I am writing this on Sunday, July 11, 2010, which is a couple of day before our 47th wedding anniversary. Norma and I were married on July 13, 1963, in Birmingham, England, and so I thought I would recall the wonderful time that I first met this beautiful woman that has shared my life for so many years. So here goes:
It was hard for me to take my eyes off the raven-haired beauty who sat engrossed in her accounting books at the other side of the glass partition that divided our offices. She had short black hair, a thin elegant nose, and large brown eyes. Her delicate olive-skinned face had a hint of Latin about it.
We had met in the far-from-romantic surroundings of a company that manufactured cycle dynamos. It was housed in a crumbling building in the Aston district of Birmingham, England. Jobs, in the early sixties, were hard to come by in this industrial city in the English midlands.
Return from Canada
I had recently returned from a year in Toronto, Canada, where I had gone to seek a new life away from God and also my parents, who were very strict evangelical Christians. However, my father Alf Wooding, the pastor of the Sparkbrook Mission in Birmingham, had contracted colon cancer and I had returned to say goodbye to him. However, it was through his illness that I found Christ and had prayed with my mother, Anne, and my sister Ruth that he would be healed – and he was! He survived a further 30 years or so.
I had been to a labor exchange in Birmingham to discover what jobs there were, but I didn’t exactly get off to a good start.
“What would you really like to do?” the man asked me.
“I’d like to be a journalist,” I said brightly, hoping he would immediately call the Birmingham Evening Mail and arrange an interview for me.
He offered a dry smile and peered through his rimless glasses at my qualifications, which showed I could type and I had learned shorthand, and that was about it.
“Well, son,” he said tonelessly, trying to stifle a yawn and shuffling the papers in front of him, “I would think that the best I could do for you with these qualifications is get you a job as a clerk in a factory. It pays ten pounds (sterling). How does that sound to you?”
I looked at him sharply. He looked back levelly. The “job” he had in mind meant that I would be earning less than when I left for Canada some twelve months earlier. It was as if God was telling me that I must now start out on a pilgrimage and, although some of it would not be pleasant, I had to be obedient, patient, and learn to walk with Him. Wherever He led me, I must go.
During a particularly tiresome journey on the double-decker bus I fluttered the pages of my black leather-bound Bible and my eyes rested on the story, in Genesis, about the creation of Eve.
I read in Genesis 2:20 – “The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every best of the field; but for man there was not found a helper fit for him.”
I read on: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (verse 24).
As I closed my Bible, completely oblivious of the people sitting around me talking or reading a morning paper, I began to pray silently.
“Lord, you know how lonely I’ve been over the past years; it’s been terrible. Now I realize that I need a ‘helper’ to be with me so that we can serve you together.”
I found that Norma was different than any girl I had met before. So I asked God, “Is she the one for me, Lord? If so, please give me the courage to ask her out.”
I reached into my briefcase and pulled out some writing paper and began forming a letter to her. She has kept it to this day. It read:
Hi! As I am a bit of a coward in asking nice girls for dates, I wondered if I could ask you, through this letter, if you would do me the honor of coming out with me tomorrow night or, if you can’t make it, then one night next week.
I have been wanting to ask you out for a long time, but didn’t quite know how to do it, so at last I have decided to ask you and I do hope you will say yes! If you do say yes, can you let me know where you would like to go (any place you like) and it shall be arranged.
I slipped into her office and, while she was out at lunch, left it on her desk. The envelope said, “To Our Norma.”
I felt a flush spread across my cheeks as she looked at me shyly through the partition. “Yes,” she mouthed, her eyes glistening. “Of course I’ll go out with you. I thought you’d never ask.”
We went to see a film the next night. It was a strange movie and we had to sit apart because the cinema was packed to capacity. We both laughed about such a bizarre start to our relationship. Outside her terraced home in Aston we kissed without touching, and I ran to get my bus home.
“Lord,” I said as the late-night drunks staggered on and off the bus at each stop, “I want to thank You for my future wife. I am now going to open my Bible again, and I would ask You to speak to me through it.”
I just rustled the pages of the pocket-sized Bible and came to John 15:17, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you.”
“Lord,” I whispered, “I asked for a helpmate, and you gave me one tonight. I accept that verse as your confirmation.”
We were married on Saturday, July 13, 1963 at Aston Parish Church, next door to the Aston Villa Football Club. Little did we realize that we were about to begin an extraordinary life together.
Soon, we were working together in running an evangelistic team called The Messengers that my sister Ruth and I had begun. Before long, Andrew, our first son arrived, and within a short time, we were running Hill Farm, a drug rehabilitation center in Worcestershire. It was a time of great stress for Norma, as she had to cook and clean for 12 drug addicts and eventually we left for a new life in London.
Coretta Scott King
I had managed to finally get into journalism in the late sixties with Billy Graham’s newspaper, The Christian. Peter, our second son, had just been born when we made the journey to London and I began working as a reporter. One of my first interviews was with Coretta Scott King, the widow of the slain civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Road Block To Moscow
Sadly, after a year, the paper was closed but I was soon able to secure a reporting job with the Middlesex County Times based in Ealing, West London. Although this was a local newspaper, I was invited by different ministries to make some overseas trips, including one to cover a demonstration against religious persecution on May Day 1973. The demonstration took place at a roadblock outside of Moscow and all of the 53 demonstrators were held under house arrest at a nearby motel. Another notable assignment I was given was to fly to India to interview Mother Teresa at her headquarters in Calcutta, India.
After five years working on the local paper, I was given a staff position on Britain’s second biggest tabloid, the Sunday People. I went there wanting to change the world for Christ and eventually got sucked into the lifestyle of the journalists and began drinking heavily and using many of the dubious tactics of my colleagues.
Norma was in despair, as night after night, I would roll home drunk. Our marriage was quickly falling apart and it looked like it would not remain intact.
“The Stab in The Back”
But, one night, while I was again drunk in the “Stab in the Back” pub in Fleet Street, where the journalists from my paper would gather, a friend called Ray Barnett, the founder of Friends in the West (and later, the African Children’s Choir), came in and challenged me to re-commit my life to God, leave the tabloids and go with him to Uganda to write a book called “Uganda Holocaust,” about the terrible misrule of Idi Amin, which had left some 500,000 dead.
This became the turning point in my life and Norma was relieved to have her husband back in his right mind. During this time in Uganda I met so many inspiring Christians who had survived Amin’s “killing fields” and this changed my life. I still recall how I knelt by my bed at the Namirembe Guest House that overlooked Kampala, and said to God, “Lord, I have spent so many wasted years writing about things that don’t really matter; now I want to now spend the rest of my life writing about Christians like these heroes in Uganda who don’t have a voice. Let me be their ‘voice’ to the world.”
After the book that Ray and I co-authored was published, Open Doors with Brother Andrew approached me to work on some book projects. While still living in England, I would get on planes to destinations around the world to work on books like “Brother Andrew,” “God’s Smuggler to China” and “Prophets of Revolution.”
The Move to America
It was a big decision to make, but Norma was her usual loyal self and, after a family conference and prayer together, we all agreed to make the move.
It was on June 28, 1982, that we left from Heathrow Airport in London to fly to Los Angeles, to start a new life in a new world!
I knew this was a big wrench for Norma, as she would be leaving behind her mother, Maud, who was ill at the time. So I told her that she could come back to visit her mother within the first six months – and that occurred.
As a confirmation from the Lord that we had made the right decision, both of our sons – Andrew and Peter – accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior while we were in Southern California, and both joined Youth With A Mission, as missionaries. As a special bonus for Norma, Peter led his grandmother (Maud) to the Lord before she died. Both our boys live in the UK and have married since and now we have six grandchildren.
Andrew works with Church Army and lives in Sheffield, UK, with Alison and the three children and Peter now runs ASSIST Europe and also is a freelance broadcaster and journalist in the UK and lives in North Wales with his wife Sharon and their three daughters.
We began ASSIST Ministries more than twenty years ago, and Norma has been a faithful helper during that time. It has been a walk of faith for both of us as we have not received any salary, but have been supported by churches and friends. God has been wonderful to us and we have been able to meet all our commitments, both personally and for the ministry.
We have since traveled together on missionary outreaches to Cuba, Nicaragua, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and China.
Norma is as beautiful as ever. I look back at all those years together, and say that I couldn’t have had a better wife.
And, to me, she is still “Our Norma.”
Dan Wooding, ANS