In 1913 Ralph and Edith Norton, an American couple, arrived in London. They had worked for ten years with the Chapman Alexander Mission and travelled around the world. During the First World War they remained in London and met Belgian soldiers in London who had been wounded in the Ypres campaign. They talked to them about the Gospel and brought many to faith in Christ. After the war, the Nortons crossed the Channel and founded the Belgian Evangelical Mission in Brussels. In co-operation with the soldiers who returned home after the war, big evangelistic campaigns were organized all over the country to distribute as much literature as possible.
But what motivated them, what were their fears, what inspired them? Let us turn our attention on their lives and discover how God was working at this time in history.
October 1914 – a letter of Ralph Norton to his wife
Oh what pitiable and heartrending sights, the Belgian refugees, they are coming by the thousands. Antwerp fell today and that brings the Zeppelins nearer London. I saw six hundred Belgian refugees arrive one night this week, a sad, sad sight.
November/December 1914 – an excerpt from Ralph Norton’s diary
Nov. 24 – In afternoon visited Belgian Refugee headquarters, left some clothing. At 5:40 we went fifty miles to Bedford, held meeting for Scottish Regiments, Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders. 54 decisions.
Nov. 25- At 5:15 went to Caterham where we held a meeting for Coldstream, Grenadier and Scots Guards. About 300 present, 91 clear cut decisions.
Nov. 29 – At night held meeting in Lord’s Cricket Grounds, 9 decisions, one a Belgian refugee.
Dec. 1- At night we went to Wendover to Royal Engineers. Good meeting. 76 decisions.
Early 1915 – Belgian soldiers in muddy trenches
As soon as the soldiers return to the front-line, they are replaced by another small group of Belgian soldiers on leave. Soon there are the first letters from the trenches in Belgium. They have many questions; they ask for prayer and for Bible portions. They describe their prayer meetings in the dirty muddy trenches. “If only you could join in one of our prayer meetings,” writes one of them. On March 25th 1915, the Nortons resign from the Chapman Alexander Mission, and begin raising funds to found their own organisation, which would become the Belgian Evangelical Mission.
March 1915 – A new enterprise
July 1915 – The Belgian soldier
We had often seen these Belgian soldiers at the stations or in the street. But now as our attention became more forcibly directed toward them we were conscious of the language barrier. How to make these men know what was our meaning in offering them the strange little books?
Summer 1915 – English, French, Dutch
October 1915 – ‘Mother’ Edith Norton
These soldiers, many of them Flemish peasants lads, knew that this was no ordinary ‘Grande dame’ but someone with a heart of love, created they could not know why or how, unless that mysterious quality had something in common with the Book that was being put in their hands. So it came that it was very easy to direct the thought of these men to the Great Lover of their souls, the Lord Jesus Christ, and how eagerly they seized upon this knowledge. With utter simplicity they accepted the truths taught them and they would write back from the front to tell their faithful friends of their new found Savior that He stood by them in the trenches and that now they had no more fear of death and no longer were overcome by the ‘cafard’ (black depression) that formerly weighed them down.
The answers to these letters became a laborious process, even if it were a work of love. Some days Mrs. Norton would write fifty in her own hand, and her health began to give way under the burden. But how could one refrain when confronted by those touching epistlers?
December 1915 - So many letters...
At this time Mr. Norton and I began to envisage a visit to the Belgian front if this should be made possible, and began to pray to that end.
Spring 1916 - Leaving for the Belgian front
Spring 1916 - At the Belgian front, at long last!
Spring 1916 - An audience with the Queen
September 1916 - Starting a ministry in London
Fall 1916 - Mrs. Norton in London
Winter 1916 - Merry Christmas!
I was deeply touched to receive your honoured letter and your kind proposal to fulfil the office of mother to me. I was born into the catholic religion, but as I was cruelly deceived in it, I always, even from childhood, had a liking and admiration for your proud and noble faith, whose members were scattered and martyred. And now that my soul is in distress, now that my courage is failing from day to day because I have no friends or family, and never even get a card from a friend, which would cheer me up a little, I trust myself to you, dear mother. If you could only know how forsaken I feel at times, so that I must often weep; but that is weakness. However, what can you expect, – my unhappy childhood will weigh on me all my life, and if I had not faith in our Saviour, who knows what I might have become? For my part, I am going to try to win all the lost souls I can, for there is much to do here at the front, especially with men whose faith is very weak and who are led astray by bad companions. Perhaps I shall find comfort in so doing, and it will help to strengthen me. How good it is to have been given a second mother who has given me a new life, for it seems to me that I have just been born again, since there is someone now to take an interest in my joys and sufferings. Now I think I shall have the strength to endure suffering and sorrow without complaint, now that I have found someone who will give affection to a poor banished soldier, who will do all in his power to show himself worthy of his new parents.
Your faithful son before God,
Georges Van Der Cruyssen