By Paula Schlueter Ross (firstname.lastname@example.org)
“His love made a difference.”
“Never have I met a man with so much love in his heart as Otis.”
“May we all reach out and care for our neighbors the way Otis did for all.”
Those are just a few of the dozens of sentiments and tributes posted to the Facebook wall of Otis David Woodard Jr., a “very colorful character” (according to his youngest daughter, Oteese) who spent more than half of his 78 years on this earth serving the poor and homeless.
Woodard died Feb. 13 at his home in St. Louis after several weeks of declining health. He had had cancer for 15 years, according to family.
A public memorial service — still being planned — will be held outdoors at Woodard’s “Peace Park” in North St. Louis, where he ran his Lutheran North St. Louis Outreach ministry, proclaiming on a sign “Jesus loves you and so do I” and handing out food, clothing and other necessities to anyone who asked.
Dressed in his signature “uniform to serve the Lord” — brightly colored tunics, with strands of beads around his neck — Woodard, a longtime member of Transfiguration Lutheran Church in St. Louis, “was the epitome of Matthew 22:40,” said the Rev. Roosevelt Gray Jr., director of LCMS Black Ministry. “If you spent any time with him at his ‘peace garden,’ you would see, hear and feel the passion he had for the children, families and the homeless he served with the help of untold hundreds who donated to his mission cause.”
One partner congregation is Abiding Savior Lutheran Church — on the other side of town, in South St. Louis County — which began its relationship with Woodard’s ministry during a servant event there in 2007 and has brought six more of its “Send Me” service teams back and organized “numerous collections” of food and clothing for the ministry since then, according to Abiding Savior Senior Pastor Rev. David McBurney.
“Otis personified the phrase ‘servant leader’ ” and “looked for opportunities to share the Gospel in word and deed,” McBurney told Reporter.
Woodard also “trusted in God to provide for his daily needs, which were often provided through members of other churches,” he added. In fact, Abiding Savior is organizing a food collection to deliver to Lutheran North St. Louis Outreach on Feb. 20 “to let Otis’ family know we are still committed to helping the ministry,” according to McBurney.
Oteese Woodard told Reporter that she and other family members “absolutely” plan to continue the ministry that her father started “out of his own refrigerator to [help] the people that were hungry outside.” Her father, she said, experienced being homeless after arriving in St. Louis from Birmingham, Ala. — where he had marched for civil rights alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King — and had vowed that if God would help him feed his family, he would, in turn, help others.
Memorials may be sent to Lutheran North St. Louis Outreach, 4432A Strodtman Place, St. Louis, MO 63107.
Posted Feb. 20, 2015