Dr. Ed & Pauline Ballew
In earlier days, the Rock of Ages was the personal ministry of Dr. Ed Ballew and his family. They called it The Rock of Ages Tape Ministry and it was based in their home. Their goal was to be an encouragement by producing audio cassettes for distribution among foreign missionaries. Between 1976 and 1977, churches who heard Brother Ballew preach began requesting copies of his tapes. The requests increased until the Ballew home was no longer adequate for the ministry. Two churches paid for materials and sent men to construct a building on Dr. Ballew's property to accommodate the growth of The Rock of Ages Tape Ministry.
The first prison contact came from Chaplain Steel at Union Correctional Center in Raiford, Florida. A correctional officer at U.C.C. obtained one of Bro. Ballew's tapes and gave it to an inmate to whom he had been witnessing. The man rededicated his life to Christ and gave the tape to his chaplain. In return, the chaplain wrote Dr. Ballew asking for tapes for the prison library. Dr. Ballew was delighted to ship an assortment of messages.
Dr. Ballew contacted Pastor Ron Gearis at Grace Baptist Church in Baldwin, Florida and asked him to set up an appointment for them to meet with Chaplain Steel at U.C.C. Upon arrival, they discovered that the chaplain had only two working tape players in the chapel library, resulting in a 90-day waiting period for tapes and players. Dr. Ballew began to raise money to purchase tape players, and Pastor Gearis delivered several battery-operated Royal cassette players to Chaplain Steel.
Pastor Gearis began going to the prison for a weekly Bible study and soon added church services with special music from his church choir. Later, he was allowed to visit with the men in their living quarters, including the men on death row. His burden for inmates was growing daily.
As word spread among prison chaplains about The Rock of Ages Tape Ministry, the requests for cassettes and players began to increase. Dr. Ballew continued to supply these through the offerings and gifts of God's people. Later he added Dr. Oliver B. Green's salvation booklets for free distribution among the inmates and also provided Davis Bible Dictionaries and Strong's Concordances for the chaplain's libraries. Churches in Tennessee and Virginia gave an A.B. Dick-350 offset press and a Multilith offset press to Dr. Ballew. He gave this testimony, "I believe God wants me to start a prison ministry."
On January 5, 1978, Rock of Ages Prison Ministry, Inc. was chartered. Dr. Ballew was President, his wife Pauline was Secretary/Treasurer, Pastor Sammy Allen was Vice President, and local pastors formed the Board of Directors. Pastor Ron Gearis, his wife Judy, and their son Scott became the first missionary family with Rock of Ages Prison Ministry. The third missionary family was Pastor Gene Hooker, his wife Bessie, and their sons, Chris and Anthony.
On April 24, 1987, Dr. Ballew retired due to health-related issues. By this time the ministry had grown to 22 missionary families offering Prison Revivals, Prison Chaplains, a Printing Ministry and a free Bible Correspondence Course to inmates. The Rock of Ages had become a nationwide ministry, with the main office located on one acre of property in Cleveland, Tennessee.
After Dr. Ballew's retirement, Dr. Gearis became President of Rock of Ages, with Dr. Gene Hooker as Vice President. Under Dr. Gearis' leadership for the next 19 years, Rock of Ages Prison Ministry grew to 133 missionary families. It included a Discipleship Institute, Aftercare Ministries, Women's Prison Ministry, Juvenile Ministry, Prison Prevention Ministry, Military Ministry, and the Publication of the Rock of Ages Study Bible. The ministry also purchased five additional acres and developed the Printing Ministry into a Publication Ministry, the main office was expanded, and the Rock of Ages was established on five continents.
On June 5, 2005 Dr. Hooker was called to pastor Savannah Bay Baptist Church in Ooltewah, Tennessee, closing his 27 years of ministry with the Rock of Ages, and leaving Dr. Terry Ellis as Executive Vice President. Upon the death of Dr. Gearis on September 12, 2006, Dr. Ellis was appointed President, and Dr. Ricky Dunsford was appointed Executive Vice President. In 2010 Dr. Hooker returned to the ministry and became the ministry Secretary.