When 16-year-old Ava Coulter talks about the cost of trusting Jesus, she speaks from experience — but not the one most people might immediately assume.
Ava was born with Morquio syndrome, a rare genetic metabolic disorder that affects the bones, spine, organs and physical abilities of those who inherit the condition.
When Ava was younger, she and her mother, Tammy, would travel regularly from their home in Madison to Chicago so Ava could participate in a clinical trial. Now, they travel to Huntsville once a week for her treatment.
It hasn’t been easy. But a bright spot since she was in fourth grade has been Bible Drill.
When she first began participating, holding the Bible like other competitors was difficult.
“I would use a table or place my Bible in my lap,” Ava recalled.
She continued working on the required skills — learning the books of the Bible and where to find them, along with memorizing verses and key passages in Scripture and their references — with Gina Fee, a Drill leader for grade schoolers and high schoolers since 2000. Both are members of Harvest Baptist Church in Madison.
Fee said Ava has worked through the early challenges to be successful as a competitor.
“Some years she would sit and now she stands, and her mind is incredible,” Fee said.
Fee said she and Ava would spend 45 minutes together each week working on Scripture memorization. Ava would easily remember the words each time, she said.
Ava learned everything on the high school drill leaflet for this year’s competition, Fee said, and then pushed herself a bit further this year by participating in Speakers Tournament.
Speakers Tournament, a competition for students in grades 10–12, requires participants to write and deliver a 4–6-minute speech using Scripture to address a topic chosen from a list of options.
At the state Speakers Tournament competition at Glynwood Baptist Church in Prattville on April 29, Ava spoke on the topic, “Is there a cost to following Jesus?”
“As Christians, we know there is,” Ava said before she unraveled the story of Abraham’s faith in Genesis 22 and the importance of picking up your cross and following Jesus, as He spoke about in Matthew 16:24–25.
Ava shared a personal story, describing the cost of losing a friend because she decided to stand on God’s Word rather than to conform to her friend’s acceptance of the LGBTQ lifestyle.
“I told her that though I don’t agree with [the choice], I still have love for [the individuals],” Ava explained in her speech.
Ava said her advice to other teenagers facing the same dilemma is to “pray about it because God is going to lead you where you need to be.”
“It is better to listen to God rather than to listen to peers,” she said. “Peers might go for the revengeful answer more than the peaceful.”
Tammy Coulter said she admires her daughter’s persistence in trusting Christ in spite of her physical challenges.
“After going through surgeries and going through physical therapy and the clinical trial, she could have gone a different way, and I am so proud of her. She could have given up on God, but she has allowed Him to use [her condition] for God’s glory.”
Now, Ava is helping younger students in Bible Drill, as well as serving in the nursery at her church. A homeschooled student, she is also active in theater and yearbook at Lion’s Gate Christian Co-op. Even after all these years, she still loves training for Bible Drill.
“I love everything about Drill,” she said. “My teacher is amazing, and I don’t know what I would do without her. I love the challenge.”
Belinda Stroud, a children’s ministry specialist for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions who provides leadership for Bible Drill and Speakers Tournament, called Ava an “inspiration.”
“Watching her grow up participating in Bible Drill over the past eight years has been such a privilege,” Stroud said. “She has not allowed her physical limitations to limit her learning God’s Word. She has memorized many verses and passages and, I believe, has learned in that process how to apply them to her life.
“That was evident as she presented her speech this spring at our competitions. I look forward to seeing how God continues to use her.”
In 2022, Tammy Coulter wrote about Ava and the family’s medical journey in “She Is My Child: What My Daughter’s Medical Journey Taught Me About Faith, My Heavenly Father and Flying Standby.” The book is available at online book retailers.
Learn more about Bible Drill and Speakers Tournament at kidzlinkal.org/bible-drill.
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