According to The Brunswick Beacon, Rob Norman is one of the 10 most interesting people in Brunswick County.
Although he now lives in Leland, Norman grew up in Lincoln County, as did his wife, Mickie. She was Lincolnton High Schoolâ€™s mascot in the late 1970s; he graduated from West Lincoln High School in 1973.
Both were destined for much more.
When he was only 15-years-old, Norman already knew he wanted to be a minister.
â€œIt was pretty set,â€ Norman said.
Norman attended Gardner-Webb College (now University) before obtaining his masterâ€™s from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. While still in seminary, Norman began his first pastorate. From the very beginning, Mickie, also a pastor, was his equal partner behind the pulpit.
â€œShe didnâ€™t become an officially ordained minister until much later,â€ said Norman. â€œBut she was a minister the whole time.â€
When Norman was the pastor at First Baptist in Independence, Va., the couple made a life changing decision.
â€œThat was when we began to consider missions,â€ said Norman. â€œMickie felt that was the direction we needed to go.â€
It was 1983 and the coupleâ€™s sons, Matt and Phillip, were in elementary school. The family was happy in Virginia, but they decided to commit to doing missions and never looked back.
It turned out deciding to do mission work was a lot easier than deciding where to do it. Norman came across an article about Uganda in one of the mission boardâ€™s magazines and was touched. He felt it was the place for them despite the unrest the country was facing and the fact the Idi Amin had only recently been deposed as dictator.
Mickie was going away and Norman gave her the stack of mission board magazines with the Uganda issue tucked into the middle. She pulled that issue out of the stack and made a joke about weeding it out. But she took the magazine with her anyway.
After Mickieâ€™s trip, the couple asked each other where they wanted to go; each one said Uganda at the same time.
But they both knew the African nation would be a far cry from the creature comforts of home.
â€œWhen we made that decision, people suggested we take everything weâ€™d need for four years,â€ Norman said. â€œWe took toilet paper. We took everything.â€
With help from their home church, Hulls Grove Baptist, and the South Fork Baptist Association, the Normans had everything they needed. They left for Uganda in the fall of 1984.
According to Normanâ€™s mother, Helen, her son was always destined for something special.
â€œI never was worried,â€ said Helen. â€œI was concerned, but I always felt he was called to do something extraordinary. When he was a little boy and people would ask what he wanted to do, he would say he wanted to be a missionary to China.â€
The Normans were supposed to stay in Uganda for four years, but upheaval in the country cut a year off their stay. During their three years there, Norman says the country suffered three coups. He said you could hear gunfire at all hours of the day and night and see people beaten to death in the streets.
Despite the local strife, Norman was able to get some things done.
â€œOur ministry was very open,â€ Norman said. â€œWe were able to start a couple churches.â€
Everything changed in the summer of 1987, when Normanâ€™s mother Helen and sister-in-law Pam Wilkinson came to visit the family. The Normans met them in Kenya and they spent some time touring the country before reentering Uganda.
Back in Uganda, the Normans and their guests were victims of an armed robbery at the Normansâ€™ house. Over 20 men with guns threatened the family from outside the house and six held them at gun point inside the residence. Luckily, neither of the Normansâ€™ sons were there at the time.
â€œFortunately, no one was hurt,â€ said Norman. â€œThey took what they wanted, mainly hard currency. We gave them all of that. They kind of made an appointment to come back.â€
That night, the activity of some unarmed Africans on their way to a prayer meeting scared the robbers away. With no working phone to call the police, the Normans were blessed to have friends for protection.
â€œOur African church came over and took care of us,â€ Norman said.
After much family discussion and heartfelt prayer, the Normans decided to leave Uganda. They returned to the west Lincoln area where Normanâ€™s parents live and stayed for 10 months, trying to decide on their next move.
â€œWe spent a lot of time praying about going back to Africa,â€ said Norman.
But the couple was asked to take a position in Greece instead. In 1988, they arrived in the city of Thessalonica and stayed until 1995.
â€œWe had some amazing experiences in Greece,â€ Norman said.
While in Greece, Norman helped an American church in Athens transition into an international English-language church where as many as 16 different nationalities were represented.
The family returned to the states in 1995 and Norman became missionary in residence at Gardner Webb. Mickie decided to enroll in classes, as did older son Matt. Mother and son went to class together and were even mistaken for husband and wife on one occasion.
â€œShe promised me never a dull moment at our wedding, and sheâ€™s lived up to that,â€ said Norman.
After a year at Gardner-Webb, the family moved to the eastern part of North Carolina. Mickie got ordained at Campbell University Divinity School and the couple started North Brunswick Fellowship Church in Leland in 2003.
They serve as co-pastors at the church, yet both have plenty more to keep them occupied. Mickie works as a chaplain for Hospice and Norman still teaches some classes for Gardner-Webb University and sells real estate. Norman says they both stay very busy.
â€œSome days I miss Uganda,â€ Norman said.
Not that life in Leland hasnâ€™t been interesting.
On December 28, 2006, Norman was named one of Brunswick Countyâ€™s 10 most interesting people by The Brunswick Beacon, an honor about which Norman remains humble. He says he doesnâ€™t know why they chose him, but that the articleâ€™s writer is a member of the mother church that supports his church.
North Brunswick Fellowship Church is a partner of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Normansâ€™ son Matt works for the organization.
Ironically, when Matt was working for the group in Toronto, he connected with the cityâ€™s large Chinese population and spent two years working with them. If the father couldnâ€™t make it to China, at least the son came pretty close.
Although Norman says there is a part of him that wants to go back overseas, he seems content where he is.
â€œWe hope to keep the church alive and growing,â€ said Norman. â€œWe see ourselves as trying to reach out to people who are either unchurched or have been disenfranchised from churches. They try to find a place where theyâ€™re loved.â€
Norman wants his church to provide that kind of atmosphere. He says they just received a $25,000 grant to start a ministry geared toward caregivers and nursing home workers.
â€œThe ultimate goal is not to force them to come to our church, but to love them in the name of Jesus,â€ Norman said. â€œWe see Christianity as a lifelong walk and journey. Helping people wherever they are in their spiritual journey is our goal.â€
For Norman, itâ€™s all about helping people, whether in Uganda or his own backyard. Norman is already considered one of the most interesting people in his area. Perhaps he should be known as one of the most caring as well.
by Allyson Levine