Samoans and seminarians support family in wake of student’s passing

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Laphie Schwalger with his wife, May. (Photo: Supplied)

The Seventh-day Adventist Samoan community is mourning the loss of an Avondale Seminary student described by those who knew him as “a good man”.

Members of the community have publicly and privately gathered around the family of Laphie Schwalger, 33, following his unexpected death on July 9. A Community Prayer Service of Support at Avondale College Seventh-day Adventist Church on July 11 preceded Family and Funeral Services in Parramatta on July 19 and 20. Those attending the Family Service were asked to wear clothing in Schwalger’s favourite colour, yellow.

Pastor Talai Mohr of the Newcastle Samoan Seventh-day Adventist Church, Avondale Seminary head Dr Kayle de Waal, lecturer Dr Erika Puni, Lake Macquarie campus chaplain Dr Wayne French and college church ministers Pastor Nimrod Mau and Alex Green are providing pastoral support. Avondale is also providing short-term accommodation for the family and has offered counselling from a temporary office in the College View Residences, where Schwalger lived.

“This is a really difficult time for our whole college family,” writes Avondale president Professor Ray Roennfeldt in an email to staff members and students. “The loss of Laphie is felt deeply by us all.” He ends with a call to “take care of yourselves” and “of each other”.

Schwalger had been completing a Bachelor of Ministry and Theology. “We have a keen sense of loss,” said Dr de Waal while delivering the message of hope during the Family Service. “A husband, a father, a son and brother, a friend—a good man—has left us.” The death is a reminder, he added, of our need for “Christian community that manifests the love of God”. And, in a challenge to the men in the congregation, de Waal said this: “We cannot remain silent about our struggles. Jesus is both a Lion and a Lamb. He is regal, powerful and noble but yet also tender, gentle and vulnerable. We are called to be brave, strong and courageous, but we are also called to be honest, real and vulnerable. This is not weakness. Quite the contrary, it is strength.”

A crowdfunding project (backit.com.au/projects/tragedy-in-the-schwalger-family) has raised almost half of a hoped for $A25,000 to support Schwalger’s wife, May, and two children, Lelea’i and Tui. The project ends on September 1.

Australia offers 24/7 crisis counselling services. Contact Lifeline (13 11 14, lifeline.org.au), the Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467, suicidecallbackservice.org.au) or beyondblue (1300 22 4636, beyondblue.org.au).

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