Mary Ann Crum

While the world was focused on the death of rock star Prince, a truly great woman slipped quietly from this life to the next in a simple house out in the country between Abbeville and Anderson.

You didn't see any highlight reels of her life on TV newscasts. No crowds gathered to light candles in front of her house. But this amazing lady left a legacy of lives all over the world that were quietly impacted, eternally changed and hugely blessed because we knew Norma Denmark.

I don't toss the word "hero" around lightly, but Norma was a hero to me. She and her husband Jack, while in their 40s, abandoned their financially secure, upper-middle-class lifestyle to become missionaries in Africa.

Before that, they say they "played church" for many years, having just enough religion to look respectable while keeping God at arm's length.

But then everything changed for the Denmarks. I can't remember exactly how they came to follow Jesus so passionately, though I heard the story several times over the years, but once the Gospel finally "clicked" for them, Jack and Norma gave themselves fully to it.

Jack left his job as a pharmacist and they packed up their children and a few belongings and moved to Zambia, where they began a ministry of evangelism and encouragement in that country.

I met them through a mutual friend when they visited in this area, and got to know them much better when they retired here.

Actually, "retire" is entirely the wrong word because even after they left Zambia, the Denmarks continued their ministry, regularly mailing Christian books, tapes and Jack's "Edifier" Bible teaching newsletters to believers all over the world.

(By the way, you can read "The Edifier" at To say they are worth a look would be a huge understatement.)

But Norma wasn't a hero to me just because she and Jack sacrificed material ease and comfort to become missionaries in Africa, as inspiring as that is. It was the red-hot fire in Norma's bones for Jesus Christ, His Word and His transforming power that challenged and changed me.

That fire never dwindled, not even after health problems kept her mostly house-bound. We could see Norma slipping physically these last few years, but never, ever spiritually. She was truly the most passionate woman of God I've ever known.

Sometimes that passion would express itself quite literally in jabs and punches. When Norma got extra fired up while sharing about something she'd read or learned, she often punched the arm of whoever happened to be standing or sitting closest to her. Words just weren't big enough to contain all her zeal. "Getting Denmarked," I affectionately called it.

While visiting one time after I'd had shoulder surgery, I was extra careful to stay outside Norma's punching radius?a bit of wisdom I'd learned the hard way. A friend of mine actually ended up taking a shot to the jaw once as she tried to dodge one of Norma's famous arm punches.

Yes, her jabs sometimes hurt ? but not nearly as much as her absence from my world now, of not being able to warm myself in the glow of Norma's fiery faith.

This remarkable woman was always learning, always growing, always wanting more of God. And she made me want that, too.

I think the most important people in our lives are the ones who do that for us, who cause us to hunger and thirst for Jesus.

How I pray I can be a Norma to the people in my world.

"Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith." -- Hebrews 13:7

Crum ( lives in Abbeville and is the author of two books, "A Giggle Goes a Long Way" and "Live.Learn.Laugh!" She can be reached at