Laughter Accompanied Lifelong Mission Work of Norm Emery
Growing Up in Quito
Slightly built and affectionately known as both Mono (monkey) and El Peladito (the bald one), Emery held his listeners spellbound. This was due to his reputation as a storyteller, built up during decades of life in Ecuador.
His grasp of Ecuador’s rich heritage, customs, and people groups was renowned, and he had the uncanny ability to imitate regional accents. It all lent authenticity to his accounts, and “most of them had a humorous twist,” according to Dan Shedd, executive director for the Latin America Region of Reach Beyond (formerly HCJB Global).
Often Emery drew from the daily experiences of his life and ministry. That life ended on Saturday, April 11, at Doylestown Hospital in Doylestown, Pa. His spiritual influence continues however, among family, friends and churches in Ecuador and the U.S. He was 77.
Norman L. Emery was born on Oct. 23, 1937, in Cuenca, Ecuador, to Ralph and Ruth (Schwab) Emery, missionaries with the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA). To a younger sister who had trouble saying “Norm,” he was Mono, and the nickname stuck in his later years. In Ecuador, with strong regional distinctions between coast and highlands, Mono may sometimes refer to a person from the coastal area. The fact it means “monkey” didn’t seem to bother him at all.
He and his siblings spent their school years in the C&MA dormitory in Quito while attending Alliance Academy International (AAI). At age 13 he began working with Radio Station HCJB, later becoming a control room operator. “As a senior in high school,” he later recounted, “I dedicated my life for missionary service.” The year was 1956, the same year that five evangelical missionaries were speared to death as they attempted to reach out with Christ’s love to the Waorani people.
After graduating from high school that same year, Emery attended Nyack College in New York where he majored in missions. That’s where he met fellow missions student, Kay Kieffer, whom he married in 1960. She became his ministry co-worker and mother of their three sons, Tad, Nathan and Peter. The Emerys became members of Calvary Church in Souderton, Pa., in 1968.
Returning to Ecuador
Norm and Kay served as missionaries in Ecuador, first with C&MA (1962-1968) and later with Reach Beyond (1970-2002). During a missionary career spanning 38 years, Emery held various jobs, including administrator of the Vozandes hospitals in Quito and Shell and field director for Ecuador.
He was “a team manager, committee member, car mechanic, diesel plant operator, pastor, translator, mentor and a great friend,” according to Doug and Darlene Peters, fellow students in Spanish language studies with Kay in San José, Costa Rica, in 1962. Already fluent in the language, Emery felt right at home.
“All his life he was careful to use what God had given him to minister to others,” added the Peterses, Reach Beyond retirees now living in Florida. “He had the characteristic of reaching people,” mentioned Luís Alcázar, an administrator in the systems department at Reach Beyond in Quito.
Emery didn’t mind being countercultural. “Everybody else wants to be served and not to serve, but that wasn’t Norman,” added Alcázar. “And that is why I wanted him involved in our home and asked him to perform our wedding.” Reach Beyond retiree Carmen Reinoso remembers Emery as “a great friend and servant to Ecuadorians, both within and beyond HCJB.”
Kay Emery recalls an incident while vacationing in a rustic cabin with no indoor plumbing at the beach resort town of Same in Ecuador. The family built a bonfire from the driftwood the evening of their arrival. “Next morning Norm decided to scoop some ashes from the bonfire and throw them down the outhouse,” Kay related. Emery had read somewhere that ashes would help neutralize the smell.
His teenage sons, with no idea what he was up to, observed from some distance as their father entered the outhouse with a shovelful of ashes. What everyone knew afterwards—including a blackened Norm—was that among the ashes were some live embers. The outhouse door closed, there was a moment’s pause, then a muffled boom, a “woosh” sound and dark gray clouds of ash billowed out from under the outhouse roof. Emery staggered out a second later, his entire upper body and head black with ash, the only white being his bewildered and blinking eyes. The gases in the pit of the outhouse had ignited as the live embers dropped.
Shedd, after agreeing to assume Emery’s responsibilities of managing all things related to the mission’s Ecuadorian labor force, said of his mentoring, “He was there all along to offer great godly advice.” And of his many stories, Shedd added that they “were often employed to lighten up a tense situation.” He could even get things smoothed out at the scene of a car accident involving a missionary, and was the longtime claims adjuster for the Society for Mutual Aid in the Southern Hemisphere, known by its acronym, SMASH.
Both formally and informally, Emery mentored non-Latin Americans in cultural sensitivity. A request for a favor or information could be expressed in a genteel way, according to Harold Goerzen, the mission’s senior editor who spent a decade in Ecuador. “Si fuera tan amable held me in good stead during my years in Quito,” observed Goerzen. The phrase is akin to “If you would be so kind.” Emery “kept me from falling into cultural mishaps,” offered Reach Beyond International Ministries Vice President Curt Cole.
Emery’s mentoring and pastoring was not limited to the mission compound, for he also served in Quito churches. Coupled with passion to see people rightly related to God through Christ was a biblically literate and stout-hearted defense of sound doctrine.
He told of once interpreting for a visiting speaker preaching in English at the El Inca church where he was on staff. Taking note partway through the visitor’s detour into divisive, erroneous doctrine, he bided his time but finally issued an ultimatum in English: get the sermon back on track or be subject to the interpreter dismissing the congregation and closing the service. Things went better after that.
“Norm always wore his Ecuadorian birth in his person. I know of no missionary who identified with the people as much as he did and he was beloved by the Ecuadorian staff like few others,” remembered another of the mission’s retirees, Tom Fulghum, now living in Arizona. “He lived his whole life in the service of others; he was the oil on troubled waters for many a situation.”
During a period of time in the U.S., Emery served at Houghton College in New York and as an associate pastor at Calvary Church of Souderton. Then upon retiring, he interim pastored at Calvary Baptist Church in Reading, Pa., and later at Locust Valley Chapel in Coopersburg, Pa. He worked as an interpreter part-time at Language Services Associates of Willow Grove, Pa., and volunteered with the Anne Silverman Free Clinic at Doylestown Hospital. In the Souderton church, he enjoyed visiting people with the care services team.
In May 2012 the Emerys fulfilled the wishes of their oldest son, Tad, who died in August 2011 after an extended illness, to have his ashes deposited in the Pacific Ocean. Friends Dave and Kay Landers, missionary retirees living in California, recalled that “we felt blessed to be present for this moment of reminder that when we die we are taken into the arms of Jesus.” Kay Landers, who told of the water-biodegradable urn containing his ashes used in a simple ceremony, said, “We felt thankful to be with parents and brother at the moment when Tad was gently dropped into the sea by a loving father.”
In addition to Tad, Norm was preceded in death by his parents and his sister, Esther Gaertner. He is survived by his wife, Kay, of New Britain, Pa.; two sons, Nate of Chalfont, Pa.; and Peter (Jen), serving as missionaries with Extreme Response in Quito, Ecuador; and two grandsons, Noah and Aidan, of Quito.
Memorial services are planned for Quito on Sunday, May 17 from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. at the Larson conference center at Radio Station HCJB and at Calvary Church in Souderton, Pa., at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 27. Memorial contributions may be made to Dunamis c/o Extreme Response or Reach Beyond.