Each Sunday afternoon I would ride my bike or walk to youth group in Jr. High; church was about a mile away – shorter by cutting through friendly neighbors’ yards. For two weeks we listened to two parts of a reel-to-reel tape of Nicky Cruz sharing his testimony. Although I couldn’t see him I was drawn to the authenticity of his voice as I was fascinated by his story.
Nicky had been a Mau Mau gang leader in New York City. He talked about his knife fights with other gangs, and the power he commanded from those who followed him or feared him. Ten years before, twenty something Dave Wilkerson had personally told him he was loved by God; soon that preacher trusted him with the offering at a worship gathering for gangs. It was the first time in his life he ever felt loved or trusted. Nicky gave his life to Jesus that night; he gave up his knife, received the Holy Spirit, and would soon become a preacher. The year I heard his story I saw Erik Estrada portray Nicky in the movie “The Cross and the Switchblade”.
While I never experienced this style of testimony from 2nd Presbyterians, I heard it at some community youth gatherings. People would share stories of how messed up their lives were before they were saved by Jesus. Nicky Cruz beat them all with his “before” stories, and unlike most of the others, he even spent time telling some “after” ones as well.
As a kid, I felt left out; how could I compete with the attention all those stories brought? I didn’t have any horrible “before” stories to tell – I was always a privileged good kid going to church. Would I have to go on some rampage so I’d have a testimony to preach? Since I didn’t have an adolescent rebellion, maybe I’d have a mid-life crisis.
The Apostle Paul is often portrayed as a conversion that turned his life completely around to become a Christian. As I spend a lifetime hearing testimonies from people who have only “after” stories to share because they grew up in the church, I wonder if Paul had a transformation to more profoundly understand the faith of his fathers and mothers in which he was raised? Maybe not either/or but both/and.
What examples of testifying to faith experiences have you been given by others? What do you consider to be typical? What unique testimony of your journey do you have to share?