Local communications director moves from Watered Gardens to popular television show

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Jul. 29—Watered Gardens communications and media arts director Dave Ballew is looking forward to his new role with the popular crowdfunded show "The Chosen."

"The Chosen" is a multiseason television series about the life and ministry of Jesus, told through the eyes of his followers. The show aims to create an authentic and intimate picture of Jesus.

"The way the characters are in the show fits this open and genuine voice," Ballew said. "I think the way the show is produced and the way we're sharing about it is doing the same thing, this desire to be open with people. I love that about it."

Ballew has been the communications and media arts director with Watered Gardens and the True Charity Initiative for about a year and a half in Joplin. He also was a longtime volunteer with the organization before taking a full-time job there.

Ballew did a variety of marketing and communications work for Watered Gardens, including interviewing people who have been helped by the charity and making photos and videos for the organization.

Over the past year, Ballew said the True Charity Initiative has come into its own with a more national focus. The organization has been taking what Watered Gardens is doing locally and helping other nonprofits adopt the same practices that have worked to a national level. Now, around 100 nonprofits are connected through the True Charity Initiative. Ballew has written and made video content, such as educational videos and instructional documents, for these members.

While people might think of marketing as just making commercials or Facebook posts, his job had a real impact on how charities relate to their clients, Ballew said. He said one of the projects he's most proud of from his time with the True Charity Initiative was a five-part video series called "Beyond Volunteering." The idea for the videos had been in founder James Whitford's heart for a long time, Ballew said, and he was happy to help implement it.

The videos are a teaching tool for national charities to help their volunteers switch from thinking of their work as task-oriented to establishing real and lasting relationships. These authentic connections are things that bring about true change in a person's life through mentoring or being a friend or good listener, Ballew said.

"The course is all about helping a volunteer move from a task-oriented mindset to a more relational mindset," Ballew said. "I feel like that's going to have a lot of value to our network members who are working with volunteers and trying to get them to plug into people's lives a lot more."

Making the show

Ballew's job with "The Chosen" will be remote, so he'll be able to stay in Joplin. He plans to continue to volunteer with Watered Gardens and help with communications projects.

Ballew hopes to make real connections with an audience in his new job with the "The Chosen" as well. "The Chosen" is the highest crowdfunded entertainment project, raising $10 million from more than 19,000 people for the first season. According to the show's website, episodes have been watched more than 400 million times.

Dallas Jenkins, creator, director and writer of "The Chosen," has been able to take a lot of time to imaginatively explore characters in the Bible, Ballew said. Jenkins rounds out the characters of Jesus' followers and tells their day-to-day lives as they live occupied by a foreign nation, with the social and political unrest that follows. Jenkins does a good job of taking stories and people many Christians may already be familiar with and fleshing them out, Ballew said.

"It's a desire to tell the life of Jesus in a unique way from the perspective of his followers," Ballew said. "A lot of times, in Jesus films, Jesus will be in every scene. In 'The Chosen,' there's several episodes where Jesus is absent from the episode and so you're seeing the interpersonal dynamics and conflicts among the disciples. You'll realize his followers were an incredibly diverse group of people."

Ballew became interested in the show early on. He first saw it at church while teaching a fifth grade Sunday school class. As he taught a lesson about Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well, another teacher showed that scene on her phone from "The Chosen." Ballew said he realized the potential of the show from that powerful scene, which inspired much discussion.

A good friend of Ballew's started working with the show in a marketing role about a year ago. He and Ballew talked back and forth a lot about the path of the show and its goals. As the show has grown, Ballew's friend needed to build his marketing team and brought him onboard. Ballew will be the communications manager and do any copywriting for marketing for the show.

For a television show that solely depends on crowdfunding, it's important to stay in close communication with its audience, Ballew said. Ballew aims to give viewers an inside view of the show and how it's made. He wants to show behind the scenes and cast and crew interviews, showcasing their spiritual journeys in making "The Chosen."

"We've got essentially two audiences," Ballew said. "We have the people who love the show and fund it. Then we've got people we want to see the show for the first time, to see Jesus and see his beauty. If they're not followers of Jesus, we want them to start wrestling with that, to get an accurate picture of who Jesus is and what he's claiming, and to have a first encounter with him through the show."

"The Chosen" is steadily getting more popular, Ballew said, and it's certainly famous within the church. He said everyone at Watered Gardens has been happy for him and sometimes surprised that he got a job with the show.

"It still kind of surprises me, too," Ballew said. "For years, I've had a desire to get involved with filmmaking to some degree. I've dabbled in it, done some video work, but not a lot of filmmaking. There's a part of me that always wanted to get into it but never thought I would at this point. It's still a little surreal to be connected with the show."