A HISTORY OF VIANOVA
WORLD WAR I
While the Nortons are in London, World War I breaks out. London becomes increasingly crowded with Allied soldiers.
Ralph distributes evangelism leaflets to the soldiers and organises meetings for the soldiers who are ready to cross the Channel to the battlefield in Flanders.
The Nortons' hotel room in London becomes a drop-in centre for Belgian soldiers. Edith reads to the young men from the Bible, washes their socks and repairs their clothes.
The soldiers come out of the trenches, and the contrast with this loving environment is enormous. Many soldiers make a choice for the Lord in this hotel room. Later on, the hotel room is replaced by a real drop-in centre in the heart of London.
BELGIAN EVANGELICAL MISSION
After the war, God leads the Nortons to Belgium where they open their new headquarters in Brussels. The Belgian Evangelical Mission (BEM) is born. Soon the BEM starts planting churches.
EVANGELISM WAGON - BOOKSTORE
A large evangelism wagon drives through the country. The wagon has a folding platform from which the gospel is preached.
The BEM starts selling Bibles, because these are hard to come by in Belgium. Over the years, this grows into the Christian bookstores "Het Goede Boek" and "Le Bon Livre".
WORLD WAR II
Many people flee the country or are called up to do their military service. A number of BEM workers also suffered this fate.
Halls where Christians gathered were destroyed by bombardments and the buildings could not be heated because of the fuel shortage. The membership of the churches declined and evangelistic activities were forbidden by the occupying forces.
THE MOBILE CHAPEL
The BEM builds a mobile chapel as a successor to the evangelism tents.
The chapel is a mobile army trailer that can be converted into a hall with 100 to 140 seats. Over the years the chapel visits almost every part of Belgium to proclaim the gospel.
A NEW WIND
Homer Payne becomes director and tries a different approach, strategically infusing a certain area with the gospel. He forms teams that stay in a certain place until every inhabitant has heard the gospel.
These campaigns are later refined by Brian Russell-Jones and Johan Lukasse.
The Ark and the Eben-Haëzer are officially opened. These are two ships which the BEM purchased and renovated in order to use them as floating evangelism tools.
Due to expensive maintenance costs, the boats are sold in 2015.
THE PERIOD OF THE MASS ACTIONS
Some Christian organisations join forces and create "Project Brussels 91". The goal is to reach every citizen of Brussels with the Gospel, to promote the growth of existing congregations and the creation of home Bible study groups in every neighbourhood or district.
On 1 April 1991 the action starts with a march for Jesus through the streets of Brussels. 4,500 people join the procession and proclaim that Jesus is Lord. The march is followed by a series of activities. More than 600 responses are received from people who want to hear more about the gospel. Similar actions with similar results are repeated throughout the country in the 1990s in different cities.
RALPH & EDITH NORTON
Ralph Norton and his wife Edith have had a passion for proclaiming the good news for many years.
They leave their homeland, the United States, and travel the world with an evangelistic team. The team visits many Asian countries and thousands of people come to faith. In 1913 the team arrived in the United Kingdom.
Ralph meets Pierre De Wallens, a wounded Belgian soldier who asks him for gospels to distribute in the trenches. Ralph is so deeply touched by this encounter that his desire to evangelise among the Belgian soldiers grows.
Ralph often has 400 gospels in his pockets to hand out.
THE WORK GROWS
During the war the Nortons distribute over 150,000 packets of food and a gospel to the Belgian soldiers. En masse, soldiers let us know that they want to know more about the gospel, so thousands of letters have to be answered.
The Nortons open an office in London with 8 employees and their organisation soon has 18,000 members.
The BEM buys evangelism tents. These tents cross the country and many events are organised.
Bystanders become curious about what is happening in the tent and come to take a look. They hear Christian music and listen to the gospel. During peak days, 200-300 people find their way inside.
THE BEM GROWS
The ‘20s and ‘30s are a golden period! In 1936 the BEM counts 57 churches, in 1938 no less than 83.
Just before the war, the Limauges youth camp is purchased. During the war, many children were helped here to survive the war mentally and physically. The buildings also served as hiding places for Jews.