Cheeia Lo loved telling her story. But she wasn't ready to recount it before 300 relatives at a family reunion.
"I'm the first generation to go to college, so my dad wanted me to talk about college life to encourage my cousins and younger siblings to go," Cheeia says, whose family originates from Laos and Thailand.
Summarizing her experiences had to include her most significant one: Cheeia had accepted Christ her freshman year.
"Before this, I had never thought of sharing [about Christ] with my family because I thought they wouldn't understand," she says. After praying about it, she decided to tell her testimony -- the story of how she came to know Jesus.
Even though Cheeia sensed God's direction, she still struggled: "I was really afraid. Then I came upon Jeremiah 1:7,8 and it was like God was talking to me, saying, Don't be afraid. I'll give you the words to say."
Those words ran through her head as she stood before her relatives, both young and old, and began to talk.
Whether it's the latest movie playing at the Cineplex, a favorite childhood book or that ridiculous tale your grandpa swears is true, an engaging story draws us closer together regardless of our age, experience or culture.
As believers, each of us, like Cheeia, has our own story: the story of how we met Jesus. When combined with our desire to tell others about Him, we have a powerful, versatile and meaningful way to connect others with the very heart of God.
Oliver Marin, a Cru staff member in Panama, teaches his students on campus how to communicate the gospel through their personal stories.
"I believe that people everywhere are really hungry to hear what is happening in the lives of others," Oliver says. "You can use your personal testimony as a tool to put the seed of questions in the minds of people who are really seeking answers for their lives."
But how do we get from an impromptu, and sometimes lengthy, life story to an effective testimony of the difference God has made?
Quina Parchment, a freshman at the University of South Florida, learned about how to prepare her story while on a summer mission trip. The insight she gained from the training opened her eyes to the power of her own experience.
Quina thought her story of growing up in a religious home and living a "good" life seemed an unexciting way to tell others about Christ.
"I thought that a testimony had to be this amazing, movie-type story. That was my biggest misconception," Quina says.
A Cru staff member helped Quina break her story down into 3 areas.
"I think that if she didn't give me some understanding of what to include in the testimony, I probably wouldn't have keyed into the important aspects," she says.
Instead of just telling her whole life story, she began by intentionally piecing together her life
Quina also learned from her training to keep it real: "It helped me be able to relate. I would have forgotten to let people know I was human, too."
During one conversation with her roommate, Quina saw similarities in their childhoods. Connecting with that common ground, she told her testimony, including an honest account about how her life had changed and areas in which she still struggled, like perfectionism and failing to live up to others' expectations.
"She was able to comprehend it and understand that struggle," says Quina.
Telling our story to another person involves more than recounting an experience. Preparation is just as important as the content that is included.
In the book Lifestyle Evangelism, Joe Aldrich writes, "A carefully thought-through presentation communicates to the listener that the message is important and worthy of his attention."
Hyatt Corporation executive Scott Walker found that writing out his thoughts, rehearsing the words and asking for input from others resulted in an adaptable resource he uses to effectively tell others about Christ.
"It really does help to put it to paper. It's coming from the heart, but you have something that you don't fumble over," he says. "I was finding out more about myself, which led me to feel more comfortable with it."
Repeatedly practicing a brief presentation and becoming more familiar with our story also allows a conversation about Christ to occur whether we have 5 minutes or half an hour.
"I found out how easy it was to take pieces that are applicable as opposed to going through beginning to end," Scott says.
Whether with strangers at a campus outreach, a neighbor across the fence, or frequenters of our favorite coffeehouse, our stories can fit into the natural dialogue we already have with others.
And telling our stories can pave the way for someone else's story to begin.
It was with that hope that Cheeia Lo bravely stood in front of multiple generations of her family, ready to tell them about Jesus.
After addressing some common expectations of life on campus, she explained how Christ had made a huge difference in her life, taking away suicidal thoughts and helping her deal with her anger.
At first, a cousin was upset over her talking about God. Then, her younger brother stood up in her defense.
He expressed a desire to receive Christ and encouraged others to do the same. Cheeia used her computer to download the JESUS film in Hmong, her family's native language, and through the film and other conversations, 37 members of her family indicated decisions to accept Christ.
Although she has since experienced some isolation and misunderstanding from her father, Cheeia doesn't regret what happened and is hopeful for the future.
Regardless of the setting or the outcome, God uses our personal testimonies in the lives of others around us.
He might use it to plant seeds of hope, answer questions about spirituality or bring a person to the point of making a decision. He is the ultimate reason why a good story is worth telling.
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