Now, God has given Wilson a still-deeper passion for telling others about Jesus Christ.
It initially was God's vehicle to carry Wilson and his wife Angela from city to city before landing them in Mountville, Pa., as church planters. Martial arts remain a huge aspect of their ministry at their church plant, The Connection.
"People come in to take Kung Fu classes, and we start building this relationship, this trust," said Wilson, a Mission Service Corps missionary with the North American Mission Board. "After a period of time, they're willing to listen to what you have to say, and as time goes on, I'll invite them to church....
"And that is basically what church planting really is. It's building relationships with people."
Although he had wanted to be a martial arts teacher, Wilson never thought it would be possible. "I went back and forth with my parents, and it was always the same thing: I needed to get a real job."
In his early 20s, Wilson left behind martial arts and went to work in a chemical plant. Just one year later, he was unexpectedly laid off. His days suddenly were filled with hours of free time bookended by driving Angela to and from work. Like many in his situation, Wilson was left wondering if there was any sort of plan or purpose for his life.
"Being laid off work, I would just watch TV when Angela was at work," Wilson said. "And one day I happened to flip to Pat Robertson and the '700 Club.' He was talking about Jesus being our Lord and Savior, and it was like he was talking directly to me."
Wilson dropped to his knees in his living room and asked Christ into his life.
"I was crying out to the Lord, 'Come into my life. Make me into the person You want me to be. I lost my job.... I don't know what I'm going to do.'"
Within days, Wilson began to see God answer his prayers. Angela returned from work one day with a story about two co-workers who found themselves in an unexpected scuffle on their lunch break. She told the two men about Ron's martial arts experience, and three weeks later he received a phone call from them asking for a few Kung Fu lessons.
Within nine months, Wilson's Kung Fu classes had grown from just a handful of men in his living room to nearly 45 people weekly. Soon, the Wilsons decided the time was right to move forward with Ron's long-buried dream of teaching martial arts, and they opened a Kung Fu studio in South Jersey.
Wilson began to see his work in martial arts not just as a career but an opportunity for evangelism. He began having one-on-one time with some of his students, studying the Bible and talking with them after class.
In his classes, he incorporated Scripture memorization, designating a Scripture verse with each Kung Fu ranking as well as a devotional amid each class relating principles learned in Kung Fu to the truth of the Christian life.
"It ties in so great," he said. "Once you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit dwells in you, and at that point you have to let go of resistance and let someone else fill you up. This letting go, not resisting, is essential to the practice of martial arts."
God continued to nurture a passion for evangelism in the Wilsons, placing a call on their lives to a greater field of service.
"We just felt God calling us to take this to another level," Wilson said. "It felt like God didn't want me just teaching Kung Fu anymore."
Together the couple moved to Michigan where Ron enrolled in the New Tribes Bible Institute to further develop his knowledge and skill for evangelism. After one year, they returned to New Jersey to continue work in their Kung Fu school while also launching various initiatives to reach their community for Christ.
"I had this thirst, and I felt God giving me the ability to go out there and really share the Gospel," Wilson said.
When Wilson met a pastor, Norm Blackaby, the two quickly hit it off and bonded over their experiences in Kung Fu and ministry. Blackaby saw Wilson's Kung Fu classes as a perfect outreach ministry and directed him to the North American Mission Board for assistance.
"I came to NAMB, and they helped me figure out how I can do this as an evangelistic outreach program," Wilson said. "I came up with my own curriculum with Bible verses and using martial arts to tell people about Jesus Christ."
For Wilson, the life and career he now has have far exceeded his childhood dreams.
"A lot of times young people think, 'If I come to know the Lord, I won't be able to do this or that.' That's not the way He works," Wilson said. "He loves us and He knows us better than anybody. And if you follow Him, He'll give you the desires of your heart in a way you never expected -- in His way, to glorify Him."
Sara Shelton writes for the North American Mission Board. To view a video about Ron Wilson and missionaries like him, visit http://www.namb.net/namb1cbvideo.aspx?id=8589998121.
Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net