Of bomb cyclones, dengue fever, and God’s providence


“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.


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. After a few days, we were able to rebook flights thanks to the assistance of our sending agency.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.


Back from Thailand


“You want to grab dinner?” I asked one of our fellows after teaching his first ESL class at the Community Learning Center at St. Andrew’s in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

“I want to die,” he replied with a grimace in his face.

“The class was that bad?” Silence followed.

We walked to meet Nate and the kids at a neighborhood outdoor dinner joint and debriefed the class. As part of the ministry at St. Andrew’s, both fellows would be teaching an ESL class twice a week to middle school and secondary students. The fellows had enjoyed helping in an ESL class at our home church, but being the lead teacher in the classroom was a different story! We had prepped before and talked through the lesson plan, but the reality of 15 Thai faces in his classroom staring blankly back at our fellow was hitting hard.

As we debriefed that night and the following morning, it was clear that this challenging experience was stirring up questions of identity and security for both our fellows. One fellow was sick to his stomach. He felt like his ‘failure’ of teaching the class brought into question his purpose for being in Thailand and ultimately his value as well.

Over a plate of fried rice and thai omelette, I said “Even if you failed, that doesn’t make you a failure. You are His. You are a baptized child of God.” There were the beginning of tears in his eyes. For this young man who prided himself in his performance, in being able to serve out of strength, the confrontation of his own weakness had made him encounter the Gospel in a new way. And, it was uncomfortable for him.

We returned from Thailand a week ago and while in the throes of jet lag we’ve remembered moments of growth we got to witness in our fellows. We give thanks for the Thai brothers and sisters who we now know by name and story. We are overwhelmed by God’s providence in providing a partnership with St. Andrew’s Centre, connected to the Diocese of Singapore, which is mutually beneficial for Agape Year and their ministry. And, it was a pretty great context for our family (complete with an English preschool for Henry to attend and a family with daughters who became good pals).

Thank you for being a part of God’s kingdom come and covering us in prayer. Continue to pray for our fellows as they stay on in Thailand till February 27. They are currently visiting a sister church isolated high in the mountains surrounding Chiang Mai. Please uphold us in prayer for the last few months of Agape Year 1.0 as we travel the US, visiting churches to tell the story of what we have seen God doing in Pittsburgh, Thailand, and beyond.

We’d love to share more with you about our year so far and the Church in Thailand. Please join us for either time of sharing:
February 24, 10-11:30 am
2623 Linwood Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15214

February 25, 10:30-11:10
Church of the Ascension
4729 Ellsworth Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15213

In Between


Brothers and Sisters,

A blessed Advent to you. As we inhabit this intentional season of waiting and anticipation for Christ’s coming, we invite you to rest in the waiting and to see this time as where God is at work. Let’s not hurry to Christmas. Let’s not miss what He has for us along the way.

You’ve journeyed with our family in our call to Agape Year for a while. You’ve waited with us to see Agape Year come to be in flesh and blood. You’ve prayed, encouraged, and offered hope while the ‘waiting’ seemed so long. Since the inception of Agape Year, our family has spent many hours traveling, in flux, inhabiting the in between. We’ve been eager to get to the destination: Agape Year’s first cohort. And, we hurried our way there.

Then, Caleb and Lucas, our first fellows, came and started to inhabit the plans and prayers that came before them. But, we still felt this hurried drive toward the ‘destination’ of transformational discipleship. As we shared life with Caleb and Lucas, it was easy to rush to a service project then rush home to study together and then rush to prayer. Nate spent much time with our fellows in our faithful Subaru and I was side by side with them in the kitchen multiple times a day. These, along with others, were our ‘in between’ times. On the way to community group or ESL tutoring, Nate’s been able to have frank conversations, listen intently, and pray with our fellows. While washing dishes or prepping meals, I’ve heard our fellows share their hopes and fears for the future, chatting theology, and learned much about rugby and robotic battles. And, in these ‘in between’ times, we’ve been surprised by the Spirit’s movement, reminding us that the ordinary is indeed sacred.

We are continuing to tweak and shape the curriculum and formation of Agape Year to meet its goals. But, as we do that, it is easy to lose sight of how discipleship happens along the way, in between the books, projects, seminars, and service. In the gospels, Jesus stops to heal the bleeding woman while on his way to raise a girl from the dead. Jesus shares the words of Life with the Samaritan woman at the well on his way to Jerusalem. Jesus heals a servant’s ear on the way to the Cross. These examples, along with others, remind us that to be His disciple we must allow Him inhabit all places of our lives, even those stray, throw away moments of the day where we are waiting for the next thing. This Advent, while we wait and groan for His coming, we pray that you’ll be surprised by His peace and joy in the ‘in between’.

We are also living in an in between spot financially. We’ve grown in our partners and support as Agape Year has started. We are still praying for God to provide monthly partners as we are currently at 50% of our need to be sustainable for years to come. Would you join us along the way? Would you consider a year end gift to help close this gap? Please also join us in prayer as we seek partnership with churches. We hope to have three churches join Agape Year’s vision by financially supporting our family.




Agape Year is 1 Month Old!


Born September 5, 2017
Maybe saying that Agape Year was born on September 5th is a bit misleading. As so many of you know, this has been something you’ve walked with us through for almost two years. But on September 5th, Caleb and Lucas walked through our front door and all of the dreams, prayers, and work became real. It took on flesh.

We are going through a study on incarnational ministry with our Agape Fellows. The reality of the Incarnation is so powerful for us. The God of creation, the God who who placed the sun and moon in the sky, this God took on flesh and came and dwelt with us in the dust and mess of humanity.

As we seek to daily be transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ, we are challenged to walk how He walked, serve how He served, and see the world through His eyes. On Tuesday nights that looks like Caleb and Lucas running a trivia night for homeless men as they wait for a meal. On Mondays it looks like welcoming the stranger by providing free English as a Second Language tutoring for Pittsburgh’s immigrant community. And sometimes it looks like stopping to help someone who doesn’t look like us to change a flat tire.

We’ve settled into a rhythm of service and study that will carry us through the first 5 months of Agape Year in Pittsburgh, and our trip to South East Asia in January is right around the corner. There are still a lot of loose ends that we would love to see God tie up in the next few months. Can you pray for:

  • our support as we are about $1500/month short of our family need
  • our Agape Fellows as they grow in their knowledge and love of Jesus
  • our family as we seek to find places of rest and care in the midst of a busy schedule
  • a van, preferably 12 or 15 passenger

Finally, we have 1 Agape Fellow confirmed for next year! Please pray for Tessa as she starts to raise her support for Agape Year 2.0 and for others to be raised up to join her. Applications for 2018-2019 are now being accepted at here.


This is really happening


This is really happening! And yes, we are surprised.

Thanks be to God, Agape Year 1.0 will start September 5th! Thanks to your prayers and financial support, we will welcome our first cohort, Caleb and Lucas, to Pittsburgh in just a few days. We’ll be in Pittsburgh September through January serving with multiple ministries around the city while studying just what this whole Kingdom of God thing is that we talk so much about.

February and March will see us travel to Thailand with our cohort to live, worship, and serve alongside our Thai brothers and sisters.

The last 6 weeks of Agape Year 1.0 will take us around the US, visiting churches, sharing the story of what we have done and seen, and bearing witness to the missional creativity of the Body.

If that sounds like a lot to handle, it is. We covet your prayers. We are still about $2000 a month short of our financial need. Were you waiting to see if we actually made this thing happen? Smart. But now’s the time! You can jump on board here.


Of Weeds, Soil, and Waiting


Nate and Henry marvel at the California Redwoods

Most Tuesday mornings you can find us at our community farm, Ballfield Farm.  Henry finds a friend and Annie sleeps in the stroller while I attempt to rid the outfield of thistle and weed and Nate moves large amounts of soil or wood chips or compost in a wheelbarrow. We are joined with a slew of folks who have come together to give what they can to make this patch of earth bear all kinds of harvest. But the harvest we anticipate this year is a result of hard, back-breaking labor of folks, many of whom we don’t know, who saw potential in the fallow ground of an overgrown baseball field.

As dirt gets into my fingernails and I fight to make a patch of soil hospitable for seed, I am reminded of our brothers and sisters who are also planting and waiting for harvest. These past two weeks, our family was encouraged by visiting churches throughout Texas and California, most of which are in their early stages of growth as church plants. We heard a repeated and faithful refrain from several rectors, saying “We don’t expect to see the flourishing of the our work now. Perhaps are children will.” We were amazed by this faithful, sacrificial vision while laboring in at times hostile soil. Friends, your brothers and sisters in San Antonio, Austin, Plano, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Modesto are witnessing God’s kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. Pray for them to be encouraged in the Spirit that unites us to each other.

Similarly, we press on to root Agape Year in the Kingdom for the life of the world. While there are times the soil looks dormant to our eye, God is at work! We have accepted our first applicant. Praise God! We are growing in our own support! Praise God! These sprouts of growth remind us of God’s ever-growing, ever-living work while we rest in His faithfulness.

We continue to trust God for a few more participants for this Fall. Please pray that the Lord of the Harvest will bring those He has called to pioneer Agape Year with us.   We’ve seen God surprises us with His provision for our family while still trusting Him to call senders to come around us in this call. Is He asking you to join in this particular field? Consider giving a monthly donation of $40.

S’more Summer Sundays!
Would you join us this summer for fire, s’mores, and prayer for mission?
We’ll gather the fourth Sunday of the month in June, July, and August at our home, 2623 Linwood. Bring a lawn chair or blanket, or musical instrument if you like. We’re excited to see you!
Mark your calendars for June 25, July 23, and August 27.

The Twichells


Flying with 2 children is no joke!


On The Road /On The Run


A few weeks ago we packed the Subaru to the gills and pointed our rusty, I mean TRUSTY, steed south to the warm embrace of The Diocese of South Carolina. We had a number of appointments set up with youth leaders, rectors, and missions minded folks around Charleston, and enjoyed our time there immensely. Except for the fire ants. Lesson learned: don’t place a sandaled foot or bare hand within their reach. Lesson number two: Camp St. Christopher is a beautiful place and the people there are amazing hosts. We made some great new friends/contacts, were prayed for and ministered to in needed ways, and left encouraged and buoyed in our call to launch Agape Year. Now we are prepping for May recruiting trips that will see us in Texas and California. Being on the road with a 3 year old and a 5 month old has its challenges, and a side-of-the-road temper tantrum has a way of stretching my patience.

There are times in my life when I really need an Ebenezer, a reminder of God’s faithfulness. As Erika and I dive headlong into starting Agape Year, building a program, recruiting students, and raising our financial support there a times of great doubt that we are on the right track. But God has given me an incredible reminder of His faithfulness: my health.

Most of you know that I have Crohn’s Disease, and many of you know how debilitating it has been at various times over the past 20 years. And a few of you have seen me hospitalized or bed-bound for months on end. But just a few. Most people don’t know my story of healing (its a miracle and I’d love to talk to you about it!) so when I talk about running a half marathon, the miracle of that is lost on them.

By the grace of God I’ll run the Pittsburgh Half Marathon on May 7th. We are raising donations here with all of the money going to Erika and my financial support. Getting up early to train on Pittsburgh’s city streets, or running in the dark on unfamiliar South Carolina roads, I am reminded of God’s faithfulness with every step. Thanks for coming along side of Erika and me on the road and on the run!


Of Disappointment vs Encouragement

God Does Not Disappoint

We were sitting in Lucy and David’s apartment in Falls Church, VA for a little under a half an hour before Lucy begun to share with us their profound story of trusting our faithful God. During their time in Kenya, David and Lucy had seen the unexpected ways God provided for their family and their ministry. They had worked with the local church to provide leadership and discipleship training to local youth. Whether that provision be finances, participants, or a specific need, God had been present in their lives and provision.  Lucy repeated over and over again, “God does not disappoint”.

God does not disappoint (think Romans 5:1-5). Nate and I wrestled with that promise most of the way home. We’d cut our trip short due to an impending snow storm (getting snowed in away from home with Henry and Annie didn’t seem like the best idea for everyone’s well being) and were struggling to not feel discouraged. God does not disappoint. At times, we’d rather have the promise “God blesses your plans” or “God won’t let you fail” or “God will make all your dreams come true”, or at the very least “God will help your toddler sleep in the car”. But instead, God comes to us in the cruciform body of Jesus Christ and proclaims He does not disappoint. He gives us grace for today. And, will extend that same grace tomorrow, but asks us to trust Him today. It is hard to abide in that place of trust, but it is indeed the safest place to rest.

Fast and Pray March 28

We know that all of our striving and preparation will not amount to anything without God’s provision. We need Him to move in a mighty way. Can you join us in praying and fasting for students and provision? The members of our oversight board, some of our supporters, and the missions committee of our sending church have committed to fast and pray for us on March 28th. Can you fast a meal, or spend your coffee time in prayer? Our greatest needs are for students and financial support. We have so many of the components of Agape Year in place. We don’t have students. Can you pray with us?
Erika, Nate, Henry, and Anne


Of Sinners and Big Steps


“We’re not sinners, we’re Twichells,” Henry said this morning at breakfast while we read our devotions. Trying to parse our true identity as sinners and saints with a toddler who wholeheartedly embraces literalism is quite a task first thing in the morning. As our family has journeyed toward serving fully with Agape Year we are learning to live more fully into who we are as God’s children, His beloved. Our earnest prayer for Agape Year is that its participants will allow this true name, Beloved, to resound in his or her soul with gladness.

As His beloved, we are trusting our Father for our provision. Upon guidance from SAMS, Nate will be leaving Trader Joe’s on March 5 to engage fully with partner and program development for Agape Year. This is a step of faith for us. We are both terrified and exhilarated. This step makes aware of how little our faith is at times, but are confident of how faithful God is.

We are in need of:

  • prayer! Tons of peace and wisdom as we seek to bring Agape Year to reality.
  • Financial support! We’re in need of $3000 of monthly support to continue to be sustainable as full time directors of Agape Year.
  • Participants! We’ll be in the D.C. area mid March and South Carolina early April with the hopes of recruiting both participants and supporting churches. We’d love to meet up with you or appreciate any connections you think would be helpful!

Join us in this prayer from Walter Brueggemann as we trust our true identity:

You are the God who makes extravagant promises.  We relish your great promises of fidelity and presence and solidarity, and we exude in them.  Only to find out, always too late, that your promise always comes in the midst of a hard, deep call to obedience.  You are the God who calls people like us, and the long list of mothers and fathers before us, who trusted the promise enough to keep the call.  So we give thanks that you are a calling God, who calls always to dangerous new places.  We pray enough of your grace and mercy among us that we may be among those who believe your promise enough to respond to your call.  We pray in the one who embodied your promise and enacted your call, even Jesus.  Amen.