Each one a part of the body
Norman Jameson, BR Editor
November 04, 2009

Each one a part of the body

Each one a part of the body
Norman Jameson, BR Editor
November 04, 2009

What if we’ve gotten it wrong from the start?

Donnie Wiltshire, special ministries consultant with the

Baptist State Convention, grows quiet near the end of a long interview in his

office decorated with stacks of projects in process.

He ministers among exceptional people, those who cling to

the margins of a society that feels inconvenienced by their special needs.

Wiltshire leans forward and retells the story of an

imprisoned John the Baptist sending two disciples to ask if Jesus is “the One

who is to come.”

“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard:

The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the

deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.

(Luke 7:22 NIV)

“We lose touch with our Head,” Wiltshire whispers, his eyes

filling. “Jesus did not build a single thing. We have no idea how many were

baptized under His ministry.

“Jesus’ response to John’s question was to say, tell John

the deaf hear, the lame walk, the blind see and good news is preached to the


Self-portrait by Donnie Wiltshire

Donnie Wiltshire, special ministries consultant with the Baptist State Convention, enjoys being in the cockpit but loves ministering to the lost and needy people of this world. See video.

Wiltshire believes beyond budgets, baptisms and buildings,

that if Christians became a people concerned with the proof Jesus sent back to

John, “there would be such a movement of God among us because we would see

people and love people for who they are and see their need for Christ.”

Wiltshire, 56, has been passionate about ministry among

exceptional people since as a Royal Ambassador at age 13 he fell in love with a

beautiful girl who signed the Lord’s Prayer at RA camp.

After a career that carried him to New Orleans, Texas and

Memphis, for the past 10 years he has worked out that ministry in North

Carolina with people who are deaf or blind, people with developmental

disabilities and those with literacy needs.

People first

When describing his ministry, it is always “people” first:

people who are deaf, not “deaf people.”

While ministry in this area will never fill vast

auditoriums, it is important first because “Jesus cares,” Wiltshire said.

Churches across the state have people who need a specific

type of ministry, said Wiltshire, who knows of 113 churches with ministry to

the deaf; 187 with ministry to people with developmental disabilities and close

to 100 churches and associations with literacy missions.

Wiltshire provides training and connection to resources.

We are meeting people at the point of their need and sharing

Christ there,” he said.

“You can tell the goodness of a culture,” he said, “by

how it treats those who are marginalized.

“The further we push them away the sadder we are as people.

When the ‘unfittest’ are a valuable part of who you are as a people, then you

are different from the world. That’s why I give my life in this area.”

Four areas

Wiltshire works with four distinct people group ministries.

  • Deaf

He considers Deaf a language cultural group. He works with

those who are “culturally deaf” meaning their lives are defined in great part

by the fact they do not hear.

Just as in a foreign nation, the gospel must be shared in

their “heart language” which is primarily American Sign Language.

This group was born deaf or became deaf very early in life.

They often received a deaf school education and marry a deaf person.

Gallaudet University in Washington D.C., estimates that two

to four people per thousand in the population are deaf. That would mean 16,000

to 32,000 in North Carolina.

Deaf is not “hearing impaired,” which often occurs as people


Wiltshire used to wish he was deaf so he fit better into the

world for which he is so passionate. Although he is very well accepted in the

Deaf world, he is still a hearing person, still separated by his “extra” sense.

  • Blind and Visually Impaired

Wiltshire’s office provides an audio version of the Biblical

Recorder free on audio disc, and will provide a player if necessary.

They provide very limited Braille services, and help clients

locate Braille resources.

An annual spring retreat draws 30-35 to Caraway Conference

Center. Volunteers help participants navigate the strange surroundings.

  • Developmental disabilities

“People first” is the byword in the disabled community.


are not characterized by our disabilities, we are people,” Wiltshire said.

“We are people who have a developmental disability of some

kind. We need always think of people as being people and not thinking of people

being parts, especially defective parts.”

The increase of diseases like ADD, ADHD and autism are

beginning to affect “many, many churches,” he said.

Wiltshire will help churches overcome the “attitudinal

barriers” that are the primary obstacle to ministry with developmentally

disabled persons.

It is not uncommon for parents whose child suffers from one

of these disabilities to be asked not to bring the child to church.

Wiltshire wants to help a church “think about the ministry

opportunities and help them find ways the church can minister to these


One helpful way is to develop a buddy system with a

volunteer who shadows the disabled person and provides the needed extra care

and attention.

Sometimes disruptions come not from a child acting out, but

from his or her own sense of frustration or being over stimulated.

Nothing in North Carolina Baptist ministry with

developmentally disabled persons resounds like the five “happiness retreats”

held annually for persons of all ages and categories of disability.

The talent show portion seldom leaves a dry eye in the house

and laughter is the most frequent sound heard all weekend.

Typically 800-900 persons, including campers, staff and

chaperones attend.

“All of them can respond to the love of Christ and many can

respond to the gospel message by professing faith in Christ and growing in

their faith,” Wiltshire said.

Without fail, he said, campers teach leaders “great truths

about child-like faith; unconditional love; non-prejudicial acceptance of

others no matter what, courage in the face of huge adversity.”

Wiltshire’s complaint about a little arthritis seems

dramatically insignificant when he sees his friend with Down’s syndrome, “who

has challenges I’ll never be able to understand,” who is always smiling and

ready with a hug.

“We think we are whole,” Wiltshire said. “But we are missing

some important things.”

  • Literacy missions

Literacy missions helps people who can speak English but

can’t read or write it.

It involves tutoring children who struggle in school, and

teaches English as a second language.

“These ministries are ways we can meet people at the point

of their need, help them with this serious language challenge and share the

love Christ,” Wiltshire said.

He emphasized it is very important that churches not “bait

and switch” in literacy missions, offering to teach English only as a pretense

to draw people to a classroom as a captive audience. Integrity requires they

provide the service and establish the relationship.

Last year 525 tutors trained through the North American

Mission Board’s literacy training system served 1,800 students. Seventy-six of

them committed their lives to Christ.

Church based ministries

Wiltshire is a consultant who trains church members for

these ministries. As a one-man department he is multiplying himself through the

volunteer force resident in every church. It is churches that must see the

human need and enlist Wiltshire to help them organize, train and meet the need.

He joined the Baptist State Convention staff in 1999, from

First Baptist Church, Memphis, Tenn., where he was pastor of the Deaf


He is a graduate of Howard Payne University in Brownwood,

Texas, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

He earned a ThD in church history at New Orleans Baptist

Theological Seminary and planted a Deaf congregation in New Orleans which he

pastored for 12 years.

He then was pastor to a Deaf congregation in Memphis for

almost 10 years before coming to North Carolina.

Wiltshire has been married to Irma for 36 years and they

have three children.

One works for the State Board of Missions in Alabama; one is

a missionary candidate with the International Mission Board and “the baby” is a

student at Gardner-Webb University.

He has had a pilot’s license since 1972 and shares ownership

of an airplane that on rare occasions he can use in his work to save hours on

the road.

Planning ahead for 2010

Blind events

  • Baptist Fellowship Retreat — April 30-May 2, 2010

Deaf events

  • Deaf Youth Retreat — May 14-16, 2010
  • Together in Christ Deaf Conference — May 14-16, 2010
  • Deaf Interpreter’s Training Program — May 14-16, 2010

Developmental Disability Events

  • Western Happiness Retreat — June 4-6, 2010
  • Happiness Retreats — July 23 – August 1, 2010

Contact Maria Luoni at (919) 467-5100, ext. 5629, or (800)

395-5102, ext. 5629, or e-mail [email protected].

Related stories

BSC deaf ministry important to those in field

LifeWay special needs ministry marks 30 years

Guest column: A prom to remember


Special series — Body parts

Did you know you have a large church staff? Your gifts through the

Cooperative Program support a staff resource at the Baptist State

Convention of North Carolina that exists to serve your church.

The Biblical Recorder continues a series — Body Parts —

featuring one of your Convention staff members, and churches which has

grown through that staff member’s ministry. Body Parts is inspired by 1

Cor. 12:12 — “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts;

and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with

Christ” (NIV). The parts of the Baptist State Convention exist to serve


Visit Body Parts, a Biblical Recorder special series.