Niles pastor to make mark in Dowagiac

Published 6:26 pm Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Noel Wilton, of Niles, interim pastor at First Christian Church on Oak Street, brings Dowagiac a wealth of life experiences upon which to draw for his musical sermons.



Wilton, who accompanies his preaching on a Yamaha keyboard, was born in South Africa into a “very English family,” lived through the violent transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe and, as a licensed pilot, combined his other passion by flying missions to northern Ontario, Canada.

He’s lived all over the United States, too, from Tennessee to Florida, and, since 1978, in Southwest Michigan.

“The two things I love in life are preaching and flying. I had my own airplane up until 2010,” he said.

Born into the Methodist Church on Sept. 24, 1938, in Durban, and “brought up in the ways of a little English gentleman,” he underwent a conversion and was baptized in 1961 in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Durban.

“Having experienced a genuine conversion myself, I make the rebirth Jesus taught in John chapter three the basis of all my preaching and teaching,” said Wilton, who belongs to the Seventh-day Adventist Church on Hill Street in Dowagiac.

He studied theology at Heiderberg College in Cape Province, South Africa.

Wilton studied music in Durban with a teacher affiliated with the Royal School of Music in London, England.

“Most of the music I perform in conjunction with my sermons during worship services or in other public venues are my own compositions born of personal experiences gained over the years along the path of faith, or inspired by events or teachings found in certain passages of scripture,” Wilton said.

He taught English and Bible at Malamulo College in Malawi and at Lower Gwelo College in Rhodesia.

He served as pastor of the Gwelo Church in Rhodesia in the 1970s, when the white British colonial vestige gave way to indigenous African rule.

“It was at the height of the terrorist war,” he said Tuesday. “I know what it’s like to live through that type of thing. I had a number of church members who farmed in rural areas. I had to visit them on dirt roads. These guys were laying mines all over the place. I prayed many times, ‘Lord, I’m doing your work. You better protect me.’ The army would tell me when I got home to go to the police station so they’d know I got there safely because of terrorist activity. If I get there, I’m already safe. If I don’t get there, how would they know where I am?”

Over the years, he conducted many revivals and evangelistic series, both here in the U.S. and overseas.

First Christian Church started 2013 without a pastor after the departure of Jon Den Houter. For a while ,Noel and hospital chaplain Terry Perkins alternated.

“I love those people and their church services, and we fit perfectly,” Wilton said. “About a month ago, Ted Wallace asked if I’d be interim pastor. They’ve had plenty of time to find out who I am. They love my messages and my music, and that beautiful old church with the high ceilings, it sounds purely beautiful, like nowhere else I’ve played. I understand I’m not there to make Adventists. I’m there to reconcile them to God and with one another because of the rift caused when Jon left.”

Hiewas searching for a place in his 20s and explored Baptist and Anglican churches.

“I could never find what I was looking for until an Australian Seventh-day Adventist evangelist came to Durban and opened the Bible to me and 20,000 other people. I resisted at first, but everything fell into place. I had certain problems in my life. One day, I called him, so desperate I contemplated taking my life. I poured out my heart to him in the vestry. We prayed, tears streaming down my cheeks. When I got up off my knees, I knew I was not the same person and never would be again. My life changed in that moment. It was a miraculous conversion, and I’ve never looked back. I wish everyone could have that experience.”

In 1980, he graduated with an associate’s degree in industrial technology in aviation from Andrews University in Berrien Springs.

He worked as an airframe and power plant mechanic with FAA inspector authorization, including preparing aircraft for overseas mission service.

As a licensed pilot, he flew two mission projects to Canada.

In his younger years in the 1950s, Wilton, as part of an Air Scout training program, flew for a short period with the South African Air Force Coastal Command.

He occasionally gives illustrated lectures on design and development of Britain’s famous World War II fighter, the Supermarine Spitfire, and on the Battle of Britain, which in 1940 “virtually changed the outcome of World War II.”

— Dowagiac Daily News