Four-year-old Shirley Ann shivers in the cold wind while standing with her daddy and the other members of Gum Pond Primitive Baptist Church. Some of the men were breaking through the ice of Scout Pond for the baptism service. Recently, her mama had accepted the Lord, was saved, and, in a few minutes, would be immersed in the frigid waters––“buried with Christ and raised to new life.”
“I always went church,” Shirley Ann Carlson remembers. “Mama had a blanket at the end of the pew for me to lay on when the services went long.”
The only child of tobacco farmers, and raised in Wayne County, North Carolina, Carlson says she learned early the value of faith, family, and land. “Daddy always told me that ‘land was money in the bank.’”
Her parents had survived the Great Depression and instilled in their daughter a strong work ethic and a powerful desire to help those in need around her, a desire that turned into a lifetime of ministry.
Carlson remembers the joys of her close-knit childhood family, the many cousins she
played with as a child remain friends today. She learned the value of an education, dreamed of becoming a nurse, and one day having a family of her own. The years passed quickly and Carlson grew into a beautiful young lady.
She never thought agreeing to a blind date in 1964 with an airman from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base would change her life, but it did. Roger was from Jamestown, New York and was smitten by this daughter of a tobacco farmer.
“Roger’s roommate dated my girlfriend,” she recounts. “It was just a date. But it was a date that led to a romance and engagement.”
The two married in 1965, Roger left the military in 1966, and Lorie was born in 1967. Three more children came into the family over the years: David, Jen, and Michael.
When attending Emmaus Baptist Church in Dudley, NC, the Lord began to work in the couple’s life. They talked a lot about what was happening in their hearts and agreed they would make professions of faith.
“I always felt God in my life and felt I was a good person, I thought that was enough. But knowing Jesus is different,” she says.
In 1972, Shirley and Roger gave their lives to Christ and the two were baptized on the same day.
Their new journey with the Lord took a major turn in 1983 when Roger was called into the ministry. The family moved to Transylvania County for Roger to attend Mars Hill College. After graduation, Roger was called as pastor of Glen Raven Baptist Church in Kinston, NC. Shirley had earned her nursing degree and worked at the local hospital.
“God always moved us to where He wanted us to be,” Carlson says. “We served at three more churches and then heard God tell us that He no longer wanted us to serve in the Father’s house, He wanted us to serve in the Lord’s field.”
Immediately, the couple shared the news of God’s new calling with their church and made contact with the North American Mission Board. In a few short months, they were volunteer missionaries and on their way to plant a church in Weaverville, NC.
“We worked with families living in a large trailer park,” Carlson remembers, “and started from the ground up to begin North View Baptist Mission, which continues to serve those families today. It was the most wonderful thing I have ever been a part of, I loved it.”
The couple, now both in their 50s, supported themselves working jobs in the community while serving there for three and a half years. They next served ten years in Pennsylvania working at various mission points and churches and served as project coordinators for the North Carolina Baptist and Pennsylvania partnership. In one year, the couple were involved in mission projects in five states: Kentucky, Vermont, Montana, Pennsylvania, and Mississippi––coining a new word to reply to the question, “Where did you serve this year?” “Kenvermonpenippi” was their answer.
In 2016, Roger was 72 and Shirley turned 68. Both agreed upon retirement, deciding to settle back in North Carolina. They chose to make Asheboro their home because it was central to their grown children and grandchildren who live throughout the state. But retirement didn’t mean they would not be serving. Roger is pastor of Staley Baptist Church and a Baptist on Mission volunteer and Shirley serves in the North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry’s (NCBAM) Call Center located at Mills Home in nearby Thomasville.
Serving four years with NCBAM, Carlson says last year was the most challenging. She says every call in the Call Center was about letting aging adults know they were not alone during the pandemic.
“Our clients were afraid,” she says. “My heart went out to everyone as we helped meet needs and encourage each one. I never hung up the phone without praying.”
In January, Carlson began volunteering two days a week at the Davidson County Health Department administering almost 650 COVID-19 vaccinations. “It was clear, God told me to do it.” As always, Carlson acted on God’s direction.
Carlson says that NCBAM may be her last job, but she and Roger remain open to do whatever God desires for them to do.
To this day, her lifetime of ministry continues.
Written by Jim Edminson, Editor of Charity & Children