LIVINGSTON, La. (BP)–Don’t let his name fool you, or the fact that he has no legs. Wimp Ballard is as tough as they come.
With one leg blown off in the Vietnam War and the other amputated shortly afterward, Ballard, a member of First Baptist Church in Livingston, La., rarely lets an opportunity to serve others, especially veterans, pass him by.
“He never demonstrates a negative attitude and is an inspiration to all who know him,” David Brown, director of missions for the Eastern Louisiana Baptist Association, said. “He has an indomitable spirit and is a vibrant witness for the Lord.”
Ballard was drafted in 1968 at age 24 and arrived in Vietnam on May 14 of that year. Less than four months later, on Sept. 23, he was wounded.
After field surgery in Vietnam, Ballard was flown to Tokyo, Japan, with raw wounds, he said. Doctors closed his wounds, and Ballard began working with a therapist who talked with him about the Lord.
Even though he’d made a profession of faith as a young boy, no one had gone through the Gospel with him, Ballard said. As a result, he felt as if he’d never really accepted Christ.
Though he had shared his story about accepting Christ as a boy, the therapist kept coming back and talking to him — something that further convinced Ballard he was not saved.
After recovering from an infection on his skull that drove him to the brink of death, Ballard turned to the Lord by hailing a chaplain who was passing through his ward and asking to be led to Christ.
“When Christ came into my life, He gave me a peace,” Ballard said. “It’s just made the difference in my life.”
Now, not much keeps Ballard from serving the Lord.
As a resident of Livingston where he has lived for 40 years and where his wife was reared, Ballard is involved in a prison ministry organization called Incarcerated Vets. He and Daniel Nesom, a fellow Vietnam veteran, friend and church member, are outside sponsors — people who are not incarcerated.
Nesom himself arrived in Vietnam on May 10, 1968, and came home the same day in 1970, he said. The two veterans never actually met until after they’d both come home from the war, though Nesom had graduated with Wimp’s wife.
The two took up fishing together and then started going to church together.
“We got to be friends,” Nesom said. “Then one day, a couple of people were going to DCI [Dixon Correctional Institute] and we went with them as an outreach from church.”
Ballard thought back over the last 17 years since he first went to DCI.
“We went in basically to share the Gospel with these guys. We go every other Tuesday,” Ballard said, adding that the inmates conduct their own services now.
The purpose of Veterans Incarcerated, according to Dixon Correctional Institute’s website, is to provide service for veterans, to strive to improve the general public’s perception of DCI incarcerated veterans, and to raise funds that will be used for charitable efforts.
Last year the group refurbished and donated a total of 124 bicycles for needy children in the area. They’ve also raised money to buy fans for the elderly in the area who cannot afford air conditioning during the hot summer months, Ballard said.
The group is built on integrity. If an inmate gets in trouble, then he’s out of the group for 90 days. The group’s motto is “Still making a difference.”
Ballard’s constancy and his spirit seem to make all the difference to the inmates.
“Actions speak louder than words,” Nesom said. “[Wimp] shows how much he loves the Lord with his actions. He inspires a lot of people because he’s in a wheelchair and a veteran himself.”
Inmate Robert Cox, chief commander of the Incarcerated Vets, agreed. “Ballard is always Jesus first. No matter how he addresses the group, no matter what problem an inmate has, he’s always addressing them with respect,” he said. “There’s no Wimp Ballard ‘plugged in.’ When he speaks to you, he’s speaking the truth. He’s speaking the Gospel. He’s speaking the Word.”
One inmate, a Muslim, chose to attend the Incarcerated Vets meeting the same evening his mother had passed away, Cox said.
“Wimp picked up the fact that there was something troubling him and asked to talk with him,” Cox said. Ballard counseled the man, explaining that there is life beyond this, and that no matter how hopeless things may seem, there’s a brighter day coming.
“He still practices the Muslim faith, but he no longer [sees] Christians as an enemy because he saw Jesus in Wimp Ballard,” Cox said of the inmate who has since been released. “Though he has no legs, [Wimp] stands taller than any of the rest of us.”
Gary Pearce, senior chaplain at DCI, said Ballard and Nesom are both strong men of faith.
“They pray for [the inmates], minister to them and simply care for them. As they meet with the men, they graciously apply the teachings of Scripture to the issues of everyday life,” Pearce said. “Their love for Jesus is demonstrated in how they face the tough challenges of life. As the men on the inside see Wimp and Daniel deal with their issues, they in turn find encouragement to deal with the challenges they face in life.”
In addition to counseling, Ballard and Nesom provide copies of the Bible for the men.
“There is always a need for Bibles, especially large print Bibles, in the prison. They graciously work with us to help us in this regard. The bottom line is that they love God and work hard to spread His love to those who need it most,” Pearce said.
Tammy Sharp is a staff writer for the Louisiana Baptist Message, online at www.baptistmessage.com.