If researchers polled Christians every Sunday for a year about the blessings they receive from following Jesus Christ, winning a spelling bee probably wouldn’t come up a single time. But that’s exactly what happened at the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee when a 14-year-old Texan took home top honors.
The 91st Scripps National Spelling Bee ran from May 29-31 in National Harbor, Maryland, enjoying a field of more than 500 competitive spellers from across the country. The large influx of contestants far outnumbered fields in previous years to make this one of the most competitive word events on record.
Audience members and viewers of the live ESPN-televised spell-off were treated to unusual words including “haecceitas” and “bewusstseinslagen,” which tripped up a pair of spelling bee champion hopefuls.
But when top-speller honors were on the line, the final word selection was a familiar one. Familiar, that is, if you happen to be a Christian. Karthik Nemmani spelled the word “koinonia” with ease. The eighth-grader from McKenney, Texas, says he knew the word and its spelling the moment the judge said it.
Why Many Christians are Familiar with “Koinonia”
Koinonia is a Greek word that is loosely defined as a “spiritual community,” but evangelicals often use the word in conjunction with Cristian fellowship or communion. The word enjoyed particular popularity during the 1990s, when everything from Christian rock bands to ministries to coffee shops were adopting koinonia as their moniker.
One social media tweet made the joke that “If you grew up evangelical in the 90s you can totally spell koinonia because you had a crush on the drummer for a youth group band by that name.”
Many Christians may recall the international community organization formed in Georgia called Koinonia Farms. It was largely responsible for launching Habitat for Humanity. Other community outreach programs have included Koinonia House, a program designed to help incarcerated women transition back into the community.
The word has widely been adopted by Christians from the Greek New Testament in verses such as Acts: 2:45, saying the church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship.” In Philippians 1:5, Paul prays strongly with the joy of “partnership in the gospel.”
Revered leader and one of the principles of today’s evangelical movement — the late John Stott — preached about koinonia in his sermons:
“That’s the Greek word koinonia. It comes from the adjective koinos that means “common.” Koinonia bears witness to what we have in common and what we share as Christian men and women and young people. It bears witness to two complementary truths,” he preached.
“First, koinonia expresses what we share in together, what we have received together, what we participate in together. That is the grace of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So, the apostle John, at the beginning of his first letter, says, ‘Our fellowship (koinonia) is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ . . . ’”
The 2018 spell-off also included the somewhat rare word “pseudepigrapha,” that Christian scholars use to describe non-canonical works written by people with a biblical connection.
Other difficult-to-spell Christian terms have also been included in the national spelling bee. For instance, the word “Laodicea” presented a challenge in 2009. It is used in Revelation and generally means half-hearted or indifferent.
Texas Teen an Unlikely Champion
In any other year, Nemmani may not have made the national spelling bee finals. But a rule change opened the door for so-called “wild card” contestants to advance.
Under this year’s wild card rule change, youths that took top honor at school bees — but not necessarily regional competitions — were allowed to move forward. They were deemed “RSVBee” contestants and the change was made to account for areas with high-level spellers competing against each other.
Although Nemmani was allowed to advance and earn the national title, his family incurred a $750 entrance fee, paid their own travel, lodging and food expenses, unlike non-RSVBee contestants. Texas teens dominated the national spelling bee, earning the top three spots with Frisco, Texas’ Naysa Modi taking second, and Flower Mound, Texas’ Abhijay Kodali finishing third.
“It just shows me it is a pretty competitive region over all,” Nemmani said during a “Good Morning America” interview.
For his perseverance, he earned $40,000 in total prizes that include $25,000 in cash, a school pizza party and a complete Merriam-Webster reference library.
~ Christian Patriot Daily