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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:
- For Christians, as she might tell it in church
- Completely rewritten for non-Christians
- Also for non-Christians – using the style of a magazine feature
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!
- Angie has written in the style that she might use to tell her testimony during a church service. She did not realize that she must write in a completely different style to communicate with non-Christians.
- All those familiar evangelical Christian jargon-words and expressions are in place and highlighted in red.
Few non-Christians will understand them, especially as she has not tried to explain their meaning.
For anyone without a church background, it is like listening to a foreign language. To those online for
whom English is actually a foreign language, it is impenetrable.
"All these are wonderful words in the ears of the believer. But to the unbeliever, they are meaningless." (Firm Foundations, by Trevor McIlwain, New Tribes Mission)
- There are no personal details about Angie. What is she really like? What are her interests? She doesn't seem real. How did she think and feel before she became a Christian? There's very little for anyone to identify with.
- There are also no details about her visit to the youth meeting. And Felipe (see later version) has become a vague 'someone'. So these events don't seem real either.
- Are non-Christians interested in whether she grew up in a Christian home? Or had 'godly' parents? So what!
- Do non-Christians identify with her previous life being 'displeasing to God', or whether she believes she's going to heaven? These are not 'felt needs' in most modern cultures.
- Does her faith give her anything in her life that helps her day to day? She doesn't tell us. All she says is that Bible reading is fun.
- She has started off with a Bible reference – even using an old translation. To the non-Christian, this looks religious and churchy.
- 'Basically' and 'just' are filler words that add nothing to the story.
- The title is 'cringe-making'. Many non-Christians will stop reading at this point.
- The story is one block of text. It needs to be broken up into shorter paragraphs, and probably one or more sub-headings.
Readability is the key.
- Does she really want to serve him all the time? Is every day a wonderful adventure?
Does she never miss a day's Bible reading? There may be such wonderful Christians in existence, but I have never met one. Is Angie being 'goody two-shoes' and triumphalistic here? Does it ring true? Or is it 'evang-elastic' exaggeration?
- The last line is a preacher's appeal which could work in a sermon or spoken testimony, but in a written item it sounds gushing and preachy! Writing for the web (or print) must primarily use the skills of the journalist, not the preacher.
My broken CD player
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 faceSo 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!
Coffee and CD players don't mix
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."
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."
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
Testimony-writing resourcesThere's more! Check out the writing principles used in Angie's Story.
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