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Angie’s Story

Making a testimony target non-Christian readers

Testimony can be a powerful tool of Christian communication. Imaginary young woman 'Angie' has written her story in three different styles:

  1. For Christians, as she might tell it in church
  2. Completely rewritten for non-Christians
  3. Also for non-Christians – using the style of a magazine feature
Note – this is not a true story though it sums up the experience of many real people - it was written to illustrate writing techniques. Please do not quote it as fact! To learn the testimony-writing principles used on this page, go here

This page is available as a 24k RTF file for royalty-free print publication.

My Testimony – How I found Christ and was saved

"I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (John 8:12)

I was brought up in a Christian home, but did not respond to Christ's offer of salvation as a child. I was too busy wanting to please myself – my life was displeasing to the Lord. I was a typical quite rebellious teenager, and though I didn't get into anything too gross, I lived to please myself. I probably caused my godly parents to grieve for me. No doubt they were praying for me all those years. When I was 17, someone witnessed to me and invited me to a musical youth event at the local church. I heard the Gospel clearly preached by the music group's leader. I'd never really understood it before. The next day, someone gave me a John's gospel. I took it home to read. One verse particularly spoke to me – Jn 8:12. Basically I really felt convicted I was a sinner and that Jesus had died for my salvation. So I just prayed the sinner's prayer of repentance and asked God to save me. Straight away I found such wonderful peace and assurance. Now I know I'm going to heaven by God's grace. I just want to serve him all the time. Every day is a wonderful new adventure as I read my Bible and discover things from his Word. My friend, you must turn to God too!


Critique

God in his mercy can speak to anyone through anything. But Christians can fail to communicate effectively if they do not consider their target audience, and assume that words which may speak to Christians are also appropriate for non-Christians. When Angie realized this, she talked to Arif who was good at writing and communication. He highlighted the issues and offered to help check and edit her item. Although good at English, it was not his first language So he was able to point out to Angie where she had used idiom and sentence construction which would be confusing to a second-language speaker. So she humbly sat down again to do a complete rewrite...


My broken CD player

 write christian testimony

Aaarh! Was I angry? I had spilt a full cup of coffee all over my CD player. Just when I was going to play my new Mojos album too! I won't write down the things I said at the time – I nearly threw the cup out of the window with temper!

Yet this became a turning point in my life. First thing next day, I went down to our local repair shop Micro HiFi. Felipe the manager was a friend of our family. "Give me two days," he said, "It will be easy." As I turned to open the door, he called me back. "Angie, we have a special music evening tomorrow for young people at the church. I think you'd like it."

"Uh-huh, maybe," I replied. I really did not like church meetings, though I used to go as a child. I wanted to plan my own life, set my own goals. I didn't need help – that was for old people.

But that night, with no music to listen to, and nothing good on radio or TV, I began to think. Is there more to life? Maybe there is a real reason for living? Perhaps even a way to be really fulfilled and happy? I'd felt very empty since splitting up with my boyfriend Mick two months before. Music seemed to fill the empty space a bit. But you can't listen to music all the time!

Hiding my face

So next evening I walked over to the church, with my coat collar pulled round my face. I didn't want anyone to see me going in. The music group Dynamite was good, with a brilliant keyboard player, though I didn't like their choice of songs – the lyrics made me feel uncomfortable. Then the group's leader spoke for 10 minutes at the end. He told us how his life had been going downhill into addictions and depression. Then he had found Jesus. ("Oh no, another religious freak," I thought.) But he told us how Jesus had died for him personally, and for each of us. He explained how Jesus was like his best friend, and that he felt really free for the first time in his life. He no longer needed to fill the gaps in his life with alcohol and drugs.

As I walked home past the shops, my head seemed to be going round and round. I didn't want to 'give in' to God. But could all this stuff be really true?

Next day, I ran down to the hi-fi shop in my lunch-break. "All fixed," said Felipe. "And did you like the meeting?" "Yeah, OK," I said, not wanting to talk about it. "Would you like to read this?" said Felipe, giving me a small booklet. That evening, I set up my CD player, started to play my new album, and then found Felipe's booklet still in the box. It was a 'Gospel of John' – part of the Bible. I started at the beginning and kept reading right through. I'd read parts of the Bible before, but they never made much sense to me. But now! It was as if God was speaking directly to me. One line I especially remember – the words:

"I am the light for the world! Follow me, and you won't be walking in darkness".
I realized that I didn't deserve his love and had been living a completely self-centered life. And yet he loved me anyway – had sent Jesus to die for me. He wanted me to respond to that, and allow him to change my life right around. With my head resting on the empty CD player's box, I asked God to forgive me, change me, and come into my life. I promised to stop living life my way.

That night really was a turning point for me. I felt a sort of peace inside I'd never felt before. And a lightheaded happiness. As the days went on, I slowly learned more about Jesus. I found he was helping me, day by day, to make decisions, handle difficult situations, and understand other people better. Life took on a whole new meaning.

I often look at my CD player – I'm just so glad I spilled that coffee over it!


Critique

  • Angie has started off with an attention-grabbing personal incident that all of us can identify with.

  • The title is attention-getting too, with no mention of religion.

  • She gives lots of real detail about her life – the album she bought, her reaction to spilling the coffee, the coat collar pulled up. Straight away, we can visualize these scenes.

  • She has used real conversation. We can easily picture this conversation in the shop.

  • Because she seems 'real', it is easier to believe her account. A good novelist or film producer creates characters who seem real to us rather than two-dimensional. In writing testimonies, we also must aim to create reality. Poet Philip Larkin used this as a way of judging literature. He suggested that we could judge whether writing was believable by asking ourselves – "did I care?".

  • She has used no jargon words at all. The only Christian-related words are 'church', 'God', 'Jesus', 'Gospel' (in the sense of a printed gospel – and that has been defined), and 'Bible'. Nevertheless, within her writing, she has explained 'Gospel', 'grace', 'repentance', and a relationship with God.

  • She has kept to fairly short sentence length with easy verb and sentence construction. Her story is therefore accessible, even to a second language English speaker on the Internet.

  • She has used some words from the Bible, but in the context of the story. She has avoided the Christian word 'verse', and also decided not to mention the reference, though she could have done so. (Many people are completely unfamiliar with these.) The quote is from a modern translation too. Whatever Bible translation you may prefer for personal study, where you want technical accuracy, evangelism needs a modern easy-to-understand version. A web-page may also link directly to a single verse, group of verses, or chapter at Bible Gateway.

  • She deliberately did not mention whether she was still at school/college or at work. This way, she felt that a wider range of people could identify with her story. However it would be an option to give more details about her background, family, education, if these facts would make her seem more 'real'.

  • Almost everyone can identify with the split from her boyfriend – loneliness is a real felt need.

  • Note she doesn't even say she 'prayed' – a word which means different things to different people; she just 'asked'. The little detail of putting her head on the CD box makes this seem more real. We can picture her doing it.

  • She decided not to use the term 'the Lord' for God (as she did in the first version), because it is a term more commonly used by Christians and could make non-Christians feel uncomfortable. Another writer might take a different view.

  • She has wisely decided not to capitalize 'him' and 'his' in relation to God, because this looks religious.

  • Angie spent a lot of time editing and revising her first draft with the help of Arif and another friend. In fact this took much longer than writing the original item. She was amazed to discover that her final word-count was half that of the first draft!

  • She could usefully use a 'byline' under the title, similar to the first line on the version below.


A third way of writing this testimony would be in a magazine 'third person' style with quoted speech. So Angie chatted with Elizabeth, who works on a local paper. Together, they put together this short feature...


Coffee and CD players don't mix

 write christian testimony testimonies
Angie Ferrand, 17, is a graphics student from Millstown, Panavia. Feature writer Elizabeth Odobo met up with her to hear the story.

Angie Ferrand is glad she spilt coffee over her treasured CD player! "It was a turning point in my life," she claims. But she was really angry at the time.

She had returned home from college, eager to play her new Mojos album. In her rush to switch on, her full cup of coffee tipped right inside the machine. "Don't write what I said next," she laughs.

Next day's trip to the hi-fi repair shop led to an encounter with family friend Felipe Mateo, the shop technician. Felipe is also a youth worker at the town's church. "I mentioned to Angie that we had a youth meeting the next day with guest band called Dynamite," he remembers. "But Angie did not seem keen to come along."

Outwardly, Angie was a successful student. But she had been feeling very empty since splitting up with Mick, her regular boyfriend for over a year. An evening with no music to blot out the pain forced her to think about life. Did it have any real meaning?

So next evening, she reluctantly went to hear the band. She tried to cover her face with her coat collar, not wanting friends to see her going to 'somewhere religious'. "I didn't want anyone laughing at me in college," she says.

"I went home with my head spinning"

Dynamite were lively and gifted. The lyrics made her feel uncomfortable though. Then John, the band leader, spoke for 10 minutes. He shared how his life had been in a real mess of addiction and depression. But God had stepped in and changed his life completely. "He told us how Jesus had died for each of us personally. I'd never understood that before," says Angie. "I went home with my head spinning."

Back at the repair shop next day, she didn't want to talk about the concert with Felipe. But he gave her a small booklet to take home in the CD player's box. It was a part of the Bible – 'John's Gospel'. With her CD working again and her new album at full volume, she sat down to read the booklet. Though she had read parts of the Bible before, they never seemed to make sense. This time, it was different. It was as if God was speaking to her from every page. One line she remembers particularly: "I am the light for the world. Follow me, and you won't be walking in the dark. You will have the light that gives life."

Head on the box

"I realized that I didn't deserve his love, and was living a completely self-centered life. And yet he loved me anyway, had sent Jesus to die for me. He wanted me to respond to that, and allow him to change my life right around." Angie just lay her head down on the empty CD box and asked God to change her, forgive her, and come right into her life. She promised to stop living life her way.

Did it make a difference? "Yes," says Angie. "I've found God helping me in practical ways. Problems have been easier to handle, and I have been able to relate to other people much better. There's this inner peace I never had before. Now I feel accepted and not often lonely any more."


Critique

  • This style also works well. It could be used on a web-site, in a tract, church neighborhood newsletter, or any print medium.

  • Little details are again used to make events seem real.

  • Quotes from a second character add interest and back up the truth of the story.

  • Though Angie could put her own story into this 'third person' format, it was easier for someone else to interview her and Felipe, and create a magazine-style feature.

  • Again, no Christian vocabulary has been used apart from 'God', 'Jesus', 'Bible', and 'Gospel' (in the sense of a printed booklet – which has been defined). The word 'testimony' has been carefully avoided.

  • It shows that her faith is benefiting her life in practical ways which a non-Christian would also desire. However, she could amplify this to explain more clearly that her new faith is not merely beliefs, but a real close and personal relationship.

  • The feature avoids gushing, preaching, exaggeration, or portraying her as a perfect angel! Readers are left with the space and freedom to make their own assessment of the story. 1 Pet. 3:17 stresses the use of sensitivity when we share the Gospel with others:

    "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect..." (NIV)

  • The photo of 'Angie' adds greatly to our ability to identify with her and her story. Journalists tell us that ideally, a picture should always have a caption underneath it.

  • It is recommended journalistic practice to sum up a whole story in the first one or two sentences. We suggest however that for a testimony, it may be better to reveal the actual conversion gradually. However, it is good to start with a key event, something which is pivotal to the story.

  • An online testimony page can include a sound version in RealPlayer or MP3 format. It might not necessarily be the same text. The spoken version could be a short summary, give additional material not on the web-page, or tell the story in a different way to complement the written version.


It's your turn!

Which version of Angie's story did you prefer? How would you improve the structure and format? What would you put in? Leave out? What catchy title would you use?

It is a challenge to write in a way which communicates clearly to non-Christians, giving them a sense of need:

"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea."
Antoine de Saint Exupery

Angie's Story is in fact rather a 'text-book' example. Most people in fact have a more confused and complicated story. Sometimes, there are several stages of finding God, or even disobedience or confusion. Tell it how it happened, don't try to squeeze into some imaginary ideal. But address issues that non-Christians are interested in, without any religious language. Read about the Gray Matrix and how evangelistic writing should target people at the bottom left-hand of this very useful scale. Then check how and why different websites can be assigned different positions on the X-Spectrum.

Testimony-writing resources

There's more! Check out the writing principles used in Angie's Story.

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