Charles and Margie Wilson recently retired as North American Mission Board missionaries. Twenty-six of their 32 years of ministry were spent as directors of the Wheelwright Baptist Center in Floyd County.
PRESTONSBURG – When Jeff Craft wound up in Wheelwright nine years ago, the California native never dreamed that the long road he traveled to the eastern Kentucky town would lead to such joy.
Yet, thanks to missionaries Charles and Margie Wilson, the man who once would fight “at the drop of a hat” is now a follower of Christ.
“With their help, I became a more patient person,” said Craft, who first visited the Wheelwright Baptist Center in 2004.
“Any time I need help, they’ve been there to give me guidance,” he said. “I have learned to be content, whether rich or poor, hungry or full.”
Such tributes flowed like a mountain stream at the recent reception honoring the Wilsons at the Fitzpatrick First Baptist Church activities center in Prestonsburg.
Bound for their home state of Georgia, the couple retired Aug. 31 after 32 years as missionaries with the North American Mission Board.
Twenty-six of those years were in this state, with the Kentucky Baptist Convention helping support their ministry.
According to Eric Allen, there are many stories similar to Craft’s, with 396 professions of faith recorded at the Wheelwright center since 1986. Allen is Kentucky Baptist Convention’s Missions Growth Team leader.
In addition, Wilson preached nearly 4,000 sermons as pastor of First Baptist Church of Wheelwright, Allen told the crowd.
“One of these days when you get to heaven there will be a lot of people thanking you for what you’ve done,” he told the couple.
“You have given your lives to the people of Floyd County. You have listened to them and cried with them. You will be missed.”
Tom Biddle, director of missions for Enterprise Baptist Association, said he will miss Mrs. Wilson’s personal assistance as his part-time secretary for the past 13 years.
“This room will hold all of us but it won’t begin to hold the lives of all those you have touched over the years,” Biddle said.
The DOM noted that the Wilsons served such diverse roles as taxi drivers, home repair contractors, mission team hosts, and leaders of a thriving deaf ministry in the region.
Their daughter, Amy Armstrong of Florence, recalled growing up in Toledo, Ohio, and later Wheelwright without much money but feeling like one of the richest kids around.
“God always provided and we had everything we needed,” she said. “I remember many Thanksgivings we had a table full of people not related to me.”
Some guests from long distances attended the reception. Among them were Francisco Espinoza of Toledo, Ohio, and deaf ministry pioneer Tina McFarland Savelyev, who does mission work in central Asia.
“They were a different kind of pastoral team,” Espinoza said of the impression the Wilsons made at Western Avenue Baptist Church. “I was used to pastors who didn’t go into the neighborhood.
“Charles tried to get people to participate in their own solution and do for themselves. They did a lot of good work.”
A former KBC employee who lived in the mountains from 1992-96, Savelyev said it wasn’t necessary to persuade the couple back then that deaf ministry was needed in the region.
“They were helpful to me in gathering of data, but we were on the same page when in recognizing that relationships were paramount,” Savelyev said. “In the process, our friendship with each other grew and became a treasure.”
Such friendship characterizes the way they have touched current members of First Baptist, such as children’s Sunday school teacher Jayne Henson.
Henson recalled being on the wrong path before she accepted Christ in 2008, thanks to the Wilsons.
“I became involved in (groups like) Alcoholics Anonymous and am spreading the gospel and teaching others about Christ,” Henson said.
Such success stories represent one of the couple’s favorite memories of their ministry career.
“We’ve worked with so many people with special problems and watched God change them,” Wilson said.
“I’ve always explained that basically what I do is provide them with the tools so that they can begin to let Christ take over their lives and change the way their lives are running.”
For Mrs. Wilson, who took continuing education courses to master sign language, she hopes her deaf ministry role will continue in Georgia.
“I’ve tried to help deaf people see that a relationship with Jesus Christ is the best thing that they can have,” she said.
Their move south is tentatively set for mid-September. It will take them closer to daughters Melinda Adkins and Marcha Thompson, six grandchildren, and Mrs. Wilson’s brother, Joe Ogletree.
Initially, they will return to their home church, Sweetwater Baptist in Thomson, which supported them on the mission field throughout their careers.
However, they may not stay long. Wilson said that serving as an interim pastor may be his next ministry after they settle into their new home.
No matter where they wind up, though, they said they will carry fond memories of Kentucky Baptists.
Mrs. Wilson expressed appreciation for the KBC’s help for their ministry tasks: “We feel that they have been very supportive.”
Out of all of the areas that they have worked in with NAMB, Kentucky demonstrated superior support, openness and willingness to resolve tough issues, her husband said.
“One thing I tremendously appreciate is the ability to work with us and not run away from the problems,” Wilson said.
The Kentucky Baptist Convention announced today that ownership of the ministry center will be transferred to Wheelwright native David Boyd and his wife, Stephanie. The Boyds are moving from West Virginia to Wheelwright later this month.