We chose the anchor as the Agape Year logo for a number of reasons, but the one that is on my mind right now is that the anchor holds us secure, even in the tumult of a storm.
I remember sitting down with our graphic designer to brainstorm ideas for our logo. He was kind enough to come to our house after we had put Henry down to bed, and as we sat around our dining room table, he asked us some very good questions about our hopes for how our Fellows would be formed through the year and about our desired outcomes for them. Erika and I kept coming back to this idea of Agape Year anchoring the Fellows in their identity in Christ. Anchored in God’s Story, in scripture. Anchored in the Body of Christ, in the Family of God. Anchored in their call, in participating in bringing God’s Kingdom come here on earth as it is in Heaven.
A Story to Believe In. A Family to Belong To. A Kingdom to Build. This is the identity we pray our Fellows will be anchored in.
There are no shortages of storms that come into a young adults life. This past year we saw our Fellows buffeted and tossed by trials. And we saw them cling to their anchor when all felt lost. We were honored to hold on alongside of them.
In the letter to the Hebrews we read that “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain…” (Hebrews 6:19 ESV) God made Abraham a promise, and Abraham clung to that promise, to that hope, like an anchor. The Apostle Paul knew something about clinging to things in the midst of a storm, shipwrecked and adrift in the open sea.
And we ourselves cling to that anchor. Erika and I lost a baby to miscarriage this summer. It happened while we were close to the sea, and we spent hours watching waves crash against the rocks as tides rose and fell. We cried and clung to our Anchor.
In just a few days our new Agape Year cohort will arrive in Pittsburgh. In the coming months you’ll be updated with stories and pictures of their journey. But for now, can you pray for them? Can you pray for Kieran as he comes from Florida? Can you pray for Tessa as she journeys from Massachusetts?
And can you pray for us? We are so honored to co-labor in building His Kingdom alongside of you. We could not do this without your prayers and financial support. Speaking of financial support, we are in need. We daily trust that God will provide for all of our needs and right now we need financial support. Would you consider supporting us in our call with monthly financial support? You can do that here. We’d love to chat about that.
Agape Year seeks a missional minded, Gospel-centric individual to serve the future church by sharing life, ministry and gifts with gap year fellows (18-20 year old) for a 5 month* (January-May 2019*) apprenticeship.
This apprenticeship will encourage the growth of spiritual gifts, engage in deep relational ministry, and have opportunities to see the wealth of imagination in God’s kingdom. From serving with the Church overseas (In 2018-2019, we will be serving with the Diocese of Singapore in Chiang Mai, Thailand) to engaging in parishes’ calls throughout the country, the apprentice will grow their own personal network and understanding of call. This apprenticeship is ideal for an individual who holds the global church and mission in high regard, adheres to and desires to practice spiritual disciplines in the context of community, and has affection for young adults in transition.
In the future, Agape Year hopes that an apprentice will be called to plant a second Agape Year in another hub of Anglicanism in the United States.
An apprentice will:
- provide residential supervision and hold fellows accountable to community standards
- share in meals and study portions with fellows
- travel with fellows overseas and throughout the country.
- Help transport fellows to ministry sites and commitments.
- Support and lead spiritual formation throughout the program through daily offices, Scripture studies, and spiritual direction.
- Assist as needed with the administrative and logistic elements of the program (planning travel, booking churches, newsletters, blog updates, etc.)
- 22 years of age or older
- Robust faith and trust in Jesus Christ and commitment to a local church
- Cross cultural and youth ministry experience
- Strong interpersonal skills and problem solving initiative.
- College degree or seminary study in related field preferred.
- Appreciation for the Anglican tradition and communion.
- Room and board provided for the 5 months (with a host family on the Northside of Pittsburgh)
- Travel expenses covered to overseas portion and Sojourn (visiting parishes in the U.S.).
- $2000 stipend, with the option of raising additional funds for personal support as well as partner development training. There may be an option to become a SAMS bridger providing more resources.
*There is an option of extending this internship to September-May.
In my previous blog entry I gave an abbreviated account of some of what I did during my seven-month assignment to the Solomon Islands. I returned home to the USA three months ago and set about transitioning to the “next thing.” As I transition, I thought it would be useful to readers of SAMS’ blog to learn about what I will be doing next, and more importantly, why the SAMS Bridger program has been such a helpful component of my discernment process. I should add that I am in no way under compulsion by SAMS staff to write this blog entry. The opinions and thoughts expressed here are my own, but I hope that they will be an encouragement to SAMS staff and supporters.
Shortly after returning to the USA I married my long-time friend Kyria. You can read about her life and work on her blog. The two of us met as volunteers at Uncommon Grounds Cafe in 2010. Since then Kyria has been serving as a long-term missionary with Mission to the World (MTW) in West Africa helping with Bible translation research, and in the United States receiving training at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics. As of our marriage we have begun transitioning into the MTW family as a married couple. We don’t know where God is calling us to specifically, but we have expressed our willingness to serve in a majority Muslim context. We hope to combine our diverse gifts and experiences and return to international work sometime in 2019. Over the next year we will be exploring potential field locations and continuing to raise support. You can partner with us by giving by following this link (please note: for security reasons our number shows up, 13703, and not our names).
Kyria and I in Crete meeting with MTW international workers.
How has the SAMS Bridger program helped prepare me for the road ahead?
Before Kyria and I were going to get married, we knew we would be facing roughly seven months apart as she conducted literacy research for her Master’s thesis. I set about thinking of ways to utilize the time to get myself some further training and experience working internationally. I had finished my MAR from Trinity School for Ministry, and had several years experience working with faith-based non-profits in the USA, but I only had short-term experience serving internationally. That’s when I was reminded of the SAMS Bridger program.
The Bridger program was recommended to me by a former colleague whose son was a Bridger. As I looked into it, I realized it was exactly what I was looking for:
- Instead of a short-term trip, the Bridger program offers highly flexible opportunities ranging from 1 month to one year. This allowed me, with some advanced planning, to schedule an internship during the time my fiance was away.
- SAMS Bridger program involves mentoring for individuals seeking to explore missionary service as a vocation. This was a very big draw for me. My Bridger mentoring experience taught me a lot about team dynamics, met and unmet expectations, and the daily challenges of international life. I formed close relationships with my teammate/mentors that will last for a lifetime.
- My Bridger experience was highly personalized–through conversations with my mentors before arriving in-country we found work that would utilize some of my previous skills and experiences. I also had opportunities to try new things such as preaching and teaching cross-culturally. Every Bridger will have have a uniquely designed missionary experience.
Beyond these program qualities, God’s providence was evident throughout my whole experience–from Bridger training, to support-raising, arrival in country, and returning home–God’s plan was continually confirmed in my being sent and my coming home. God raised up supporters. God kept me safe. God gave me the strength to preach, teach, and live. I may be transitioning out of the SAMS community, but I will never forget the experiences I had as a SAMS Bridger in the Solomon Islands, nor the genuine relationships I formed with SAMS staff. Moving forward Kyria and I hope to collaborate with SAMS workers wherever it is possible.
Who is the SAMS Bridger program for?
In the 9th chapter of Matthew we are told that Jesus went throughout the towns and villages, full of compassion, preaching good news and healing the sick. He told his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”(9:37b-38). If you are considering longer term missionary service, or if you have considered it in the past, then this is a program for you. Don’t let money be a worry that keeps you from pursuing a God gifted vocation. I think this is a program especially suited for college age (in between semesters), recent grads, graduate students, or even second-vocation adults. If you are interested in learning more about the program from me, or if you are a Bridger raising support looking for advice, don’t hesitate to email! You can also contact the Bridger program coordinator directly.
9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
One of the more meaningful experiences for me this year was our recent trip to Austin, TX. While in Austin, Caleb, Lucas, and I stayed at a place called the Community First Village. Erika and I had the opportunity to visit Community First last year and it was unlike anything I had seen before. Community First is a 27 acre village that provides affordable, permanent housing and a supportive community for the chronically houseless in central Texas. Before this past September I would have said “chronically homeless”. But this past September our friend Jared from LIVING Ministries came and shared a bit about their work with the houseless, highlighting the fact that we all have a deep longing for home, and in a sense we are all homeless. Our brothers and sisters on the street are no more homeless than you or I, but they are houseless. Back to Texas. At Community First you walk through this village of 27 acres. And the village is composes of hundreds of tiny houses, RVs and teepees. There’s a garden. And goats. And chickens. And a wood shop. And a blacksmith shop. And more that 200 chronically houseless children of God have found a community and sense of belonging there. And its an inspiring place. An amazing place. A beautiful place.
Alan Graham, one of the founders of Community First calls this place a part of the Gospel con Carne. The Gospel con carne. Does anyone here know what “con carne” means? With meat! The Gospel with meat??
In the passage from John we see the physical Lord eating breakfast with his friends. As they sit around the fire, Jesus seeks out Peter. This same Peter who denied Jesus three times is challenged three times to feed and care for Jesus’ flock. His Sheep. But what should he feed them?
The author of the book of Hebrews also had food on his or her mind. The book’s target audience seems to have forgotten just who Jesus is. So the author goes to great lengths to run through all of the Old Testament prophesies that Jesus fulfilled. He is the promised Messiah. Just not the kind of Messiah everyone was looking for… In Eugene Peterson’s Message we see the author of Hebrews getting a little frustrated with his audience. Now I’m not a Biblical scholar. At Grove City I majored in bike riding with a minor in Quaker Steak and Lube Chicken wings. But I believe the author of Hebrews is doing whatever the first century equivalent of a face palm would be.
So, Hebrews 5:11-14 reads: “ I have a lot more to say about this, but it is hard to get it across since you’ve picked up this bad habit of not listening. By this time you ought to be teachers yourselves, yet here I find you need someone to sit down with you and go over the basics on God again, starting from square one— baby’s milk, when you should have been on solid food long ago!! Milk is for beginners, inexperienced in God’s ways; solid food is for the mature, who have some practice in telling right from wrong.”
The Gospel con carne. The Gospel with some meat on it. Alan Graham says that the Gospel con carne is the gospel of flesh and meat of a reality that’s gritty, and truthful, and of being embodied in flesh given a human form. The gospel con carne is about becoming fully human. The believer in Christ is called to grow in order to be able to process and be nourished by solid food… the gospel con carne. The aim is to become well acquainted with the person and perfect work of Jesus Christ.
Caleb, Lucas. Have you become well acquainted with the person and perfect work of Jesus Christ? Did you see Him revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread? Did you meet Him at Light of Life? Did you see Him in the mountains of Thailand? Did you feel Him in the embrace of the churches we visited? Then, its time fore you to feed His sheep!!
And God wants you to bring His sheep a hearty meal that will truly satisfy. He doesn’t want us to bring His sheep a watered down Gospel or meal. Go back to that beach with Jesus. He hasn’t made his friends a continental breakfast. This isn’t a bowl of Fruit Loops. This is a breakfast that will fill them up. This is the Gospel con carne.
So go and do likewise.
“The low temperature on the East coast will be colder than the high temperature on Mars this weekend,” Nate shared while driving with our fellows to run some errands before our departure to Thailand the next day.
We’d finished the first portion of Agape Year, engaging with local ministries and churches in Pittsburgh and been preparing for our time overseas with the Anglican Church in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We’d gone through thoughtful and meaningful prep and prayer with New Wineskins. We’d had a great time delving into cross cultural and ministry training with SAMS. Our bags were packs. Visas acquired. We were ready.
And, then 5,000 flights were cancelled out of JFK airport due to a weather phenomenon called a “bomb cyclone”. Nate spent most of the day before our departure on the phone trying to get us rebooked on a different flight. We had success in rebooking our flights through our travel agency and while our travel time increased by 20 hours (yikes when travelling with small children), we were grateful to not be stranded at the airport.
After an early morning departure from Pittsburgh, we made it to JFK airport and settled in at our gate for our connection to China and then onto Chiang Mai. When the airline representative appeared at our gate, we went to check in. As she looked at our passports, she informed us we wouldn’t be able to fly today. Shocked, I asked why and what could be done. Because of being re-booked with two layovers within China, we needed Chinese visas, something we did not have and did not anticipate. “Go talk to the ticketing desk outside of the departure gates” she said.
We grabbed our belongings, our sleeping toddler, and booked it to the airlines desk. We were met by a sea of chaos of travellers who’s flights had been cancelled. It was a mess. As we approached the ticket counter, there was woman standing on it, shouting “Everyone needs to be in a line. This line for rebooking. That line for questions.” We definitely had a question. As we explained our situation, puzzlement filled the attendants face. She conversed with her superior and co workers. More confusion at our predicament. After much conversation, the airline said it was a rebooking error by our travel agency and they can do nothing for us. Our hearts sank. We would not be leaving JFK today. Then, Nate’s phone dinged with a message from our missionary hosts. Gerry had been hospitalized with dengue fever.
We returned to our fellows to share the situation. “Text your prayer team. We need prayer,” we instructed. Caleb and Lucas jumped on it and we had most of the Eastern Seaboard praying for Agape Year and the team at St. Andrew’s in Thailand.
We set up camp near the chapel rooms in JFK. There was a sea of stranded passengers from around the world sleeping on the floor, aimlessly walking airport aisles, and bombarding the two restaurants available in the Terminal.
At one point, after about 8 hours of being on hold with our travel agency, we saw a mission team move in for the night close by. They too had had their travel plans disrupted by the weather. They gathered to pray. As they prayed, an airline representative came to tell them they had rebooked them on a flight and now had tickets. Shouts of “Praise the Lord!!” and “God is good!!” filled the stale airport air. And, they eagerly rushed towards us offering the blankets they’d been given by their airline and asking to pray with us and those passengers camped out around us. We were grateful for the blankets (and the prayers), but struggled to see how God was answering our pleas we’d been uttering all day. The airport was chilly, the floors were hard, and we didn’t know how it was all going to turn out.
And, then trickles of God’s presence showed up.
- At the last minute, Lucas had packed a power strip. Plugged into one of the only outlets in our area, it provided a ‘watering hole’ for international travellers whose phones’ batteries needed to be charged. We swapped stories with people from Columbia, India, Taiwan, Israel, Nevada, France, etc. Our hearts were filled with compassion for each person’s unique story and God’s love for them.
- My brother in law offered to come pick us up (a 7 hour drive from Pittsburgh), but didn’t have a vehicle that could carry us.
- Then, our friends offered their 15 passenger van to him, no questions asked. He showed up the next morning with a boat load of snacks and beverages.
- After a ton of discouraging conversations and time on hold, at 2 AM Nate talked to Christy from our travel agency who was able to ensure us that we would be able to rebooked or refunded due to the error they had made.
- We arrived back to Pittsburgh and had our church family drop off meals and groceries within hours. Chili and cornbread have never tasted so good J.
- After a few days, we were able to rebook flights thanks to the assistance of our sending agency.
- We grew in our affection and connection to our missionary hosts, the Gan family, as we prayed for Gerry’s healing. He was released from the hospital a few days before our second departure.
- We received this encouraging text from a parent of a fellow: “Don and I are thankful for you, Nate, and Agape Year. The boys are seeing godly character in action. They are learning how to honor God in disappointment and how to work through problems in a healthy way. I know things are so different from what you had hoped and planner for. Trust God in this. Lean not on your own understanding. We continue to give thanks for you and pray for all of you as the Lord works this out.” – Mary Collings
In the face of opposition and disappointment, God showed His agape love for us. He answered prayer. He was present. As we follow Christ and ask our lives to offered as living sacrifices, the path is full of what we perceive as disruptions. We were on our way to serve God overseas to share His love with the Thai, but turned out God wanted us to trust Him along the way and see His extravagant love for us.
Oh, and we made it to Thailand. But that’s another story.
“You want to grab dinner?” I asked one of our fellows after teaching his first ESL class at the Community Learning Center at St. Andrew’s in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
“I want to die,” he replied with a grimace in his face.
“The class was that bad?” Silence followed.
We walked to meet Nate and the kids at a neighborhood outdoor dinner joint and debriefed the class. As part of the ministry at St. Andrew’s, both fellows would be teaching an ESL class twice a week to middle school and secondary students. The fellows had enjoyed helping in an ESL class at our home church, but being the lead teacher in the classroom was a different story! We had prepped before and talked through the lesson plan, but the reality of 15 Thai faces in his classroom staring blankly back at our fellow was hitting hard.
As we debriefed that night and the following morning, it was clear that this challenging experience was stirring up questions of identity and security for both our fellows. One fellow was sick to his stomach. He felt like his ‘failure’ of teaching the class brought into question his purpose for being in Thailand and ultimately his value as well.
Over a plate of fried rice and thai omelette, I said “Even if you failed, that doesn’t make you a failure. You are His. You are a baptized child of God.” There were the beginning of tears in his eyes. For this young man who prided himself in his performance, in being able to serve out of strength, the confrontation of his own weakness had made him encounter the Gospel in a new way. And, it was uncomfortable for him.
We returned from Thailand a week ago and while in the throes of jet lag we’ve remembered moments of growth we got to witness in our fellows. We give thanks for the Thai brothers and sisters who we now know by name and story. We are overwhelmed by God’s providence in providing a partnership with St. Andrew’s Centre, connected to the Diocese of Singapore, which is mutually beneficial for Agape Year and their ministry. And, it was a pretty great context for our family (complete with an English preschool for Henry to attend and a family with daughters who became good pals).
Thank you for being a part of God’s kingdom come and covering us in prayer. Continue to pray for our fellows as they stay on in Thailand till February 27. They are currently visiting a sister church isolated high in the mountains surrounding Chiang Mai. Please uphold us in prayer for the last few months of Agape Year 1.0 as we travel the US, visiting churches to tell the story of what we have seen God doing in Pittsburgh, Thailand, and beyond.
We’d love to share more with you about our year so far and the Church in Thailand. Please join us for either time of sharing:
February 24, 10-11:30 am
2623 Linwood Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15214
February 25, 10:30-11:10
Church of the Ascension
4729 Ellsworth Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15213