“This is what the Lord says: Seek me and live.” Amos 5:4

The LTS community gathered on Friday, February 12 to mourn the death of fellow student Albert Payvah and to give thanks to the Holy Lord for His gift of redemption and salvation to Albert in Holy Baptism before calling him out of this life to the life eternal.

Albert was born on 16 January 1979 in Voinjama, Lofa County in Liberia, to parents Tarnuekollie and Kaibeh Payvah. Albert was baptized on the 22 November 1992 into the death and life of Christ Jesus his savior in Christ Memorial Evangelical Lutheran Church.

He was married to Anna, and they were blessed with two sons, Albert jr. and Dennis.

Albert came to South Africa and joined LTS in February 2016. His brother, Rev. Gemah Ballah, graduated from the LTS years before and is serving the Lutheran Church in Liberia in many ways today. He encouraged Albert to come to the LTS to study also for the Holy Ministry. Albert both as a man and as a theology student fought the good fight. As do we all, he too battled with sin in himself but rejoiced in Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the devil.

Albert suffered from several illnesses, among them diabetes and finally also hepatitis. Unfortunately, for various reasons it took a long while for the necessary diagnoses to be made, and so it took time for treatment to be administered. Towards the end of 2018, he fell more and more sick, such that his condition made it impossible for him to write the final examinations. He received care from deaconess students and the seminary community as his condition gradually worsened. Albert was admitted to hospital in very critical condition on Saturday 24 November. For some days, he was in the Intensive Care Unit.

Rector Winterle took members of the Liberian Embassy to visit Albert in hospital the following Monday. His condition improved gradually to the point that he was able to return home to the LTS and was cleared for travel to Monrovia, Liberia. Accompanied by fellow Liberian and deaconess student Ms. Patience Gbotoe, he flew home to Monrovia on 5 December, where he and Patience were received by Albert’s brother Pastor Gemah Ballah, who provided strong support to both of them.

Grieving family members in Liberia: Widow Anna, sons Albert jr. and Dennis, with brother Rev. Gemah Ballah

Unfortunately, Albert’s condition worsened again, and he had to be admitted to hospital in Monrovia. He underwent treatment there, but to no avail. The Lord God called Albert Payvah out of this vale of tears on 21 December 2018. He was buried by his brother on 29thDecember 2018.

The memorial service at the LTS was conducted by Rector Dr. C. Walter Winterle, assisted by Seminarian Gentil Magala. The Rector preached on Amos 5:4, which reads: “This is what the Lord says: Seek me and live.” The student choir sang, and Seminarian Michael Mutonga spoke on behalf of the students.

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” 1 Corinthians 15:19-22

Here follows the sermon by Rector Winterle.

Amos 5:4: “This is what the Lord says: Seek me and live.”

Dear Friends,

Seek me and live”.

This echoes the gracious invitation of Jesus: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). And also, Jesus’ statement: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me… Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:6,19).

Albert listened to this gracious invitation of God: “Seek me and you will live.” He was not deaf to God’s words. He came to this Seminary from the distant Liberia to learn better the Word of God and to prepare himself to be a messenger of this Word. He was a good student and a good fellow, and he was nominated several times to the Prize Giving Award at the Graduation and end of the Academic Year Service last year. Unfortunately, he couldn’t be present to be honored due to his sickness.

Does this make Albert a better man than others? No. He was aware that he was a sinner and that he was not perfect. He struggled a lot with himself and his conscience his last days in this earth. I had the opportunity to offer him a short Confession and Absolution Service at the hospital in one of the visits I paid him. Did Albert trust in himself and in his own works to have an open heaven? No! His faith was in Jesus, and he was seeking the Lord and His mercy and grace. He was sure that only Jesus could take him to the Father. And this is our hope, te promise of God: “Seek me and live.”

When we closely look at this text of Prophet Amos, we will see that God is calling His people to repentance. As many today, people were not listening to God’s word, but were following their own thoughts and their own way. They were despising clean water that God was offering them to drink, and they preferred dirty water that was poisoning them. Therefore, God says more in this chapter to His people in the time of Prophet Amos and to us, His people of the 21stCentury: “Seek the Lord and live… For I know how many are your offenses and how great are your sins. Seek good and not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you.” (Amos 5:6,12,14).

The Lord be with you” is a common greeting during our Liturgy at the service. This means the name “Immanuel” = God with us. Since we are baptized, we are chosen by God and He is with us. He will never go away from us. Jesus promised: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Unfortunately, many go astray, following their own way, leaving God, and suffering the consequences of their acts. But God calls them back and is waiting for everyone: “Seek the Lord and live.” He gives us our life time to listen to Him and to follow Him, to repent from our own wrong ways and to believe in the forgiveness He offers by faith in Jesus. How long will your life time be? The lifetime of Albert was shortened, unfortunately. We don’t know when our time comes, and we need to be prepared in faith, walking on the ways of the Lord.

Because I love you: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).This “gave” means Jesus’ death on the cross. But we know that Jesus’ life didn’t end up at the tomb on Good Friday evening. It crossed the tomb to show us a risen Christ on Easter Sunday! This suffering and victory of Jesus may be applied to our life: We are still crossing a difficult time in our life, full of temptations, anxieties and pain. But once this all will have an end. Albert is now celebrating Easter in heaven, eternal Easter with the resurrected Jesus and with all those who sought the Lord and followed Him through the tomb to the house of the Father, where there is life forever.

Seek the Lord and live.” Amen.

Pastor Carlos Walter Winterle, Pretoria, 15 February 2019