Born: Oct. 31, 1928
When the Thurman family arrived in southern Africa in 1963 to bring Jesus to black Africans, the revolution had already started.
Clashes between whites and blacks were taking hundreds of lives. In the apartheid controlled government, blacks had no say and had stepped up resistance to regain control of their homelands and lives.
“It was the best of times in a way. Things were booming. People like us were there to prepare them to take over,” said Norma Thurman, whose husband, Tom, was a Church of Christ minister. “We were there to train the local people and phase ourselves out.”
The Thurman family first worked in Mashoko, a mission compound with a hospital and schools. They lived among the indigenous people in the bush, but with some comforts, including servants. Their children went to private schools then later to government operated schools.
They were next assigned to a mission in Rhodesia, a country renamed Zimbabwe after the war. The area had been pillaged by the Portuguese, Arabs, Europeans and Dutch for precious metals and minerals, especially diamonds and gold.
The family also worked in Mashoko and Zimbabwe’s oldest colonial settlement – Masvingo (Fort Victoria), where they started a printing business to provide literature for instructing the native people. Along with other missionaries, the Thurmans taught English to nursing and ministry students. They also started a mission and opened two high schools. In all of their work was the goal of bringing the knowledge of Christ to the people.
“What is important in mission work is to take the gospel to the whole world, based on Jesus’ great commission to go into the world and make disciples,” said Mrs. Thurman.
The indigenous people included the Shona, Ndeble and Tonga, who had practiced animism for generations. Animism is the belief that souls or spirits exist in not only humans, but also animals, plants, rocks, river, mountains and other entities.
“They believed in a creator – God. But they had not learned about Christ,” said Mrs. Thurman.
All of their work, such as building hospitals and schools, which also served as churches – or providing medical care, supported the great commission, Mrs. Thurman said, adding that the government subsidized their work by paying teachers and providing medicines.
“It’s easier to reach people when you do something for them,” she said.
One of their greatest achievements was starting a church that will turn 50 years old next year. The Mashivo Christian Church was started in 1966, said Mrs. Thurman.
Once back in the United States in 1973, Mrs. Thurman became an editor at Standard Publishing in Cincinnati where she worked for 20 years. Her husband taught at Cincinnati Christian University and was editor of the Restoration Herald for 15 years
One of their daughters, Deborah Crowdy, married a Zimbabwean. Mrs. Thurman’s son, David, became a minister with the Christian Church and does mission work today in Zimbabwe and other places around the world. Another daughter, Diana White, married a Christian Church minister and lives in Plainfield, Indiana.
“People ask if I worry about my son going there now, and I say, ‘How could I?’ I took him there when he was 2. It’s a very pleasant place, a very beautiful place and the people are beautiful. There is little violence there.”
Mrs. Thurman’s husband died in 2005.
Hearing of what is now taking place in the area, Mrs. Thurman said it makes her sad. “(President Robert) Mugabe has taken farms away from people and given them to his wealthy friends. The people still elect him because they are afraid not to. It’s so terrible. Christ died for everybody. We’re all the same at the foot of the cross.”