Students share personal testimonies in annual Good Friday service

Every year on the Friday before Easter Sunday, also known as “Good Friday,” Nazareth Lutheran Church holds student-led services in partnership with BIGhouse, a high school ministry program based out of Orchard Hill Church in Cedar Falls. A group of students from around Northeast Iowa—including Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Grundy Center and Dike-New Hartford—are invited to speak at two services and share a personal testimony about how their religion has changed their lives.

Good Friday is a religious holiday observed by Christians and is a day commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on the cross. Good Friday often entails penance and fasting as gratitude to Jesus for sacrificing his life to forgive the sins of the world.

“For me, Good Friday is the reason I don’t hold so much wait on my shoulders because Jesus took all my sins to the grave,” senior Sarah Wagner said.

“Despite the mournful reason why we celebrate Good Friday, I genuinely think it is still such a good day to celebrate,” senior Sydney Brustkern said. “Without the blood shed on the cross, we would not have been saved. Plus, the story doesn’t end at his death. He raises from the dead three days later.”

On March 30, eight CFHS students spoke at two different services, including seniors Brandon Nelson, Sarah Wagner, Sydney Brustkern, Jacob Keagle, Caroline Ross, Emily Lehman, Molly Rygh and Colin Klatt.

The group of students was selected by mentors and organizers from the high school ministry as students who would be willing to share their stories about their journey finding and experiencing their religion. “They choose a lot of people from different churches, communities and walks of life,” Rygh said. “They also try and put together a diverse group that can touch the lives of those listening.”

However, the speech would not just be an easy conversation, and typically includes moving and emotional stories from a variety of different perspectives and experiences in front of a packed Nazareth sanctuary, which seats over 1,400 people.

“I immediately felt so honored to get asked to speak. The second I said, yes, though, is when the flood of nervousness kicked in that I would be speaking in front of a lot of people,” Brustkern said.

Hesitation often entailed, especially due to the intimidation of speaking in front of such a large crowd, but the opportunity prevailed despite the nerves. “I asked if I could have a few days to think about it because I do not like public speaking, but I ended up calling [Emily Huckfelt, the high school coordinator at Prairie Lakes Church] back that night and saying, yes.,” Wagner said. “I was shocked they had chosen me because there are so many other seniors out there that worship God. I felt nervous, but it was an honor to be asked.”

Like Wagner, Rygh was also hesitant due to the sheer pressure of the feat. “I thought about it for a while, and I was a little nervous because it takes a lot of vulnerability to get up there and share about things that are special to you, or hard things that you’ve struggled with,” but after ruminating on the possibility, Rygh accepted the offer. “Eventually I decided to say, yes,” Rygh said.

To prepare for the testimony, students picked a Bible verse that represented how Jesus’ sacrifice affected their lives. After being paired with mentors and coaches from the church, often friends and small-group leaders from the youth ministry, the students wrote their speeches and gained feedback on what they had created.

“They gave us pointers on how to make the speech good and really helped us bring it all together and be prepared,” Wagner said of her coaches and mentors.

The speeches revealed personal struggles and revelations from the students; sides that many of their peers had never seen before. “I spoke about my own struggle with dealing with my insecurities. I was talking about a side of myself that barely anyone has ever seen,” Klatt said. “I wanted to make people aware that even someone who looks like they have it all figured out could really be struggling to swim in a sea of self doubt. I wanted people to know that they are not alone.”

Wagner spoke of dealing with her mother’s stage four lung cancer and how her relationship with God as a Christian helped her to see the good in her life. “It really opened my eyes to see that God has a plan,” Wagner said. “I hope people can realize that God has a plan for everyone, and in order to have no doubt in God, you have to put your trust into his hands and trust what he is doing with your life.”

Other speech topics included pivotal moments where students observed religion helping their lives, as Rygh did, about loving others, as Nelson did, or about internal struggles with loneliness, as Brustkern did.

By sharing their personal struggles, the students hoped to reach and relate to members of their audience. “I hope people learned about how to let go of their sin and brokenness that was stopping them from experience a full relationship with God,” Keagle said.

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