Ambassadors of Action: Witnessing a Movement
Our Voice Kytia continues her interview series here on WitnessLA called “Ambassadors of Action.”
As Christians, we are representations of Christ’s love here on this earth and we are called to be His ambassadors.
Each of the interviews in this series is meant to highlight how children of God are living as examples and are actively sharing their beliefs with the world (at home, in the workplace, through blogs, etc.). “Ambassadors of Action” are your everyday brothers and sisters in Christ, making a difference in an unconventional way.
In this next interview in the series, Kytia interviews Dan Mark, founder of WitnessLA.org, on the blog’s beginnings, the spreading of the movement to other cities and the blessings and challenges of going public with your faith on social media.
Over a year ago, I was with my Derekstar friends attending a fashion show in Irvine, California when I met this cool guy. Outside, we were enjoying the food trucks, having a conversation, and recapping the event that just ended a few minutes prior. I had never met Dan before, but he came up to our group and introduced himself while giving out promotional stickers for WitnessLA. Who is this guy and where did he come from handing out stickers?
After a few lines of dialogue we all realized we had a lot in common and our meeting was no coincidence. Sharing the gospel and being a source of inspiration for those looking to find hope and community was a similar thread in our calling. While Derekstar uses the medium of art to “draw” people in, Dan and his team were using good old fashion stories. Everyone likes stories, right? Especially if it’s one you can relate to. A few skips and a couple of weeks later, Dan was sharing more about WitnessLA and asked if any of us would mind being recorded to share a little bit of our testimony. I jumped at the opportunity and the rest is history. I have now been writing consistently for WitnessLA and even have my own “corner” titled Ambassadors of Action. It’s funny how quickly the Lord moves…and IS moving.
If you would like to know how this great journey commenced, what it has grown into, and how you can be a part of it, just keep reading…
When and how did you feel God leading you to start WitnessLA?
We’ve been running WitnessLA.org for two and a half years now, and when it launched in January of 2010 we had no idea it was ever going to last this long, or spread so far across the world. It’s truly been a God Adventure. Originally at the end of 2009, God had put a conviction on my heart to start a blog to keep a running record of all the everyday miracles and answered prayers He had been working in my life. I had just come back to the Lord about a year before, and was delivered and healed from my past life and struggles. I brought the idea to my small group from NewsongLA, a local church here in Los Angeles, and it was such a “God moment.” Two of my other friends’ jaws literally dropped. God had been putting it on their hearts to start a blog as well, exactly at the same time. We decided the coincidence was God bringing us together for a purpose, so we started it together.
Originally, it was just going to be the three of us sharing our thoughts and stories, and at the time, we thought it would be fun for our friends and family to read. What we would have never guessed is that less than three years later, we’d have a growing network of four blogs in different international cities, reached nearly 150,000 unique readers around the world, and readers writing to us from places as far as Malaysia, the Philippines, South America, and Northern Europe.
It’s amazing how God was able to birth this out of the three of you! What was the initial reaction of your readers once the site was launched?
I think we had struck a chord – people wanted to hear the stories of everyday people in everyday life, walking with God. It wasn’t just celebrities or big pastors whose stories mattered, but everyone’s story. Struggle and triumph now had the opportunity to literally reach around the world and change lives. I would hear all the time that people were shocked and moved by how raw and real the stories were on our blog, and how by reading our stories, they finally felt like they weren’t alone. Whatever the struggle, someone else had faced it and overcome it before through Christ.
I don’t think people had ever seen something like we were doing. Actively using social media to get the word out about what God was doing, on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube. It was relevant because it spoke to them – it was local to their cities, it was happening all around them. God was moving in other people’s lives, and people started to follow the lives of our writers as their stories continued over time.
Initially, was sharing such an intimate area of your life something you were comfortable doing?
For me personally, it was a huge challenge to be so public about my faith. At the time the blog started, I had never posted anything about Jesus on Facebook – most of my friends probably didn’t even know I was Christian. But God challenged me – He said, how can you expect to run this social media ministry if you aren’t willing to die to yourself, die to your reputation, for the Gospel. Honestly, it was difficult at first, a lot of people thought I had gone off the deep end, some of my friends distanced themselves. I found out later that a lot of my non-Christian friends were actually curious about all the changes in me. They were reading the blog every time I posted on Facebook, and they told me how it had encouraged them to pray, go back to church, or even consider accepting Christ. I think that’s the power of what we’re doing – we’re socially relevant. People have a natural interest in what’s happening in the lives of their friends, and never before in history has it been easier to broadcast to all your friends, your whole social network, how a relationship with God has changed your life.
The Lord is definitely using a time such as this to take over the internet with His stories. Now that it’s a well-oiled machine, how do you usually get your stories for the blog and continue to build your team?
We have a team of “Voices,” i.e. regular contributors, who submit once a month or more often, and it allows our readers to follow the walk of everyday believers as their stories play out over time. We also have a lot of submissions from friends and the various churches our team is associated with. But we’re also really blessed to get a lot of submissions from readers all around the world – people we would have never met had it not been for the blog, people whose stories might not have otherwise been told. I always thought it was such a shame that all these people with powerful testimonies don’t get to share those incredibly inspiring and moving stories with the world.
Our team has grown organically as well. We pray and God sends us people, each and every time He is faithful. Sometimes from the most unexpected of places. I remember really early on, a pastor prayed over the three of us, saying “you’re going to get a social media strategy.” At the time, I didn’t even know what that meant. A few days later, I got a message on Facebook from someone I had never met before. I remember asking my roommate whether I should accept the friend request or not, but when I did, he said he loved the blog, it had helped him accept Christ for the first time, but we needed a social media strategy, and that was what he did for a living so he wanted to help. He was one of our earliest editors for the first year we were running.
What forms of promoting your site do you use to get the word out there and keep people coming and getting inspired?
Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, soon LiveStream, etc. We want to be relevant – wherever the people are (increasingly online these days), we want to be there. The Great Commission doesn’t say wait for people to come to you, it says “GO and make disciples.” So we go and bring light with us wherever we are, wherever we live online, and wherever our community is.
There are some who wish to dodge the light or avoid it altogether, so tell us what resistance you might feel from those who are not believers in God.
I had some people on Facebook that thought I had become a weirdo Jesus freak. But in general, I don’t think the response has really been negative at all. We’re not condemning people, we’re not hateful, we avoid politics, we just stick to testimonies – no preaching. We keep it old school, the first type of evangelism. “I met this guy named Jesus and He changed my life, this is how. Let me know if you want to meet Him.” We let the words speak, and they’ve been touching people, even non-believers who have been reading the blog regularly for months but never told me how much it spoke to their spirit.
Speaking of the words touching people, what has been the greatest breakthrough you’ve experienced throughout this ministry?
We’ve had people accept Christ because of what they read on the blog. Others have felt freedom and release by publicly taking a stand for Christ and saying “this is my story – I’m not ashamed, I’m forgiven.” But more than the number of visitors, or the number of cities we start in, the thing I’m most proud of is when I see people virally sharing our stories on Facebook or Twitter, people I don’t know. Also reading their comments about how they really needed this encouragement today, or they tried praying like the story talked about and it changed their life, or how they had been through the same thing and thought they were alone before.
I hear there’s been a major personal change for you that’s happened through these sites as well. How is it managing a ministry and juggling that with your career and new marriage?
God’s grace is sufficient. And my wife is an incredible woman of God. With those two you can do anything. She’s actually the founder of WitnessHK our first sister site in Asia. That’s actually how we met. We’re a couple born completely out of serving the Lord obediently. I always tell people, seek God all the way 100% and He will give you the things of your heart. It was true for us.
How did the branches come about and how were they able to start a movement of their own?
All by divine appointments, i.e. unexpected coincidences. WitnessHK was the first. I went with my friend Jaeson Ma on a missions trip to Hong Kong, and I met Rachel there. She was part of the local house church. I shared about what we were doing with WitnessLA at the time, and when I left, she had an interest to start one for her city. She launched it with her own very powerful testimony and the rest was history. It’s now up and running, fully bilingual, with a readership all across Asia.
WitnessSF was also totally God. We were having a BBQ in LA for our readers to meet the people behind the website, and on a lark, a friend brought a guy named Jimmy to the BBQ. He was in town for just a weekend to attend a wedding. Jimmy had no idea what Witness was about, and yet God laid a heavy conviction on him that this was his calling – to bring this radical idea back to SF. Now a year and a half later, WitnessSF often has the most traffic of all three of our sites, and Jimmy has become a leader in his city. It’s really amazing how the Lord works and connects people for his purposes. Both the HK and SF teams are like family to me now, and they were people I didn’t know at all one year and a half ago.
WitnessTO is even more amazing because the fact that they even exist is proof to me that our mission on social media is succeeding. No one on our team had a single Facebook friend in common with Tim or any of the other founders from WitnessTO when they first reached out to us, and to this day I’ve never met any of them in person. But they had been following WitnessHK for almost a year and were so moved by what God was doing that they were passionate about bringing the movement to their home city of Toronto. We now do Google+ hangouts with the teams in LA, SF, HK and Toronto regularly and we believe this is what the church of the future will look like – Church 2.0!
This is definitely a growing brand showcasing witnesses from around the globe. What new cities are currently in your field of vision?
We try not to be strategic and say “that’s a city we need to be in.” Because every time we’ve tried to do that, it doesn’t work. Instead, we just follow the Lord wherever He opens the door. God connects us, and we just go with Him. He supplies the teams, we just go and be faithful and watch Him grow it. 2012 has been an exciting year for us. We launched WitnessTO this year, our first blog in Canada!
That’s amazing! How can our readers support the Witness movement?
1) “Like” our blogs on Facebook: WitnessLA, WitnessSF, WitnessTO and WitnessHK.
2) “Like” or Re-tweet our stories on the blogs, or post them on your Facebook Wall.
3) Send Us Your Story – there’s a link on each blog where you can upload your own story or testimony in text or video form.
4) Volunteer – we need writers, editors, videographers, graphic designers, social media marketers, or anyone with a heart to serve. Anyone interested can contact:firstname.lastname@example.org
5) Support us Financially – there’s a “Subscriber” box on the right hand side of WitnessLA.org. You can sign up to be a monthly supporter to help our mission continue in LA and in all of our other cities.
God bless all of you, God has a plan for your story and your city!
在以下的訪問裡，Kytia訪問了Dan Mark, WitnessLA.org 的始創人，關於博客的開始、運動如何傳播到其他城市以及在社交媒體上公開你的信仰所帶來的挑戰。
談了幾句後，我們全都發現我們有很多共同點，而且我們的相遇並不是巧合。我們的呼召同為尋找希望的人和社區分享福音和成為他們靈感的 泉源。Derekstar利用藝術作為一個帶領人們走近的媒介，Dan和他的團隊利用傳統的講故事方法。所有人都喜歡聽故事，不是嗎？特別是那些你身同感 受的故事。幾個禮拜後，Dan跟我們進一步分享關於WitnessLA的事，並問我們可否透過訪問分享一下我們的見證。我馬上答應。現在，我定期為 WitnessLA寫作，我甚至於有自己的“專欄”，名叫 Ambassador of Action。有時候，神的作工真的是奇妙地迅速。
WitnessLA.org已 開始了兩年半。當它在2010年1月開始時，我們真的不知道它能持續那麼久或能擴展到世界各地。這真的是一個神帶領的冒險旅程。最初在2009年底，神在 我的心裡種下一個信念要我把每天生活裡見證的奇蹟以及被應許的禱告紀錄在一個博客上。那時候，我才剛剛回來神的身邊一年多，我當時已從我過去的生活及掙扎 被拯救了。我跟我的教會NewsongLA的小組團契分享我的想法，那是一個非常“神的時刻”。我其中兩個朋友驚訝得張大嘴巴。神在同一時間也把同樣的信念放在他們的心裡。我覺得這巧合正是神透過同一個信念把我們連在一起，所以我們決定一起開創這博客。
一 開始的原意只是我們三個人分享我們的想法和故事，而如其同時，我們覺得我們的朋友和家人應該也有興趣閱讀我們的分享。在我們意料之外的是在少於三年內，我 們已有一個不斷在擴展的網絡，這網絡包括了分佈在不同的國際城市的四個博客，有著十五萬位來自四方的讀者，我們還收到來自馬來西亞、菲律賓、南美以及北歐 的讀者的來信。
我 覺得我 們觸動了他們的心弦 － 人們都想聽常人在日常生活裡與主同行的故事。人們在意的不只是明星或有名的牧師，而是所有人的故事。掙扎和勝利現在有機會“環遊世界”去改變生命。我常常 聽到讀者對我們博客上故事的活生生和真實而感到驚訝和感動，以及透過閱讀我們的故事，他們覺得他們並不孤單。無論自我掙扎是什麼，總有人曾經面對過以及透 過基督戰勝過。
我覺得讀者從沒有見過像我們所做的。積極地利用社交媒體去把神所作的一切用文字傳出去，在 Facebook、Twitter、博客、 YouTube。這個博客貼題因為讀者有共鳴 － 故事是出自他們的城市，故事是發生在他們的身邊。神在他人的生命裡作工，而讀者開始在跟進及關注我們的作者隨著時間發展的所有故事。
對 我個人來講，這麼公開地講述我的信仰是一個很大的挑戰。當博客剛剛開始的時候，我從來沒有在Facebook發表過任何關於耶和華的留言－我大部份的朋友 應該甚至不知道我是一位基督徒。但是神挑戰我－祂說：“如果你不願意為了福音而放棄自我和你的面子， 你怎能帶領這個社交媒體的事工呢？老實說，一開始很困難，很多人覺得我泥足深陷，有些朋友甚至疏遠我。我後來發現我很多非基督徒的朋友對我的所有改變十分 好奇。我每次在Facebook上 分享博客的時候，他們都會閱讀，而且他們告訴我這一切都鼓勵了他們去禱告、再次返回教會、甚至考慮接受耶和華。我覺得這就是我們所做的帶來的力量－我們跟 社區是有關連的。人類對他們朋友生命力發生的事都有一股自然的興趣，而且在這個年代，向身邊朋友們以及社交圈子廣播你與神的關係如何改變你的生命這信息是 前所未有地簡單。
我 們有一隊“聲音”（意思是最少每月一次提供故事的定期筆者），這 讓我們的讀者去長時間地跟進這些聲音在日常生活裡的見證。我們從朋友和我們隊員所屬的不同教會收到很多故事。尤其是，我們非常蒙恩地時常收到世界各地的讀 者的見證－要不是這個博客，我們就沒有機會認識這些人，他們也可能沒有其他渠道分享他們的故事。我常常都覺得如果這些有著充滿力量的見證的人不能與世界分 享他們那些振奮和感動的故事的話，那就實在太可惜了。
我們的團隊是有機增長的。我們禱告，然後神就把隊員帶領到我們的 團隊，祂每一次都是信實的。有時候，我們的隊員來自我們意料之外的地方。我記得很早期，有一位牧師為我們三個禱告說：「你們將會得到一個社交媒體的策 略。」在那個時候，我根本不知道那是什麼意思。幾天後，我在Facebook從 一位素未謀面的人那裡收到信息。我記得我還問我的同屋主到底我應不應該接受這個朋友請求，當我接受了後，這個人告訴我他很喜歡這個博客，它幫助他第一次接 受耶穌基督，但是我們需要一個社交媒體的策略，而他正正就是做媒體策略為生的。他是我們的博客運行第一年裡最早期的其中一位編輯。
Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube 等等。我們也快將會使用 LiveStream。我們想跟這個社區有關連－人們在哪裡（越來越多人在網上)、我們就想在哪裡。最大使命不是說等人們來找你，它說：「出去找門徒。」所以我們應該出去，並把光帶到我們所到的地方、我們所存在的網頁以及我們所在的社區。
我 有些在Facebook的朋友覺得我變成了愛耶和華的怪人， 但我覺得大家一般的反應都不是負面的。 我們不譴責別人，我們不惱恨別人，我們回避政治話題，我們只忠於見證－不傳教講道。我們利用老牌方法，第一代 的福音主義。「我認識了一個人，他名叫耶和華，祂改變了我的生命，以下是我的故事。要是你想認識祂，請告訴我。」我們讓見證裡的文字說話，而這些文字感動 生命，甚至於那些定期閱讀我們博客但沒有告訴我這些見證有多麼感動他們的靈的非信徒。
但 比起讀者人數以及我們發展到的城市數目，我覺得最自豪的是當我看見讀者，包括我不認識的人，到處在Facebook或Twitter分享我們的故事，還有 閱讀他們的評語，得知他們今天就是需要聽到這個鼓勵，或他們如何學著見證裡的主人翁般禱告後，生命得以改變，又或者是他們以往也經歷過同樣的事情，卻並不 知道他們不是孤單的。
全都是神的旨意，換句話說，我們預計之外的巧合。WitnessHK是 第一個。我和朋友Jaeson Ma去了在香港的短宣之旅，我也是在那裡認識Rachel的。她是當地團契小組的成員。我分享了我們WitnessLA的事工，而當我離開的時候，她有興 趣為她的城市開始一個博客。她以她自己有力的見證開展了屬於香港的博客。中英對照的WitnessHK發展至今吸引了亞洲各地的讀者。
WitnessSF 全 是神的作工。我們在洛杉磯舉行了一個燒烤派對讓讀者和在博客背後的我們互動，誰知道，有個朋友帶了一個叫Jimmy的人來派對。那個週末他剛剛到訪洛杉磯 參加婚禮。Jimmy完全不知道Witness是什麼一回事，可是，神給了他一個強大的信念告訴他這就是他的呼召－把這激進的概念帶回三藩市。一年半 後，WitnessSF是我們三個網站中讀者最多的，而Jimmy已成為他城市中的一位領導。神如何作工以及把人們因祂的旨意連繫起來實在非常奇妙。香港 和三藩市的團隊現在就好像我的家人一樣，而他們竟然是我在一年半前完全不認識的人。
WitnessTO 就 更加奇妙了，因為它的存在證明了我們在社交媒體上的使命是成功的。當Tim和其他WitnessTO創辦人初次接觸我們的時候，我們團隊裡的人與他們在 Facebook上一個共同的朋友也沒有。直到今天，我還沒有見過他們的真人。但是他們跟隨WitnessHK的發展差不多一年，直到他們為了神所作的一 切覺得非常感動，並決心把這個Witness運動帶到他們所住的城市多倫多。 現在，我們洛杉磯、三藩市、香港以及多倫多的團隊定期透過Google＋的視像會議功能舉行聚會，我們相信這就是教會未來的模樣 － 教會第二代！
我 們嘗試不去戰略性地策劃並說“我們一定要擴展到那一個城市。”因為我們每次嘗試這樣做的時候都不會成功。反而，我們選擇跟隨主去達到祂為我們所開的門。神 把我們聯結起來，我們就單單地跟著祂走。祂為我們組織團隊，我們就單單是誠心信賴主，並跟著祂開展一切。對我們來講，2012年很令人興奮。今年，我們開 動了我們在加拿大的第一個博客－WitnessTO！
1) 在Facebook上對我們的博客“讚好”： WitnessLA、WitnessSF、WitnessTO 和 WitnessHK
3) 把你的故事發送給我們 – 我們每個博客裡都有一個連結讓你上載你的文字或視像故事或見證。
4) 當志願者 – 我們需要筆者、編輯、錄像製作員、平面設計師、社交媒體推廣員或任何誠心想事奉的人。如果你有興趣，請電郵至 email@example.com
5) 經濟上支持我們 – 在 WitnessLA.org 頁面的右手邊有一個“Subscriber”的按鈕。你可以成為我們的每月支持者幫助我們在洛杉磯和其他城市繼續我們的使命。
Image credit: Provided by Dan Mark