August Newsletter

Pastor's Letter


By Goodie Bell

I bet you have heard someone say, "I'm not good at saying 'goodbye.'" Perhaps you have even said this yourself. In the last week, I have said a lot of goodbyes: "goodbye" to Young Adults moving for work; "goodbye" to a retired person moving back home; "goodbye" to a child moving with her family. It's not just me. As a congregation, we often have to say, "goodbye."

 We live in an age of mobility; people move to new cities easily and often, and the Triangle is a particularly transient area.  Many people worship at Blacknall while they study for a degree, complete the next career step, or get a treatment. Then they move on. 

I was warned about this when I joined the staff. I could see that folks who had been around longer had a different perspective on all the comings and goings. After six years, I understand why. It stinks to say goodbye to people who have become a familiar, even beloved, presence in life and worship. It stinks to do it again and again. The problem is not just that I'm not good at saying goodbye; I don't like to do it.

Last year the Young Adult Leadership Team reflected on Ephesians chapter 4. At one meeting we asked the question, "What does it mean for us, as Young Adults at Blacknall, to 'grow up in Christ?'" (Eph 4:13). Someone suggested that for our particular group, Christian maturity might mean learning to say goodbye. I think they were on to something--not just for the Young Adults but for our congregation.

As August comes, and we enter this year's "goodbye" season at Blacknall, I have been thinking: How does common faith in Christ inform how we say "goodbye" to one another? What do you think? I come back to three things: Prayer, Mission, and Hope.

Prayer: Christians may keep up via Instagram or email, but we are most connected by the alternative technology of prayer. Prayer not only connects us to God, prayer connects us to one another. We maintain relationship by praying for one another.

Mission: After we say "goodbye," we may find ourselves living and worshipping in very different communities than our old friends. But our connection with brothers and sisters in Christ transcends our present circumstances and personal preferences: we remain part of the same mission to glorify God and bear witness to Jesus Christ.

Hope: We say goodbye to one another in hope that we may, one day, enjoy the presence of God together.

What do you think? How does common faith in Christ inform how we say "goodbye" to one another?

I think  that as we learn to say "goodbye," we will become better at saying "hello." Our ability to welcome new people into our part of the body of the Christ is connected to our ability to send off our friends--even when we don't want to.


Blacknall elder Steve Hinkle said, "Being at Blacknall is like ministering to a parade." Do you know what he means? There's a lot of coming and going. The "going" does ask something of us. But on the whole, like a parade, it's a lot of fun!

 In it with you, for the sake of Christ,


A Family Wherever You Go


By Ginny Masterson

My mom’s father was a pastor with a talent for shepherding struggling congregations through times of transition. The ministry took him and his family all over the country, and they never lived in one place for more than a few years. I once asked my mom if that constant uprooting was difficult. “No,” she said, “I never really worried about starting over, because if you’re a Christian you have a family everywhere you go.”

I’m not like my mom. I find starting over to be rather difficult.

I moved to Durham two summers ago because my then-fiancé, now husband, would be starting a Master’s degree at Duke Divinity School that fall. We were to be married in August, but I moved here in June, alone, to start my new job and set up our apartment. I had traded my longtime church home, friends, family, and professional network for an unfamiliar city where I didn’t know a soul. On top of all that, I was planning a wedding remotely. (Public Service Announcement: I don’t recommend taking on all these major life transitions at once!) It was an emotionally raw summer, to say the least.

On my third Sunday in Durham I visited Blacknall, feeling awkward and adrift. Jubilant chords rolled from Dave Stuntz’s fingertips and glorious four-part harmonies rose up from all around the sanctuary. I thought, “Wow...these people are really paying attention. This is a singing congregation!”

During the passing of the peace, the young women sitting nearby struck up a conversation with me -- not to meet some “talk to newcomers” quota or to pressure me to come back, but just because they were genuinely interested. I saw warmth and empathy in their faces as I explained my current life situation. (“Wow...I think I could actually find some friends here if I came back!”)

During the time of congregational prayer, I noticed that Margaret could immediately name the people raising their hands with prayer requests. (“Wow...the staff actually know people here!”)

By the end of the service, as we sang “He Who Watches Over You,” I was moved to tears because it seemed that this place was an oasis in that deeply lonely summer. Each of those small moments throughout the service had added up to something rather rare in my life: a vivid experience of being seen and held by the Holy Spirit.

 Drew and I quickly made Blacknall our church home, and my mom’s words finally rang true for me. That September Allan suffered a heart attack, and we witnessed you, Blacknall, being family to the Pooles and to each other over the ensuing months.

I know now that the spirit of unity and service so pervasive then were not unique to that season (though perhaps called into sharper relief by the circumstances). Over these two years we’ve learned a lot about everyday grace through the ways we’ve seen you serve, receive, agree, disagree, conduct church business, and have fun together. We’ve been invited over for so many meals in people’s homes -- such a rarity in the DC area! We’ve been befriended, encouraged, and prayed for by a wonderfully cross-generational array of friends. Perhaps most transformative for me, you’ve taught us to love our new city through service rather than consumption.

New jobs and changing family dynamics are now calling us back to DC, and leaving is bittersweet. There is bitterness in knowing that we’re contributing to the Triangle’s transient dynamic. It’s sweet, however, to leave here equipped with the singular example of Gospel welcome that you, Blacknall family, have given us. We’re resolved to love DC well by emulating all the big and small ways you let people know that they are seen, welcomed, and served.

It Matters How You Tell the Story


By Matt & Alden Bridges

On Tuesday of Boys Discovery Week all 12 boys contributed to the building of a bulletin board for a community of Seniors under construction by Habitat for Humanity of Orange Co. But before we get to the construction part, the verse for the week was from Acts 1: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” What does it mean to be a witness for the resurrected Jesus? Being a witness means telling that story; one of the things we talked about was that it matters how you tell the story; how do you make the story of Jesus real in this world of Judeas, Samarias, and the other ends of the earth? On Tuesday we talked and put into action this story by doing real things in service to other people. Our bulletin board turned out very real, and very good; the boys worked hard on assembly, nailing, and digging to get the whole thing constructed and installed in the one day. We installed it, at the community’s request, right next to the mailboxes so that announcements and other notices could benefit all 26 residents of Crescent Magnolia.

 Since I work for Habitat and my son was in the BDW troop, this project was a sort of a bring-your-work-to-your-son-at-church kind of experience. Alden helped work a bit behind the scenes in the planning and preparation. So I thought I would interview him to see what he thought about the whole project.

What was your favorite part about planning and building the board?
I think all the stations with all the different work. One station for painting and another for building the roof, then once we were all done; we went to the site where they were building the houses and the whole thing looked really really good.

How did it feel working so hard (especially digging those deep post holes) for someone else?
It felt like I was doing something good and that I was trying to help a community that needed it.

Do you think we were good witnesses to the people who will live in that community?
Yes. Being a witness means spreading the word of God even in places you don’t know. From the verse, it felt like I was working in “Samaria,” working somewhere that is not my home. 

What was your favorite part of the whole BDW?
Being able to help others and getting to know new friends. Also flying in an airplane (the boys got to fly with the Blacknall supported Missionary Air Group in Burlington). 

I think the picture of the group after installing the board speaks volumes to what this group accomplished and what good is possible when you as 12 boys to do some good in the name of our resurrected Lord.

God at Work: Charlie's Story

The Elders were recently asked to write about three pivotal moments in their Christian formation and many have generously offered to share them in the newsletter. Look for a different story each month. If you would like to share about God at work in your life, contact Mary Grimm.

Charlie and Frauke.jpeg


Many people, experiences, and authors have influenced my Christian formation, but I remember three particular pivotal moments early in my life in which people who gave generously of themselves caused my faith to grow and shape around the significance of sacrificial love. First of those was the friendship, teaching, and models of faith I gained as a result of the countless hours young adults volunteered to lead me and other high schoolers in our ecumenical Christian youth group in New York City. Their example of living out their faith by investing in our lives, sharing with us about living life with God, and coming alongside us to help with whatever issues we faced shaped my understanding of God’s love for us. Secondly, I think of my parents, who loved us well and frequently gave of their time and energy to provide not just for our family, but also for others in need that they met in their church or community.

The third pivotal experience came when our college Christian fellowship began to pray for a Wycliffe Bible Translator missionary, 29-year-old Chet Bitterman, who was kidnapped in Columbia and held hostage six weeks while the guerillas demanded all Wycliffe Bible translators leave Columbia under the threat of his death. We prayed for his wife, daughters and the mission community through their anguish, decisions, and his eventual martyrdom. I was struck by the faith of people willing to give their lives for God and by the pain and difficulty they faced. Though deeply tragic, God used this experience to open my eyes to that level of faith and waken a desire to support those in ministry.

I had an opportunity when I was 24-years-old to serve Wycliffe Bible Translators for one year as their computer center director in Togo and Benin, West Africa, a role for which I wasn’t really trained since I was a physics major with expertise in semiconductor research. Probably because I was young, naïve, and early in my faith God provided for me in extremely concrete ways that helped me learn to trust further in him. He exceeded my financial needs for the whole year by about $30 without much fundraising effort on my part. He provided miraculously (and I do mean “miraculously”) seven times for me in the two weeks during which I left North Carolina and arrived in Togo. (In order to be brief, I won’t describe those miracles here, but I’d be glad to tell you if you ask.) And, I felt deeply loved and blessed by the many members of my home church who faithfully and generously wrote to me and prayed for me during my time in Africa. Their faithfulness and God’s continuing response convinced me of the importance of ongoing prayer support and God’s desire to respond to it. That year in Togo helped me realize the humanity of missionaries and the limited resources available to them as they serve in remote locations facing physical, emotional, and spiritual dangers.

Altogether, these experiences and relationships led to my sense of calling to serve those who give their lives in ministry and resulted in my retraining professionally into psychology and theology. Frauke and I now share this vision through our ministry involvement with Barnabas International providing care for missionaries and pastors. Those pivotal experiences also taught me how important it is to God that we give and receive love sacrificially and generously in the manner He has loved us (Mt. 22:36-40).

Welcoming International Students

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An update from International Students, Inc., one of Blacknall’s Deep Common Journey Partners

By Scott Hawkins

“Welcome” – a simple, sometimes glibly used, term with potential to be misunderstood in our fast paced, transient and global culture.  Biblically, however, to welcome instructs us to invite an alien or stranger into our own circles.

 Blacknall engages in a Deep Common Journey with International Students, Inc. Over the years, many from the Blacknall Church family have “welcomed” internationals who have come to study or conduct research in Durham by: meeting new students at the airport, taking them shopping at Target or by opening their home for a holiday or a monthly meal together.

Step into beautiful opportunities to serve and befriend Duke international students new to Durham and to the USA.  Together we anticipate assisting 350+ people through several initiatives. Yes, there is a place for you! And we provide logistical support and orientation (Supper Club).

 We consider these to be important ways to welcome in the spirit of Jesus young people, many of whom are not-yet believers!  More information and registration links at

  • Airport Welcome, August 9 or 10 (1st year undergrads)

  • Shopping Assistance at Target, August 10 (new grad & professional students)

  • Shopping Assistance at Target, August 17 (new grad students)

  • Supper Club hospitality (four times during the fall semester), kickoff September 14. Note: Supper Club hosts need not be family; also, housemates, marrieds without children, senior adults – all qualify!

 Imagine who you might meet and become acquainted with!

Contact: Scott Hawkins or Dan Kronstad <>

More Than Ever, Our Community is United!

CI President, Dr. David Kasali 2nd from right) with Bethesda Counseling Center staff. BCC staff are playing an important role in providing care for those suffering from trauma, grieving the loss of loved ones, or working on the frontlines of the Ebola outbreak.

CI President, Dr. David Kasali 2nd from right) with Bethesda Counseling Center staff. BCC staff are playing an important role in providing care for those suffering from trauma, grieving the loss of loved ones, or working on the frontlines of the Ebola outbreak.

 An update from Congo Initiative, one of Blacknall’s Deep Common Journey Partners

The Ebola outbreak is wreaking havoc on lives and livelihoods in Beni Territory and other parts of eastern Congo. Its destructiveness has been relentless, causing much grief and trauma. Just a month ago, it seemed as if the deadly virus was close to being resolved in Beni.

Unfortunately, over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in new cases in Beni, along with one confirmed case last week in Goma. The World Health Organization (WHO) responded by declared the outbreak an “international health concern.” Since the outbreak was declared August 1, 2018, just one year ago, more than 1700 people have died. We are encouraged that today, the World Health Organization is mobilizing $300 million to scale up support of the response efforts.

But it is with heavy hearts that we must report the Ebola crisis has now touched our community deeply.  A relative and high school student staying in the household of CI staff members (two of UCBC’s first alumni) recently contracted Ebola and passed-away. In addition, two additional students at UCBC staying in the same home tested positive for Ebola on Friday. The students received a vaccination upon first signs of Ebola in the home and doctors believe this quick action will enable them to overcome the virus and heal completely.  

We are heartbroken over the loss of yet another victim to Ebola, a young man with much of his life ahead of him. We pray for his family and friends and asking God to bring them his peace and comfort. We ask for your support and prayers for the two students currently admitted to Ebola treatment centers and that God’s presence will be felt as they fight the disease.

As a result of this development, ALL members of the Congo Initiative and UCBC community in Beni (students and staff) have received or are in the process of receiving vaccinations.

Despite this difficult news, we want our global partners and friends to know that our community in Beni is united more than ever. They are strengthened by one another’s presence as together they face this challenge and threat. As students undergo vaccinations, sometimes with fear, they encourage one another, especially through the initial side-effects of nausea and flu-like symptoms. They continue to follow the WHO protocol and prevention methods including increased hand-washing, restriction on greetings, and more.

The realities haven’t stopped the students from finding their purpose and achieving their dreams. It has not slowed their resolve. Students will still complete their exams this week and the graduating class will defend their theses.  Meanwhile, UCBC staff are beginning preparations for the annual graduation ceremony on August 3rd. At Congo Initiative, we are absolutely inspired by the dedication of the staff and students as they remain focused during such a challenging time. It reveals their hearts and passion to create positive change in their communities… to write a new story in Congo.

One of the unique things about our global community is our foundational and shared faith in a God who invites us to cry out for help, with confidence that these cries will be heard. Thank you for joining our brothers and sisters in Congo as they lament and plea for an end of the outbreak and for lasting peace. Thank you for standing in solidarity as we pray together and look for signs of hope and relief. As CI President, Dr. David Kasali recently shared, “I see these signs each day as I witness the stories of our community coming together, united, helping one another face the here and now so there will be a better future for tomorrow - no matter what challenges come our way. Together, we believe we can beat this.”