Writing contest for “Testimonies”

David Aikman, former journalist with Time Magazine and a friend and colleague of mine, has organized a writing contest designed to revitalize the genre of the “Testimony.”  That’s not just a conversion narrative, though it can be, but it can also refer to any true story of faith in a person’s life.  (For example, think of the tradition that ranges from St. Augustine’s Confessions and Bunyan’s Grace Abounding to the more recent The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson, God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew, and The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom.)  The contest is for writers 35 and under, and it features a grand prize of $20,000!  And the contest doesn’t require an entire manuscript, just a proposal of 1,000-1,500 words!

We Lutherans tend to be leery of focusing on our lives, since we need to be focusing instead outside ourselves, on the Cross of Jesus Christ.  But there is a Lutheran way to write in this genre.  Notice too that you don’t need to write about yourself.  You can also write about someone else whom you’ve interviewed, researched, and whose story you are telling.  (For example, refugees from Ethiopia who have fled Muslim persecution; a survivor of the Soviet Gulag; an ordinary member of your congregation who has undergone great hardship with great faith).  Here is the website.  [More details after the jump.]

The press release about the contest:

Patrick Henry College, Guildford Media Ltd., and PHC History Professor, former TIME Magazine correspondent and author David Aikman announced this week the launch of The Aikman Opportunity Award for Young Christian Writers. The goal of the award, say the organizers, is to identify, encourage, and support a new generation of Christian nonfiction testimony writers. Such writers can inspire both Christians and general readers with true stories of how God has worked transformatively in the lives of individuals and communities.

NOT A TYPICAL WRITING CONTEST

Most writing contests award prizes for already completed manuscripts. The Aikman Opportunity Award is different. It promises a top prize to the writer who can compose the most compelling and best-reported book proposal of the testimony story he or she wants to write. The prize, of course, will provide a solid financial base for the writer as the manuscript is being assembled.

Grand prize: $20,000 plus potential for publication

First runner-up award: $1,500 plus potential for publication

Second runner-up award: $1,500 plus potential for publication

Third runner-up award: $1,500 plus potential for publication

To qualify, contestants must reside in Canada, the USA, the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland and be between the ages of 18 and 35 years of age. All contestants must submit a 1,000 – 1,500 word article that leaves the reader yearning for a longer narrative. The article should focus on a remarkable true story of God’s grace and intervention in the life of an individual and/or their community.

A carefully selected panel of judges will short-list the applicants and create a list of finalists. Upon notification, the finalists will then be required to prepare a 2,000 – 4,000 word proposal outlining their vision and offering verification of the authenticity of their story.

Dr. Aikman recalls how he first became interested in writing and reporting.

“When I was in graduate school in the US in the 1960s,” he says, “there were many demonstrations and speeches being made by radical students. As a history student I was fascinated by the parallels I thought I was seeing in the history of societies in other parts of the world. I wanted to draw attention to these parallels and so I started writing for the campus newspaper. Shortly after being hired at TIME Magazine, I was sent to cover several historical events. It was wonderful being able to combine both of my passions—history and reporting. You get to be a fly on the rim of the mixing bowl of history!

Later, I came across heart-wrenching stories of suffering when I covered the war in Indochina. Few things moved me more than observing the courage of Cambodian Christians as they prepared to face the cruel uncertainties of the incoming Khmer Rouge insurgents. Most of them knew they would be killed as Christians when the Communists won. It was humbling to be an observer of all this.

I witnessed war and unrest in Israel and the Middle East in the early 1980s, and the tragedy of the massacre in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989. I also began to meet China’s valiant Christian community.

I was already a Christian by conviction, having been converted in my early twenties. But all of these experiences confirmed for me the advantage and the wisdom of looking at the world through Christian eyes.

I have heard several Christian testimonies during my career—stories that were beautifully crafted about people experiencing the faithfulness of God in a great variety of circumstances. In the 1970s and 1980s, there were many books of these testimonies being published. In recent years, though, the wellspring of good testimony writing has become drier. Yet, today it’s more important than ever to tell people what God is doing in the world. At the end of the day writing, especially Christian writing, is a God-given calling. In this writers’ contest I want to provide a spark of inspiration and a real practical incentive for Christian writers to be started telling the most wonderful story we will ever hear: what God is doing in the lives of ordinary people.”

To read more about the contest guidelines, visit http://aikmanaward.com/about/how-to/index.html

For general information see www.aikmanward.com.

To receive regular updates, follow The Aikman Opportunity Award group on Facebook at facebook.com/AikmanAward or on Twitter at @aikmanaward.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Noel

    Testomony meeting is a big deal for Mormons where they testify that Joseph Smith wasa true prophet, that the Book of Mormon is the word of God and that the LDS church is God’s true church. Sometimes they were just opportunities for members to brag about how God had blessed them that month. Whenever Mormons come accross critical information about their church they are encouraged to bear their testimonies.

  • fjsteve

    I’m leery of too much emphasis on testimonies too. It is indeed a great thing that God takes some people out of the depths of drugs, alcohol, sin and despair but I’ve been in circles where it almost seemed like a status symbol to show how far down you went and how far back you’ve risen. This is not a great message for kids, in my opinion. In fact, a recent study showed that when parents described their own drug use to their kids as a sort of cautionary tale, the kids were less likely to see drug use as a bad thing than if their parent just explained the dangers of drug use and kept their own past out of the discussion. I think this is similar to what I’ve seen as an unintended consequence of the “testimony” phenomenon in particularly non-denominational and charismatic churches.

  • tODD

    I wonder how much money you could make writing a testimony that basically amounts to Romans 7 (especially vv. 7-25)? I suspect not very much. Because testimonies, as I’ve encountered them in the American Evangelical world, are supposed to end on a happy note: about how I — with God’s help, of course — overcame an earthly struggle. Problem solved, roll credits.

    I’m a few years too old to enter the contest, anyhow, but Romans 7 is what my testimony would look like: I suck, I continue to screw things up, but God is faithful, and He has rescued me from this wretched sinful body. That’s what God is doing in this world. In fact, that’s why God came into this world, in the Flesh, in the first place.

    Oh, I know, the Lutheran Sanctification Crowd wouldn’t like my testimony either. Because I’d have to add something about how “and then I started to Try Harder, and I made Measurable Progress in overcoming sin,” or something like that. Hey, it’s not that I haven’t tried. But I still keep sinning. I haven’t overcome my problems. God has. That’s not good enough for a lot of people. “God’s grace, yes, but what have you done for God lately?”

  • Kempin04

    tODD,

    Regarding your initial question, I wouldn’t assume. I wish someone would try it.

    But seriously, why is there an age cap at 35? Do people olderr than that have no testimony, or is it just not interesting anymore?

  • Hanni

    I grew up for a while in a church where it was popular to stand and give a testimony. In fact, you might be suspect if you didn;t, when the floor was opened up for “testimonies.” I have asked the Lord to forgive me for the silly and wrong things I said then, especially at church camp when we were all trying to impress the boys. This website sounds like a good thing, tho, since no one really knows who you are, so you can’t accrue a phony kind of “glory.” It might be something Christ uses to His ends.

  • LAJ

    Who can deny that Corrie Ten Boom’s book the Hiding Place was a good thing to write. Perhaps there are stories that need to be written. But I agree that all these testimonials at churches are taking away from the Gospel message.

  • Tom Hering

    Will anyone verify the testimony before making the award? I’m thinking Mike Warnke. And not just outright lying, but padded testimonies as well.

  • Tom Hering

    Ah! After re-reading the post, I see I missed the part where it says finalists will be asked to verify the authenticity of their testimonies.

  • kempin04

    I don’t know. Obviously both human nature and bad theology will warp testimonies into something worse than a distraction, particularly when they are contrived and obligatory. The whole idea of a testimony “contest” seems to underline that flaw.

    Still, I wonder if we don’t (in typical lutheran fashion) over react a bit. There is a time for everything. There is a time to step back and a time to step forward. There is a time when an appropriate testimony is appropriate. There is a time to say, “Here is how I put God’s Word into practice, and this is how He showed himself faithful.” I don’t see that as a necessary contradiction of divine monergism. Easily abused? Yes. Often wildly inappropriate? Oh my, yes. But testimonies should not be ruled out as thought they are in and of themselves wrong.

  • Rose

    In the past, a testimony was included in one’s Last Will and Testament.
    The Testament might be a preamble to the Will.
    It is Christ-focused and can be read before the Will, or at your funeral.
    A good tradition worthy of adopting again.


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