“He suggested Project Bri(ddd)ge, and it turned out to be a perfect fit, because that group’s all about community outreach. She loves the students and they love her. They all get so much out of it, and we all take care of each other,” she says.

But if Atwater’s age and health issues (she’s also had two strokes and a heart attack) slow her down a little, they don’t stop her from doing what she’s always done best.

“I believe that my gift from God—He gives us all a gift—was my ability to reach out and touch people. You can call me any time of night—my phone rings 24/7. I can be feeling bad, in pain, and I can get on the phone with someone who needs $200 ’cause they’re about to be evicted. That’s my shot in the arm. First I ask the Lord what door to knock on, then I start calling. By the time I do that, I have raised rent money.”

Those connections are Atwater’s “window to the world,” now that she’s forced to be home much of the time, Norris says. “Her house is Grand Central Station. I looked over the other day at her phone, and she had 61 new calls—that’s nothing for her.

“That’s the way she communicates and stays connected. One of our goals, when we start support teams, is to help people maintain what works for them, and pick up on the parts that are most challenging for them.”

Atwater and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove D’06 teach Bible study at a Durham homeless shelter. “Jonathan is the son God sent to me, and he takes care of me like a son,” she says.

Duncan, who proudly calls himself one of Atwater’s “children,” says that Duke Divinity’s ongoing relationship with her has benefited many students.

“For the past several years, we have had the privilege of having Ms. Atwater speak to our incoming student Project Bri(ddd)ge groups each August. We share lunch with her, watch the documentary An Unlikely Friendship, and then have a fascinating Q&A time with her,” he says.

Also, she meets with the Ubuntu group—20 black and white students who gather weekly to discuss issues of race and racism in their lives, the life of the divinity school, and the life of the church. 

At any time, says Duncan, there are at least 120 students with first-hand experience with Atwater and who are inspired by her faithful example of Christian discipleship.

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