Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
H. Wilbert Norton, a dear old saint recently died. He lived a faithful life and fruitful life, for his whole life. He was 102.
Will was ordained in the EFCA in 1940, and served as a missionary with the Free Church in the Belgian Congo. While there, he served as the founder and director of the Bible Institute of the Ubangi. Upon the Norton family's return in 1949 to the United States, he taught at Colombia Bible College for a semester before joining the faculty at Trinity Seminary and Bible College, beginning in the fall of 1950. Here is a summary of Norton's ministry at Trinity:
Norton’s work in education included serving as professor of missions, dean of education, and president of Trinity College and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School from 1950-1964 in Bannockburn, Ill. During his administration Trinity Seminary and Bible College became a liberal arts college, Trinity College. The seminary was named Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. The transformation included purchase of 79 acres for a campus in Bannockburn.
In addition to his ministry in the EFCA and at TEDS, he also began missions department at Wheaton College, and he helped to found the doctoral program in missions at Reformed Theological Seminary. While home during a furlough (1945-1947), Christy Wilson, general secretary of the Student Foreign Missions Fellowship, asked Norton to aid in the planning of the first InterVarsity Missions conference, Toronto, Canada. This was the genesis of the triennial Urbana Missions Conference.
In a tribute written by his son of his namesake, Will, I was encouraged by many things of Will and Colene’s life and ministry. The thing that most struck me was a memory shared from a return visit to Zaire in 1985. Will, the son, captured the moment in this way:
During a quiet moment, Dad led Mom across the palm lane, down a grassy path to the mission cemetery where Timothy Lambie Norton is buried. Timmy lived only two days in August 1949.
In tears, Mother and Dad stood arm-in-arm, talking to their Lord and thanking Him for Timmy and the privilege of serving Him.
For my brothers and me that grave symbolized Mother and Dad’s commitment to Jesus.
Timothy's death occurred in 1949. In the wake of this Colene became ill, which led the Nortons to depart from the Belgian Congo. Not only did they leave a ministry and people they love, they left a son and brother. In the good providence of God, he used this return to the United States in innumerable ways. However, this brief recollection speaks volumes about God, about Will and Colene and their commitment to the Lord and their love for one another, and about their legacy of a life lived in joyful, sacrificial obedience to the Father.
Karen, my wife, and I now have grown children. As I read that I pondered the question, “what depicted or symbolized our love for and commitment to Jesus?” Often those closest to us see those things better than we see them ourselves. For most of us, this commitment is not depicted through a major catastrophe like the death of a spouse or a child. That does happen, and it requires strength only God provides to get through such pain. Rather, it is frequently seen through the thousand daily deaths to sin, self, and fleshly aspirations, and the joy of sacrificially loving and serving others.
In sharing and processing this with our adult children, I wrote, “if there were not something in the way Mom and I spoke and lived that evidenced our love for the Lord and the joy of serving him, even when it cost, I would be grieved.” I also encouraged them to remember these truths as they begin their own families.
I reminded myself and shared with my family the following: Might it be said of us as of the Thessalonians (1:9-10): “For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58
Lanny Penwell: "Thank you Greg. That was a wonderful and deeply moving piece. I pray that the Lord will keep us all faithful to Him."
Greg Strand: "I appreciate your kind words, Lanny. Amen to your prayer!"
Michael Gibbons: "Thanks Greg, for recounting this life of the great and humble man. When we served in Congo, 4 decades after the Norton’s departure from Africa, the local people still spoke of Dr. Norton, his ministry among them, and the fact that he had founded the Bible Institute at Tandala in NW Congo."
Greg Strand: "I have heard similar things from others who have been in the Congo subsequent to the Nortons. When I was doing some research for the Founders’ Day message at TEDS in 2016, I asked Hank Griffith about the Congo and the Nortons, and he, too, was able to recall a wonderful history and legacy left by the Nortons. God calls us to different places and ministries. Whether large or small does not matter. What does matter is fidelity and faithfulness where God has us. May we, by God’s grace, remain faithful and persevere to the end."
Jim Clyde: "When I graduated from TEDS and prepared to go to my first pastorate in Wisconsin Dean Smith the district superintendent said “One of the perks will be a former president of TEDS Will Norton who has his retirement home there. He’ll be a great support.” As it turned out, the Norton’s were a great support but they never retired. During the 16 years we served that church Will was at Wheaton, went to Nigeria to start a seminary, then to Reformed. But he was always available either when he came for a vacation or by phone or mail to mentor us and help us navigate through rough waters. He and Colleen were amazing people and we are so grateful to have had even a small share in their lives."
Greg Strand: Thank you for sharing that personal story, Jim. From all I know, your personal experience was replicated in the lives of many others.