by Stan Ingersol, denominational archivist
Authorized by the General Assembly of 1915 as the missionary auxiliary of the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene, what is today the Nazarene Missions International was first known as the Women's Foreign Missionary Society. The organization quickly joined the deaconess movement as one of the two main avenues for women to serve in the church's ministry to the world.
Much of the inspiration and leadership of the early NMI sprang from the Rev. Susan Norris Fitkin. Her ability to articulate a missionary vision and to inspire others was rooted in her personal experience as an evangelist and pastor.
Susan Norris was a Canadian, born March 31, 1870, on a farm near Ely, Quebec. Her Quaker parents were active in the temperance reform movement. Her mother served once as a delegate to the Women's Christian Temperance Union convention in Ottawa.
In 1881, the family moved to East Farnham, Quebec, where Susan's parents held longstanding membership in a Quaker meeting house. She, too, attended Quaker worship but also visited an Anglican church. Later, she began attending the Union Chapel, an interdenominational church that was strongly evangelical in emphasis. Each different strain of piety nourished her spiritual development. Several encounters with life-threatening illnesses, including typhoid fever, heightened her seriousness toward religion. At times, she experienced unusual dreams and saw visions.
In 1890, she offered herself as a missionary to the China Inland Mission but was refused for health reasons. She began conducting services for youth in her community and then, at her mother's urging, in other communities. Out of this, her ministry as an evangelist began emerging around 1892. Attending a Christian Endeavor meeting in New York City, she met J. Walter Malone, leader in the fast-growing holiness wing of the Society of Friends.
Norris subsequently attended Malone's school, Friends' Bible Institute and Training School in Cleveland. While there, she began preaching in revivals. In 1893, she became pastor of a church in Vermont where she had previously held a revival. Another pastorate followed in the Green Mountains. By that point, she was listed as a "recorded" (or official) minister in the Friends Church. In 1895, at the urging of a leading New York Quaker, Susan Fitkin returned to evangelism. That fall, she was sanctified in a revival and paired for six months with Abram E. Fitkin. Was someone playing matchmaker? The sources do not say, but Susan Norris and A. E. Fitkin were married by a Quaker minister May 14, 1896.
By that date, the two evangelists filed regular reports of their work in The Christian Witness, a leading holiness journal and organ of the National Holiness Association. In late 1896, they organized an independent congregation of 60 members in Hopewell Junction, NY, at the conclusion of a revival. Since the new church was mostly non-Quaker in background, the Fitkins steered it toward affiliation with the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America, the Nazarene parent-body in the East, which they, too, joined.
Until A. E. Fitkin embarked on a new career on Wall Street in 1903, both he and Susan served the APCA as evangelists. In 1899 and 1900, Susan Fitkin helped write a constitution for the APCA's existing women's missionary auxiliary. She was then elected its president. Between 1900 and 1907, that group grew from about 75 members to nearly 400.
The church unions of 1907 and 1908 demoted the Eastern group's missionary auxiliaries to the status of mere local societies. Many women -- Susan Fitkin chief among them -- began raising denominational consciousness for the need for an organized missions auxiliary. It took seven years, but their vision was finally realized in 1915. Rev. Susan Fitkin became the organization's first president. She served in that office until 1948, utilizing her skills as preacher and evangelist in the advocacy of missions. Susan Norris Fitkin died in California in 1951.
Note: David Sol, Nazarene pioneer district superintendent in southern Mexico, noted support given him by Susan Fitkin while he was a ministerial student -- see page 23 of Honorato Reza's Washed by the Blood, published by Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City in 1953
|A calling from God can come in different ways. Susan Fitkin's story is one example of how God calls people. To Susan Fitkin, God's call came in a vision while she was ill. [ read more ]|
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