Posts written by Ashley Herron

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Deacon Nominees’ Testimonies

Stephen Estes

I first came to know Jesus Christ by my mother’s side when I was still a very young boy. My story isn’t a conversion from atheism or another religion, but it is a story of transformation. Though I was young, Ephesians 2:1 tells me that I was “dead” in my sin, so what happened that day twenty five years ago was a spiritual resurrection! God worked a miracle in my heart by giving me saving faith, though I know very well that I have never done anything to merit His grace. He opened my eyes to see the goodness of the gospel and my need for a Savior, albeit with the faith of a young child at the time.

Since that time, I have seen a mountain of evidence that allows for no doubt of my sinful nature or of God’s faithfulness. Despite having every advantage of a believing family, a church family, and access to God’s Word, I still have chosen my own way innumerable times and done the things I hate, rather than delighting in God. I have no excuse, especially in light of the spiritual blessings I have enjoyed. My life has left no doubt in my mind that I desperately need my Savior to hold me fast and save me to the end. I would have fallen away from my God long ago, if it weren’t for His mercy and grace.

As I grew up, God used several people and ministries to soften my heart and increase my faith in Him. Here at FBC Durham, my pastors and teachers faithfully taught me to love God and His Word. Andy Winn had an especially important role in helping me to take more ownership of my faith and increasing my desire to participate in God’s mission in the world. During college, I was blessed by InterVarsity’s campus ministry, and their staff increased my passion for ministry and outreach. It was also during these years that I first read Desiring God by John Piper, which showed me that only God could be the true fountain of my joy and ignited my heart with a passion for God and His glory.

Since I married Maria, in 2013, we both have continued to grow and flourish as members of the church family here at FBC. God has blessed us so much through you over these four years, and I am so grateful for your ministry to us. Meanwhile, I have continued to study at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest.

By serving as a deacon, I hope that I might be able to continue serving our church. Specifically, Maria and I enjoy co-teaching elementary BFL, and I have also had the delight to serve with Kevin Schaub in the Youth Ministry. More recently, God has increased my desire and courage for evangelism through our church’s outreach to the Liberty Street neighborhood. I cherish being a member of FBC, and it is a joy to participate in God’s work in Durham and the world beyond. I look forward to continuing to minister alongside you, as God graciously continues to lead and sustain us in our journey.

Larry Harrell

Hebrews 4:16 says “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” My walk with the Lord began when the One who sits on the throne of grace answered the desperate prayer of a 13 year old boy.

My parents divorced when I was young and my mother remarried.  My step-father was an alcoholic and was very abusive to my mom.  One night in particular was worse than the others.  My step-father came home late and began yelling incoherently.   I was in the next room listening to him and my mother arguing and fighting. I dropped down on my hands and knees and urgently prayed that God (if He was really there) would intervene and rescue us. The very next day my step-father packed his bags, left my mother and me, and checked himself into rehab. God had heard my prayer!  Within a year, my mom and dad started dating again and soon remarried.  They have been happily together ever since!   My doubts about the existence and goodness of God dissipated after that night.  I believed in the power of the One who hears and answers with mercy and grace.  I began to attend Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, GA where I began to be discipled.  It was there that I confessed Jesus Christ as my Savior and the Lord of my life and was baptized. I began to read and study my Bible, pray regularly, and walk with God instead of with the world.  After graduating high school, I joined the military and started attending a military college. During this time, I wandered away from God’s Word and started to trust in my own ability and strength.  After finishing school and my military service, I moved to Durham, NC to begin a new career.  I met Meredith (now my wife) and she invited me to church. I became a member of a local Baptist church and by the leading of the Holy Spirit resumed the daily discipline of Bible study and prayer. After a few years of maturing in my faith, Meredith and I began to crave pure spiritual milk, that by it we would grow up into salvation (1 Peter 2:2).  This led us here to First Baptist Church to continue our walk on this infinite journey.  I am honored to serve my Awesome God and His church in the role of deacon.

Eddie Stephens

One of the advantages of being older is to be able to look back and see God at work. Growing up, my family did not attend church until a local church’s bus ministry knocked on our door one Saturday morning and invited our family to church the next day which was Easter. We went and then periodically attended. I was 10 years old but I remember hearing the Gospel clearly in Sunday School where God used a wonderful gentleman who stuttered badly to teach elementary age boys. Thank the Lord for this humble servant who was willing to serve in what was probably a difficult situation at times. It was by God using this man that I came to accept Christ into my heart a few months later and was baptized. Then my mother and father both accepted Christ and we attended regularly. I can see God working through my high school years, college, and then marrying an amazing woman, Linda, who has been a wonderful wife and mother to our five kids. My life took a totally different trajectory that day the bus ministry worker knocked on our door. His working in our lives glorifies Him and even though I am an extremely imperfect vessel, I see what He did with my Sunday School teacher all those years ago. I can see God working in so many ways, large and small.

We have attended FBC for 11 years and it has been a blessing to our family. I have especially treasured home fellowships and the in-depth teaching I have had the chance to come under which is all in addition to corporate worship.

I wish to serve as a deacon to serve God using the gifts he has given to me. I am very flexible in what that might look like or where the needs may be.

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James Batchelor

“He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” Titus 1:9

The Lord has been gracious, teaching me through Godly men and through churches that hold firmly to God’s word.  He has given me a mind and a desire to teach and also to stand up for God’s word and right doctrine, even in the face of opposition.

My parents were new believers when I was born.  I was raised in attendance at church and at a young age accepted the Lord’s free gift of salvation from my sin, a lifetime of service to him, and a rich reward of eternal life.

As a young teen I began regularly praying to the Lord for wisdom, finding encouragement in James 1:5 and being convinced of the message of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes regarding the benefits of wisdom.  I was encouraged by men in the Church who saw my spiritual growth and taught me and encouraged me answering my enumerable questions and refuting my incorrect thinking.  I learned, in kind, to challenge others who were teaching what was not in accordance with what I’d been taught or what I’d learned through personal thought and meditation on God’s word, always hoping to either be sharpened or to sharpen others.

Through high school, college, and as a newly married I taught Bible studies and sought to push on the faith of my peers, meeting with other guys, hearing about their lives, and teaching them what I’d been taught.

At First Baptist Church I’ve been a part of the International ministry since 2008.  I’ve been blessed to teach and share the gospel, seeing the fruit which God provides.  I’ve been a part of home fellowships both teaching and hosting.  Prior to having children, of which Sonya and I currently have 5, I also enjoyed playing bass guitar during worship each week.

When I was first asked to consider serving as an elder at First Baptist, I began to feel the great weight of the task, to bear a great responsibility in feeding, caring for, watching over the flock of God while I myself am still a sheep.  I ask for your prayers and seek your encouragement and strengthening to please God with the work he has prepared in advance for me to do.

Jason Burgin

My prayer for First Baptist Durham is the same as Paul’s prayer for the Colossian church in Colossians 1: 9-10: “…that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”  Over the years I have felt the Lord leading me toward serving in the role of an elder to accomplish this prayer at First Baptist Durham.

The Lord has established deep roots and given me great affection for our local body of Christ.  The Lord called me to First Baptist Durham at the end of my junior year at NC State when I was asked to lead worship for the summer youth retreat.  I served that summer, and began coming to the college group and leading worship.  It was a blessing to be under great bible teaching in the college ministry, and I was also blessed to have so many Godly friends and mentors to encourage my walk with Christ.

I soon met Sara on a college rafting trip.  She was a student at UNC and I was at NC State, so the Lord brought us together at First Baptist Durham.  We married several years later and I am thankful every day for such a treasure and Godly wife.  She is a Proverbs 31 woman and I am a Proverbs 31 husband who praises her.  We are blessed to have four children, dedicating them here and raising them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  We are truly grateful for the faithful expository preaching of God’s word and especially in the youth and children’s ministries at this season of life.  It is a wonderful place to raise a family in Christ.

Given the firm foundation and comfortable environment provided by the Lord at First Baptist Durham, I began feeling the Lord moving me to get uncomfortable and to rely on Him more.  A short-term work assignment to Brussels, Belgium presented itself and I felt the Lord leading me to take my family overseas.  Despite the humanistic, worldly culture in Brussels, the Lord led us to a Baptist church where we met wonderful friends who encouraged our walk with Christ, and new opportunities to serve became available. The experience was a leap of faith into an unknown world and we consistently experienced the Lord’s provision and sustaining power.  Proverbs 3:5-6 became even more vivid to me through the experience as we trusted in the Lord with all our hearts and leaned not on our own understanding.  In all our ways we acknowledged Him and He made our paths straight.

When it was time to return to the US, we were excited to come back to First Baptist Durham and had a greater appreciation for the treasure we have in this local body of Christ.  The Lord gave me a desire to serve in a deeper way and I soon began co-teaching home fellowship meetings.  In 2012, I helped serve as an interim worship leader on Sunday mornings.  I was given opportunities to lead men’s summer book studies.  I also began helping more with the Men’s Ministry and encouraging a culture of discipleship relationships among men in the spirit of Proverbs 27, “Iron sharpens iron…”   I have had the pleasure of being in a discipleship relationship for years now and it has been a blessing to be able to share our joys and struggles as we walk with Christ and meditate on His word together.

God continued growing me in greater understanding of His word and softened my heart to help others along in the church body.  Several years ago, the Lord opened my eyes to a young man who had been visiting FBC for years but only attended the Sunday morning worship service.  I reached out to get to know him better and asked if he wanted to read Galatians together.  He agreed and we studied Galatians verse by verse for several months.  He was also engaged to be married, so we talked about God’s plan for the role of a husband and father.

The Lord also opened my eyes to new opportunities to witness.  I met a neighbor who was joining the catholic church and we began meeting on Wednesday nights to read the Bible.  For over 2 years we read verse by verse through John, Galatians and half of Acts before he moved away.  I grew in greater understanding of the word and how to discuss doctrinal differences in a non-compromising and loving way, caring for the salvation of my neighbor.

I also began teaching the third grade BFL class how the entire Bible tells the story of God redeeming a people unto Himself through Christ.  It is a joy to reach children at that age to ensure a strong foundational understanding of the Bible.

Last year, an opportunity opened to lead a breakout session during the men’s retreat on being a Godly husband and father.

I am also looking forward to serving on a trip this summer to support the Cauley’s in their work overseas.


Ira Curl

To all those who are loved by God and called to be saints:
“And I am sure of this, he who began a good work in you, will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil 2:6)

Praising Jesus, my Lord and Redeemer, I want to begin my testimony with this scripture because these words don’t just give me the comforting assurance of what His eternal plans are for me, but also some needed perspective into how our Lord continues to shape me to His ends. God has so generously blessed me, and the fruit of those blessings I see in my loving wife Julia and my four precious children, Sam, Sarah, Anna, and Daniel. I truly believe our life together is a temporary foretaste to the riches that await in heaven!

The son of two loving parents, Andy and Sandra Curl, and the youngest of three boys, I was born and raised in Durham to a nominal Christian family. I remember a Bible on our book shelf and an occasional “thank the good Lord for dinner!” but never acknowledgement of His Lordship in our life. Unfortunately, the eternal truth of Christ, emptying Himself and taking the form of a servant, absorbing God’s divine wrath and raising Himself from the grave, always took a back seat. But, praise God, through His great mercy, He began a good work in me. From an early age He drew me closer to Him by giving me a desire to commune with Him through prayer. I wasn’t really sure who I was supposed to be praying to though. God or Jesus? I’m so thankful for those memories because it reminds me that although I didn’t yet know Him, he knew me and was calling me to Him.

Praise God for His patience with me, for as I grew into a young man, ignoring His calling and pursuing a self-destructive and godless lifestyle, He continued to seek me out. I see now that He used an increasing sense of emptiness and remorse for my sins that gradually began to overwhelm me. This, and witnessing God’s hand overcome the devastating effects of alcohol addiction in my father’s life, and then mercifully bringing he and my mother to a living faith, compelled me to seek out the truth of the gospel and surrender my life to Jesus.

Since that day in September 1998, so many faithful brothers and sisters have poured into me. Just as Christ, emptying themselves and becoming servants. It is their Christ-like example that reminds me that my life is not my own and just as others have blessed me, I’m called to pour out those blessings on others. My prayer is that God will use me to manifest His grace in that same humble, selfless and Christ-like spirit. I’m so thankful to Him and our church family at FBC for the opportunity to serve as a deacon for our church body. Whatever capacity I’m called to serve, it will be my privilege and to His glory!

Robert Oakley

I was raised in a Christian home the latter half of my childhood. At the age of 10, I placed my faith in Jesus Christ at a Billy Graham crusade held at Carter-Finley stadium in Raleigh. I grew in my faith through middle school and high school but wandered away from the Lord during my first few years of college. Christ, however, never forsook me! To this day, I look back and see how faithful the Lord was in keeping me from going too far down an earthly path of idolatry. The summer before my senior year in college, God opened the eyes of my heart to see that there was no true joy, satisfaction, peace, and life seeking the things of the world. I repented and re-dedicated my life to Christ: to know Him, serve Him, and make Him known. I returned to college a completely new person! On my first day
back at school, I met Stacy. That encounter, orchestrated by the Lord when I was alive in Him again, led to a beautiful friendship, romance, and marriage. I praise God so much for Stacy, our marriage of nearly 29 years, and our children Morgan, Taylor, Carrson, Nathan, Hannah, and Ellie! God has used them in many different ways to encourage and challenge me in my walk with the Lord. Stacy and I were baptized at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh and we have been members of FBC Durham for about 5 years.

As I reflect on my walk with Christ, God’s grace and faithfulness stand out to me. The Lord has stilled my fears and strengthened my faith during times of trial by taking me to promises in His Word. Oh that I would learn to trust Him more! God has also blessed me with a wife, parents, friends, and a church that speak God’s truth into my life when they see me complacent or in the midst of a crisis. One of my favorite verses that sums up my relationship with Christ is 2 Corinthians 12:9 which says “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I am very weak, but He is infinitely strong! In terms of gifts, the Lord has given me a passion for service especially in the areas of mercy ministry and children’s ministry. My family and I have been blessed to be involved in a ministry to children at Liberty Street Apartments and a ministry to adults at the Durham Rescue Mission. My desire is that God would enable us to build relationships with people in the community through acts of service that lead to opportunities to speak His truth into their lives with the ultimate hope that they become brothers and sisters in Christ.

I am incredibly humbled to be considered for deacon at FBC Durham. I fall far short of the example set by one of the first deacons, Stephen (Acts 6 and 7). Yet, I know God is at work in my heart cleansing it of sin that I might be useful to Him and prepared to do any good work (2 Timothy 2:20-21). He has given me an eagerness to serve as deacon and a desire to make the most of this opportunity. By the power of the Spirit and the prayers of the saints, I hope to serve in such a way that the gifts of each believer at FBC Durham can burn brighter and result in more Christ-likeness in the body, more lost people coming to faith in Christ, and more glory for our risen Savior!

Blake Woodlief

The Lord had been moving in my heart for some time, and when I was in the fifth grade, I accepted Christ as my personal Savior. By God’s grace, I recognized a need for Jesus in my life, and during a Sunday morning service altar call, God moved me to make that decision. Soon afterward, I was baptized in believer’s baptism. My family attended a Baptist church on the eastern side of Durham, where I was active in various youth activities growing up.

After my senior year in high school, my family moved and my church membership moved to another denomination. Throughout college and most of my 20’s, I was fairly regular in church attendance, but not very involved in church life, experiencing no real growth as a Christian. Although I did read the Bible some, I was not receiving much in the way of teaching or Bible study, and there was very little fruit associated with a growing and maturing walk with our Lord. I tried to strike a balance between a rigid Christianity of moral do’s and don’ts, blended with satisfying selfish pleasures and sinful desires. This was, in effect, a miserable Christian existence, with little or no testimony to the goodness and grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

God was patient with me though, and after my marriage to my wife, I recognized the need to establish a true Christian home, and I began to take my faith more seriously. Joining with her in membership at FBC, I began to listen and respond to God as He taught me through His word, and my relationship with our Lord became a priority.
God continues to reveal to me His sovereignty, holiness, order and grace, of which I am eternally grateful. I’ve had opportunity to serve in the past as a deacon, teacher, and in other areas of responsibility within this church body. If elected, I look forward to continued service in whatever way God leads.

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