The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes,the one-of-a-kind glory,like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.John 1:14
In our son’s Sunday School class, they speak of the three great mysteries of the church year: Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. These mysteries are so full of wonder we need time to prepare to enter them. Advent is the time to prepare to enter the mystery of Christmas, the mystery of the Incarnation. This year, the Word’s flesh and blood have taken up residency in our lives in a new way.
Since their arrival in September, we’ve seen our missional fellows, at times beautifully and other times clumsily, become the hands and feet of Jesus to those whom they serve. Whether through building friendships through teaching ESL or making banana pudding for a homeless woman’s birthday, we see the Word taking on flesh. Kieran, a fellow from this year, reflected on how he sees this incarnational truth: “I can see the kingdom being built by us through literally building a house. What’s more, we’re not building up a castle for kings or anything. No, we’re building it for a family who needs it, who may have been outcasts. That’s how I imagine God is building his kingdom up as well. From building up relationships with children, the homeless, one another, to building up a healthy garden to even building up our bodies through embodied Spiritual disciplines, I see Jesus.”
But here’s the mysterious part: Christ Incarnate always ends up meeting us in those we have come to ‘serve’. Every Tuesday our family joins our cohort at Daily Bread, a lunch served for the chronically homeless, underemployed, or anyone who is hungry. We walk down stairs to the church basement, wait in line to receive the day’s food, and find a seat with a new or familiar face. We sit and share a meal together. Sometimes there’s conversations of Sunday’s football game or stories of childhood shared.
One Tuesday, we met Martin. He introduced himself as a “hobo” who rides the rails but we came to call him “Martin, the Holy Ghost filled hobo”. He ended up in Pittsburgh by accident having jumped on to the wrong train. But what started as an accident was quickly shown to be God’s provision. After sharing a meal with Martin, we invited him to stick around for the Bible study. His response was, “I haven’t cracked that book in 6 years. So, why not?!” We sat down to a study on Moses and Martin quickly jumped into the discussion. He shared insights that revealed he had a very deep understanding of scripture. As we got to know Martin over the next following weeks, he revealed that he hadn’t been listening to God for a few years. He was running. But, during his time in Pittsburgh he started listening again. He started studying Scripture again. And, he started praying again. And, before we knew it, he was gone; he found his southbound train. In his story and friendship, we met with Jesus. It was truly a one of a kind glory.
Please pray for us as we trust and behold Emmanuel “God with us”. As you enter the mystery of Christmas through Advent, we pray that you will see the Incarnation being offered to you, wholly and fully in all its flesh and glory
You know my name! More than a month ago, Erika had introduced herself to the elderly man sitting across the table from her. We were at the weekly lunch for the houseless and unemployed that our family and Fellows attend on Tuesday afternoons.
“My name is Gus,” the man replied. Erika asked, “Is that short for anything?” “Augustine,” he replied. “Like the saint, Saint Augustine?”
Gus paused, then exclaimed, “You know my name!”
Gus had never met another Augustine, and didn’t know the origin of his name. As Erika told him the story of the great Saint Augustine of Hippo, Gus’s eyes became wet with tears. “I never knew I shared a name with someone like that,” Gus kept saying.
A month later I found myself sitting across from Gus. When he introduced himself as Gus I asked if it was short for Augustine. Again he exclaimed, “You know my name!” I told him about how my wife had sat across from him a month before, and how she had printed out a history of Saint Augustine for him. We’d been hoping to see him again so we could share it with him. I pointed Erika out to him as she sat across the room with Henry.
Gus shared with me the deep pain and isolation he feels from being illiterate. He shared his struggles with alcoholism. He asked me if I knew what it was like to wake up at 3am shaking, sweaty, and needing a can of beer to be able to function. And in truth, I don’t. I don’t know what that is like. The pain and embarrassment in his voice as he shared this with me was so strong. For a while we sat across from each other in silence, both of us holding back tears. After a while Gus said, “I can’t believe you know my name. Can I go talk to your wife? I can’t believe she remembered me.”
Church, we serve the God who knows our name. We serve the God who knit us together in our mother’s womb, the God who loves us more than we can ever know, and as the prophet Isaiah says, “…called you by name, for you are mine.”
This fall during the Go Deep portion of our year, we have walked with our Fellows Tessa and Kieran as they grow more and more in their understanding of the name that God has given them: beloved. Beloved son and beloved daughter. As we study God’s word and serve together, we’ve heard God call out to us by name, and affirm our status as beloved.
In two months we’ll be in Thailand sharing that same message: you are a beloved child of God. Welcome to His family where you are known and remembered. Can you pray for us? Would you consider supporting us financially? Thanks be to Him who calls us by name!
We are currently looking for three more applicants for our third cohort of Agape Year! Do you know a young person (18-20) interested in experiencing a deep dive into discipleship, service, and seeing the Body of Christ at work around the globe? Please pray with us as God leads those He has called by name. Apply by December 15 and receive a $2000 scholarship!
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.
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.
“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.