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Sellout

Sellout

Don Shire left the business world to become a trumpet-playing missionary
  • Linda Piepenbrink
  • October 1, 2019

Back in 1989 Don Shire ’76–’78 was a partner in a successful computer business. He took his wife, Kathy (Johnson ’73–’74) Shire, and young children to church on Sundays and lived as a good person during the week.

And he couldn’t have been more miserable.

“I was living the life where it’s just ho-hum Christianity,” Don says. “I was raised better than that, and Moody taught me better than that.”

He couldn’t imagine then how God would use a trumpet and Don’s soon-to-be surrendered life to change lives around the world.

From Decision to Detour

As a high school junior, Don committed his life to full-time Christian service when he went forward at the Christian Youth Center in Joliet, Illinois. Don was mentored by its dynamic founder, the late Harv Russel ’50, and was good friends with Rollie Lindstrom ’76, who later served as a pastor and director of Moody’s Alumni Association. Don also met his future wife there.

Kathy attended Moody for two years, studying Communications before they married. Then Don enrolled as a double-major in Christian Education and Music, and played his trumpet in the Symphonic Band, led by a ’57 alum. “Gerald Edmonds was the band director at that time, and he was a great encouragement to me,” says Don, who started playing trumpet in churches too.

Besides his studies, Don started a family and worked as a youth pastor in Calumet City, Illinois. Overwhelmed, he quit school with just one semester to go for a three-year diploma. “Honestly, I wish I would have finished,” he says. “But I had a job so I figured I’d use that two-and-a-half years and just get going.”

Don did youth ministry for about five years—until the computer business opportunity came his way, and soon ministry began to take a back seat to making a living.

“It’s just so easy to let things creep in a little bit at a time and draw you away and distract you from what you’re supposed to be doing—and from your relationship with God,” he says.

A Major Turnaround

Don knew God wanted first place in his life. So he made a decision to rededicate his life to Christ. “That was when I asked forgiveness and said, ‘Lord, if you can still use me, show me where,’” he says. “And from that point on, doors began to fly open for ministry.”

The trumpet was suddenly back in service as an evangelistic tool. Don began playing traditional and contemporary Christian songs, often with videos, in church concerts on the weekends. Then he added short-term mission trips, sometimes with a team of people. Soon he was taking six to eight weeks off from work each year for mission travel. The ministry was growing, and he realized he couldn’t do both indefinitely. “One I loved, the other one I didn’t,” he recalls. “It seemed like a no-brainer.”

“I just didn’t want to be one of those people who said, ‘Yeah, I went to Moody and was going to be a missionary, but then I got into debt and I got married. And I often wonder, What if I would have?’ I just didn’t want that to be.”

So he said, “Kathy, just give me a few years. If God blesses us, we’ll keep going. I’d rather try and fail than not try at all.”

With Kathy’s full agreement, he quit his job in 1995 and started Don Shire Ministries—a full time, nonprofit, global ministry of music and missions (donshireministries.org). They sold everything, leaving the Chicago suburbs to buy a cheaper home with no house payment in northern Wisconsin.

As “a wandering minstrel,” Don committed to stay as debt free as possible while playing for love offerings. No negotiating contracts for him. “To me the biggest insult is when a church says they can’t afford me. I want to go where God opens doors. So I’ve been to big churches but also the tiniest of churches.”

A Trumpet-Playing Missionary

God has used Don’s trumpet to open doors to the gospel in 35 countries and many unlikely places— from prisons in Poland and jungle tribes in Venezuela to the mountains of Myanmar and Muslim villages in Ghana. “If I was an evangelist, they’d run me out. But because I’m American and play trumpet, they’re intrigued,” he says. “Even Muslim chiefs will say, ‘Yeah, go ahead; do a concert for my village.’ I start playing my trumpet, people come. Through an interpreter we share the gospel, and churches are planting.”

His travels have exposed him to heart-wrenching needs, spawning other ministries. During an evangelistic tour in India, he visited a pastor who had 40 street children sleeping under a tarp tent on church property. When the rice ran out, the kids were back on the streets, begging for their next meal. “They weren’t going to school, they were living in rags,” he recalls. Right then Don decided to try to be their spokesperson. “I came home with what I thought was an impossible task: how were we going to feed 40 kids every day?”

Don began presenting the need in his concerts, and God provided. On other trips to India he saw widows begging on the street. He bought rice paddies so the widows could harvest rice, and sewing machines so they could create colorful scarves for Don to sell at his concerts. The scarf sales provide enough to support 220 widows, he says.

In Haiti, he saw a vital need to help orphans with special needs and fully supports Jehovah Rapha House, which currently cares for 29 children. One little girl was rescued from the middle of a busy intersection where her father had left her. “In Haiti’s voodoo culture, a child with special needs is seen as a curse,” Kathy points out. They are often abandoned on the streets and in garbage dumps. But the Haitian government knows they can bring them to Jehovah Rapha House.

When Don visits, the children snuggle on his lap and call him Grandpa. With 10 grandchildren of his own, he takes it hard when he hears the sad news that two disabled kids died from health complications and cancer in the same week, and one of the widows in India died the previous week after open heart surgery. “It’s been tough,” Don says softly.

Yet he responds as he believes Jesus would. About 600 orphans and widows depend on Don Shire Ministries for food, shelter, surgeries, and school fees. Most are in India. “We have five homes for widows, four orphanages, and a sponsorship program where we place children into the homes of Indian pastors,” Don says.

“We are at a point now where we send out about $28,000 a month to support orphans and widows before we even pay our own light bill,” he says. “But God keeps providing for it, so it’s pretty amazing.”

Besides two part-time employees, Kathy says the Lord has blessed them with an army of volunteers. From setting up Don’s concerts to sending out their monthly newsletter and arranging the details of their short-term mission trips, “people just give of their time. We’re very humbled by that.”

While monthly supporters provide 60 percent of the money needed for Don Shire Ministries, the rest comes from unpredictable sources: love offerings, CD and scarf sales, and God touching hearts to give.

One day a volunteer was going through the mail and preparing a bank deposit. Don said, “There should be a check in there today.” When the volunteer asked from whom, Don replied, “I don’t know, but we have a big need!”

The volunteer opened the next envelope and said, “Is $12,000 enough?”

“The stories just go on and on,” Don says with a laugh. “We get to see God truly reveal Himself in some very special ways.”

Kathy, who has been to every ministry location but often stays home to save money, says, “Our ministry has never, ever borrowed a penny. We just do things as the Lord provides.”

Thanks to a nephew’s idea, for nearly 20 years the Shires have also been leading Caribbean mission cruises for 40 to 50 people with prearranged ministry opportunities at each port—visiting orphanages, prisons, churches for VBS, schools, and parks. “It’s a great way for a Christian to take a cruise and use it for the Lord,” Don says.

At 64 years old, Don has no plans to retire (“I’m doing what I love. It’s what I would do if I was retired.”). But Don and Kathy are praying about how to sustain Don Shire Ministries long-term.

Living by faith may not be the best business plan, he adds, “but it’s God’s plan.” Plus, Kathy “finally got the husband she thought she was getting when she married me.”

Kathy smiles. “For a wife just to see her husband finally happy in what he’s doing and fulfilled in what he’s doing, that’s huge,” she says. “I can look at Don today and see that he absolutely loves what he’s doing and that God is blessing it.”

Don says, “I still make a lot less money than I did 24 years ago when we left the business. But I wouldn’t trade what I get to do now for anything in the world.”

About the Author

  • Linda Piepenbrink

Linda Piepenbrink is managing editor of Moody Alumni News and senior editor for Moody’s Marketing Communications department.