The deacon reads the Bible as the organ player caresses the keyboard with jazzlike riffs that give rhythm to the words. The crowd responds with hallelujahs and amens in the small white church that seems to be lost in the snow-covered hill.
The Rev. David Ballenger, an imposing man with salt-and-pepper hair and a white beard, starts to preach in a singing tone.
Those seated begin to clap their hands, and the enthusiasm builds as everybody begins to sing.
“Every pastor is in a way marketing,” said Ballenger, who did marketing and sales for IBM for almost 30 years and has been a preacher at Log Providence Missionary Baptist Church for almost 20.
Ballenger was honored as the Rural Pastor of the Year by the Missouri School of Religion Center for Rural Ministry last month after years of preaching and community involvement.
Ballenger, 55, never thought he would be a preacher; he wanted to be a football player.
Raised in Columbia, he attended Frederick Douglass High School until eighth grade and then joined Jefferson Junior High School.
He said that because he was an athlete, it was easier to make friends.
He then went to college, thanks to a football scholarship, with dreams of becoming a professional player. That dream was shattered after a head-to-head collision with another player during a game.
Ballenger fractured a vertebra and was paralyzed from the waist down for more than two years. He said that his perspective on life changed and that he began to think about others.
“You realize material things are not really important,” he said. “I began to appreciate every little thing.”
He recovered from his injuries, thanks to God, he said, and began to walk again.
Later he discovered his passion for preaching.
“Subconsciously, I always had a desire to preach,” said Ballenger, who is also a member of the Columbia Board of Education. “That’s where my heart is at.”
Sandra Talton of Columbia has been coming to service with her family since July of last year and has known Ballenger since childhood, when they both attended Second Baptist Church,
“He comes from good stock,” Talton said.
She said Ballenger’s grandparents were religious and attended church regularly.
Ozzie B. Wathers, who lives in Jefferson City and has played the church organ for 18 years, said Ballenger warmly introduced him to others in the church and asked him to be in charge of music.
“He is a good man,” Wathers said.