This is a story of redemption. It is for those who think they’re too young or too old, too new to the faith or too damaged by sin, to be used of God. It is a story of friendship, discipleship, and ministry partnership born of the Spirit’s leading. It is a story that will encourage you about the next generation of believers and challenge you to go all out for the Gospel regardless of where you are in the race.
In 2015, Braden Twisdale was the homeschooled son of a preacher. He was in high school near Memphis, TN, busy playing four different sports, but beginning to reject his father’s instruction.
“Growing up a pastor’s kid, the Gospel had always been around in my life. But it never meant anything to me personally,” Braden says. “I was about 15 when I started going to the dark side. I just wanted to be like my friends. It got worse at 16 when I could drive. One night (at age 18) I had too much to drink and ended up with alcohol poisoning that sent me to the emergency room! Alone, lying on that hospital bed, I realized I was on a highway to Hell. When I left the hospital, I figured I would go to church since I had not been in two years (not knowing I was going to be ambushed). The Holy Spirit convicted me. I had no other option but to run into the arms of God and beg for forgiveness. The following Monday, I woke up and was ready to start my new life, and it was as though Satan himself had his hands around my neck doing anything possible to keep me in his grasp. I had become so overwhelmed I began to Google “good pastors to listen to” and, low and behold, Adrian Rogers came up. So, I clicked on one of his sermons, and my soul began to be soothed by the preaching of the Word. Since then, I have listened to probably hundreds, if not thousands of hours of Adrian Rogers. He has impacted my life so greatly in evangelism.”
Gil Erwin also grew up in the Memphis area, playing baseball at a private Christian school. His academic and baseball performance led to a Division II scholarship. He was majoring in biology and in his third year of NCAA eligibility when a wondrous thing happened—his pitch speed increased.
“When I started throwing a little harder, I gave up my major and concentrated on baseball.” Gil used up his four years of eligibility before earning his degree, so he went to Seattle to train, hoping to play professional baseball.
“Then COVID hit.” Some may remember that the first case of COVID-19 in the U.S. was confirmed in the state of Washington in January of 2020.
As COVID played out that year, baseball shut down. “I had put all my eggs in the basket of baseball. All my plans just stopped,” Gil said, adding, “I had also departed from my integrity at this point. …But I had this Bible from high school graduation. I started reading in Proverbs 5 and it was like, ‘Dude, it’s right here.’ The Book of Proverbs is God pleading for us to hear wisdom. He was warning me. I had claimed to be a Christian my whole life, but now I really felt like God was showing me my sin.”
“As COVID progressed, they were talking about shutting down the state borders. My grandmother was sick, so I decided to come home. On the 33-hour drive from Seattle to Memphis, Gil said he was born again. For some people, he said, coming to Jesus “may be compared to a hanging leaf being gently nudged by the wind; my personal experience was a hurricane.”
Because of his sin, Gil said he “had thoughts of despair and humiliation—yet at that moment, my mind went to Calvary and I thought, ‘If Jesus was truly God then He knew from eternity past the sins I would commit, and if He died for our sins, that means He died for my past, present and future sins. His sacrifice had become personal to me and in that moment, an unexplainable feeling of peace and assurance overwhelmed me to the point of tears. The truth of 1 Corinthians 7:23, ‘You were bought with a price,’ now had an eternal hold on my heart.”
Gil returned to school and finished a degree in business administration. His continuous hunger to delve deeper into the Word of God led him to a men’s Bible study where he met Braden Twisdale.
Braden describes his first impression: “Gil had just returned from Seattle. He didn’t know what to do next spiritually. I’d been invited to speak at a Bible study he was attending. The Apostle Paul said to pour your life into faithful men, and I looked at him listening so intently and thought, ‘that’s this guy.’ So, I told him I was going to be cooking and he should come on over. He did, and we’ve been friends ever since.”
By this point, Braden had been on multiple disciple-making mission trips—Dubai, Germany, Pakistan, Brazil, Africa. He baptized Gil in the Twisdale family pond, and the two joined forces for a trip to Honduras to disciple others. They now co-teach a Sunday school class at their non-denominational church.
“We’re living the life!” Gil said. “It’s been amazing to see God’s grace and learn what it means to abide in Him day in and day out.”
“People somehow get the idea that you have to have a big church with lots of people to make disciples,” Braden said. “That’s not how Jesus did it. He enlisted hundreds, took 70, out of the 70 chose 12, out of the 12 graduated 11, and out of the 11 spent most of his time with three. All you really need to start with is one. Disciple one.”
Gil, now 25 and a commercial real estate appraiser, watches Adrian Rogers’ messages on YouTube. His favorite, “5 Minutes After Death,” is also Braden’s favorite. Braden, 22, has been married for three years to his high school sweetheart, Madison. They have a 2-year-old daughter, Emerson. Braden works in lawn care and listens to messages on his headphone all day long on the MyLWF App.
It’s exciting to look at the next generation and realize God is employing His young army, but this story has one happy last twist. Recently, Gil and Braden began partnering with a new Christian who came to Christ at 74-years-young. The three men visit Memphis-area neighborhoods and use coupons for free fast-food items as conversation starters.
“Our new friend is retired. He goes out every day to share the Gospel with the goal of having 30 conversations about Jesus” Braden said. Gil, Braden, and their older friend are mirroring the first-century Church, striving together to bring people to Christ and make disciples, all of which leads each of us to a final question: “What’s my part in the story of the Gospel?”