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Sewickley Academy senior feels called to Haiti

| Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, 9:31 p.m.
Sewickley Academy senior Nehemiah Norris poses outside of the school Friday, Sept. 21, 2012. Norris will be leaving for a trip to Haiti on Wednesday.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Sewickley Herald
Sewickley Academy senior Nehemiah Norris poses outside of the school Friday, Sept. 21, 2012. Norris will be leaving for a trip to Haiti on Wednesday. Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald

When Nehemiah Norris was reading the book, “El Señor Presidente,” for his Sewickley Academy Spanish class, he believes an idea from God came to him.

“I got a vision during the remaining weeks of my junior year that God wanted me to do mission work,” said Norris, 18, a senior who headed to Haiti last week to work in the medical and construction divisions for a week.

“Honestly, I wish I can say a peer or an adult influenced me to do missions work, but I made this decision through prayer.”

The novel the class was reading at the time showed the living conditions in certain parts of Latin America.

“I really couldn't believe what was going on, and, I thought to myself, ‘How could I help?'” said Norris, who lives in Robinson Township and has been attending the academy since pre-kindergarten.

He found out that many countries in Latin America need volunteers.

“Haiti stuck out to me because of the earthquake/tsunami that the nation is still feeling the affects from and some unfortunate facts such as being the poorest country in the western hemisphere,” he said.

A friend then invited Norris to Bible studies at Hillside Christian Community Church in Carnegie, where it helped him put things in perspective about missions work, he said.

“The youth pastor talked to me about my aspirations for mission work in Haiti and thought it was an excellent idea.”

It took awhile for this parents, Denise Norris and the Rev. Urie Norris, an associate minister at Triumph Baptist Church in Sewickley, to help find a way for their son to realize his dream.

However, after Rev. Greg Collier, an associate minister at Triumph, recommended a group to Norris, everything began to come together.

“We are a little nervous about Nehemiah traveling to a Third World country, but have faith that God will put an arch of protection around him,” Denise Norris said.

Nehemiah's parents were reassured, however, after they met with the group their son will be traveling with through Functional Literacy Ministry, of Haiti. The Pittsburgh-based organization has been working in Haiti since 1983.

Denise Norris said she and her husband were so inspired by the group's stories and travels about previous visits, they wish they could join the group.

“Everyone we met from this traveling group, impressed us as passionate, sincere and warm missionary workers,” she said.

There are about 20 people who will travel together, including members of Cranberry Community Presbyterian Church and Hebron Presbyterian Church of Penn Hills.

Norris had to raise $1,900 for his trip, so he worked all summer at Marshall's in Robinson and got a little help from his parents and other supporters.

He will stay with his group at the Kay D'Esperans House of Hope, a guest house at the FLM mission site located in the Thomassin area of Haiti, near the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Although Norris said he has participated in several local mission trips with his parents, this will be “a first-time experience that I am really looking forward to.”

Norris, who also is busy applying to several colleges, including Pepperdine University, High Point University, University of California and Santa Barbara, said he would like to double major with sports management and journalism or just sports broadcasting.

At the academy, he is an officer for several clubs, including Wall Street, Make-A-Wish and the Spanish Culture Club. He volunteers every Thursday to help monitor students at the lower school's After Hours program. He also is the statistician/manager for the boy's varsity basketball team in the winter and captain of the varsity track and field team in the spring. Nehemiah is the youngest of four children.

“We always told and encouraged them individually and collectively to work for your dreams,” his mother said.

“The trick is seeking out that thing that brings joy with meaning to them and makes a difference in the life of others, too. Nehemiah has always been a very independent and industrious child, and now young man.

“Even with the trials that teenage life will bring when raising children, we always believed in Nehemiah and knew that he, as all of our children, has something very special to offer the world,” she said.

To find out more about FLM, visit

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406

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