We are still together after a “roller-coaster ride” of nearly 53 years
By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service
LAKE FOREST, CA (ANS – April 11, 2016) – It has been a tough three weeks for me — and a wonderful three weeks for Norma, my wonderful wife — as she has been in the UK staying with our two sons, Andrew and Peter, and spending quality time with our six grand kids.
She also stayed with Edna, a friend of some 60 years, and my sister Ruth, and her husband, Allen, in Liverpool.
With today’s amazing technology, Norma and I have been able to “chat” via FaceTime on our iPhones, but it still isn’t the same as being together.
Now, Norma is back home and we are continuing our rather amazing life together, that began on July 13th, 1963, with our wedding at Aston Parish Church in Birmingham, close to where the one-and-only Ozzy Osbourne was born. At that time, we could never have dreamed what a roller coaster life it would turn out to be.
In my late teens, I had run away to Toronto, Canada, from my home in Birmingham, so I could get away from what I considered then as a rather stifling life, where all I considered as fun – rock and roll and dancing – was frowned upon by my parents, Alfred and Anne Wooding, who had been pioneer missionaries with SIM to Nigeria, where I was born in 1940.
We moved to England after my father suffered a series of serious health setbacks all at the same time — malaria, dysentery and sleeping sickness – and consequently was forced to return home in 1942 to seek treatment at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Liverpool, the city where he and my mother were born.
Doctors had told him at the time that it would be “too dangerous to return to the tropics” and so my parents, along with myself and sister, Ruth, who had since been born in Liverpool, settled in the Midlands city of Birmingham, where my Dad became a missionary to the Jewish population there, and later became the pastor of the Sparkbook Mission for some 30 years.
I know I broke their hearts by leaving home and spending a year in the Canadian city, where I did all I could to escape from God. But it all changed when, one day, my mother informed me by letter that my father had bowel cancer — an apparent result of his time in West Africa — and had been given just “three months to live”, and she pleaded with me to return home to say “goodbye” to him.
How could I refuse? My first day home, and amazingly, although he was a death’s door, my father’s courage and faith, when I visited him in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, had such an impact on me that I gave my life to Christ that very evening and, along with my mother, and Ruth, prayed that God would heal him.
He did, and my father lived for more than thirty more years!
So how did Norma come into the picture? Well, I needed a job and was given a position as a humble accounts clerk at a factory in Aston, a rundown area of Birmingham, which manufactured cycle-dynamos, which were used at the time on British and overseas bicycles to provide lighting for the pedal bike. It was all quite a shock for me, after I had been working in a shiny skyscraper in Toronto. But good came out of and there I fell in love with a beautiful raven-haired beauty called Norma Knight, who also worked in the office there.
I wrote her a letter which had on the front of the envelope, “To Our Norma,” asking her to come out to me on a date, as I hadn’t the courage to ask her face-to-face. I was thrilled when she accepted and soon our life together began to take shape.
After our marriage, nearly 53 years ago, we began working together with The Messengers, a team of young Christians that I started with my sister, Ruth, whereby we would fan out from my father’s church each Saturday evening, to take the Gospel to the local coffee bars and pubs (bars) of the area. It was during one of those coffee bar visits with a couple of students from the Birmingham Bible Institute, that Norma also gave her to Christ, and we were finally both on the same spiritual page.
Then, after our first son, Andrew, was born, we became involved in working with drug addicts from All Saints Hospital in Birmingham, and eventually the two of us helped to start Hill Farm, Europe’s first drug rehabilitation farm, and became its first wardens.
However, it was a tough time, especially for Norma, as she was told by the farm’s board that she had to do all the cooking and cleaning, while the addicts worked outside “taking care” of all of the farming chores.
In fact, with all that she had to do, things got so bad for Norma that we finally left and were crushed with what had happened. Still, we began to seek the Lord’s will as what was to be next for us.
To our delight, it came in the form of Peter, our second son, and eventually was I able to publish my first book, “Junkies are People Too,” which was about our difficult time on the farm. (British people love to hear about failure, and that’s how I portrayed our time on Hill Farm.)
Around the same time, I managed to talk my way onto the staff of The Christian, which was a Billy Graham-owned newspaper based in London, where I eventually became its Chief Reporter.
This meant a move, with our two boys, from Birmingham to London. But, sadly, after a year, the paper was closed down, and I moved into very different world of secular journalism, working for a series of London-based newspapers, including two of Britain’s largest circulation tabloids, the Sunday People and the Sunday Mirror.
My time in the tabloids became very difficult for Norma, with me becoming involved in some rather sleazy stories and also by the fact that I was drinking heavily, and had just about lost my faith. Yet she stuck with me during this rough time in our marriage.
If that wasn’t enough, we began to get death threats from people in London’s gangster underworld, and on one occasion, when I was overseas, a criminal I had been writing about, contacted the Sunday People to say that he had been told that someone was going to “try and kill Norma”. Fortunately, nothing happened, but it was all most disconcerting. I also received a threat from an Irish terrorist group for something I had written.
The turning point came about one night in the 1970’s when I was, once again, drunk in my “watering hole,” the “Stab in the Back” pub, where my many tabloid colleagues gathered to verbally stab each other in the back. It seemed that my life was out of control, when suddenly, to my surprise, Ray Barnett, a dear Irish-Canadian friend, Ray Barnett, appeared in the pub and soon began to challenge me to give my life back to Christ and walk out of my tabloid career and “do something worthwhile” with my life.
Believe it or not, I heeded his challenge, and there in that smoky bar, I recommitted my life to Christ and soon handed in my notice, and walked away from my life in the tabloids, which also included being a London correspondent for the National Enquirer.
Now I was free of my work in Fleet Street, Ray asked me join him on a dangerous trip to Uganda to chronicle the story of the terrible eight years of misrule of Idi Amin, during which some 300,000 Christians were murdered by Amin and his thugs. Idi Amin had just fled the country and Ray suggested that we worked together on a book called “Uganda Holocaust”, which was later published by Zondervan.
It was a turning point in my life, for after meeting some of the most amazing Christians I had ever met, I knelt by my bed in the Namirembe Guest House in Kampala, Uganda, where we were staying, and told the Lord that I wanted to spend the rest of my life writing and broadcasting about Christians like these, who didn’t have a voice out to us in the West.
After the book was published, I was hired by Brother Andrew’s ministry, Open Doors, to write a series of books for them about Christian persecution, and in 1982, they asked me if I would like to move to Southern California to be their Open Doors USA media director.
There, in our home in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, we both prayed about it and also asked our boys about their feelings of making such a huge move, and we all felt it was the right thing to do.
So, once again, Norma stood with me and, even though it was a big wrench for her to leave her mother and sister in the UK, she and the boys flew over “The Big Pond” with me. The date was June 28, 1982, and so began another chapter in our lives.
But even that proved difficult for her, as both Andrew and Peter eventually returned back to Britain, after they had both committed their lives to Christ, and began working with Youth With A Mission. She missed them terribly, and still does. They are now both now married and we have six grandchildren in the UK.
When we started ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) nearly 30 years ago, she again stood with me and agreed that we should stay in America, and also we would not take a regular salary from the ministry, but trust God to help supply all of our needs. It was another step in our walk of faith.
It has been quite a ride for both of us, as in recent months, we have seen our support drop sometimes dramatically, and recently we have been having to dip into our savings to the tune of $1,000 each month to just keep ASSIST going. We both live very frugally, but I thought you would like to know just a little of our background, and so, maybe some of you would like to join our support team, so that we do not have to keep dipping our savings, and so be able to continue the ministry we both love so much.
We are now both in our mid-seventies and coming up the day when we celebrate our 53rd Wedding Anniversary, and so I would like to ask you if you would prayerfully consider making a monthly, or one-off gift (tax deductible in the USA), towards our support, so we can keep this vital media ministry going, and also continue working together. (Retirement, even at our age, is not something we are considering.)
If you can help, all you have to do is to go to our secure site at www.assistnews.net and scroll down to where it says DONATE TO ASSIST NEWS, and designate your gift for our support. If you prefer to send a check, just make it out to ASSIST and mail it to: ASSIST, PO Box 609, Lake Forest, CA 92609, USA, and indicate on the envelope, “For the Support of Dan and Norma Wooding.”
Some time back, Norma wrote a story for ANS about our life together with the title, “Hold tight, the roller-coaster is about to begin…” She couldn’t have said it better, and you can read her side of the story at: https://assistnews.net/index.php/component/k2/item/780-hold-tight-the-rollercoaster-is-about-to-begin?highlight=WyJyb2xsZXIiLCJjb2FzdGVyIiwicm9sbGVyIGNvYXN0ZXIiXQ==.
PS. If you would like to read more about our extraordinary life together, it is all contained in my autobiography called “From Tabloid to Truth,” (Foreword by Brother Andrew) which you can get at: http://www.amazon.com/From-Tabloid-Truth-Dan-Wooding/dp/0974716359, or by sending a check to ASSIST for $20 at the above address. (I’ll be glad to sign it for you.)
Photo captions: 1) Norma on her wedding day. (Photo: Edna Mole). 2) Dan and Norma in the church yard of Aston Parish Church on their wedding day. Dan’s parents are to his left. 3) Team from The Messengers working on the renovation of Hill Farm. 4) The Wooding family at Heathrow Airport before flying out to Los Angeles, and a new life together. 5) The family together in Sheffield during a visit by Dan and Norma to the UK. Left to right are: Andrew, Dan, Norma and Peter. 6) Book cover. 7) A recent picture of Norma and Dan Wooding in Hollywood where they were reporting from a red carpet event for ANS. (Photo: Bryan Seltzer).
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 75, is an award-winning winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for nearly 53 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS), and is the author of some 45 books. He also has two TV shows and a radio show, all based in Southern California. He has reported for ANS from all over the Middle East, and his most recent trip was to Northern Iraq.
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