By Mark Ellis —
Pioneering radio broadcaster Norm Nelson, whose huge heart took him to some of the most troubled places on earth, passed to his reward on the morning of April 10th, due to complications of dementia.
His beloved wife, Cher, posted the sad news on Facebook immediately after his home going: “And another warrior is welcomed home. At 9:31 PDT our Savior opened his loving arms and took The Rev. Dr. Norman Clark Nelson from his broken body and tortured mind to be forever in the presence of his Lord. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Norm’s resonant voice, as host of Compassion Radio’s distinctive boots-on-the-ground activist ministry, was heard daily across the United States, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East. Their humanitarian projects have been carried out in 30 countries.
Norm followed another pioneering radio broadcaster, his father, Dr. Wilbur E. Nelson, who founded the Morning Chapel Hour in 1944, “a daily program of songs and thoughts that lift the heart.”
After Wilbur retired, Norm wanted to take the radio program in a new direction, “to involve listeners in responsible servant outreach to the neediest people in the toughest places on earth.”
In keeping with Norm’s adventurous vision, Norm and Cher traveled to over 150 countries, including such “hot spots” as Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, Sudan, Pakistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, Lebanon, Syria and Colombia.
They did on-site reporting during the Kosovo conflict, Pakistan in 2001, the Palestinian Territories during the second Intifada, Afghanistan in 2002 and Iraq in 2003.
Norm became a Christian media ambassador of sorts, interviewing leaders from Hamas and the European Union, and government officials throughout the Middle East.
Nelson attended Westmont College, then earned an M. Div. from San Francisco Theological Seminary, and a Th. M. from Princeton. Subsequently, he carried out graduate studies in Islamics at Oxford University
During his time in seminary at Princeton, he established an inner-city youth mission in Trenton, N.J. In the 1960’s, he taught Religion and Social Ethics at Middlebury College in Vermont. In the 1970’s he created a summer service program called Youth Experience in Service (Y.E.S.), which involved students in compassion projects in Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico.
In later years he served on NGO disaster response teams that ministered to victims of hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and war in Central America, South America and Eastern Europe. In the summer of 2002, Norm and his wife, Cher, taught English at Balkh University in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan.
In 2005, he participated with political scientists, policy advisors, Foreign Service personnel and United Nations staff in the International Conflict Research Program at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland.
In the post-9/11 era, Norm became a voice within the evangelical community for the
peaceful resolution of conflict between Christians and Muslims. He dialogued with Muslim clerics in the U.S., England, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, and at the historic shrine at Najaf, Iraq.
He delivered aid to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and Gaza, and to the Afghan refugee camp at Akora Kattakh in western Pakistan.
In 2004, he became a panel member in a Muslim/Christian symposium at the Institute of Inter-religious Dialogue in Tehran, Iran. He was invited back to Iran in 2005.
Building on that experience, he worked with Sudanese academics to establish a peace institute in Khartoum. He initiated interfaith dialogue events as part of a grass-roots peace movement in Sudan.
He also engaged clerics at the Khan Theological College in Shiraz, Iran.
The ministry and broadcast is continuing with Bram Floria and Cher Nelson carrying on Norm’s legacy.
Norm is survived by his wife Cher, six children, and 14 grandchildren. An open memorial service will be held later this Spring; details are pending.