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Jane and Howard Norton in 2016.
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Howard Norton dies at 88

The pioneering missionary, minister and Christian educator 'went home to be with God' just days after his wife, Jane.

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Missionary. Minister. Bible professor. College dean. Newspaper editor.

Most importantly, a lifelong follower of Christ.

Jane and Howard Norton in 2016

Jane and Howard Norton in 2016

Howard Norton, who served multiple roles on multiple continents for Churches of Christ and their associated universities during his 88 years on earth, died Sunday morning, Oct. 22.

His sons, Tom and Ted, and his daughter, Laurie Diles, had gathered in Searcy, Ark., to say farewell to their father.

“A few minutes ago, while Laurie, Ted and I with my wife were having communion at my parents’ breakfast table, our father went home to be with God,” Tom Norton said in a message to The Christian Chronicle, the publication where Howard Norton once served as editor. “Happy he’s with Mom and surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses as he is united with God.”

Jane Norton, Howard’s wife of 67 years, died a little more than two weeks earlier on Oct. 5. She was 87.

A joint memorial service is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 27, at the College Church of Christ in Searcy. Visitation is at 1 p.m. and the service begins at 2 p.m. 

The couple met on the campus of Abilene Christian University in Texas. They sold Bibles door-to-door as they trained to serve as missionaries.

“We got used to dogs and guns,” Howard Norton said with a chuckle as he reminisced with fellow members of the Sao Paulo mission team during the group’s 60th reunion in 2021. The Nortons were part of a team of 26 adults and 18 children who sailed to the Brazilian metropolis in 1961 to spread the Gospel and plant churches.

Related: ‘We brought the church with us’

“We moved in with a team. We brought the church with us,” Howard Norton said. When team members disagreed, “we’d go to the mat for our ideas, but then, after the fight, we’d go get coffee or we’d have lunch together, or maybe we’d go to each other and apologize. I think the Brazilians saw that — that we respected each other, but that we also made mistakes and knew how to resolve those mistakes.”

The Nortons in Brazil during the 1960s.

The Nortons in Brazil during the 1960s.

About 350 Igrejas de Cristo (“Churches of Christ” in Portuguese) came into existence due in large part to the team’s efforts, said Michelle Mickey, the daughter of one of the mission families, during the reunion.

The Nortons served in the South American nation for 16 years, returning to the U.S. in 1977 to teach at Oklahoma Christian University. Jane taught Portuguese and Howard was a professor of Bible and missions. From 1992 to 1996 he served as chair of OC’s College of Biblical Studies. During his time in Oklahoma he served as pulpit minister for the College Church of Christ in Oklahoma City, later renamed Memorial Road Church of Christ.

Howard Norton (front row, near center) was a guest speaker during the 50th anniversary celebration of the Memorial Road Church of Christ in 2013.

Howard Norton (front row, near center) was a guest speaker during the 50th anniversary celebration of the Memorial Road Church of Christ in 2013.

In the late 1970s John and Dottie Beckloff, missionaries to Nigeria, served as publisher of The Christian Chronicle. Hurting for subscribers and funds, the Chronicle ceased publication in 1980. Howard Norton and his cousin and former Brazil teammate, Don Vinzant, began making plans to buy the newspaper and keep it going, only to learn that the Beckloffs had given the publication to Oklahoma Christian. Terry Johnson, the university’s then-president, tapped Norton to serve as editor.

Related: Saving the Chronicle, 40 years later

The paper resumed publication in 1981. In his first editorial, Norton called for Churches of Christ to “awaken again to its responsibility and assume its divine role as the body of Christ.

“The church is not a political party, a civic club nor a country club,” he wrote. “It is to be the body of Jesus.”

Norton served as editor until 1997, when he and Jane moved to Searcy. Howard served as Bible faculty at Harding University and directed the annual lectureship. He edited Church and Family magazine.

In 2008, Norton preached a sermon at the College Church of Christ in Searcy, Ark., titled “Give me this mountain,” inspired by the teachings of renowned minister Reuel Lemmons.

Howard Norton speaks to an attendee at the Baxter Institute's annual seminar in Tegucigalpa in 2011.

Howard Norton speaks to an attendee at the Baxter Institute’s annual seminar in Tegucigalpa in 2011.

“Even as I preached, I was thinking to myself, ‘I really would like to have another mountain,’” Norton told the Chronicle the next year in the Central American capital of Tegucigalpa, Honduras. In 2009, Norton accepted the offer to serve as president of Baxter Institute, a school that prepares preachers and their wives for ministry in Iglesias de Cristo (“Churches of Christ” in Spanish) across Latin America. He and Jane served in Honduras through 2012.

Related: Baxter trains Latinos to reach Latin America — and the U.S.

In recent years Howard and Jane Norton battled cancer and other ailments. Staffers from the Chronicle visited Howard on Sept. 12 at a rehab facility in Sherwood, Ark. In vivid detail, Howard recalled his days with the newspaper, which had fewer than 4,000 subscribers when he began his tenure as editor.

Howard Norton

Howard Norton

He praised his coworkers, including Bailey McBride, Sue Johnson and Lindy Adams, who wrote stories and designed the newly revived Chronicle in the 1980s. The publication currently has about 132,000 subscribers.

“If I had been able to print one more copy, I would have had exactly 15 years with the Chronicle,” Howard Norton said. “I really love the Chronicle. … It was great fun.”

This is a developing story. Check back for memorial service details and additional information.

Filed under: Brazil mission team Christian Chronicle Christian education Harding University Howard Norton International Jane Norton National Obituaries Oklahoma Christian University Sao Paulo Top Stories

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