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College town grieves, ponders 17-month-old’s sudden death

BUIES CREEK, N.C. (BP)–Baptists in this college town are struggling to understand the death of a 17-month-old child of a professor and minister.

Henderson Jake Ballard, son of Wayne and Kim Ballard of Buies Creek, N.C., died unexpectedly May 7.

Wayne Ballard is an assistant professor of religion in Campbell University’s religion department and divinity school. He is also interim pastor at Westfield Baptist Church in Dunn. Kim Ballard is the minister of children at First Baptist Church, Buies Creek.

Jake, as his family and friends called him, died in his sleep in the church nursery during a business meeting at the Buies Creek church. Preliminary autopsy reports showed no visible signs of trauma and the case is officially listed as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Wayne Ballard said.

During funeral services May 10 at First Baptist Church, pastor J. Michael Simmons said he didn’t know why Jake died.

“The first question we always ask is ‘Why?'” Simmons said. “Sometimes, God doesn’t give an immediate answer.”

Simmons said he pictures Jake sitting on Jesus’ knee. “One of the things the New Testament tells us about Jesus is he loved children,” Simmons said.

The pastor said he asked the family to tell him their favorite “Jake stories.”

Jake’s older brothers, Brack and Zachary, spoke of how their younger brother loved to head-butt them in the stomach, a move that had become known as “bonking.”

Kim Ballard told of how Jake would react with excitement when the school bus arrived with his older brothers. Jake’s grandparents remembered his birth and told of what a happy boy he was.

“These are precious memories,” Simmons said.

Wayne Ballard sang two songs that he said Jake loved, but at the same time hated because he knew when he heard them it was time to go to sleep. The first song was a Hebrew lullaby based on Deuteronomy 6. The second was a lullaby Ballard wrote.

“One of my fondest memories is playing that lullaby and watching him go to sleep,” he said.

After Ballard finished singing, he looked at his son’s casket and said, “I love you, Jake.”

In Jake’s memory, the Henderson Jake Ballard Memorial Scholarship Fund has been established at Campbell University’s religion department, P.O. Box 97, Buies Creek, N.C. 27506.

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