For the first time in four years, Anthony won’t meet with Nancy Morrison after school on Monday afternoons.

A boy named Anthony started seventh grade late last month, and for the first time in four years, he won’t be meeting with Nancy Morrison on Monday afternoons.

He won’t munch on a snack of microwave popcorn before wiggling in a plastic seat in the BPC basement, sharing a few stories about the latest professional soccer game he saw on television, and then, finally, digging in to his homework folder.

He won’t chat with her, in between assignments, about the fact that his Salvadoran parents speak mostly Spanish at home. He won’t shoot hoops in the church parking lot while waiting for his caregiver to arrive to walk him home.

Last spring, Anthony graduated from BPC’s “Snacks and Backpacks” — a tutoring program for elementary-aged students that is exactly 20 years old this year.

BPC Elder Fern True started it, in classrooms at Bonnie Brae Elementary down the road. A few years later, they shifted the program here to BPC, in lower level Sunday school rooms.

It has served American-born children as well as children from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Haiti, and several South and Central American countries—roughly 150 kids in all. Multiple elementary schools are represented, including Fairview, Laurel Ridge, and Kings Park.

Finding kids isn’t the challenge; sometimes finding tutors or substitutes has been.

Nancy was a natural—she had taught school for years, and early in her career had gravitated toward, and been trained in teaching, children with special needs.

She received a letter a few years ago from someone who had struggled with severe dyslexia as a child. Nancy had taught him back then, 25 years ago. The man had attended a Catholic premarital counseling retreat, and the priest had asked that every participant write to someone who had made a difference in their lives.

For this man, that person was Nancy.

He described school as “hell on earth” in his letter to her. “And you were the only one who fought for me.”

“Can you imagine having to do something that you consider ‘hell on earth’ for seven hours a day, five days a week?” Nancy said.

Nancy had listened to the boy, and advocated for him. And today he’s a school social worker and a fine musician— a guitarist. Nancy has lunch with him on occasion.

“And I tell this story not to pat myself on the back, but to explain how difficult school can be for some people. We don’t always know what impact we will have on a student.”

Nancy kept the letter, and shares it with teachers she mentors. And it’s part of the reason she signed up to work with Anthony, after she retired. Maybe she could help another child.

Anthony was in the third grade when they started together, full of energy. The goal every Monday afternoon was to get through the kids’ homework assignments, or to read.

But in truth, sometimes they just talked. Sometimes they strolled around the church, and Anthony would ask questions: What’s that tree stump in the meditation room? What does that sign mean? And that was okay, too.

At the end of their time together last spring, Anthony gave Nancy a note: another note from another boy. She’s keeping this one, too.

“One caring adult can make all the difference to a child,” she said. “And you just never know what your impact will have been.”

He waited tables to help pay for college. It was the customers he served who helped change his life.

No one knows for sure how Lost Nation, Iowa, got its name. Did it have something to do with the French settlers, or the Indian tribe that inhabited the region for generations before?

What Norm Wulf can say is that his hometown, which even today has a population of fewer than 500, was remote and rural.

Norm was 8 years old when “the lights came on.” Before his family had electricity, they’d bury a wooden box filled with perishables in the ground of a cedar grove during summer months, and hang another box in the kitchen window in winter.

It was winter Norm remembers most: Waking at
5 a.m. in a stone cold house, heading out to a frosty barn to milk the cows, getting hit in the head by their frozen tails or bloodied by their chapped, cracked teats.

“I knew early on I didn’t want to be a farmer,” he said. At the Chicago stockyards, where his father would take hogs to sell, it was the buyers who decided how much the product was worth. “I didn’t want to be totally at someone else’s mercy.”

So when a recruiter saw Norm play basketball at his high school—and offered him a scholarship at Iowa Wesleyan—-Norm jumped at the chance.

He still needed work to pay the bills, and he found it at the fanciest hotel and restaurant in his college town. The owner was a dapper fellow, whose immaculately smooth white hair and crisp suits impressed Norm right away. He put Norm to work in the dining room, bussing the yellow formica tabletops and serving plates piled high with sandwiches, meat and potatoes.

A regular in the dining room gave Norm a few of his own white dress shirts so that Norm would look a little more professional in his new role.

This was how Norm got to know the movers and shakers in Mount Pleasant, Iowa.

“I would say that job was the most significant part of my college career,” he said.

He watched how these men interacted, listened to their stories, and talked with them about politics.

“I had always been interested in politics, but it’s not something we talked about in my house,” he said. “I remember the summer of 1952, when the corn was high and things were a little quieter at home, listening to the 1952 Republican convention on the radio. It was so exciting.”

These men wanted to hear what Norm had to say. They encouraged him to run for student council president. He did, and he won.

And during his senior year, one of the restaurant regulars, a judge, told Norm he would help him get into law school.

That’s how Norm ended up at the University of Iowa—writing for the law review, performing in the school’s top 10 percent—and then, at a job on Wall Street, in a corporate law firm.

He was a long way from Lost Nation.

Still, the values that had been nurtured in that sleepy cornfield held fast. So when he received a letter from the draft board telling him that he was up for service—the Vietnam War was raging—he walked away from New York City.

“Going to Canada or trying to get out of this in some way, it never crossed my mind,” he said. “My two older brothers had been in the military. My uncle was in World War II. This was just something one did.”

His commission in the U.S. Navy’s Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG) began in Newport, Rhode Island, and then took him to Pensacola, Florida. He defended and prosecuted court-martial cases and provided legal assistance to Navy personnel. He defended an officer who borrowed a friend’s car and then drove drunk and wrapped it around a tree, killing his passenger.

While Norm met with the young man recuperating in the military hospital, he got to know the man’s nurse, a young woman named Nancy.

A year later the two were engaged.

They married during an R & R break for them both; Nancy had been assigned to a medical unit in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; Norm was in Vietnam by now. It was during a lunch hour at the base on Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii, that they officially tied the knot, before heading back to their respective posts a world away.

Norm eventually received another degree, in international ocean law, and he applied that at the Pentagon, the National Science Foundation, and the State Department before President Clinton appointed him special representative for nuclear non-proliferation. Some of his more prominent duties included leading the first delegation of American officials to North Korea’s nuclear facilities and leading delegations dealing with nuclear non-proliferation.

All of his jobs have been about understanding and listening to people.

Norm credits that Mount Pleasant dining room with helping him first develop that skill.

“It changed my life,” he said.

He spotted a weird kid hopping around the playground, playing like the floor was lava, and he thought: “I want to be part of that!”

When Garrett Niles was in the third grade, his mother brought home a second brother.

Heber was a student at the middle school where she taught. He was an immigrant from Guatemala; his story had stains of neglect and trauma. When Garrett’s mom, Karyn, met him, Heber’s father had died and he was facing homelessness.

Garrett and his younger brother, Zach, weren’t part of the conversations his parents had back then about Heber. But Garrett does remember that his mom was shaken. And he remembers his dad saying this:

“‘Heber doesn’t have a room to stay in, and we have an extra room.’ And so, bada bing, bada boom, I got another brother.”

One might argue that this was Garrett’s big turning point: “I was the first-born child but I’m not the oldest,” he says, with such ease, it likely is a common phrase of his.

But in truth, to hear Garrett describe it, it was just something that happened, something that brought more love into his life. “And now, whenever Heber comes home, the first thing he says is, ‘Where are the boys?!”

For 18-year-old Garrett, who is spending his last few weeks of high school interning at BPC, a turning point moment was the day in second grade he spotted “a weird kid hopping around the playground, playing like the floor was lava. I thought, ‘I want to be part of that!’”

Josh Lee was that kid, and before long, he had invited Garrett to come to Rainbow, the mid-week retreat for kids at BPC. Garrett was part of the table of kids who, on pizza nights, raced to see how many whole pies they could consume in one sitting.

He played “dragon tails” in the Meeting House, where kids tried to stomp off one another’s taped-on ropes … “one of the funnest games ever.”

And he says he will never forget walking into the library for the education portion of one evening. Teacher Greg Diggs had turned off all the lights and upended all the chairs and tables into a kind of tornado-hit-this-place effect. It was chaos.

“We were studying Genesis, I think, and he said, ‘Welcome to Earth. Now, create it, just like God did.’ So we were climbing all over the tables, and crawling around like animals and moving things into place. It was so creative and it really made us think.”

For Garrett, Rainbow led to youth group and IMPACT choir tours, musicals, and conferences—-things he calls “groundbreaking” in terms of his personal development.

The tours and conferences in particular took him out of his comfort zone, away from home, really, for the first time. “And there is something about that, about being in a new place. You’re all at different ages but you’re sort of in this together and so you get closer.”

Through church programs, he has met countless “super cool kids,” which for Garrett means they are comfortable in their own weirdness.

At Montreat’s youth conferences, Garrett would introduce himself this way:

Hello, my name is Garrett. I poop three or four times a day and my toothbrush is green.

“See?” he said. “A little weird.”

Sometimes that weirdness is what helps lighten the load for a kid, Garrett said. At Massanetta youth conferences, where Garrett has worked for several summers as a counselor, the kids would have “cry nights.” No topic was off the table: divorce, the death of parents, bullying, sexual assault.

And then?

“We do a lot of ‘love-tubbing,’ where you push two couches together and just all get in there and lie down or sit on top of each other and just be … You don’t have space to not be open in a place like that.”

Garrett has been part of the Associate Pastor Nominating Committee to bring a new youth director to BPC. And he’s spending hours at the church these days because he’s wondering whether all those moments of weirdness and cry-night-ing and love-tubbing are God’s way of telling him something.

He will head to Virginia Tech to study marketing in the fall. But long term?

“Being around all these people of faith has kind of turned me on to the possibility that God is calling me to seminary,” he said.

And then, he talks some more about his family, and his brother Heber, and his roots that are full of love.

“Of course, my mom has been telling me this for years.”

Some things–tough things–just didn’t get talked about in those days. For him, that thing was stuttering.

Elmer Klumpp was born at home in a wood-frame farmhouse in central Michigan, two days before Thanksgiving.

He shares a birth year with the Great Depression, but he didn’t know he’d grown up poor until he went to college.

His mother’s garden was always full of vegetables. The peach, cherry, and apple trees were heavy with fruit much of the year. Sunday dinner was always a freshly butchered cow, hog or chicken.

Elmer’s father raised his family 100 yards from the house where he had been born. Neither of Elmer’s parents finished high school. Their own siblings raised families on farmhouses within walking distance. They worked hard and loved each other.

What that meant for them was that some things—tough things—didn’t get talked about. Maybe it was easier that way for people with limited resources, living in that time and place, Elmer speculates.

For Elmer, that tough thing was stuttering. He has stuttered for as long as he can remember, stumbling over sounds and having them catch in his throat sometimes for multiple seconds while he struggles to get them out.

He was embarrassed and anxious about this as a child, of course. But no one —- not his parents, siblings, extended relatives, teachers, or friends —ever made fun, or acknowledged it at all, for that matter.

“It was like a secret that no one was supposed to talk about,” he said.

That is, until seventh grade.

Elmer still remembers the kid who spoke of his problem out loud. His name was Ryan; he had moved to Elmer’s hometown from Detroit.

“I remember him walking up to me and saying, ‘Elmer, I’ve never heard anyone talk the way you do.’ And I was stunned.”

This thing that had dominated so much of Elmer’s internal life, someone else had finally spoken of.

While Elmer’s teachers didn’t address his stuttering, they did talk to him about his smarts.

Elmer was valedictorian of his class of six students, and one day, shortly before graduation, the principal of his school asked to visit his parents. “She was an old battle-ax … very stern and always wearing dark clothes,” Elmer said. “That day she came into our house and said, ‘It would be a crying shame if Elmer didn’t go to college.’”

Elmer’s parents had never talked with him about what would happen when he finished high school; presumably they thought he would stay on and farm near them.

But they didn’t resist when he decided to apply to, and attend, Michigan State.

“I had no interest in farming,” he said. “I shudder to imagine what I would have done if that principal hadn’t turned me onto the idea of college.”

Elmer studied soil science, as he knew something about the land, and he wanted a job that wouldn’t require much talking to people. Then he was drafted during the Korean War, and he worked in a construction/engineering battalion, building trails and roads for tanks in Germany.

When he came home to America, he took a job as a soil scientist.

Then one day he read something in the Chicago Tribune about a speech clinic at Western Michigan University that was working with people who stuttered. Elmer returned to Michigan and knocked on the head researcher’s door. “I told him I’d like to be part of what he was doing.”

Elmer spent a full academic year at the clinic.

He learned that when he sang, he didn’t stutter.

He learned that when he stuttered, he shouldn’t hang his head in shame. He should keep making eye contact, even if the other person seemed uncomfortable. He should fight through it.

And it helped.

It helped when he pursued a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Michigan. It helped when he got a job at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he eventually became special assistant to the undersecretary of agriculture.

And it helped when he met his second wife, Marilyn.

“I gained much more confidence,” Elmer said.

Elmer’s first marriage had ended, and he had custody of the couple’s twin girls when he took his government job in Washington. The three lived in Alexandria, and Elmer was active in the girls’ school. One day, the school counselor sent home a note and mentioned in passing that she was divorced.

It took him a month or so to figure it out, but he realized that perhaps the counselor wanted him to know that she was single.

So he invited her to dinner.

That was one of the best turning points of his life, Elmer says. The two have been married for 39 years. They share a love of family and music, attending symphony concerts regularly.

They also have endured their share of pain.

One of Elmer’s twin daughters took her own life when she was a young adult, after years battling mental illness. One never really gets over something like that, Elmer said. It helps that his other daughter and her family are local, and very much part of Elmer and Marilyn’s lives.

The couple moved fairly recently to the Greenspring Retirement Community, and they also shifted church memberships.

They are newly ordained deacons at Burke Presbyterian: Accepting, loving, listening—these are things the Klumpps know how to do.

“You don’t really know what the hand of God is going to bring to you,” Elmer said.

She was 23 weeks pregnant, and everything was fine. Until it wasn’t.

People’s stories have always spoken to Christina Eppink.

Her teenaged bedroom wasn’t plastered with posters of distant celebrities. Instead she clipped images of ordinary people and news events from her dad’s Newsweek magazines, and taped those to her walls.

“I just cut out pictures I thought were interesting,” she said. “I wanted people to come in and be drawn to the pictures like I was.”

She wasn’t a performer herself, but she hung out with the theatre kids—the storytellers—in high school.

She studied psychology — specifically behavior patterns — in college and graduate school.

She shares missing person notices that cross her path on social media. She wonders and worries: Who are they? What happened?

Watching how people react to life circumstances and evolve — it’s her life’s work as a behavioral scientist. It’s also sort of in her blood.

So when her own life took a dramatic turn, she can look back now and see pretty clearly how it changed her.

Her family’s story began just after high school, when Christina met Miguel.

“It was back in the days of AOL instant messenger,” she said. “He messaged me because he thought I was a different Christina. But then we just started chatting.”

Eventually they met in person. They dated all through college, married, and had baby Grayson. They also withstood several miscarriages. That was a dark time for Christina. “I felt like a failure,” she said.

Grayson was attending preschool at BPC, and although his mother hadn’t really ever attended church regularly, Grayson said he wanted to check it out.

So the family did. They attended a new members’ class in February 2015.

And then Christina found out she was pregnant. She was both terrified and ecstatic.

Things progressed normally, and they learned they were having a girl.

At 23 weeks, everything seemed fine.

Until it wasn’t.

At a routine checkup, she was told that her cervix was open and she was already dilated. Her baby could literally fall out, she was told. That’s what it felt like was happening to Christina’s own life in that moment: The bottom was falling out.

It was a steamy July afternoon, and Christina had to drop everything and go to Fairfax Hospital. She was to be on her back, in bed, for an indefinite period of time while her baby girl continued to “cook.”

“They treat you like you’re in labor, so suddenly I was hooked up to all these machines and they started giving me steroids and magnesium, things to help the baby’s brain and lung development in case she is born on the spot.”

Christina was alone when a white-coated doctor came into her room and explained that the odds of Christina’s baby surviving, much less thriving, were slim.

But Christina’s story wasn’t supposed to end this way. On some level she knew that.

Within a few days, people from BPC started stopping by. People she’d never met, in most cases. They brought flowers and lip balm and admired Grayson’s crayon drawings. They prayed with her.

“People were reaching out, left and right, without my asking,” she said. “People genuinely wanted to know how we were doing. It wasn’t like anything I’d experienced before.”

Doctors told Christina and Miguel that the goal was for their baby to stay in utero until 28 weeks. And Marley was born at 28 weeks, almost to the hour. She was healthy and strong, but for her tininess. She stayed in the NICU for 73 days, and was home in time for her first Thanksgiving.

Marley beat the odds.

For Christina, that summer and fall unfolded in a kind of fog. “I just needed to hold it together, and I think I did it with a smile on my face.”

But the weight of the experience took its toll. Managing intense anxiety and fear creates traumatic stress, no question, Christina said.

One thing that helped was returning to BPC, the place she had first connected with because of her children. “Grayson brought us here and Marley drew people from here to us.”

Christina took on a leadership role in the Sunday school program. She organized Mom’s group gatherings with Muslim women from a local mosque, and became active in BPC interfaith events.

“It has been therapeutic for me, helping people,” she said. “This place has given me a way to do that.”

Marley today is a vivacious, dark-eyed, dark-haired toddler who has just started walking. It’s a happy ending.

But even the dark parts of Christina’s story created space for light, she said.

“I’m not saying I am glad the two of us went through all of that exactly,” Christina said. “But it shaped who I am today. And that’s a good thing.”

He spent a long time living in the moment. Loss, love, and fatherhood turned him into more of a planner.

Some people are planners.

Some people are more like Jim DeVaughn, who even at age 7 was game for most anything. No plan necessary.

When his buddies would pull up to his New Jersey house, Jim would hop on his blue Schwinn 5-speed. The boys would head for the creek, or for one of the town’s Revolutionary War-era iron mines, riddled with sand-filled sink holes.

They’d find their own adventures.

When the family moved to northern Virginia one rainy August morning, Jim settled in and followed his heart. He ended up at the Thomas Jefferson School for Science and Technology; while many children prepare for years to gain entrance to this prestigious high school, Jim had applied simply because he “kind of wanted to be around other nerdy kids.”

As it turns out, it wasn’t the fine tech labs Jim embraced. He practically lived on the beat-up green couch in the school’s music wing. It felt like home. So he joined concert and show choirs, madrigal and men’s groups, and was “into a capella before it was cool,” he said.

He applied to Virginia Tech, mostly because his older sister was already there, and the mountains reminded him of the scenic Poconos where his family vacationed every summer.

And when he was accepted, he agreed to pursue engineering, but only because schools usually make you come up with a plan whether you’re inclined to or not.

“So I limped through a mechanical engineering degree while clinging to music,” he said. He sang in the campus Methodist foundation’s outreach choir. He slapped together audition material for a competitive traveling show group called the New Virginians—- he sang Cruella de Vil— and he got in. He was part of a jazz vocal group, and an a capella group that sang at Kings Dominion in the summers. It was glorious.

As he neared the end of his tenure in Blacksburg, peers were applying to graduate school or talking to job recruiters. Jim was living in the basement of the Methodist house with a handful of friends. “We thought we might make a go of this music thing,” he said. “We didn’t know what we were doing.”

He paid the bills by doing temp work and driving a Blacksburg Transit bus. And when a friend said he could get the singers a gig at a theme park near Disneyland in California, Jim packed a bag.

“We were making demo tapes and thinking, ‘We’re going to Hollywood!” he said.

It didn’t last long. But it was a blast. Jim remembers eating turkey and stuffing back stage at the theme park because it was the holiday season.

And he remembers catching a red-eye home to Fairfax on Christmas Eve, not really sure what the day after Christmas held in store for him.

“But it was okay,” he said. “I have always been someone who is content to be in the place where I’m at.”

Jim’s friends started to get married and have kids. Jim was the “crazy uncle. It was hard for me to imagine having kids myself.”

Then, Jim’s mother died, on September 6, 2001, after a long battle with breast cancer. The funeral was on September 10, a day before the towers fell. By this point Jim had fallen into “my first real, grown-up, full-time job, with benefits,” he said. He was 29 and providing tech/engineering support for the United States Air Force Band.

Jim moved home to be with his dad, partly to save money and partly so the two could support one another in their grief. His mom had been the communicator in the family, so dealing with her loss was tough on multiple levels. He sought out therapy, which helped a lot. “I learned how to breathe and how to stop. How to listen.”

His “second act” of sorts began, Jim says.

He met Anne, through mutual friends. They didn’t click at first, but then they met again. They were married 364 days after that second connection. They eloped on the stage of the high school where Anne was teaching theatre, and then held a more formal ceremony months later in Anne’s hometown. A nod, perhaps, to the dual “live in the moment” and “honor tradition” that inhabit them both.

Their two girls were born in 2008 and 2011.

Jim’s sister suffered a massive stroke several years later. Then his father died.

Real life. Adult stuff. It came hard and fast.

“I’ve done a lot of growing up,” he said. “But in other ways, I’ve been ‘growing down.’ By that I just mean, having kids brings me back to my inner child.”

The tough stuff of adulthood is always there, of course. An internal drive to plan ahead and manage kid schedules, work, and money doesn’t come naturally to Jim, still.

But “sometimes we’ll be at dinner, and the kids will say something insightful or funny, and I look at Anne and I really see her, and I feel this deep euphoria. I think, ‘Wow. I want to put this moment in a bottle.’”

The fact that she tells her story from a wheelchair doesn’t really come up, until she’s probed.

Ask Karen Larsson her story, and you will hear about how, as a kid, she was more often wet than dry, living near the water in Warwick, Rhode Island.

You will hear about how her dad worked as a square dance caller on the side, so Karen spent many a weekend in the middle school cafeteria, hearing, “… back to the corner, now, do-si-do!”

You will learn that she was painfully shy and self-conscious, particularly since she was always the tallest girl in class: She was 5-feet-9 by the time she was in the eighth grade, and
6-feet at her tallest.

You will hear about her dreams of becoming a flight attendant so that she could travel the world, how she found true love, and the immeasurable joy of being a grandma.

The fact that Karen tells her story from a wheelchair doesn’t really come up, until she’s probed.

“I guess it’s one of those, ‘Be careful what you wish for,’” she says with a chuckle. “I always desperately wanted to be shorter.”

Karen was a single mom to Tyler, working for a computer database company, when her joints started hurting. Her father had arthritis and underwent multiple surgeries during the course of his lifetime.

So when Karen’s left hip started bothering her in the 1990s, she suspected she was in for a rough road.

Just how rough she couldn’t have known.

The first diagnosis was osteoarthritis, which involves the breakdown of joint cartilage and underlying bone. In 2002, she was told she had scoliosis, or a curved spine. A rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis followed, and that’s the most difficult for Karen to manage. This autoimmune disorder results in swollen, painful joints, and affects her hands, knees, feet, neck, and spine.

Karen’s surgeries are almost too numerous to list, and include the insertion of screws in her feet and ankles, rods in her back, knee and hip replacements, joint fusions, and multiple reconstructions.

At some point during a hospital stay, she caught an infection caused by staph bacteria that makes treatment with standard antibiotics very difficult. It compromised her immune system in such a way that she can’t take many of the medications typically prescribed for arthritis.

“I was really stubborn about the wheelchair,” Karen said. She had rods put in her spine in 2006, but didn’t stop walking until 2011, when her knees gave out.

Over the course of five years, Karen’s beloved second husband died of heart failure, both of her parents and her only brother died, and Karen was facing the fact that her body was utterly and completely turning on itself, with no end in sight.

“I had to make a decision,” she said. “Was I going to be mournful and stay in my house? I decided it’s all a choice. How you look at your life is all a choice.”

So Karen lives her life largely as if she wasn’t in a wheelchair: volunteering in the church office, at a neighborhood recreation center, and the hospital. Two years ago she decided she was ready to try dating again. She met her fiancé, Bruce, through an online match service. She walks the couple’s newly adopted dog, Riley; delivers food to homeless families in Fairfax; travels to retreats, beach vacations with girlfriends, and California whenever possible, to visit her son’s family.

“I don’t want my health to be the predominant thing in my life,” she said. So even on the toughest days, like one recently, when she learned that her right shoulder literally has dissolved, she remembers the choice she made years ago to stay active.

“God’s got me,” Karen said. “I’ll be honest, sometimes I forget that. But God’s got me.”

Her one fear in telling her story is that people will feel sorry for her. Instead, she hopes it gives people the “in” they need to reach out to her if they need to talk.

“If you are someone who needs an ear, or you know somebody who is going to through a really tough time, I have been there,” she said. “I am here. They can turn to me.”

Coming to America meant learning how to see a lot of things differently, including a range of social issues.

Deepu George was the kind of kid who took old Walkmans apart to see how they worked.

If a stereo was on its last leg, that’s when the real fun began for Deepu.

He knew early on, therefore, that he was destined to be a scientist.

“I was always fascinated by stories about physicists,” he said. He remembers reading about Isaac Newton, for example, and the legend of the falling apple sparking Newton’s theory of gravity. The 17th century physicist/mathematician did his theorizing in English gardens, while Deepu’s love of science developed in a lush tropical village along the Arabian Sea in southwestern India.

By the time Deepu had arrived in the capital city of New Delhi to pursue his masters’s degree in optics, he was studying lasers, not Walkmans.

His plan, after receiving a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees, was to earn a doctorate in physics and then settle somewhere close to family.

A professor offered another idea. This advisor received a call from a colleague at the University of Massachusetts in Boston who was looking for doctoral students. Deepu seemed a perfect fit.

He was 26 and had never left India.

“I don’t think I really knew what I was getting into,” he said.

As Deepu puts it: “Everything is ‘the other way’ in America.” Whereas a light switch in India flips down to turn on, it flips up in America. Doors that one pushes to open here would be pulled in India. Cars travel on the opposite sides of roads.

And of course, Boston can be very cold. Not like the rainforest where Deepu spent his youth.

But in the midst of the unsettledness, Deepu found community.

For one thing, “universities are about the most diverse places around,” he said. It didn’t take long to find other Indians to share meals of dosa and thali with.

The other place Deepu found community was church.

Deepu was raised Christian. According to an old Indian legend, the disciple Thomas traveled to Kerala, Deepu’s home state, in the first century A.D. to spread the Good News. Deepu was raised in a Reformed church that resembles somewhat the congregations he encountered in New England.

“We always went to church growing up,” he said. “That’s just what you do. It would feel odd not to go on Sunday morning.”

Deepu transferred to the University of Buffalo in New York, and he was drawn to the University Presbyterian Church there because he could walk to it. The congregation, though small, reached out to university students, and offered them lunch after worship. Deepu grew very close to several families, including one couple he regularly babysat for. Another church member offered him a room to stay in during his last year in Buffalo.

“She refused to take money from me, so that is a generosity I can’t pay back,” he said. “She really is like family to me.”

Those connections offered a sense of grounding, when home was tens of thousands of miles away.

But they also helped change Deepu’s perspective. While Deepu had been raised in a Reformed church, it was a good bit more conservative than the congregations he has been part of in America.

So over long dinners at kitchen tables with new Presbyterian friends, Deepu started thinking differently about certain social issues.

When he moved to Virginia Tech as part of a post-doc program there, he sought out another progressive Presbyterian church, to continue those conversations. And when he followed up on an advertisement for a roommate, and learned that he would be sharing space with a same-gender couple, he didn’t hesitate as he might have once. His friendship with the women blossomed.

“Once you have a human relationship with someone [different from you], you have to think about them and their situation more,” Deepu said. “You have to think, am I going to stand in judgment or is this person worth my attention and time to really understand?”

When Deepu moved to Northern Virginia early this year, his church hunt began anew. It was some of the sermons in the “Risky Resurrection” series—on topics such as sexuality and gun violence—that drew him to BPC.

Most days Deepu is in his lab, developing a retina imaging system at George Mason University, using something called photoacoustics. He is excited about the possibility of working someday for a large technology firm, and he’s not sure where he ultimately will land.

But wherever he lands, he does know he will find a church home there.

Gifts of blood changed her life. So when she had a chance to pay it forward, she took it.

If you have given blood at BPC in recent years, you’ve seen Judy Albert.

She has arrived sometimes before dawn to help the van from Inova Health System get situated. She has greeted you and helped you fill out paperwork, and she was probably the one who called you to get you there in the first place.

If you say something along the lines of, “Are you a retired nurse? I guess you have some connection with the healthcare field, given all the work you put into this,” you’ll be met with a little chuckle.

Nope, Judy says. Not even close.

The Pittsburgh-area native is private. She’d rather you see her as part of nature, which she loves. That explains the hiking photo.

But the part of her life that relates to blood she thinks is important to share. Because until you need it, or a loved one needs it, you may not understand, she said.

Judy’s own relationship to needles, tubes and platelets began in 2002.

An attorney with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Judy spent her days navigating the complicated waters of things like the relicensing of hydroelectric dams and turf wars surrounding tangles of electric grids.

When she wasn’t doing that, she was hiking, birding, or enjoying music, often with Luke, whom she met through a mutual friend and was with for 26 years.

When Luke started to feel unusually tired, his doctor told him he needed to take it easy and rest more. When he suddenly couldn’t climb stairs, Judy and Luke knew something was seriously wrong.

Aplastic anemia is a very rare blood disease; one’s body stops producing enough blood cells. Treatment is so specialized that Luke needed to receive care at the National Institutes of Health.

In the beginning, Judy tried to learn all she could about this cruel illness that seemed to be zapping the life from her loved one.

“But I would get on the Internet and I could only read a little bit at a time,” she said. “Then I would have to stop. It was too hard.”

Luke lived for 8 years with this illness, and he never went for more than 2 weeks without receiving a transfusion. When he received an infusion of red cells, “it was like he was Popeye,” Judy said. “Like he’d popped the spinach and was ready to go!”

Luke loved horses; he’d bought some more than a year before his diagnosis, and he would ride two or three times a week back then. When he got sick, he couldn’t ride much due to the risks involved with a potential fall. But he and Judy could still spend time tinkering in the garden, brushing his beloved animals, and taking short hikes.

Luke was alive in 2009 when Judy first saw a notice at BPC about the need for blood drive volunteers. The church had been hosting these drives for years, and it needed support. A table in the narthex, part of the church’s Mission Fair, caught her attention.

Judy decided to give back and sign up. And then, she was running the thing.

As Judy learned about the intricacies of managing a bloodmobile, her own life was being darkened by loss. Her twin brother died from a massive heart attack in 2009. Luke died in 2010. Her remaining brother died earlier this year.

So now she is thinking more about how to best support her father, who turns 94 this month and lives in Pennsylvania. She visits him often, and also likes to head out west, to beautiful towns where friends have retired.

And she is feeling ready to pass the bloodmobile baton, she said. Perhaps someone feels called to help, someone who has experienced as she did, the gift of life through blood.

“Those transfusions kept Luke alive and they gave him a life,” Judy said. “I was very, very grateful. For me, doing the bloodmobile was payback time.”

As he trimmed bits of grass and weeds around the concrete foundation of his southeast Texas home, he asked God, “If you want me to do this, God, to pursue the ministry, then you need to let me know.”

What is Deryl Fleming’s “call to the ministry” story?

Pastor Meg wondered this aloud in a sermon recently, as she described a Bible “B-side” character named Nathan who gets a passing mention in 2 Samuel.

“I know Deryl’s a foodie,” Meg said. “I know he’s witty and reads good books … Maybe he has told me his call story before, and I just can’t remember it. But my guess is, it’s more likely that Deryl has learned to be like Nathan … He just does the work that God sets before him because God told him to do it.”

If you ask Deryl about his call story, he will say that growing up, the church in southeast Texas was his second mother. Adults all around him, over fried chicken at potlucks and Wednesday evening prayer meetings, encouraged him to pursue the ministry. His call, then, was gradual, and he doesn’t remember a time when ministry wasn’t part of his plan.

Still, there is one moment that sticks in his head, a time when he sort of confronted God on the subject.

He was about 15, on his hands and knees with a pair of gardening clippers. As he trimmed stray bits of grass and weeds around the concrete foundation of his home, he remembers stopping and saying: “If you want me to do this, God, to pursue the ministry, then you need to let me know,” Deryl said.

“And then I lived my life. And I didn’t get any negative messages, so I kept going.”

Deryl’s mother was the one who took him to a Southern Baptist church in town. “She was always at church,” Deryl said, when she wasn’t cutting and setting hair or teaching classes at the local beauty school.

Deryl’s father was a boilermaker in a nearby oil refinery. It was a hot and dirty job. He never came home with black, oil-stained hands or clothes, though; he always showered at work first before heading home for supper. Deryl wonders sometimes whether his own concern for cleanliness came from his dad.

Deryl’s father wasn’t a regular churchgoer; something about the place upset or offended him at some point and he didn’t go back. Deryl doesn’t know what happened.

But for Deryl, “I had to go. Something inside of me drew me there.”

Deryl usually came home from school to an empty house because his parents worked. “If we locked our doors in those days, I would have been a latchkey kid, but we didn’t,” he said.

He wasn’t lonely. He had his books—in those days, things like Hardy Boys adventures.

And he had his “people,” from church. Many of his neighbors were fellow youth group friends, so he could play with them in his sandy, swampy coastal community.

The church and the library: That’s where Deryl felt at home.

And at age 79, not much has changed.

That’s why Deryl’s plan to retire in a few weeks stirs up complicated feelings for him. He has been pastoring for more than 50 years, first in churches—both Southern and American Baptist congregations in Texas and Virginia— and later in a Mennonite psychiatric hospital in Maryland.

There, he ministered both to patients and local pastors. He ran seminars and training sessions designed to help local clergy take care of themselves by addressing their own feelings of such things as sadness, anger and envy.

Deryl worked there for 17 years, and he shifted to part-time before he left.

So not unlike Deryl’s call to ministry, his retirement from ministry has been gradual as well.

He came to BPC because of his wife, Kathy, who had joined this community in 1995 after going through a divorce. She was looking for a church home both for herself and her son. After Kathy and Deryl married, BPC was where Deryl worshipped, too.

At first, he preached an occasional Sunday when then-Pastor Beth (pictured above, center) asked him for his help. Then he started making some pastoral calls and agreed to help coach the deacons. He was on staff as a parish associate by the time Pastors Meg and Jarrett were hired in 2013.

Lately, a voice has been rising inside him. It’s time, he said.

“I have seen pastors who die spiritually and emotionally because they don’t know when to stop,” he said.

But he does.

So he will travel. He and Kathy plan to take one big trip every year and lots of smaller ones.

He will try out new restaurants in new cities and revisit old favorites, because Pastor Meg was right: Deryl Fleming enjoys good food.

He will get reacquainted with Washington, visiting museums and landmarks.

And he will read books.

“I’m never bored unless I’m somewhere without a book,” he said.