When we bid Fellows Nate and Christian goodbye in March we didn’t now how long it would be until we would be together again. 2 weeks? That seemed unlikely. Maybe 4 weeks. Certainly by mid April we could get the band back together and put a bow on our year. And yet, as I type this it seems like there is no knowing when we can regroup.
So we adapt. Like many of you, we are employing technology to fill in for in person gatherings. We are so grateful for the technology that allows us to link Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Florida, Massachusetts, and Thailand together. It really is a miracle. And yet, we are left hungry for more. As amazing as it is to see each other and hear each others voice, our screen time is missing something.
We have always seen the true gift of Agape Year to be the gift of community. There is something special about physical presence, touch, smell, and taste. God didn’t tell us about himself and invite us into relationship in two dimensions. Instead he became incarnate and lived a fully human life. Our take on discipleship has always been centered on living an embodied faith in community with fellow sojourners. We ache for the day when we can again gather around our kitchen table, pass the salt and pepper, hold hands for grace, and walk the way of a disciple together.
Pre-Agape Year I worked as a manager for Trader Joe’s. So when the lockdown hit Pennsylvania and grocery store employees became frontline workers I sensed God calling me to step back in. For the past two weeks I’ve been working part-time at my old store, stocking shelves with needed food and sharing encouragement with customers and fellow employees. No one talks about anything other than COVID-19. Anxiety and uncertainty are rampant. People are hungry for a smile, for encouragement, and to know that the world is not without hope.
After my first week my boss told me that my return had been a big moral boost to the crew. The fact that I came in during a time of fear was reassuring. I thank God for this short term opportunity to be salt and light in an unexpected way in these unprecedented times.
for safety as Nate serves short term on the frontlines at Trader Joe’s
for Henry, Annie, George, and Jack as they weather isolation at home with limited field trips!
for patience, trust and peace for Erika as she continues mentoring our Fellows while managing school for Henry
for our Fellows as they navigate the uncertainty of the impact of COVID on their college futures
This week we had to make the hard decision to suspend our year with Fellows Nate and Christian. We had so much left to do, so much more to process, and so much more to say to each other.
Two weeks ago Christian, Nate and I embarked for 10 days on the road. We visited with one of our supporting parishes (Good Samaritan Anglican in Middleburg, FL), were refreshed by a Lenten retreat at Camp Saint Christopher in South Carolina, updated the Anglican Global Mission Parters in Georgia, and finished up at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to share with Nate’s home church.
And that’s when things went sideways. Churches started to cancel services, the organizations we volunteer with in Pittsburgh started shuttering their doors, and we faced the reality that it would be better for our guys to ride things out with their families instead of their host families in Pittsburgh.
We left Nate in North Carolina with his family and drove back to Pittsburgh to get Christian home to El Paso. While we will continue to meet together virtually and are plotting a summer reunion, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t supposed to be like this. We were supposed to end our year with the deep, satisfying feeling that we had accomplished our goal. I wanted to feel like we had made an impact.
So God sent me a reminder. Almost two weeks after we shared in Florida, a parishioner commented on a picture we had posted to Facebook. They said, “I was a participant in the service at Good Samaritan on March 8th when the Agape Year guys were our guests. Couldn’t be more impressed with Mr. Nate Twichell and the two young men, Nate and Christian. I told Father Chris afterward that I can count on one hand my favorite services since we have been members and I now count this as one of them, and that the church looks to be in good hands.” Well now.
I always want to do more. I always want more Fellows, more change, more impact. When we decided to cut our year short my first reaction was that we hadn’t done enough. So God reminded me not to worry about our numbers or our impact. He’s got our Fellows and we’re trusting them to Him. In this time of uncertainty:
May the Lord of peace himself give you (and me!) his peace at all times and in every situation. The Lord be with you all. 2 Thessalonians 3:16
Happy Advent to you! We’re grateful for this season in the church year of anticipation, hope, and repentance.
One of the recurring themes in our time with the Fellows is that they are citizens of the Kingdom of God, and as citizens they play a critical role in building up that Kingdom so that we can see it on earth as it is in heaven. The idea of citizenship in a heavenly Kingdom is not always an easy thing to grasp for our Fellows or for any Jesus follower.
A few weeks ago we were meditating on the story of the Ascension from the Acts of the Apostles with Nate and Christian. The disciples have listened to Jesus describe what the Kingdom looks like, they’ve seen him bring healing and wholeness to those who were outside and far off, and at the Ascension they still ask Jesus when he will restore the kingdom to Israel. Yes, yes Jesus. Freedom for the captive, clothes for the naked, food for the hungry. Blah, blah, blah. But when will we get our powerful political kingdom back?
One of the guys admitted that at times it is hard for him to grasp what this whole Kingdom to Build Up thing is that we talk about all of the time. And so I reminded him.
Remember that time you were taking the bus home and someone asked you for help? He was visiting the States from Croatia and was struggling to figure out where his hotel was and how to navigate the bus system to get there. You went out of your way to help him. And in doing so the Kingdom came.
Remember when our other Fellow was walking home and stopped to chat with a homeless man asking for money? Remember how your partner took the man to a pizza shop, bought him a pizza, and sat and listened to his story? The Kingdom came that day.
Remember the signs your host family made for you when you first arrived in Pittsburgh? Remember how it has felt to be invited to their family table for meals? In being welcomed into a new family you have experienced the Kingdom come.
Erika and I are so incredibly thankful that we get to give our Fellows these reminders. We are so thankful that we get to walk with them through hard conversations, hard passages of scripture, and hard places in their lives. And we are so thankful that we do not walk there alone. When we teach our Fellows what the Kingdom of God looks like, smells like, tastes like, you are there with us. When we teach English to students from 29 different countries, you are with us. And when we are in Thailand, where it is estimated that 70% of the population is unreached by the Good News of Jesus Christ, you are with us. 2019 has been a year of great challenge for our family. Through it all we have felt your prayers and encouragement. We can’t thank you enough.
May 2020 be a year where you see God’s Kingdom come on your street, in your place of work, at your kitchen table, and in every aspect of your life.
In many ways I have been a walking miracle these past 7 years. The previous 16 years had seen me laid low by Crohn’s disease. I had seen enough doctors, surgeons, and specialists to fill an auditorium. I had tried multiple drugs, had so many surgeries that I lost track of the number, and been on the kinds of restrictive diets that make people ask, “What CAN you eat?!”
After 16 years of struggle I had resigned myself to a life of limitation. Then my dear friend Fr. Josh Miller asked if I believed in healing prayer. My answer was that I did, but that I didn’t believe in it for me. I had been prayed for many times. But Josh can be pretty persuasive. So, along with fellow conspirator Jonny Cagwin we flew to Jacksonville, FL to visit Christian Healing Ministries. Over the course of multiple hours I was prayed for and prophesied over. And healing was proclaimed. And the next day I flew home in as much pain and agony as I had been in before.
But slowly something started to change. Erika and I began to watch as my body was restored. I was able to do things I hadn’t been able to do for more than a decade. I began to ride my bike again. We started a family. We started a ministry. And for 7 years my Crohn’s became an afterthought.
This past spring we were given the amazing gift of twin boys. While noticing the amazing ways that they were growing, I was also noticing that my body wasn’t working quite right. The things that I thought were behind me were back. The pain and isolation of my disease crept back into my life at first slowly, then at crippling speed. And I was shattered.
In the midst of all of this, we watched as God worked wonders in the lives of our Fellows. We watched a nascent idea for a diocesan-wide youth service day become a reality. We watched as our home parish welcomed and was ministered to by our friends from Thailand. Despite the physical and emotional limitations I’ve been experiencing, God has been at work sending the ripples of Agape Year deeper than we could have imagined.
One area of ministry that has been set aside while I have been laid low is support raising. If you do not currently support our ministry, is that something you would consider? Is a year end gift an option? We would love to share more with you how we are more convinced than ever of the need for deep discipleship of young people in our churches. Support can be given here.
I often don’t know how to pray in this struggle, and I admit to being more than a little confused as to what God is doing in my life and the life of our family. Like Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ hands when he was too tired, I have dear friends who are walking alongside and holding me up in prayer when I don’t have the words. Thanks for being tangible reminders of God’s presence in my life through your friendship, prayer, encouragement, and financial support.
One of the places we’ve talked a lot about this year is our Tuesday afternoon lunch with the homeless, Daily Bread. Most Tuesdays, after eating a delicious meal with our houseless and unemployed friends, Tessa, Kieran, Erika, Henry, and Annie and I walk across the street to West Park to debrief the experience. Actually the Fellows, Erika and I debrief and Henry and Annie swing on the monkey bars and play on the slide. Anyhow, a few weeks ago I shared with Tessa and Kieran one of the things that I love most about Daily Bread; I shared with them that I find that room to be a place of deep honesty.
Erika and I love our children deeply, but there are times when parenting can really stretch us. We had been experiencing one such day when we asked a man we’d never met before if our rowdy crew could join him at his table. The older gentleman introduced himself as Tyrone and proceeded to encourage us as parents. As our kids spilled their food on the table and floor and knocked over their drink cups, he encouraged us to cherish these fleeting moments with our young ones. He encouraged us to hold on to these memories, and to hold on to our kids.
Tyrone then shared that two of his three boys had been murdered recently. He said, “I drink myself to sleep most nights so I don’t feel the pain.” And with tears in his eyes and a quivering voice he again encouraged us to hold on to our kids.
There aren’t a whole lot of places in our lives where people are as honest as they are at Daily Bread. When you are houseless, jobless, toothless, shower-less, or hopeless there really isn’t any way or point in trying to pretend otherwise. And so we eat with, pray with, and try to be honest with our friends there and take that lesson in honesty to our larger community. Because even though we have the means to dress up our brokenness in nice clothes, and mask our stench with organic soap, the truth is we are broken and in need of a savior. And that is no different than our friends at Daily Bread. Its just that they are maybe more acutely aware of their need.
On Friday April 5th the Twichell family grew by two: George Augustine and Jack Francis. George is a family name for both Erika and me, and Augustine is a friend we met at Daily Bread earlier this year. Jack is also a family name and means God is gracious. My grandfather’s middle name was Francis and Saint Francis isn’t the worst role model for a young man.
Mom and babies are healthy and enjoying the love and affection of Henry and Annie. We thank God for your prayers throughout the pregnancy and can’t wait for you to hold them. Or help us carry the carseats. Actually, go for the latter.
We are super excited for what God will do in and through our cohort next year. Applications are still being accepted through July 1st! If you or a loved on are on the fence as to whether to apply, or maybe you are wondering what a year with Agape Year is really like, we’d love to put you in touch with one of our alums.