Faith Forged in Fire (My Experience in The Agape Year)
For those of you who don’t know, Agape Year is a new gap year program for recently graduated high schoolers. The program is located in Pittsburgh, and is an Anglican Global Mission Partners’ Initiative. Agape Year’s tagline is “Go deep. Go far. Go tell.” Over the course of eight months, the students (AKA “fellows”) spend four months in Pittsburgh serving at various ministries and studying scripture (going deep), about two months in Thailand (going far), and the last two months sharing testimonies at churches (going to tell). I just finished Agape Year this past May, and I can’t believe how much I’ve changed in just eight months.
At the end of my senior year of high school, I led a youth weekend called Dynamos. Twice a year, a senior is chosen to lead the weekend, and I was one of the few chosen to do it. It was a proud accomplishment for me, but afterward, I thought: “I’m doing pretty good right now. I can’t think of anything that I need to work on as a person.” That summer, I saw the penalty of becoming content: stagnation. For the majority of the summer, I played video games all day. I still went to church, youth group, and read the Bible, but I had put my relationship with God “on hold” until I went to Agape Year. I felt convicted to do more with my time, but instead of following my convictions, I ignored them. I didn’t want to risk feeling uncomfortable.
Before going on Agape Year, one of the things that I was uncomfortable with was children’s ministry. I had tried it at my church before, but I didn’t know how to interact with the kids, so I felt out of place. I decided that it wasn’t for me, and I avoided children’s ministry from there on out. Nathan and Erika Twichell (the co-directors and power couple of Agape Year) told me beforehand that we’d be working with kids during the year, so I was a little worried, but still confident that I could get through it. Little did I know that there would be no escape from children on Agape Year. In our “go deep” term in Pittsburgh, we tutored elementary school kids two times a week. In Thailand, we taught elementary kids six times a week. The Twichells had their own kids ages two and four, who we saw regularly. On top of that, the family that hosted me all year had five kids from ages two to ten. There was a child everywhere I turned.
Over the course of Agape Year, I constantly complained as to why I had to do things that I wasn’t good at, such as children’s ministry. I thought that improving at the things that I was already good at would be a better use of my time. In reality, I felt uncomfortable, and I wanted to run away like I did before. Every time that we felt uncomfortable throughout Agape Year, Nathan repeated the same piece of advice: “just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.” Nathan pointed out that it’s often during the hardest times that we experience the most growth in God.
Teaching kids english six times a week in Thailand is possibly the hardest thing I’ve done in my life so far. I felt underprepared, unequipped, and I often thought that it would be better for me to quit. In one of my debriefs, Nathan asked me about what my experience was like becoming a small group leader in high school ministry (something that I am comfortable with). I thought of first time I lead a small group when I was 16, and I recalled that it was one of the most awkward, awful experiences of my life. Nevertheless, two years later, I consider small group leading one of my greatest skills. It was foolish, then, to think just because things weren’t going well the first week of teaching, that it wouldn’t ever get better.
This wisdom rang true. The more I tutored in Pittsburgh, the more that I came close with the kids. The more that I taught in Thailand, the more I became confident in my teaching abilities. The more I spent time with my host family and the Twichells, the more they felt like my own family, and now, I couldn’t imagine being uncomfortable around them.
In Agape Year, there is no escaping hard experiences. To be more clear, there’s no escaping God. Now that Agape Year’s over, I’m not content anymore, I’m hungry--hungry for new experiences and ways to grow. For the first time, I feel proactive. I’ve sworn off of TV and video games for all but one day of the week, and that’s left a lot more room for God to work in my life. I volunteered at a three hour event for the kids at my church. I felt awkward and out of place still, but unlike before Agape Year, I tried to not have a bad attitude while I was there. In fact, the awkwardness has lit a fire in me to come back. I want to keep getting better at children’s ministry, and at the very least, I want to get to know the kids at my own church better.
The only way that any of this growth is possible is through God. Sticking with the fire is not the only thing you need to do to experience refinement. We must lean into God for guidance and encouragement, or else we will become angry and resentful, which will stunt our spiritual growth. God may not pull us out of a situation if we pray for it, but that’s not because he doesn’t care about us, it’s because there’s something that he’s trying to teach us. If we seek to learn in these hard times, God will refine us. He will forge us in fire.
To learn more about Agape Year or apply for the 2019-2020 cohort, visit their website here.
Kieran Kirby is a young adult, who grown up in the Anglican Church in the Golf Atlantic Diocese. Most recently, he graduated as a fellow of The Agape Year Program.