Friday, September 7, 2012
Broadcaster Norm Nelson Issues Challenge
By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
LAKE FOREST, CA (ANS) -- “Finish strong!” That’s the goal of Norm Nelson, President of Compassion Radio, a unique evangelical radio ministry that broadcasts 1,000 program releases daily across the United States and sponsors compassion projects in 31 of the toughest countries on earth.
Norm, who turned 74 in mid-August, refuses to slow down where his activist approach to ministry is concerned. That also holds true where his commitment to learning is concerned.
He has just completed his first residency in the newly-launched Doctor of Ministry program at top rated Duke University Divinity School on its beautiful gothic campus in Durham, North Carolina.
The ministry of Compassion Radio is, by design, difficult. It is not the simple recycling of sermons for a radio audience, a very popular format in Christian broadcasting. Nor does it follow the talk show format which attracts high ratings with its emphasis on controversy in politics and theology.
Norm explains: “Compassion Radio is about participation in the mission of God in a suffering and fallen world. We’re not primarily concerned about attracting an audience of listeners. That orientation would lead us to talk about what people want to hear – that entertains them or makes them comfortable. Our concern – and we feel it passionately -- is to enlist agents of transformation committed to the power of the gospel and energized by the Holy Spirit. That’s a ‘tougher sell’ than attracting listeners a truth that the New Testament narratives about Jesus earthly ministry demonstrate.”
Given this call to costly sacrificial service on the program, Norm is encouraged by the recent growth of Compassion Radio. “Think about it,” he says; “Here’s an evangelical radio ministry that’s loving and serving Muslims in territory claimed by al-Qaeda in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Donations from our ministry partners are enabling us to work with refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine, to teach church planters in Myanmar and carry out relief work in Bangladesh, Sudan (Khartoum and Darfur), Nigeria and North Korea. Lots of people see these places as enemies. We don’t. We see them through the eyes of Jesus. We embrace the love that the living Christ has for them. That’s a strategy that has transformative power.”
One added component to Compassion Radio the past few years has been interviews with notable authors, scholars and church leaders. Among those on a long list of guests are Jack Hayford, Stanley Hauerwas, Philip Jenkins, Tim Keller, Erwin Lutzer, Richard Mouw, Mark Noll, Lloyd Ogilvie, Eugene Peterson, Leonard Sweet, William Willimon and Philip Yancey.
Eugene Peterson, translator of “The Message,” and author of dozens of best sellers, described his conversation with Norm as “the best interview I’ve ever experienced!”
So, what connection does all this have to “finishing strong?” In Norm’s view, “Ministry is not my career. I don’t work for perks. Retirement is not a reward. Serving the cause of Christ actively is itself the reward. I love the adventure of following Jesus. What wears me out is timidity at the threshold of opportunity. There’s too much ‘spectatorism’ in American Christianity. Christ is building His Church in the world’s most difficult places. I want to be part of that. Let’s get in shape! Update our learning. Cross some borders! Let’s go. Let’s finish strong!”
Those words are not a delusional pep talk. Norm knows he has limits that are rooted in aging. In 2005 he had a heart attack in Northern Ireland. It took him almost two years to recuperate from complications associated with that attack. For months, he could not walk. Then in October of 2011 he had a mild stoke for which he was hospitalized.
As Norm acknowledges, those setbacks sent him a message. What was it? It was an “eschatological” (or, as they say in theology, an “end times”) message.
For Norm, that has involved traveling to Bangladesh, China, Cuba, Denmark, Egypt, Haiti, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Myanmar, Nigeria, North Korea, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Sweden, Syria, Taiwan and Thailand.
This fall Norm and his wife, Cher, will be returning to Pakistan. All of this traveling is on Compassion Radio business. Or, better yet, on “Kingdom business.”
“We have to recover the adventure of serving Christ,” Norm concludes. “Christ was peripatetic here on earth, a man on the move. He challenged people, especially religious people. He overturned entrenched interests, smashed stereotypes, lavished compassion on outsiders and sufferers, forgave the unforgiveable and rose from the dead to give abundant life and hope to those who trust in Him.
“That’s the vision that motivates me. I’ve been an imperfect disciple. But I intend to ‘finish strong’!”
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