Beginning March 1st, the Aikman Opportunity Award will be accepting applications for its Christian nonfiction testimony book proposal contest. With a grand award of $20,000, the organizers hope to identify, encourage, and support young Christian reporters and writers to continue the legacy of recording the “incredible news that human beings has ever had to hear.”
Former TIME Magazine bureau chief of Beijing Dr. David Aikman, who had worked as a reporter for TIME for 23 years and had worked in 55 different countries, experiencing the Vietnam War, wars in Middle East, massacre of student protestors in Tiananmen Square in 1989, shared his motivation and hopes for initiating this writing contest in an interview with The Gospel Herald.
Aikman, who had a dramatic conversion experience from atheism to Christianity 45 years ago after having a weekend talking to an evangelical Anglican clergyman in London, said that Christians must be ready to write down the stories of people who encountered Christ and entered the Kingdom of God before the narrators pass away from the scene.
GH: Can you share with us how did you come up with the concept of Aikman Opportunity Award?
A: I have been very edified by many Christian testimony stories that I’ve read as I grew up in my Christian life. The stories like the “Cross and the Switchblade.” I was conscious that some of these were very well-written, but an awful lot of them were not very well-written or well-reported. I had a yearning to see Christian writers produce good quality testimony stories that would really edify people and possibly change their lives, so I wanted to come up with a way to encourage Christians.
GH: In your introduction of this award, you've said that your experiences in covering the Khmer Rouge, 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, and the conflicts in Middle East has allowed you to see the importance of a Christian worldview. Can you elaborate more on this?
A: I think Christians have an advantage over secular or non-Christian people as journalists for two reasons: first of all, they believe in truth or that there is such a thing as truth; second, I think they are realistic about the way human beings behave. Christians are not very likely to put people on a pedestal and get terribly disillusioned when their hero or heroine is shown to have serious faults. They are much more prepared to accept the reality that human beings are very flawed, even though they are capable through God’s grace of acts of great ability.
GH: What you are saying is that with a Christian view, one is more prepared to understand the changes that he sees through history or current events. Through these events that you’ve witnessed, you were able to derive certain lessons or understandings from a more balance perspective. Is that correct?
A: I think being a Christian gives you great advantage in having insight into historical events. Not that we Christians claim to have superior wisdom, except when people start to behave in ways that the Bible describes as a likely tendency for human beings at certain points, we’re not surprised.
Just to give you an example, I wasn’t the least bit surprised when the Tiananmen Square Massacre took place. I was one of the very few journalists that I knew at the time that thought “This is going to be a disaster.” Why do I say that? Because I had historical knowledge of what Deng Xiaoping, the leader of China, had done in the past and I understand that people who are in power because of a very violent mechanism, in this case, the communist party, are not going to abandon power without a struggle.
GH: Now, I understand more of what you mean when you say with a Christian worldview it helps you understand what has or will happen in instances such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre.
A: If I may interrupt, there is another facet. Christians are much more ready to believe that people can be changed through conversion than non-Christians. Non-Christians have often said to me, “Oh, you can’t be serious. That’s just a fake conversion.” But I’ve seen so many examples of absolutely extraordinary changes in people’s lives through the grace of God. And that’s the kind of story that I want to see in the public square.
GH: In the Aikman Opportunity Award website, you've described that the golden age of testimony writing seemed to fade out with the waning of the Jesus movement in the 1970s. Can you explain more on your observation of this trend and what are the implications of not having sufficient output of these Christian narratives?
A: I don’t think it is a question of shortage of supply. I think the narratives are out there, but I think it is a question of the quality of the narrative. There aren’t many really good writers putting these stories down. Because to do a good Christian testimony, it is not enough to be clever with words, skillful, or eloquent. You have to be a good reporter. You have to get the details of the story right. You have to double check. You have to provide a story that is solid, where skeptics won’t be able to poke holes through. I think it is very important for Christians to be very meticulous about their stories. Not to exaggerate and to get the details correct.
GH: In another words, you hope to see more of these Christian nonfiction that reports on these narratives in detail and accuracy. I believe the Aikman Opportunity Award sprouted from this motivation to identify, support, and encourage these types of writers to come out and fulfill their calling.
What should a Christian nonfiction writer hold as their motivation through this initial book-writing contest and throughout their career? You’ve been a journalist and non-fiction writer for more than two decades, what are some of the inspirations that kept you going in this career, continue to write, and teach and educate the importance of writing with a Christian worldview?
A: I’ve had the opportunity to meet lots of wonderful Christians with absolutely amazing stories to tell. Some of their stories have in fact been written down. In many cases, lots of stories are not being written down. Possibly because the person telling the story doesn’t have time or skills or training as a writer. Also, because there are not enough Christian writers out there on the alert to write down these stories to put them down on paper. Every time I visit a new church as a casual speaker, I’d bump into people with quite amazing testimonies that are not being written down, and my point is “My gosh, the news of the Kingdom of God is the most incredible news that human being has ever had to hear. Why are we not hearing more stories of people who encountered Christ and entered the Kingdom of God?”
GH: I certainly agree with you. As for myself, I have heard many wonderful testimonies and our publication has been trying to cover these testimonies in our news reports. What are your hopes and expectations for the writers who would submit their applications for Aikman Opportunity Award?
A: As you know, the grand prize is $20,000 for the best book proposal. I have hopes that a large number of Christian reporters and writers will be drawn to this and seek out stories of great potential and that are very compelling, or take the time to write these stories in a way that demonstrate their competence and integrity as reporters and writers.
GH: Is there anything else that you would like to add to this interview?
A: To me, I think the most exciting book in the Bible is the book of Acts, which tells us the apostle and disciples going out to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. And the Kingdom of God is no different in essence today than it was 2,000 years ago. I’m just am longing for more people to know about what the wonders are for following the Lord and to read their story.
About Dr. David Aikman:
Dr. David Aikman was the TIMES Magazine senior and foreign correspondent, bureau chiefs in Berlin, Beijing and Jerusalem. He has authored 12 books since leaving TIME, including the ground-breaking Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power (Regnery, 2003).
Dr. Aikman is a professor of history at Patrick Henry College in Virginia. He also serves as a Senior Fellow for The Trinity Forum. A graduate of Oxford University's Worcester College, Dr. Aikman holds a Ph.D. from the University of Washington in Russian and Chinese history.