Kevin Ly—In Memoriam

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I met Kevin in the 1990s. He was a teenager in my brother’s first pastorate. Though his outward life bore the marks of a committed Christian, he would not make a public profession of his faith. He would not seek baptism. He would not confine his faith to a label or a ritual. The reason was simple. He respected his parents. He lived the commandment to “honor your father and mother” (Exodus 20:12). His parents were refugees from China and would not permit their son to convert to this American religion. So, he did not.
My wife and I stayed with my brother for about six weeks in 2000. Then, we moved to our boat. During this period, I came to know Kevin better. As a young man, leading the youth of Greenbrier Baptist Church, he had wisdom beyond his years. He had patience for unruly teens when I had none. He knew Bible stories. He had an understanding of faith that was both simple and all-encompassing.
After we moved away, Kevin continued his faith journey. Eventually, his parents allowed (blessed?) his conversion to Christianity. He made a profession of faith and experienced the baptismal waters. He attended Leland Seminary. A church ordained him into the gospel ministry. Another church called him to be their pastor. He asked a beautiful young lady to marry him, and she said ‘yes’. Just weeks ago, they had a wonderful marriage celebration. And, according to Facebook, over his last days on earth, they decorated for Christmas.
Kevin and I crossed paths again in 2015. Seeing him rejuvenated my soul. We ran into each other at a denominational event. Those events can be draining. Sometimes they represent the worst of the institutional church. Kevin reminded me of why we do what we do. He wanted to serve God. He felt God calling him to be the minister of a church. He had finished seminary and was ready. I felt God blessing me with the opportunity to encourage him. I do not know if it meant anything to him, but seeing him meant much to me.
When Main Street Baptist Church in Luray, VA called Kevin to be their pastor in 2016, I went to his installation service. He asked me to participate. And, I felt honored to do so. When I started my new ministry at University Baptist Church in Charlottesville, VA in 2017, I asked Kevin to participate in my installation service. He said, “Hey Matt, but of course! Am honored to be invited. I will have a business meeting/lunch after church that day, so will make sure to leave in plenty of time to get there. Let me know how I can help!”
That response was Kevin. He had enthusiasm for life. His enthusiasm was contagious. It was impossible to avoid. His response made me more excited about my own installation service. His infectious smile caused everyone around him to smile. To think I will not see him anymore in this life is difficult.
Why would someone so vivacious be snatched away? Why would God allow this to happen? The truth is, we do not know the answer. Did God take Kevin? No. Did God cause this to happen? No. In 1 Corinthians 2:9, Paul quotes Isaiah 64:4. “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” Then Paul adds his commentary in verses 10-11, “These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God.”
Life is a mystery. Every person will die. When someone dies young, we mourn in a special way. We mourn the loss of a life not yet fulfilled. We mourn the potential, or what could have been. In Kevin’s death, we can ask why someone so good would go so soon? We can ask, but we may never know. What caused his body to fail him? Doctors might figure out what happened, but it will not bring him back.
For those of us who are blessed to have known Kevin, we can be thankful for the impact he had on our lives. We can be thankful for the lessons of faith he taught us. We can be thankful for this enthusiasm and smile. We can be thankful for his wisdom. And, we can move forward in faith—faith in the mystery of life, faith in God, faith in resurrection to new life, and faith that we will see Kevin again someday.
For now, we can be assured that he stands at the right hand of God, hearing those words we all long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”


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