began to change through Christ. He became transformed, a new creation. He still failed, but his failure grieved him and he quickly made things right between his God and man. He became thoughtful, humble, and unselfish. He sought God’s pleasure, not his own. In seeking the approval of God rather than the approval of man, he inevitably found both.
Written by NBB Alumnus: Dylan George