A cup of tea often served as a connecting point for Karyn Wilton while raising her three children. Her son Rob, a church planter with the North American Mission Board, said, “She makes the best tea, and my life has been filled with thousands of hours of great conversation over tea. I’ve loved every second.”
Karyn is the wife of Don Wilton, the longtime pastor of Spartanburg First Baptist Church. “When God called us to full-time Christian ministry, it was Karyn who offered the selling of all our possessions, including all her wedding gifts, so that we could buy plane tickets to the USA. Her entire life has placed the highest premium on serving Jesus and never counting the cost,” Don said.
Son Greg is a NAMB missionary working with refugees. He described his mom as “grace personified.” He said, “She created an environment for my brother, sister and me where she tolerated ‘good trouble’ as a means of helping to keep us out of ‘bad trouble.’ In many ways it worked, because our mom fostered an environment of love while not being quick to judge us too harshly. She never interfered with my growing process, always there to help, always there to love, always there to enjoy our maturation even when we engaged in tons of good trouble.”
Growing up, Greg says he broke a few bones but recalled one particular incident when he broke his wrist in the backyard.
“When she realized that I had broken my wrist, she got me to sit down on the desk as she made herself a hot cup of tea. That has always been my mother, able to handle anything with dignity, grace, a little joy, and a lot of tea,” he said.
Karyn describes all her kids as fun-filled and determined — a trait that, at least partly, comes from her. Daughter Shelley today serves God in Sudan. She recalled one occasion when she was traveling with her parents in Canada. “My folks and I love sushi, and a particular meal started our sushi tradition. We ordered a nice platter to share. My mom saw the big blob of wasabi sitting there and decided to tell my dad it was mashed pistachio. We told Dad to eat the whole thing because it was best that way. Dad popped the whole thing in his mouth and knew after one chew he’d made a big mistake. My mom and I laughed so much, making a scene while my dad was trying to recover his senses!”
She said her mom thinks of everything. “If someone is coming over for a spontaneous cup of tea or if she is sending me a care package to South Sudan, the details are thoughtful. Endlessly prepared and pleasantly spontaneous, she has a gentle spirit. Never the loudest in the room, but I guarantee you, the most fun-loving.”
Rob noted that “the Lord has used her to impact thousands of people through her ministry alongside my dad, but her number one priority has always been Jesus and us. I love her so much for that.” Greg added, “Her mindset, her approach to all who come into her path, reflects a true desire to want all to experience God’s love, and that no one is beyond hope or redemption. Her heart beats deeply for a world that needs Jesus, and that extends from the closest family member to the most obscure stranger.”
Shelley pointed to her mom’s consistent Christian faith. “Under the watchful eye of people, my mom was the reason my faith stayed intact. While my dad ministered to the world, my mom ministered to me. Of course, my dad’s faithfulness and biblical teachings still, to this day, have a profound impact on me.” Something her mom modeled before her and taught her has stuck with her throughout life. “She told me I could ‘speak my truth,’ but it had to be delivered in a way that was respectful to others. She never made me feel disregarded in a world in which I felt small.”
Karyn said she prayed “that my sons would become mighty warriors of the cross of Christ and that my daughter would become a strong woman for Christ. God has answered my prayers.”
Her formula for raising godly children is simple and powerful, emphasizing that her children “were not my own but on loan to me from God — and only for a short period. I did not want to disappoint my Heavenly Father by not doing the very best I could to love and nurture my children. The blessings that accompany answered prayer are endless.”
Her dad was also a pastor. She says, “My dad taught me to love the Lord, and my husband showed me what it means to follow after God. My sons encourage me because of the tenacity and determination of their love for their wives, the depth of their commitment to raising their sons and daughters in the Lord, and Shelley constantly inspires me because she is a living demonstration of answered prayer.”
Karyn says, “I have a thousand memories of my children and (eight) grandchildren. They bring me constant joy.” Her advice for mothers raising children today is summarized with, “Lead your children, with unconditional love, to accept Jesus as their own personal Savior and Lord. Let them be themselves. It was more important for my children to love the Lord, love one another, love their home and be secure — than to be the pastor’s children! Depend on the Holy Spirit always and do not be in a constant state of distraction with phones and social media. Always have loads of fun, never-ending memories. What your children hear you say, see you do, and watch you eat and drink will, most likely, become their own pattern of life. Christ is their only anchor, and their home is their primary sowing field.”
Don said, “Karyn has been totally devoted to me and totally loving to our children and totally surrendered to her Savior every minute of our 45-year marriage. I love her today more than ever!”