Ohio pastor known as generous evangelist killed crossing highway: ‘He loved everybody’

Joel Burton | Screenshot: WDTNTV

A pastor of a Dayton, Ohio, church known for his faithful evangelism and generous giving to his community died after being run over by a vehicle while crossing a Florida highway.

Joel Burton, 42, a pastor of a Harrison Township church, Simple Street, died Sunday morning on U.S. 98 near a Holiday Inn Express. The vehicle in question also hit another Dayton-area resident, Zebulon Dill, 32, who was with him, according to the Fort Walton Beach Police Department.  

Dill suffered significant leg injuries and received medical treatment at Fort Walton Destin Hospital. 

Many who knew Burton have shared their memories of the late pastor.

"We are to not question God why but this is really shook me," Butron's friend Kevin Howard wrote in a Facebook post. "This man eat, slept and breathed ministry. He and his ministry helped so many people, families, he even donated to my mission trips. When we talk 1 body that what Joel was. He worked wherever, whenever. Such a loss for our community."

Ian Chadrick, Burton's friend and co-worker, told Dayton Daily News that Burton "tried to bridge that gap and get everybody connected in the city, and he loved everybody."

"Anyone he met, he tried to tap them into anything they needed, any resources that they needed, any connection that they would need," Chadrick said. 

Chadrick said Burton wanted to help as many people as he could.

"This guy would do everything for everybody if he could," Chadrick recalled. "He was one man, but the awesome part of his legacy is that he is not just one man — he has rubbed off on every single person he ever met, so now we all have the ability to be someone like Joel Burton and that's what people should remember." 

Burton's church made headlines in July after vandals broke into the building and vandalized the property. The church also received media attention following the racial justice protests in June 2020, when it held a foot-washing ceremonial event.

Burton told the news outlet that the ceremony served as a way for those who were "carrying burdens" to receive comfort and "for them to feel cleansed." 

"We are coming together to love on our city, love on each other and to be a point of reconciliation," Burton said at the time. 

The nonprofit Shoes 4 the Shoeless called Burton one of "the finest men we will ever know."

"Joel was a friend to all, the best father, husband, and family member you could ask for," the nonprofit wrote on its Facebook page. "He was a brother and a shepherd to the poor, the lost, the lonely, and those rejected and hated by society. This is a valley of disbelief and great suffering."

Howard told Dayton News that the pastor was passionate about serving in his ministerial role. 

"He had a heart of gold and a heart for the people, but most importantly, he wanted people to know Jesus. When he found what the Lord had done for him, I think he just looked around the city and saw so much brokenness and he just tried to fix it," Howard said.

"And what Joel did, he really did in a way fix it because he brought so many diversities of churches and people together. He brought them together from all over Dayton, Ohio, even places across the United States as well."

​​David Renfro, the senior pastor at Evangel Church of God, told the outlet that he was close to Burton for eight years. The pastors worked on collaborations and discussed the best ways to practice servanthood to others and Jesus.  

"Burton loved serving God by serving people," Renfro said. "I think that had a lot to do with his passion toward benevolence, and a lot of the things he did community-wise was about helping others."

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