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Pastor keeps ministering while awaiting transplant 

ADAMSVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — It took a while, but Chad Ball has learned to say two words that aren’t in the vocabulary of many Southern Baptist pastors, “I can’t.”

The 42-year-old pastor of First Baptist Church, Adamsville, Tenn., was diagnosed in 2006 with Focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a leading cause of kidney failure. He also learned that his kidneys had been damaged by undiagnosed high blood pressure.

Doctors were able to control the disease, and Ball and his wife Christy even were able to serve as career mission workers in northern Africa and the Middle East for four years. But after returning to the pastorate in the United States, Ball began to realize his health was declining.

Last summer, after being checked out by doctors at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Ball heard the two words “I didn’t want to hear” — transplant and dialysis.

His disease is chronic. He must have a kidney transplant. If a transplant doesn’t happen in the near future, he will have to go on dialysis.

Meanwhile, he is constantly fatigued, making it imperative that he uses the words “I can’t” when absolutely necessary. He readily admits the disease has slowed him down. “I can’t do everything I want to do.”

How long it will take to get a transplant is anyone’s guess. He went on the waiting list for a kidney last November. The average wait time is eight years, Ball said, unless he is able to match a living donor.

In the meantime, Ball goes on with his ministry. He has resigned himself to the fact that “there are not any good days. Some days are better than others. Even when I’m feeling ‘good,’ I’m still feeling bad,” he said.

There are times on Sunday as he greets members and visitors at First Baptist that he has to sit down and rest.

But when it comes time to step behind the pulpit, he is ready to go. “It doesn’t matter how bad I feel. When I step to the pulpit to preach, the Lord gives me supernatural ability,” he affirmed, noting that the verse from 2 Corinthians 12:9 is very real to him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.”

Ball said the chronic disease has enabled him to better empathize with people and it also has increased his prayer life greatly. Yet, he does not pray for healing as much as he does for “anointing and strength from God to fulfill my calling.”

Ball noted that God is with him through this process.

“The Lord, I believe, is going to heal me,” he said. “He can spontaneously heal the kidney or he can do it through a living donor or deceased donor transplant.”

Not only has God been with him, he says, but so has his family — Christy, daughters Kalyn, Sarah, and Alia and son Lamar — his church, other Baptists in Shiloh Baptist Association and the community at large.
“It’s like the whole town is waiting on a kidney,” Ball said with a laugh. “People in the community who are not Baptist stop and ask me how it’s going and show their concern.”

He is especially appreciative of First Baptist members. “The church has been very understanding and very generous,” he said. “I appreciate the willingness and support of the deacons who have stepped up to care for our members.”

Ball also has been overwhelmed by other Baptists in the area. In order to be placed on a transplant waiting list, he had to raise $25,000 for expenses that normally are not covered by insurance.

Ball had a fundraising committee led by two members of his church — Stephanie Erwin and Jennifer Templeton. A fundraiser was held in February with a combined worship and Sunday night concert that drew more than 400 people from about 20 churches and raised more than $33,000 in one night.
“Even churches that could not be there took a love offering on my behalf,” said Ball, who is the moderator of the association. Since then, other donations have upped his total to $50,500, he added.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “Time after time the devil tries to convince us that we’re all alone in ministry. The reality is far different.”

Russ Wilkins, director of missions for Shiloh Association, affirmed Ball is loved not only by his church, but throughout the association.

“For weeks after the fundraiser, there was still a buzz about how the Holy Spirit showed up that night. It was truly a worship experience full of prayer and praise,” Wilkins said.

Richard Prince, Sunday School director at First Baptist, acknowledged that his pastor “has good days and bad days, but he’s still doing the work. He’s an inspiration to the church and to me.”

Dwayne Smith, chairman of the deacons at FBC, agreed, noting Ball has done “a good job” balancing his illness with his ministry. He does everything he needs to do.” Smith acknowledged First Baptist has never had a pastor with a major health issue, “we are learning as we go.” 

Ball continues to “take one day at a time” and rely on God. “God gives me the strength I need. There is no doubt He is sustaining me through this process.”

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  • Lonnie Wilkey/Baptist and Reflector