Pastor Anthony Hodge always believed actions speak louder than words — and while he had a gift for speaking love and God’s word into the people who needed it most, he also had the courage to put those words into action.
Hodge, a Winter Garden native who created successful outreach programs in his beloved eastside community, died Monday, Oct. 17, 2022, of lung cancer. He was 62.
“He fought till the end; he really did,” said his wife, Sharee Villard-Hodge. “I gathered how much he loved his community and loved his family and loved the lives he touched. He was fighting for all of us.”
LOVE FOR PEOPLE
Hodge was born and raised in east Winter Garden. He never hid the fact that he was a former drug user and dealer — in fact, he embraced his past as a way of healing himself and working to change lives in his hometown.
In 2000, Hodge was serving time in prison and facing 70 years behind bars, but his life was changed forever when he gave his life to Jesus, he said, and his sentence was reduced to a few years.
It became his mission to return to east Winter Garden and help others like himself, and he created a street ministry in 2004 called Finding the Lost Sheep.
“Anthony’s motivation was a love for people,” Villard-Hodge said. “Because God set him free and delivered him out of bondage, Anthony wanted to see the light that God showed him, he just wanted that love to overshadow and overtake people’s heart and set them free and let them know that it’s possible for God to set them free.
“You saw that in the way he lived his life,” Villard-Hodge said. “He was so adamant about talking about how God delivered him.”
Hodge was passionate about street outreach, she said, and he was pleased when he could reach someone who was lost.
“Finding the Lost Sheep was his heart; that was his baby,” Villard-Hodge said. “He loved reaching people that didn’t know God … and becoming a pastor to those that did but were struggling with their life.”
Sharee Villard met Anthony Hodge in 2011 when a pastoral colleague introduced the two. Hodge invited her to sing at a holiday outreach event he was holding in east Winter Garden. Villard had been planning a ministry trip to the Caribbean, but she changed her mind and sang at the program — and she fell in love with Hodge and his hometown.
They were married in 2012, and, together, the couple made an impact on the people who live in the community in which Hodge grew up.
In addition to Finding the Lost Sheep, Hodge was gifted with an old church building on Klondike Street in Winter Garden, and he turned it into a welcoming space for children and families named Restore Hope for Youth. The youth called it the Impact Center, and that name stuck.
Through the Lost Sheep ministry, the Hodges started a church in 2017 in Ocoee, Restored Life Church Worship Center. Both have served as pastors there.
Hodge provided a jail ministry at the Orange County Corrections Department in Orlando, as well, to continue meeting the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the lost.
“It was a strong testimony of the love of God and faith and hope,” Villard-Hodge said of her husband’s work. “He’s made a tremendous effect on so many lives.”
AND SO HE WALKED
In March, Hodge felt the urge to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his participation in 1965 in the historic 54-mile civil rights march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital of Montgomery. Hodge embarked on a personal journey to take the same path along U.S. Route 80 in a one-man walk he called “Remembering Bloody Sunday — And So We Walk.”
When he reached the capital, Hodge recited “Our God is Marching On,” one of many King speeches he has memorized, for everyone present and on Facebook Live to hear.
He planned to make the Selma-to-Montgomery pilgrimage an annual event and was hoping to take people with him to experience the journey with him.
In addition to his wife, Hodge is survived by his daughter, Miracle; sisters, Cynthia Tucker, Claudine Hodge, Jeanese Hodge, Theresa Hodge; brothers, James Hodge and Jimmy Hodge.
Although the Hodges lived in Mascotte, he always considered Winter Garden home. He was born to Clifford and Katie Hodge on Aug. 22, 1961. He graduated from West Orange High School and earned his Associate in Arts degree from the Institute of Theology and Ministry Training in 2005. He was pursuing his Bachelor of Theology at International Seminary of Plymouth at the time of his death.
A celebration of Hodge’s life will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 29, at Mosaic Church, 14175 W. Colonial Drive, Winter Garden. Interment will follow at 2:30 p.m. at Woodlawn Memorial Park & Funeral Home, 400 Woodlawn Cemetery Road, Gotha.
A GoFundMe account was set up for personal needs while Hodge was ill, and donations can be made at gofundme.com/f/pastorhodge. Villard-Hodge also suggests folks support Finding the Lost Sheep Ministry to continue Hodge’s work. Donations can be made to Finding the Lost Sheep, P.O. Box 770591, Winter Garden, FL 34777; or at findingthelostsheep.com.