Hope in the midst of struggle #CarryOnAdvent

IMG_4898In 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.

-Nate

A Place of Deep Honesty

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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.

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On obedience and being a rock…

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And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…

After spending a couple of weeks in Thailand this January I had the opportunity to stopover in Laos for a few days on my back to Pittsburgh. I was excited to see another ministry that is run by the Anglican Diocese of Singapore, our partners in Chiang Mai Thailand. I was also excited to visit a new country and culture.

My meeting with the workers there went well. I came away challenged and encouraged by what my brothers and sisters in Christ are doing in that amazing country, but I also came away with a story.

Years back, two missionaries traveled to a Hmong village in the northern part of Laos. When they arrived in the village they rented a house that, unbeknownst to them, was haunted. After a week they prepared to leave having seen no fruit from their visit. As they were getting set to leave, the local shaman came to them and told them that he needed to know their God, because their God must be the true God since the shaman had put the curse on the house and it hadn’t effected the missionaries one bit. The missionaries shared the gospel with the shaman, led him to Christ, and went on their way.

A while later the missionaries returned to find a vibrant Christian community, started by the shaman, and growing daily. And this was all built in their absence.

In a few days our Fellows will return from Thailand having lived and served in Chiang Mai and the mountains for close to two months. Early on into their time there, one of the Fellows expressed some doubt about how impactful the work that they were engaged in would be. They wanted to see results. Who doesn’t?

I want to see results! I want to have an impact. I want to build the church. When the worker in Laos shared the story of the haunted house with me it was during a conversation about impact. It is easy to loose sight of our job. Just like Peter, we need to understand just who is doing the work here!

It is Christ who builds the church. Peter’s job was to be a rock. Peter’s job was to be obedient. And that is my job. And that is your job. We are simply to be obedient to God’s call and let Him do the work of church building.

I had a front row seat in watching our Fellows answer their call to obedient rock-ness in Thailand. It wasn’t easy for them. Over the next few weeks we’ll send out another update with some stories from their time there. But my takeaway, my impact story, was one of encouragement. Take heart Church. Christ is at work. He is building His church. I for one am stoked to just get to be a rock!

In Twichell family news, we are probably about a month or so away from the arrival of the Twin-chells. Erika is feeling well and the kiddos are super excited for two babies at one time. We covet your prayers for the safe delivery of healthy babies!

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God With Us

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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.

We are grateful for how you have been God’s presence to us as we respond to God’s call to Agape Year. We continue to walk in faith trusting God to provide for our material resources and also to provide future missional fellows. Would you consider an end of year donation to support our ministry?

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

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You Know My Name

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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!

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Why The Anchor?

Why The Anchor?

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.

Visit Agape year website to learn more about getting involved! 

Nate and Erika Twichell are SAMS Missionaries and co-directors of Anglican Global Mission Partners’ Agape Year.