Father's Day 20152
Dr. Norton is dean of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi. He is also a friend of Westminster and the uncle of Kathryn Dyksterhouse. You can learn more about Dr. Norton here. His father's bio can be found on the RTS Charlotte website here.
On this Father’s Day I have countless memories of my father and his influence on my life.
Last Valentine’s Day Father celebrated his 100th birthday with his three sons and his wife who is now 101. They have been married 76 years.
Father and Mother were missionaries to the Belgian Congo. They took a freighter across the Atlantic when German U boats were patrolling shipping lanes and mining those lanes with explosives.
God brought them safely to the Ubangi territory where many of the Mbaka tribe became believers. In fact, one devout Congolese told Dad, God told us that white men would come in boats and tell us about Himself.
When mother became too ill to stay in the Congo, our family returned to the United States and Dad became President of what is now Trinity International University in Bannockburn, Illinois. At the end of his career, when he was 74 years old, he accepted a faculty position at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson and then moved to the Charlotte campus where he taught until he was nearly 88 years old.
Father influenced us boys by his clear focus on doing God’s will and his almost irrational faith that God is in charge. No matter how bad the news, Dad remains unshaken.
* * *
Perhaps I can offer an example from our trip to attend a televised Presidential debate in Lusaka, Zambia in September 2001.
We decided to visit Harare, Zimbabwe, to see former students before events were to begin in Lusaka.
The wife and children of one of Dad’s former students met us when we landed at Harare International Airport and took us to the hotel to check in.
Then Dad went with them, and I toured the city with Robin Waters, an Ole Miss journalism alumnus who runs a wild game preserve.
We had lunch on the veranda atop a hotel in downtown. The aroma of the lush purple blossoms of the Jacaranda and the magenta Bougainvillea and red roses accented a cloudless sky. I felt relaxed and at peace amid the chatter of the restaurant and the bustle of a square in a park across the street where handcrafted African goods were being sold.
It was a wonderful afternoon, renewing acquaintances with Rob and having tea with his mother in her home on the outskirts of the city, and I returned to the hotel after 6 pm.
Dad opened the door and quickly turned and walked toward the television.
“We’re under attack,” he said.
I didn’t know what he meant. “Who’s under attack?”
He pointed toward the television. CNN was showing the smoking Twin Towers in New York City.
This would have been about noon in Central Daylight Savings Time, but evening shadows were lengthening in Harare, and the time difference helped to confuse us. We were watching live coverage and taped replays of what had happened during the previous hours, but we could not make sense of what we were seeing.
We each sat at the foot of our respective beds in silence for about two hours. We were in shock and just could not make out if this were real or a modern television version of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds.
We also were really tired from the long trip and a full day of activities.
Finally, Dad said, “Let’s get something to eat,” and we went downstairs to the hotel restaurant.
While we were eating, one person after another came up to our table. Somehow, everyone seems to be able to identify Americans.
“We are so sorry,” they kept telling us, and we realized how concerned they were that America had suffered an attack on its own mainland. It was clear that the American nation was beloved.
Early the next morning, we rode in a van to the airport with a cricket team from South Africa. The leader of the team said he hoped that all the terrorists had died in the plane crash and that none were still alive.
That was even before we knew who had caused the incident.
* * *
When we arrived in Lusaka, we checked in at the International Hotel and then went to a room designated for informal gatherings of our group.
Our schedule was full, but the delegation gathered on September 14 to watch the televised service from the National Cathedral. On that day Billy Graham was the main speaker, and his message was that God cares for us, no matter what our ethnic, religious or political background may be. It was a message of comfort.
When he finished, Madelyn Jennings, former vice president of human resources for the Gannett Co., Inc., turned to me and said, “Thank God for Billy Graham.”
The next day, we took a bus to Victoria Falls and spent the night at the Victoria Falls Hotel. On Sunday morning, September 16, Dad and I had breakfast and packed our bags. We were not sure if we would get home. We knew we could get to Germany, but no international flights had landed in the U.S. since September 11.
“Let’s have a moment of prayer,” he said, and he opened his Bible to Psalm 46 and read the text that is at the end of my comments.
Then he bowed his head. You are sovereign, he prayed. We are depending on you for safety and guidance on our trip home, and he ended by repeating our commitment to do the Lord's will in our lives.
His prayer affirmed what he had told my two brothers and me almost every day of our lives and what his life had demonstrated: God is sovereign.
* * *
I have thought of those few days in Zambia and Zimbabwe many times since 2001, and on this Father’s Day I am reminded of all the ways the Spirit of God has guided me and protected me despite my wandering nature, and I repeat the words of the Psalmist when he said, “We will not fear.”
God is in charge.
He is sovereign.
While I have believed, I continually have been amazed that the Lord of hosts has been with me, and The God of Jacob has been my refuge.
On this Father’s Day I thank the Lord for Dad’s example in doing God’s will and unfailing faith that God reigns.
The Lord has been faithful.
1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come and see what the LORD has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
11 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.