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 almost two 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 decided to start 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 two years later, we’d have a growing network of three blogs in different international cities, a worldwide readership of almost 10,000 people per month, 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 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’s 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.
Like I said, 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.
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 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 ago.
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 will be an exciting year for us. We have some big plans in the works for our first blog in a major Canadian city. Stay tuned!
We will be tuning in! How can our readers support the Witness movement?
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!