By Vicki Brown
Don Wideman is a grateful man who, these days, concentrates on family and an adult Sunday school class at First Baptist Church in North Kansas City, Mo.
The executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention from 1987 to 1997 smiled broadly when he admitted he does not spend much time reminiscing about the past.
Instead, he said he prefers to live in the present and its opportunities to share his story with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
In fact, he has written his life story. “I did it mainly for the kids, not for publication.”
Wideman didn’t intend to become a pastor.
Instead, he, wife Marian and his brother were part of the St. Louis-based gospel group The Lesters in the 1940s. Then they formed their own gospel group of 25 youth, the Gospel Union Band. They had a radio program and traveled a great deal.
“I was a super-serious, young old man,” he said.
Often at ministry stops, people asked Wideman if he had considered that God might be calling him to the pastoral ministry. In fact, three members of one church pulled him aside after one program and asked him to consider becoming their pastor. Then, during a revival service on July 9, 1953, Wideman surrendered to God’s call to ministry.
“I didn’t go to college until I was 32,” he said.
He was licensed to the ministry in December that year and ordained two years later.
At one time early in his ministry, he juggled being a pastor, bandleader and a full-time employee elsewhere.
Wideman served first as an assistant pastor in Festus, Mo., and then as pastor of four other Missouri churches, the last being First Baptist in North Kansas City, before accepting the state leadership post.
Though he retired as executive director in 1997 at the age of 70, within a few weeks he was at his desk as executive director of the Partee Center for Baptist Studies at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo. He retired from MBC in August, moved in September and went to work that week.
He served at Partee for six years, retiring in 2003. Then he became Jewell’s interim chaplain when then-chaplain Jerry Cain accepted the presidency at Judson College in Elgin, Ill. Wideman served as chair of the search committee for Cain’s replacement and was tapped as interim again when the new chaplain passed away.
Regardless of his position, Wideman has maintained strong ties to the former Soviet republic of Belarus. As MBC executive director, he connected Missouri churches with Baptists in that country.
“The contact with Belarus helped Missouri churches become mission-minded,” he said.
He and Marian returned to Belarus in 2000 for the dedication of a church. Marian worked hard for the country as well.
Well-known for her creativity, she has produced and sold angel pins for several years. That has allowed her to contribute more than $11,000 to the children’s camp in Belarus and another $3,000 to $4,000 to the Baptist House of Mercy, a ministry to aging men and women in Belarus.
Health issues have slowed Marian down a little for about a year and a half, but she is “hoping to do more” with the pins, she said.
She has always been part of Wideman’s ministry. “It’s been quite a journey and I’m glad I was part of it,” she said.
After leaving convention work, Wideman participated in a group for retired Baptist executive directors.
“There aren’t many left,” he said. “It was a joyful experience for us, a very accepting group.”
Though he doesn’t share much about the changes that have taken place at the MBC, the former executive director wants to be remembered “for doing everything I could to get Missouri Baptists to work together,” he said.
Though he would like to travel more, health issues restrict going too far. But he feels “complete,” he said.
Family has been the center of his life throughout his ministry, and he has watched all four of his children serve the Lord. “One of my fears when God called me to ministry was what would happen to my children,” he admitted.
Wideman sums up his life and ministry with gratitude.
“I am a grateful man, grateful for what God has done,” he said. “I didn’t grow up in a Christian home and was 20 years old before I went to church.
“I’m grateful for the life, the family and the church God has given me,” he said.