It is not often that I talk about individuals or things of spiritual nature in depth but I’m making an exception today to talk about my pastor, Rick Seaward. Three weeks ago, I received news that he had passed on in a car crash in Brazil, while he was in the middle of a ministry trip. At first the news seemed so surreal, but over the subsequent days, it really began to hit home, especially with the endless tributes from people that had known him across the globe. Pastor Rick was, likewise, no stranger to me.
I first met Pastor from a distance. I was twelve at the time and new to the church, so I sat in church services with my parents before I was enrolled in Sunday School. He was, from all appearances, a foreboding personality… a little larger than life clad in his grey safari suit, brown hair and full beard and preaching with such vigour from the pulpit. As a young teenager, he was awe inspiring. I didn’t always understand what he said, but I remember he was always sharing about faith, sacrifice and missions.
As I grew older and started to understand more about the Christian faith, I also noticed that Pastor wasn’t just all talk. He walked the talk. If he talked about stepping out in faith, he stepped out even further. If he talked about sacrifice, he sacrificed more. If he talked about servanthood, he served even more relentlessly. He wasn’t one of those people who had great ideas and told everybody else to do the work. He was right there with us, working. He wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty in laying cables for meetings or troubleshooting problems. He was very hands-on in his leadership of the church.
My first real encounter with Pastor was in the lift of our corporate church office building back in River Valley when I was seventeen. It was just after secondary school and I was waiting for my diploma course to begin. I had a few months to spare so I chose to work as a secretary temporarily. By then, my dad had quit his secular job and was working in another church location across the country and my mum was doing likewise in our church bible school. I entered the lift one morning with Pastor who was also on his way to work. It was the most awkward (and longest) thirty seconds in my life. He asked me who I was, what I was doing exactly and I replied rather stiffly, quite unsure about what to make of the entire thing. He was kind and smiled a lot, but you know, I was partly awestruck and partly horrified. I thought: what if God told him of all my sins? But of course, that never happened.
My dad used to return home talking about work life in general. I recall once he came home a little miffed about an interaction he had with Pastor. Dad worked in the warehouse at the time and he came upon an old mouldy fridge. Thinking that it was unwanted, he threw it out without much thought. The next time Pastor visited the warehouse (remember, he was very hands-on), he asked Dad where the fridge was. Dad told him what he did and Pastor proceeded to explain rather tersely that it was his and very wasteful of Dad to throw it out when it could be cleaned thoroughly and repurposed. In the end, our family laughed about it and realised that Pastor was very careful of how he stewarded God’s provision and it was a lesson also to all of us to ask first before doing anything similar.
One occasion that hit close to home was the time when Pastor counselled my parents to put me on ministry leave. I had been serving in the worship team for a while at the time and some things were not right with me at home. To “teach me a lesson”, I went on six months of leave and was given time to reflect on my wrongdoing. Initially, I was extremely upset, and thought to myself: well if this is how it is, I will never serve again! But as the months went by and God moved in my heart, I learned some key things that shaped my life. The first being that you must always be true, both in and out, in private and in public. The second thing was that my relationship with God was infinitely more important than serving on stage without the personal walk to back it up. After the six months was up, I returned to ministry much wiser and with a better attitude than before. God works in miraculous ways. Pastor never held back in doing what was necessary and in pursuing his convictions. He always had the bigger picture in mind even when he knew it might draw critics.
In the late 90’s, our family moved out of Singapore to Australia for a season which he counselled against. We faced loads of difficulties there and learnt hard lessons, but nonetheless, Pastor welcomed us back, never once saying “I told you so” and we were restored with joy into the church family once again. When my dad was diagnosed with and subsequently passed on from pancreatic cancer in 2004, the church was in constant prayer for us for healing during prayer meeting and services until the very last moment. It was an extremely difficult time for us as we were so reliant on Dad for so many things. But our Pastor, his wife Diane and our church family stood by us and comforted us.
Years later, I quit teaching to work in the church office on a permanent basis. By then, Pastor was travelling around the globe, challenging pastors and churches internationally about giving, missions and loving people. We didn’t see him as often but whenever he was around, he would walk into the office with a smile. It was such great pleasure for us to be able to serve him foods that he liked (Polar curry puffs, curry and rendang) for meetings. He would laugh and joke with us about random things, but was still relentless about pursuing the vision that God had given him.
Without Pastor’s vision and love for the people in the world, I would not be in Portugal today, just one of the many people who have given years of their lives to bless others in a foreign nation. I would also not be the person I am today without the Christian Development Programme that he began in our church which included bible knowledge, ministry involvement and personal growth. There are so many things that came to be because of one man’s obedience to God and I am so incredibly grateful to be that one drop in the giant ocean that is the body of Christ.
Today, we hold the memorial service for Pastor Rick and although we may feel some nostalgia and sentimentality, I’m pretty sure that Pastor would tell us (if he could) to carry on and not mope too much. Once again, I am so grateful to the Lord for this huge picture that I get to be a part of and for giving us such a great man in our time whose example we can all follow. His touch in my family has been indelible. Thanks Pastor Rick and instead of saying goodbye (because that sounds very depressing), I’ll just say see you later! Now, it’s our turn to continue the vision and legacy that he has left behind.
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