Jim Burton, 63, international photojournalist and storyteller, died on May 10 after living with ALS for 6 years. He was a resident of Cumming but had been living at a skilled nursing care facility in Dahlonega since July 2018.
Burton’s career spanned 4 decades and included travel throughout Europe, the Far East, and Russia as a premier writer and photographer for the Southern Baptist Convention. Prior to joining the nation’s largest Protestant denomination his work appeared in newspapers throughout the Southeast, including the Dallas Morning News.
Burton was known for stories of faith that were told through a variety of cultural backgrounds around the world. He used his award-winning photography to visually portray the emotions that brought his subjects to life.
His faith journey with ALS was featured in the magazine of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association the morning following his passing at www.DecisionMagazine.com. He was also profiled on March 28 in a story in Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist news service.
Burton had worked for the former Baptist Brotherhood Commission in Memphis, TN, and the North American Mission Board in suburban Atlanta. But his work appeared in publications throughout the denomination, including the International Mission Board in Richmond, VA.
Through those agencies his stories sought to encourage laity to identify their spiritual gifts and apply them through volunteer services through their churches. His career was cut short in a 2010 downsizing at the North American Mission Board and was further impacted in 2013 with a diagnosis of ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. But that terminal illness did not slow down his storytelling. In fact, he used it to begin a new career as an author of novels and non-fiction
From his wheelchair he launched a series of faith-based novels in the Jake and Shannon Blue series which sought to undergird the faith of Millennials. He also authored Life in the Blue Zone which explored the faith walk he and his wife encountered with his diagnosis and his wife’s encounter with and survival of breast cancer. Additionally, he authored the inspirational book The Three Gardens: The Path to Re-Discovering God.”
Shortly after his diagnosis he determined that he did not want ALS to define him. “I do not want to be remembered only as that guy with ALS,” he said in his recent
interview with Baptist Press. Part of his new identity was through his ongoing writing of novels and non-fiction books
“I decided very early that I did not want this to define me. I still don’t; above all else I want to be remembered as a disciple of Christ and a father and husband with a family that I adore.”
In the story he related that he believed in miracles of all kinds and was a living testimony of their existence. Most individuals survive only three to five years but by April 2019 he had surpassed the 6-year mark. He remained a curiosity to his doctors who studied his condition.
Burton was a graduate of Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky; Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas; and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana where he received his doctorate degree. He served as a strategy consultant for Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Precepts Ministries, founded by Christian author and speaker Kay Arthur. Burton also served as bi-vocational pastor of the English-speaking congregation at Sugarloaf Korean Baptist Church in Duluth.
Burton, a native of Madisonville, KY, was married to Kim Ballard Burton of Cumming, Georgia for 39 years, who survives him. He leaves two sons: James B. Burton III of Roswell and his wife, Jadie Burton; and Jacob E. Burton of Nashville. And two grandchildren, James B. Burton IV and Lizabeth Lee Burton of Roswell.
Other survivors include a brother, Jeffrey H. Burton of Kansas City, Missouri and his wife, Patti; Rae Ballard, mother in law, Madisonville, Ky. four in-laws: Michael J. Ballard of Bowling Green, Kentucky and wife Annette Ballard; and Bradley S. Ballard, Patrick T. Ballard, and Mary E. Ballard, all of Madisonville, Kentucky; three aunts: Bette Hanberry of Owensboro, Ky. Alma Hanberry of Louisville, Ky., and Rachel Reavis of Galax, Va.; mother-in-law: Rachel Ballard of Madisonville, KY; and six nieces and nephews. He also leaves a close friend who he mentored, Adrian Young Kim of Duluth.
Visitation will be at Ingram Funeral Home in Cumming, Georgia from 5 -8 p.m. on Thursday May 16th. A memorial service, officiated by Dr. Stan Bailey of Cumming, will be held on the morning of Friday May 17th at 11:00 am, also at Ingram Funeral Home. A graveside service will be held on Saturday May 18th at 10 am at the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Madisonville, Kentucky.
Individuals preferring to not send flowers are welcome to contribute online to Jesus Spoken Here at JesusSpokenHere.com or by check to Jesus Spoken Here, 5918 Mount Water Trail, Buford, GA 30518.
Ingram Funeral Home and Crematory, 210 Ingram Ave., Cumming, GA 30040 is in charge of arrangements.