Daniel Johnson is pastor of the Deaf congregation of Forest
Hills Baptist Church in Wilson. He was born to international missionaries in
Chile and was struck deaf at age 8½ by otitis media, a fairly common middle ear
infection that today is treated with simple anti-biotics. His needs prompted
his parents to return to the United States and begin a new ministry.
He attended North Carolina School for the Deaf in Morganton,
then a Baptist high school and Gardner-Webb University. He met Donnie
Wiltshire, North Carolina Baptists’ special ministries consultant while both
were students at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Wiltshire was planting and leading a Deaf congregation
there. Johnson observed him in that role and saw that he was a “great leader.”
Johnson said Wiltshire “knows how to lead his congregation”
and is “very fair, tender and understanding.”
“I’m not trying to butter him up,” Johnson said through the
interpreter. “But he was a very truthful person,” leading “not like a boss but
“That was one of the biggest impressions left on me, that of
a pastor, leader, shepherd, role model. I apply things in my church I learned
Johnson’s degree from Gardner-Webb was in oil science. He
earned an MDiv at New Orleans, and a DMin from Samford University’s Beeson
What it’s like
Johnson does not consider himself different from other
people, except for the fact that he cannot hear. He heard as a child, so he
knows sounds and can speak so well people sometimes think he reads lips and do
not accommodate his deafness.
Growing up he listened to radio and watched television like
any “normal” guy.
“Then my normal became different,” he said. “Now I can’t
hear so I have a new normal.”
He felt left out around the family dinner table because he
could not keep up with multiple speakers. Then his father instituted a “one
speaker at a time” policy that changed family dynamics but made Johnson feel
more a part.
He still works to educate people about deafness. Some think
deaf people cannot do anything, or are fragile because they do not hear. He
said he has to continually fight such a “limited world view.”
“Deaf” does not completely define an unhearing person, said
Johnson, who warns not to fit all deaf persons into “one size fits all.”
His doctoral project involved bringing hearing congregations
to deaf worship.
“All were shocked at the differences,” he said. Hearing
people began to understand why Deaf don’t just want to go to a hearing church
and have the worship interpreted by sign.
Johnson preaches in sign, the heart language of Deaf. It
requires no interpreter and is the native language that any missionary longs to
know when working in a different culture.
Wiltshire has been “a lot of help” to Johnson and “other
pastors in the state,” he said. “He personally guided me regularly when I was
trying to figure out what to do. He would sit down with me, counsel and advise,
not telling me what to do, but sharing.”
Michael C. Blackwell, president of Baptist Children’s Homes
which offers residential care for developmentally disabled adults, said
Wiltshire has been “incredibly supportive” since the first day of that
In February, Wiltshire will train Deaf pastors in the
Convention’s emphasis on discipleship.
Johnson, 49, is a strategic church planter with the North
American Mission Board (NAMB), he said.
While he praises God for the “amazing work God is doing in
North Carolina,” he is a little concerned that NAMB is less involved in Deaf
work as Deaf integrate into society.
In North Carolina, “We’re wide open,” Johnson said.
There are many Deaf in the state, but the population is
scattered, so “we need more outreaches.”
He and Wiltshire are “pushing our Deaf to do that. God has
to put it on their hearts to get them motivated to go.”
The Deaf population as a whole is underemployed. Decent
paying work is difficult to find, especially in communications fields.
Those deaf adults who were treated as “handicapped” by
parents as children are likely still dependent on those parents, Johnson said.
Johnson met his wife, Stephanie, when she was interpreting
for a class at Gardner-Webb. She had just graduated from UNC Greensboro and
North Carolina Deaf missionary Jerry Potter who was teaching at Gardner-Webb,
said Johnson should come meet the new interpreter. They have been married
almost 28 years and have three children.
“The Deaf in our state cherish Donnie Wiltshire and his
ministry is very important to us,” Johnson said. “Without his leadership and
support we would not have anything.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — This interview was conducted via
three-way phone/video conference in which the writer talked by phone to a sign
language interpreter who was on a video conference call with Daniel Johnson.
The writer asked questions, which the interpreter relayed to Johnson and then
spoke Johnson’s signed answers to the writer. Because American Sign Language is
a picture language, word for word interpretation is not possible.)
Special series — Body parts
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grown through that staff member’s ministry. Body Parts is inspired by 1
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and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with
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