Making Rhymz With Grace

What are the three constellations named in Job 9:9? It’s hard enough to answer that question without looking up the verse. Try answering it on national television with cameras zoomed in for a close-up, two teams of Bible scholars standing beside you hoping – even praying – that you don’t know, and world-famous comedian Jeff Foxworthy waiting on your answer.

“I can’t phone a friend, can I?” asked Seth Brasher, flanked by fellow University of Mobile students Harrison Hughes and Kory Van Matre.
“Nope,” Foxworthy said. “That’s a totally different show.”

This is The American Bible Challenge, a fun, spirited game show that celebrates the Bible, its teachings, relevance and place in American culture. Teams of Bible enthusiasts from across the country compete in a variety of challenges, putting their knowledge of the Bible to the test in humorous, inspiring and educational ways, according to the Game Show Network. The American Bible Challenge has been described as the most popular show on GSN since its debut in 2012. The fast-paced show is hosted by Foxworthy, the largest-selling comedy recording artist in history, a multiple Grammy Award nominee and best-selling author of 11 books. Musical co-host is Kirk Franklin, a Grammy Award winner and multiplatinum-selling musician and producer.

The UMobile team, dubbed “Rhymz with Grace,” was in the final round and just a few more questions away from a possible $100,000 for the charity of their choice.

When the confetti rained down on the winning team, it didn’t fall on Rhymz with Grace. But second place in a Bible competition on national TV, along with a hefty $45,000 for their chosen charity, put these young men in a winner’s circle all their own.

“Rhymz with Grace is one of my favorite teams we’ve ever had on the show,” said Foxworthy. “From the beginning, I wanted this show to be a place where others could see faith in action, and the fact that these guys are so young and yet living out what they believe was really encouraging.”

Casting Call
It started with a music video poking gentle fun at self-righteous Christians. Worship Leadership majors Brasher, Hughes and Van Matre made a video in February 2013. Titled “Thrift Shop – Christian Remix,” the YouTube video is a redone version of the popular rap song “Thrift Shop” by the artists Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Instead of the original raunchy lyrics, the UMobile trio used the catchy beat to make a point that struck a chord with Christian youth groups across the country.

“We’re making fun of Christians who boast about their good deeds instead of living out a life of faith,” explained Hughes, whose academic concentration in film was key to producing the video. With the tag line, “I’m an awesome Christian,” the video takes a tongue-in-cheek look at some of the more pretentiously pious ways people spotlight their good deeds.

Fast-forward a year later and the video had over 858,000 views, including one by a casting agent for The American Bible Challenge. The Los Angeles-based agent tracked Brasher down through Facebook and called his cell phone.

“I was a little skeptical,” Brasher said. When he received an email with the show’s logo and detailed information, he told Hughes and Van Matre, “Oh wow, this is legit!”

The students were asked to audition in Atlanta for season three of the show, but their classwork and busy touring schedules as members of several of the school’s Center for Performing Arts music and worship ensembles made a personal appearance impossible.

Instead, the casting agent arranged a three-hour Skype interview, complete with Bible trivia questions. The best friends were asked to joke around, show their personalities, and share their testimonies of faith. Hughes taped the interview, which was sent to the TV show’s producers and edited into a highlights tape used to promote the show.

The show’s producers had an image in mind for the students – part Jonas Brothers, part cool college kids. It was a way to clearly define for the audience who they were, what they did, and why the audience should like them, Brasher explained.

The producers took a pass on Brasher’s idea for a group name – Boaz and the Kinsman Redeemers – and chose instead Rhymz with Grace. The name played off the group’s rap video, Harrison said, meaning that the students were able to make compelling rhymes by God’s grace.

The Competition
Rhymz with Grace was among 18 teams that would be playing to win money for a charity. They chose Home of Grace for Women, a Christ-centered alcohol and drug recovery program in nearby Eight Mile, AL. Harrison and Van Matre were members of the brass and percussion ensemble RamCorps that volunteered for several years at Home of Grace, working on landscaping and cleaning as part of Project Serve, the university’s annual day of service.

A video crew arrived on campus in November 2013, taping the team during a RamCorps outdoor concert, plus taping in-depth personal interviews. During the next few weeks the team added to their already significant biblical knowledge, studying with Dr. Doug Wilson, dean of the School of Christian Ministries. Soon, they were in Los Angeles for a week-long experience that pitted them against other teams, most of which included pastors or other older, learned members.

“We were the epitome of the underdogs. We were the youngest team – the oldest of us was 21. Everybody else had a pastor on their team,” said Brasher. As a three-time Bible drill champion in his youth, Brasher was the “Bible guru” of the team. Other teams included former beauty queens, motorcycle-riding priests, police officers and Mormon moms.

Challenges put the contestant’s spiritual and physical talents to the test with categories that include “Christ or Klingon” in which contestants must guess whether words are from the Bible or Star Trek’s Klingon language; “Curse You Autocorrect” where contestants must decipher a typed Bible passage that has been “autocorrected;” and “Nazareth Enquirer” with sensational Biblical headlines that could have appeared in a tabloid.

More than a Game
Their biggest concern was in knowing that “we were representing the school, and we were going to do our best not to look like idiots,” Brasher said.

Their most stressful moment came the first day when they were to perform an original rap song – they hoped it wouldn’t bomb. That moment turned from nerve-wracking to magical when Kirk Franklin was their beat boxer.

The team said the unusual opportunity gives them a broader platform to share not only their musical talents, but something much more important.

“For me, it’s God showing us through the smallest things that He can make the biggest thing come out of it,” Hughes said. The impact goes beyond appearing as contestants on a game show, they said.

“We don’t see this as a game. It’s an opportunity, first and foremost, to share the Gospel, and secondly to provide for those ladies at the Home of Grace in a way we never could if not for the show,” Brasher said. “We have a mission, and it’s nothing to do with the game show and everything to do with Jesus Christ.”

Mighty Ministry
Doris Wood-Littleton, founder and executive director of Home of Grace, said she is “overwhelmed by their goodness.”

The $45,000 in winnings will replace the 32-year-old floor in the building that serves as the cafeteria and chapel for the Christian center dedicated to helping women suffering from alcohol or drug abuse.

“They could go overseas and do mission work, but there is also a mission right here that puts women back with families, mothers back with their children, mothers with tears streaming down their face saying ‘thank you for giving my daughter back to me,’” Wood-Littleton said.

“I just love them because of their dedication to God and His work. I know God is going to use them mightily in their ministry,” she said.

The Biggest Blessings
When the whirlwind ride was over, the trio of friends had some time to reflect on their “15 minutes of fame” – what it taught them, how it affected them, and where they will go from here. They are keeping it all in perspective.

“If that’s all we’re ever known for, Brasher said.
Each intends to use his moment in the spotlight as a tool for sharing Christ.

Van Matre said one thing his experience shows is that God can use anyone in any way – even through something as unexpected as a music video and a television game show. “Don’t anybody ever doubt who God can use,” Van Matre said.

Brasher said the time they spent studying the Bible with Dr. Wilson taught them much more than Bible trivia.

“We were studying hard, we took practice tests,” Brasher said. “But the things that stood out most was when we were learning ‘why’ rather than ‘what.’ That was the biggest blessing. He was teaching us and reminding us to fall in love with the Bible all over again.”

Their shared experience taught them not only to continue to place their trust in God, but also to have more faith in their own ability to accomplish great things with His help.

“If I did anything differently, I would bring more than two pairs of underwear and socks. That sums up the kind of faith we had in our team,” Brasher joked, adding that he brought just enough clothes for the flight to Los Angeles and a flight back the next day to Mobile. “I’d have more faith in our team, in all of us as a whole.”

Hughes said what meant the most to him was seeing the faces of the ladies they were able to help, to see the broken tiles on the floor and know their experience provided the money to fix it.

The Next Season
Season three of The American Bible Challenge is over, but the contestants are just getting started in a new season in their lives.

Seth Brasher graduated in May 2014, just before the first show aired. This fall he is on the road for the Winter Jam Tour Spectacular, the largest annual Christian music tour in the United States. The University of Mobile is again the college sponsor for the tour, and Brasher will be on stage introducing UMobile to prospective college students between sets by some of the nation’s top Christian bands.

Hughes and Van Matre are seniors, with graduation a few months away in May 2015. Hughes is expanding his successful photography/videography business and hopes to share the Gospel through video journalism. He’s looking into possibilities with LifeWay and the International Mission Board.

Van Matre is in talks with a management group in Nashville, working toward taking his music on the road with a three-person touring group.

One More Thing
As for the constellations named in Job 9:9?

The choices were on the board, and it was up to Brasher to pick the three correct ones that would take Rhymz with Grace into the championship round. With tension mounting, he chose:

Orion, because his mother always said the three stars in Orion’s belt reminded her of her three children;

The Bear, because everyone in Alabama knows about Bear Bryant;

And the Pleiades, because that was the longest word.

That may not be how the Bible scholars do it. But it worked.

About the Author

Kathy Dean

Kathy Dean uses her passion for storytelling and "playing with words" to share the stories of people, place and purpose that make the University of Mobile unique. As associate vice president for university communications, she manages media relations, edits the TorchLight alumni magazine, and oversees university communications. A former award-winning journalist, she is a two-time recipient of the Baptist Communicators Association grand prize for feature writing. Kathy and her husband, Chuck, live with three extremely loud miniature schnauzers.