The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 9, 2013

Weathered worship: Joplin woman still doing volunteer work at age 99

By Rich Brown
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — Although Norma Edwards still has a full-time ministry, the Joplin woman admits she has slowed down a bit.

You might too, if you were 99.

Edwards bemoans the fact that two years ago she was forced to cut back on going door-to-door in Joplin, delivering tracts and talking to people on behalf of Jehovah's Witnesses.

However, despite having to deal with what she calls severe joint problems that could easily discourage most, Edwards continues spreading the word of God.

"I do my ministry but I do it in different ways," said Edwards, who was an infant when World War I got under way in 1914. "I am on the phone a lot and still go door-to-door a little."

After starting her volunteer work in Ohio in 1954, she relocated to Joplin in 1971 with her husband, Joe, who began preaching at the Jehovah's Witness Church at 1201 S. Schifferdecker Ave., where she still attends.

Although her husband died in 1996, Edwards, a native of Elkins, W.Va., has two surviving children -- daughter Jewell Butte, of Joplin, and son Larry Butte, who serves as a Jehovah's Witness elder in Auburn, Calif. The children are from her first marriage.  

Edwards gives a lot of credit to her long life to walking. Her door-to-door ministry has no doubt helped to keep her healthy.

"It is good exercise and I bet I know a million people in Joplin as a result," she said.

While adding that most of the people she greets are "beautiful," there are always some who do not want to be bothered.

For those who listen, Edwards said she gives them her blessing, like Jesus did. And, for those who don't want to listen, she "shakes the dust," which means she goes onto the next house.

Edwards was 17 when Jehovah's Witnesses was adopted as the official name of the religion in 1931. Prior to that, it was known as the Bible Student movement and International Bible Students Association following its formation in the 1870s in the United States.

It hasn't always been an easy road for Jehovah's Witnesses, which was banned in Canada in World War I and in that country again in World War II, along with Germany, the Soviet Union and Australia.

Over the years members have suffered widespread persecution and mob violence in some of those countries, as well as in the United States.

Edwards turned to the denomination as a result of her own encounter with a door-to-door Jehovah's Witness.

Divorced from her first husband and raising two teens on her own, she asked the volunteer who came to her front door if there was anything in the Bible about raising children. He gave her biblical scripture to help and it inspired her so much that she decided to convert to the religion, too.

Even though cutting back somewhat today, Edwards admitted that it has not been uncommon to volunteer 100 hours a month, mostly through her door-to-door contacts. She said there is likely no subject in the Bible that she is not familiar with, and she has a long file of Bible topics to prove it.

"Any subject you want, I have," she said.