Longtime SBC photojournalist and former Index contributor Burton dies at 63

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Jim Burton, center, takes a selfie with Bill Bangham left, and Joe Westbury in 2014 during a lunch in Cumming. Several years prior Burton had been diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). The three friends all once served as former editors of World Mission Journal, a magazine once published by the former Southern Baptist Brotherhood Commission in Memphis, Tenn. JIM BURTON/Special

CUMMING — Jim Burton, 63, international photojournalist and storyteller, died on May 10 after living with ALS for six 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 four 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 at www.DecisionMagazine.com the morning following his passing. 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, Tennessee, 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, Virginia.

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.”

Burton was well known to readers of The Christian Index as a freelance writer. He traveled the state in his wheelchair and specially-equipped van, interviewing and photographing subjects and telling their story of how gifts through Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program were making a difference in the Kingdom.

He was also an award-winning writer and photographer as a member of the Baptist Communicators Association.

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. 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.”

“Above all else I want to be remembered as a disciple of Christ and a father and husband with a family that I adore,” said Jim Burton.

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 May 2019 he had surpassed the six-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; and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where he received his doctorate degree. He served as a strategy consultant for Chattanooga-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, Kentucky, was married to Kim Ballard Burton of Cumming 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, Tennessee; 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; 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, Kentucky, Alma Hanberry of Louisville, Kentucky, and Rachel Reavis of Galax, Virginia; and six nieces and nephews. He also leaves a close friend who he mentored, Adrian Young Kim of Duluth.

Burton was a member of First Redeemer Church in Cumming.

Visitation will be at Ingram Funeral Home in Cumming from 5-8 p.m. on Thursday, May 16. A memorial service, officiated by Dr. Stan Bailey of Cumming – the couple’s former pastor at Bridgeway Church – will be held on the morning of Friday, May 17 at 11 a.m., also at Ingram Funeral Home. A graveside service will be held on Saturday, May 18 at 10 a.m. 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.

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