Fishing, camping, cooking over a campfire, and eating at picnic tables in the shade are far from unique at Marion County Lake, but one group that spent Friday night at the lake was unique. Most used a language not known to the majority: American Sign Language.
Pitching their tents at the lake were 15 members, ranging from children to adults, of Silent Bible Baptist Church in Wichita.
The group plans a summer camping trip as a fellowship opportunity most years, though the weather isn’t always as accommodating as it was Friday and Saturday, pastor Ron Wilcoxson said.
Members fished, played at the water’s edge, and generally enjoyed Saturday’s moderate weather.
At the church, one of a handful of deaf churches in the state, services are delivered in sign language and interpreted into spoken word. In most churches with deaf members, services are delivered in spoken word and interpreted into sign language.
“We’re the biggest deaf church in Wichita,” Wilcoxson said. “We might even be the biggest deaf church in the state.”
Average Sunday attendance is 30, but has peaked as high as 79 during special services.
The group last camped in Marion County two years ago, pitching tents at Marion Reservoir.
“We were scheduled to go to Fall River this time, but that just didn’t work out,” Wilcoxson said.
Besides fishing and sleeping in tents, the group visits, observes nature, and shares meals, Wilcoxson said.
“That’s what we call ‘bellyship,’” Wilcoxson said.
Members come from near and far. Besides Wichita, members drive from Hillsboro, Hutchinson, and Kansas City.
“Occasionally a church in Hutchinson will join us for activities,” Wilcoxson said.
Friendly Baptist Deaf Church in Hutchinson was seeded by Silent Bible Baptist.
“My vision’s always been that we have a bigger deaf church in Wichita,” Wilcoxson said. “It’s not that we get more people to come to our church; it’s that we want to reach more people.”
Marvin Ebersole, a hearing member of the congregation, said he liked the teaching taking place at the church.
“Honestly, I’ve learned more from this man than I’ve learned my whole life,” Ebersole said.
Although Silent Bible Baptist was begun by Wilcoxson’s father, Kendall Wilcoxson, in 1969, it has had other ministers over the years. After one pastor went to Texas to minister there, the congregation was left without a leader.
In 2005, two members of the church went to Kansas City, where Wilcoxson owned a business with his wife, Betty, to ask whether he would consider stepping into the church’s pulpit.
Wilcoxson admitted he’d been having yearnings to go into deaf ministry, but he was doing well as a businessman. After praying and thinking, he was convinced the Lord was leading him back to Wichita.
Kendall Wilcoxson lost his hearing while serving in the military, his son said. Although Ron Wilcoxson grew up adept in both sign and spoken language, as an adult he has lost much of his own hearing.