Ross Karen Victoria falls

Ross and Karen in Zambia at Victoria Falls

Last night, August 14, 2013, my church and community lost Ross Hoffman, a man we will miss in this life so very dearly. Others were much closer to Ross than I am. Most of them will find the loss so deep it will be hard to put words, so for now I’ll provide these words. I will make some personal remarks at the end here, but let me begin by celebrating the impact of Ross on the wide circles that felt his great influence. Thousands called him friend, and tens of thousands were impacted by his life. We are grieving with and praying for Karen (his loving wife, pictured here) and his children Logan (Emilie) and Jolie (Steve) and his grandchild Alice.

THE INFLUENCE OF ROSS HOFFMAN ON US

[highlight class=”highlight_yellow” style=””]Ross influenced people to get a Christian education. [/highlight]In his work at Indiana Wesleyan University for years he helped those with resources assist in the Christian higher education of young people. Many have heard of the amazing success of IWU through the years–not enough know how instrumental Ross was behind the scenes at connecting the right people at the right time with that institution. One of the great blessings of having a guy like Ross in a development role was that he remained a true friend to people, believing in them deeply and helping them help others in education.

Ross on an visit to a hut in Zambia (my family continues to sponsor this woman's son)

Ross on an visit to a hut in Zambia (my family continues to sponsor this woman’s son)

[highlight class=”highlight_yellow” style=””]Ross influenced people in need. [/highlight]As Ross concluded his significant season at IWU he began to grow in his heart for those in deep physical need, particularly in Africa. He worked as a volunteer fundraiser for World Hope International, gathering church people, influential donors, compassionate young leaders whenever he could, whether in his living room or on planes traveling to Africa. Ross’s effervescent charm and passion rubbed off on everybody, and he spawned quite a few who became just as passionate as he was. Ross influenced so very many in need, from those suffering from AIDS to orphans and vulnerable children throughout Zambia in particular (he singlehandedly championed dozens after dozens of OVC’s to be sponsored by people in the states through Hope for Children).

[highlight class=”highlight_yellow” style=””]Ross influenced the local church.[/highlight] Ross was a vibrantly engaged member of College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana. He modeled what it meant to be a highly invested lay member of a congregation. He mentored children, teens, and young adults. He served the church diligently behind the scenes as it worked to raise millions of dollars for a new ministry center. He then served again to redirect the church’s energies on not merely “filling up” that new building, but to use it as a giving and sending center, with an aim to send millions of dollars and hundreds of leaders out beyond its walls. He influenced his Church to be more and more the Kingdom of God, and so much more than a building, even if he was so instrumental in building the building the church met in.

College Church Zambia 09 Team

College Church Zambia 09 Team (Ross is wearing the blue cap)

[highlight class=”highlight_yellow” style=””]Ross influenced the business world.[/highlight] His company, “Pro Prints” ensured every soccer team, business, non-profit or school had the right logos on the right shirts at the right time. A prince of customer service, Ross was known for doing things right and doing them in a timely way. He employed a great many people, and raised up leaders in his company to lead in an ethical and influential way among the key business leaders of our area. Our business community will miss Ross in a season where great contributors to the economy are so needed.

[highlight class=”highlight_yellow” style=””]Ross influenced the local community. [/highlight]Often when you talked to a rising business or non-profit leader in our community you would discover that they had already sought out Ross for advice and he had counseled them over a lunch or afternoon on how to lead forward. His informal influence made him a resource for most every school system, field, or business community in our area. Ross was trusted by a community that has had trouble trusting others or itself, and he modeled a persistent service that wins people over with a humble Christ-like way. If you ask School superintendents, government leaders, community organizers, foundation directors, or NGO presidents who the top five “community leaders” were in our county, they would all list Ross right away.

[highlight class=”highlight_yellow” style=””]Ross influenced his entire denomination. [/highlight]Ross volunteered his time as a consultant in the area of development for The Wesleyan Church. He crafted a new development philosophy which guided key transitions for the denomination. What’s more, he was a Wesleyan by conviction and passion. Unwilling to let the denomination merely do what it’s always done, he helped its leaders think outside the box and rethink the way they do things. Lay leaders often leave the denomination stuff to the clergy, but Ross (a lay person with a pastor’s heart) knew how to lead “way up” to the top and beyond.

The influence of Ross Hoffman is felt in unexpected corners in unbelievable ways, many people are now coming forward and declaring his influence now. The line among Wesleyans and beyond to praise Ross’s life stretches around the block today–little of this influence was known to most of us, such was the unassuming and humble way Ross invested his prayers, time, money, passion, and energy.

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Ross before a Church service in Zambia

Ross before a Church service in Zambia

THE INFLUENCE OF ROSS HOFFMAN ON ME

Ross intersected my life at many points. Most notably I was honored to be one of his pastors for the last 6 years. Every time Ross and I got together for lunch I would be warmed by his quick smile, the glint in his eye, and his ability to cut to the chase immediately so he and I could strategize ways for our church to reach out into the community and around the world. I have never seen a single lay person influence a very large church in such a immense way in such a short time. He was tireless in trying to turn my attention to things that matter to God, but are often overlooked by the local church. He was a model at “leading up” to help his pastors shift a church to become missional. While it looked like Steve DeNeff and I were leading Ross at times, more often Ross was leading us, truth be told.

I remember sitting in a circle with Ross in Choma, Zambia along with a small team of leaders from our church. We were praying over the very difficult realities faced by the churches and communities we were partnering with in that region. We broke down and cried when we realized that we had some responsibility for supporting 535 children who had been made orphans by the AIDS crisis. Ross helped guide our team to a way forward in that season, and came back with us to point our church toward more and more missional activity. Rather than having his heart stuck in Africa alone, Ross showed me what it meant to love your neighbor whether they were on Boots street in Marion, Indiana or on a boat in Botswana, Africa.

Ross was in the habit of sending me scriptures periodically that he read and thought would encourage me. He also emailed me prayers for my specific role frequently. How he made the time for this is beyond me. His passion was matched by an unparalleled faithfulness, which is an uncommon pairing of giftedness. The Holy Spirit had so sanctified him that these kinds of deeds which go beyond personality and temperament were possible.

Most recently Ross helped me as a consultant in redrafting the development philosophy of The Wesleyan Church and he served as the primary search consultant as we located and hired on Jim Rathbun, Director of Generous Living for our team. We could not have done these things without Ross. Many will now tell stories that end with the line “we could not have done this without Ross.”

As I mentioned before, several are closer to Ross and Karen than I. My pastors Steve DeNeff and Judy Huffman are two of those, who count them among their closest pals. They are grieving as best friends, not merely as pastors, today. My parents are deep friends with Ross and Karen, riding bikes and taking trips with them as well. So I don’t write the above words as some special person in Ross’s life, other than that the man treated everyone so special, so that in the long line now forming, most of us consider him a close friend.

I write this with tears in my eyes and a vision in my heart to be a better man of God, to let the Holy Spirit make me more like Christ, and perhaps on the way to that merely be more like Ross.

UPDATE 19 August 2013:

Logan and Jolie Hoffman (Ross’s son and daughter) wrote an amazing eulogy that was read at the funeral. You will find it by clicking here.

My favorite line: “Our Dad would not have liked us saying this about him, but he was holy. He was never otherworldly, but he was a saint. Dad showed us what it meant to live a life worthy of the calling we have as Christians, how to see the unseen reality in people and situations and then to take action, always closing the gap between this world and the Kingdom of Heaven.” – Logan and Jolie Hoffman

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