Joshua Parker Woodruff first came to Boy With a Ball as a recent high school graduate waiting to attend Harvard University. He emerged from the San Jose, Costa Rica airport with golden hair, a million watt smile and a duffle bag filled with macaroni and cheese and instant ramen noodles.
Josh’s four month internship in the Fall of 2006 included high intensity Spanish language classes and working with street children and teen prostitutes in the middle of the night. Josh also helped us build relationships with international school students who were the children of Costa Rican government officials. With Josh’s help, our team was able to invite these high impact students to go and serve within outreach teams into a squatter’s settlement filled with corrugated tin houses with open sewage and little hope for a future. On the weekends, Josh took theology classes and helped a local church’s youth group learn to reach the hearts of the more than sixty young people within their congregation.
Regardless of the situation, whether facing crack dealers or high income private school kids, teenage girls working on the streets or bored church kids who were tired of hearing about a faith they had never taken out for a spin, Josh was unwavering in his eagerness to make the most of every situation. He relentlessly took every opportunity to know and love the person in front of him.
It was not hard for Josh to be a favorite for Latin Americans. Blond hair and a big smile go a long way in Costa Rica and being a handsome American is a clear advantage in building friendships there. However what made Josh special was what he could do with the openings his looks and personality created, his kind sincerity and the value he placed on his own spiritual growth.
Josh had grown up in a pastor’s home with parents, Mark and Caren, who had related to and loved him deeply. Beyond teaching him the importance of relationships, the Woodruffs had exposed him and his older siblings, Heather and Ben, to the power of an authentic faith community and getting to be around great older leaders.
Their non-religious, practical faith and intelligence made Josh capable of handling himself in almost any setting. Most importantly, it built into him a significant hunger for truth and for authentic friendships with God and with people. While Josh had the looks to be shallow, his heart made it impossible for him to do anything but go deep.
Josh’s greatest contribution to Boy With a Ball during his internship was his capacity to draw Costa Rican young people around him and then to allow them to see his own voracious hunger to grow closer to Jesus. He made a life of faith and a life of impact look “cool.”
As Josh headed off to college and then into the workforce, he would flow in and out of San Antonio, of Costa Rica and, in these last years, Atlanta, Georgia to participate in BWAB events or to spend time with Boy With a Ball leaders. In each situation, his work ethic never wavered, nor did his pursuit of deep conversations about how to live life more fully.
On January 1, 2016, Josh’s life was taken by a hit and run accident leaving his family and all of us who knew him in both shock and mourning. While Josh is certainly in a better place today, it will take all of us down here a great deal of time to get used to life without the light and love of his company.
His memorial service can be watched here below:
Our hope within the Boy With a Ball community is to weave Josh’s life and memory into our ongoing work in Africa, Latin America and the United States and across the globe. Josh’s parents, Dr. Mark and Caren Woodruff, serve on Boy With a Ball’s board of directors and our organization will work to keep Josh’s memory alive by helping young people around the world overcome horrific odds to reach their dreams and then turn to impact their own communities. This work was important to Josh and we will continue to give our whole hearts to it as he gave himself wholeheartedly to every single person he knew.
We miss you, Josh.