BSC deaf ministry important to those in field
    November 4 2009 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

    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.”

    Contributed photo

    Daniel Johnson pastors a deaf congregation at Forest Hills Baptist Church in Wilson.

    “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 by example.”

    “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 from him.”

    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 Divinity School.

    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 ministry.

    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.)

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    11/4/2009 5:34:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 1 comments

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