No slowing down for Wiltshire in retirement
    April 1 2019 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Production Editor

    If Donnie Wiltshire’s current plans succeed, his retirement might be as busy as his time at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) as the special ministries consultant.
     

    BSC photo by Eric Stishan
    Donnie Wiltshire, left, shares a moment with his wife Irma at his Baptist State Convention of North Carolina retirement party in March.

    “Donnie Wiltshire has been a valuable member of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s staff for 20 years,” said Milton A. Hollifield Jr., BSC executive director-treasurer, in an email to the Biblical Recorder. “In ministering to individuals with special needs and other developmental disabilities, Donnie served a segment of our population that is often overlooked and neglected. His love and compassion for those individuals reflects the heart of our Savior. Donnie’s presence will be missed all across our state and beyond, and we wish him and his wife, Irma, well as they return to the Lone Star State for the next chapter of their lives and ministry.”
     
    Wiltshire’s role at the BSC, which began in June 1999, consists of working with the Deaf, blind, special needs and literacy missions ministries. He plans to retire April 5 to his family’s home in Kirbyville, Texas.
     
    Born in Oklahoma, Wiltshire spent much of his childhood and early adult life in Texas, receiving an undergraduate degree in New Testament Greek from Howard Payne College (now university) in Brownwood, Texas, and a master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) in Fort Worth, Texas.
     
    At the time, Wiltshire had completed his entrance exams and been accepted in SWBTS doctoral program, but was asked to lead a new Deaf church plant in New Orleans.
     
    Wiltshire, now 66 years old, said his desire to learn American Sign Language (ASL) began when he wanted to talk to a beautiful, Deaf girl he met as a teenager. While they never had a dating relationship, he said the desire to take classes in ASL led to God’s call to minister to the Deaf.
     
    After spending a few years starting what is now known as the Canal Boulevard Baptist Deaf Church, he enrolled at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and finished with a doctor of theology degree in church history. He continued to serve the church for almost 12 years.
     
    He was eventually called to work with Deaf members of First Baptist Church (FBC) in Memphis, Tenn., where he served for nearly a decade. Wiltshire also served senior adults at FBC and led the church as interim acting pastor for nine months.
     
    The Deaf ministry, formerly led by Wiltshire, is currently affiliated with Kirby Woods Baptist Church in Memphis.
     
    When he was called to the BSC as special ministries consultant, Wiltshire knew his predecessor, Neal Peyton, and had worked with Peyton and Jerry Potter, another BSC Deaf worker who had begun BSC Deaf ministry in 1952, before coming to N.C.
     
    “The good things that my predecessor started, we were able to continue,” Wiltshire said in an interview with the Recorder. “We were also able to grow many areas.”
     
    He discussed expanding ministries in all the areas of his job, in addition to increasing attendance at the Happiness Retreat. Happiness Retreats offer five Christian camps for people with developmental disabilities during the summer.
     
    “We’ve been able to greatly expand English as a Second Language (ESL) ministries,” he said. “We know over the last 20 years, from statistics that we have gathered, more than 35,000 students that have been in literacy missions ministries and more than 12,000 tutors.”
     
    Wiltshire’s office keeps a list of churches and ministries that offer ESL and other classes. They check in with each ministry annually to keep attendance and other records up-to-date. He said there are more than 60 N.C. Baptist churches that offer ministries in this area.
     
    “In Deaf ministry, we have grown stronger in many ways, but the Deaf community is experiencing great change,” he said. “Part of that change is a secularization that has made it harder to win Deaf people for Christ, but we’re still doing so.”
     
    There have been other changes in the Deaf community, Wiltshire noted. He mentioned the residential Deaf school’s dwindling population. He said cochlear implants, improved prenatal care and other factors have contributed to the diminished size of the Deaf community.
     
    “The next generation of Deaf people coming along is very difficult to reach,” he said. “One of the real high points of all these years has been the Tri-State Deaf School of Theology, which [is] a training program started by my predecessors, but we have Deaf men and women from Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina who participate in college-level training by teachers who can teach in ASL.”
     
    Students earn credits toward a college degree, either through Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C., or Brewton Parker College in Mount Vernon, Ga. Approximately 150 students have taken courses over the past 20 years, Wiltshire said.
     
    Wiltshire and his wife Irma currently live in Cary, N.C. They have three children and seven grandchildren. The Wiltshires plan to travel to Southeast Asia beginning April 13 to visit family for several weeks.
     
    Wiltshire has agreed to edit Deaf Sunday School curriculum for LifeWay Christian Resources in retirement, and he also plans to continue his involvement with Deaf ministries in Texas.
     
    “I have no doubt … that I will be pretty actively involved in various ways,” he said.
     
    “It is my great desire that North Carolina will continue this legacy they have of caring for people who have special needs of various kinds and that we won’t lose these ministries.”

    4/1/2019 8:33:02 PM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Production Editor | with 0 comments
    Filed under: Deaf community, Donnie Wiltshire




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