The word “agape” is Greek for “selfless.” Led by Nate and Erika Twichell, co-directors, Agape Year is a nine-month fellowship for 18-20 year-olds who are seeking to increase their trust in God, and to show his extravagant, agape love to others both locally and globally in a “gap year.”
The ground breaking year, September 2017 through May 2018, saw two fellows, Caleb and Lucas, grow in their relationship with the Lord and in the Anglican community. Starting in the greater Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area, their day-to-day service experience included partnerships with local ministries such as Church of the Ascension in Oakland, a neighborhood rich in cross-cultural opportunities through the university and health care systems, Shepherd’s Heart in downtown Pittsburgh, reaching out to the homeless and broken, Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, and the Young Anglican Project, partnering with The Rev. Canon Steven Tighe, the Provincial Canon for Youth Ministry. Showing God’s love globally, they partnered with St. Andrew’s Centre in Chiang Mai, Thailand through the Diocese of Singapore. Agape Year’s goal is for participants to see Jesus work in new and unexpected ways, whether in the face of a homeless man in Pittsburgh, in the life of a student in Chiang Mai, in worship with Bhutanese brothers and sisters, or in their own hearts.
In addition to ministry, Caleb and Lucas gained new and unique life experiences, they left home for the first time, navigated a new city by bus, and bought groceries in a foreign country. “Many of the service and ministry opportunities require the fellows to cross barriers of culture, language, and privilege. These young men broke new ground personally,” said Erika, recognizing how God worked in the young men, bringing about spiritual maturity. Caleb shared, “This gap year has challenged me in my faith. We studied scripture, did missional devotions, and grew together in Christ. I was glad to be a part of this launch year where I have drawn closer to Christ, and laid the groundwork for others.
Both the directors and participants have seen the agape love of Christ in new places. While enjoying a meal with a group of homeless men and women on the Northside of Pittsburgh, Angel joined their table. He mentioned he was new to Pittsburgh and was applying for a restaurant job, but was unsure how to get there. Caleb walked Angel to the interview to make sure he arrived safely, and sat with him while he completed his application, helping him with words he did not know. “I’ve seen the importance of listening, relating to people in their situation, and just showing Christ’s love to others wherever they are,” said Caleb.
Caleb and Lucas’ daily schedules were packed full. In Chiang Mai, they had four hours of Thai language training per week to help their ministry of teaching English as a Second Language. Lucas taught middle school students while Caleb taught high school students. Erika mentored them in planning lessons for the week. Lucas shared, “Teaching ESL was my favorite service experience. It was rewarding to teach others from a different background [a skill] that will help them further their education and career goals.”
As mentors, Nate and Erika have seen God work in their own lives. Nate shared, “It was encouraging to see these two grow and build relationships grounded in Christ. It has been a growing experience for us, too. Caleb and Lucas have taught us how much we can grow in the Lord ourselves.” Nate and Erika pray sharing this year’s experiences will encourage the Church. The fellows continue to visit Anglican congregations, sharing how God worked in and through them. “There are a number of statistics that show the failure of the Church to retain young people. But we are partnering with the Anglican Church to break stereotypes about the younger generation. Agape Year is built upon Christ’s call to come and see,” says Nate. The Program encourages 18-20 year-olds to come and see what the Church is doing locally and globally, and to understand what it means to be a part of the body of Christ.
“Our hope is for our Missional Fellows to know that no matter where they go, they will have a home in the local Church.” Nate and Erika pray that Anglican Churches will partner with them by sending youth participants and by considering supporting the Agape Year financially. They thank God for this first year and look forward to the years to come.
For more information, visit https://www.agapeyear.org/.
Sarah Norris is the Writer and Communications Specialist for the Society of Anglican Missionaries and Senders (SAMS).