When I looked at my WhatsApp this morning I saw that my dear friend Daniel Soh had messaged me last night informing me that a common friend, pastor Joseph Seah, had passed away around 11.30 pm. He had been in a coma for some days now and he had been bravely fighting various serious illnesses for some time. I discovered again that though death is expected it always comes as a surprise. I am grateful that he is no longer suffering and is with the Lord he loves but I am sad that I will no longer be able to see him for a while.
I first met Joseph when I was pastor at First Baptist Church (now called Pantai Baptist Church), Petaling Jaya, in the early ’90s. He and his family worshipped with us and after some time shared that he believed the Lord had called him to full-time church ministry. The church affirmed the call and I had the privilege to have him on my team. He had left a lucrative position as a rice trader to serve in the church. But this was the mark of the man — obedience. His will was totally surrendered to His Lord.
I was a bit nervous serving with him. I felt my commitment to the Lord and my willingness to suffer for the Lord was nowhere near his. Yet he was a loyal and loving co-worker and I really appreciated him. In recent conversations I told him that I was always in awe of his spirituality. He was kind and said that we were different but we complemented each other well.
He was my ministry colleague when Hee Ling my first wife was discovered to have cancer. His hand on my shoulder was the hand of God reassuring me that he/He would be with me through the storm. Hee Ling passed away after about a year after the cancer was discovered and Hee Ling’s father would pass away soon after, also of cancer. Joe and family walked with me through that very dark period.
Joseph came down to Singapore to do formal theological education at the Singapore Bible College, always intending to return to Malaysia on the completion of his studies. Little did he know that the Lord had plans for him in Singapore. History will show his key contribution to the work of the Lord in the island republic. He was instrumental in reviving the work of the Lord in Queenstown Baptist Church and the Baptist Theological Seminary. He brought his no-nonsense leadership to a few other Baptist churches and, in recent times, was led by the Lord to start a church that was more community based than institution based, the Fifth Wall Community.
Although Joseph was very serious about the Lord and His work, he also had a wicked sense of humour. Many of us will remember him for his cheeky grin and double-edged witty comments! He also knew the best places to eat.
When we ministered together in First/Pantai Baptist, we sometimes had to conduct burial services. The whole staff team would travel together in the church van to the cemetery. Invariably we would feel downcast after conducting such services. We grieved for those who had passed on and wept with those who wept. As we drove away from the cemetery, Joe would recommend places to go for lunch/dinner. He knew the best places in Kuala Lumpur and the good food and the fellowship over the meal would lift our spirits. I have no doubts he will know the best places to eat in the new heavens and the new earth.
My last visit with him was during a recent stay in the National University Hospital. He was embarrassed that he had to trouble the nurse to come clean him up because he had difficulty controlling his bowel movements. He took some time to share how fantastic Pat, his wife, was. He was worried that he was smelly and was concerned for my comfort. All I smelt was holiness and love.
So, goodbye Joe. When I think of you I think of Hebrews 11:38, “…the world was not worthy of them”. We will miss you. Pat and the children, Joel, Michelle and Mary, will miss you much, much more. We will meet again. In the meantime we will try to honour you by living our own lives with the same commitment to our Lord that you demonstrated. But you set us a very high bar.