If Ralph Burcham was responsible for lighting the fuse for mission work on the Oklahoma Christian campus, Howard Norton must be credited for seeing that the explosion was heard around the world. Year after year, he incorporated missions into every facet of his work at the university. He both championed the cause and nurtured the people who had committed their lives to this form of Christian service.
Howard grew up in Ft. Worth and attended Abilene Christian College, where he was elected student body president his senior year. Impressed with the urgency of foreign missions, Howard and his wife, Jane, became pioneers in the team approach to international evangelism. In 1961, the Nortons were among the first of a large group of American couples who settled in Brazil to plant congregations in key cities within South America’s largest nation.
It was Oklahoma Christian’s good fortune that the College Church of Christ became the Nortons’ sponsoring congregation. When on furlough to the states, Howard made friends with faculty and staff members at the college. An opening presented itself in the Bible faculty, and Howard was hired for the position. He later returned to Brazil, where he completed his doctorate at the University of Sao Paulo.
Always popular with students, Howard was one of the most effective speakers in chapel programs. He worked well with his faculty peers and created enormous goodwill for the college among preachers and elders. He initiated the “missionary-in-residence” program that utilizes talented professionals from the mission field. Upon Raymond Kelcy’s death in 1987, Howard was named chairman of the Bible division and later became the College of Biblical Studies’ first dean. Under his leadership, the Master of Arts in Ministry degree was first offered.
In 1981, Oklahoma Christian acquired The Christian Chronicle, and Howard was named editor. He advanced the paper from a monthly circulation of fewer than 4,000 to more than 100,000 in just a few years. As everyone expected, the paper was generously flavored with news of churches in the states and those internationally. He worked diligently to balance his many gifts and excelled as a pulpit expositor, a university professor, a Christian journalist and a missionary to the world.