The Coming Kingdom #carryonadvent

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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.

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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