Slopes to Climb
By Naomi Zacharias
Last week we received the shocking news that our respected friend, Norita Erickson, had suddenly passed away. Flu complications led to a massive heart attack, and her death has left behind a path of grief and significant loss on this earth.
I had the privilege of meeting Norita less than a year ago as a colleague and I met with several individuals and organizations in Turkey that are serving women and children who are suffering.
Norita was clearly a woman of conviction, and a woman of action. She was particularly burdened for children in Turkey with disabilities and the need for medical, emotional, and spiritual support for their families. In the 1980’s, she began to provide wheelchairs her husband designed to properly fit each child, a chair crafted to navigate Turkish pathways and streets. Her non-profit ministry called Friends of Kardelen provided true compassion to over 150 families through their “mercy teams,” providing physical therapy, support and in-house training. And perhaps their greatest gift was to affirm to each family the blessing, beautiful creation, and individual miracle represented in each one of those children lives.
In an article in Turkey’s most widely circulated English newspaper, Today’s Zaman, author Charlotte McPherson pays tribute to Norita. She quotes the words of a grieving yet proud daughter at her mother’s memorial service who said, “My mother was an activist. There was not a slope in the poor neighborhood [geçekondu] in Ankara that she did not walk up and down to help people, not a hospital ward she didn’t go visit and not a government corridor she didn’t walk down to try to change things.” Not a slope she did not walk up and down to help people…what a beautiful way to have a loved one paint the picture of your life story. What a convicting testimony for the rest of us that remain, surrounded by slopes to climb.
As for me, I will never forget a story Norita shared with us during our day spent with her last year. She described an orphanage for us and the critical needs of the children with disabilities living there. She shared how her small team at that time volunteered to care for the children in simple and significant acts of feeding them and bathing them. Over time they began to teach the older children how to help care for the younger children. One of these older girls desperately wanted to help, though she herself carried her own physical disabilities, including a constant and severe tremor. Norita painted a picture for us, perhaps one of the most powerful images my mind has looked upon. She described this particular girl holding a little one to provide needed food to the completely dependent baby, while another girl stood behind her steadying her arms to stabilize the tremors and provide the support she needed to be able to do so. I remember Norita looking at us and saying so profoundly, “That is the picture of the body of Christ.”
May we remember her life, her example, her legacy, and her burden. May we climb the slopes of need and enter the corridors of the suffering. Please join us today in celebrating the life of Norita Erickson, and stand with us to honor her life as we seek to enter the spaces of need, refusing to give up on the hope for change and redemption.