Dwight Ozard: Tribute to a Friend
Dwight Ozard – friend, student, colleague at ESA, and fellow laborer in the search for social justice – died on November 14 at the young age of 43.
At the funeral, Dwight’s elderly father, Rev. Jack Ozard, began his powerful remarks with the sad comment: I am an old man burying my son; something is wrong with this picture. We all feel that way. We needed Dwight’s enormous gifts for decades more of creative service for Christ and his kingdom.
In just 43 years, however, Dwight impacted the lives of thousands. Through his preaching, personal friendships, writing, and organizing, Dwight prodded comfortable Christians to embrace God’s special concern for the most neglected and oppressed.
I first met Dwight when he was a young youth pastor at a large United Church of Canada congregation in London, Ontario. Dwight had read Rich Christians as a high school senior and wanted me to help his congregation understand God’s passion for the poor.
I will never forget talking to Dwight over lunch at the end of that weekend. We discussed the possibility of his coming to Philadelphia to study at Eastern Seminary and work with ESA. The dream was realized, thank God, and soon Dwight became the editor of PRISM, creatively shaping the magazine from 1994 to 1998.
Dwight loved – and had a highly sophisticated understanding of – contemporary music, both secular and Christian. For years, even after leaving ESA, Dwight wrote a vigorous, critical, clever, and insightful music-review column for PRISM. (In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that I understood only a small part of what he said, even though I always read the columns before we published them.) Dwight was a friend of numerous contemporary musicians, some of whom surprised him with a wonderful party in Nashville just a couple months before he died/
Dwight and his wife, Sheri, spent several years working for Habitat for Humanity International in Americus, Ga., where Dwight served as director of public affairs. Then Tony Campolo persuaded them to return to Eastern University, inviting Dwight to serve as executive director of Tony’s Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, a venture philanthropy foundation that nurtures ministries to at-risk children and youth. Dwight was excited and bursting with great plans.
Then tragedy struck. The doctors informed him that he had cancer. For the next four-plus years, Dwight fought valiantly. Sheri was a rock of support over an incredibly long, hard time. Dwight’s witty pen (well, actually his computer keyboard) churned out a flood of brilliantly crafted emails full of struggle, faith, anger, and trust in God. And always, Dwight ended his emails with a plea that, as his friends prayed for him and Sheri, they also pray for those who had no voice, no health care, no friends, or even enough food to survive. Again and again we saw that not even cancer could stop Dwight from sharing God’s amazing love for the poor.
Dwight’s life of faith in Christ did not come easily. He had an exceptional mind and he read widely in modern thought and understood the many challenges to historic Christian faith. At least as problematic for him was the widespread failure of Christians to live like Jesus. But his faith was stronger than his doubts, and he lived – and died – knowing that Jesus of Nazareth is the risen Lord who now summons us to do battle for justice. Dwight now rests in peace in the presence of the Risen One. And if it be true that the departed saints pray for us, then I’m sure he still pleads with the Father that we all will ever remember to be Christ’s voice and arms, empowering the poorest and neediest. Dwight, we will not forget.