By ALPHONSE BARIASI
Why God, why?
Any other father might probe long and hard for answers at the loss of a first born and only son.
But not someone who knows that ‘the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh’ and for a reason.
Francis Mano Apurel is not just any other father but a man who knows God more or less like a personal friend. In fact he now understands and loves God more with the passing of his first born Howard Israel.
The evangelist/prophet and his Australian wife Pauline’s son died in Brisbane on Feb 13, aged 30 and a single man still.
Howard’s uncle Louis Apurel, through an arrangement by a mutual acquaintance, Jack Yamaha, takes me for a long drive around the city on Feb 21, explaining why the death of this young man is special as it was a partial fulfilment of a prophecy, a dream much like the biblical story of Abraham to leave his father’s land and people and migrate to another land.
A call like Abraham’s
Howard’s grandfather, the late Fabian Walipe Apurel, as a young man lived among his Koke tribe in Pangia, Southern Highlands. He was one of the first to meet and befriend the Catholic missionaries, led by American Fr William Ross and his team who converted him to the faith and tried to educate him.
Men in his day, would call upon whom they later came to know as God in prayer and fasting at the top of a mountain. On that mountain was a big beech tree whose buttresses provided shelter for the petitioners to spend days there praying and hoping to receive divine direction. It was there that, on a chilly morning between 3 and 4pm when he fell asleep that Apurel received divine instruction in a dream. He was told to leave his people in Pangia and travel to Ialibu and find a wife there.
In his dream, he was told there would be a “white” boy born into his family and when that happened Apurel would die.
The “white” son was born according to the dream and when he was 13, the old man passed on.
In East Wiru, near where Apurel had dreamt there are four place whose names sound strangely similar to biblical places: Perigo (Jericho); Morea (Moriah); Nali (Nile) and Ifret (Euphrates). Oral history is vague about how those East Wiru places were named though.
Apurel travels to Ialibu, meets missionaries, gets involved in mission work and gets married.
When his first child is born, he is baptised Francis Mano and dedicated to God.
Years later, Francis starts school at a very young age, excels in his learning and skips a couple of grades. He wins the national high school mathematics competition while in Grade 10 at Mendi High School. Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare gives K70 and a red transistor radio as his first prize for topping the the competition.
At University of Technology, Lae, the brilliant young man does two engineering courses concurrently but with a semester to go, the Lord calls him to change plans and abandon his studies.
Meanwhile, the Koke tribe, keenly following the progress of their young man, were planning a big feast for his graduation. But they were stunned when one day, Francis arrives back with a load of text books to tell them the unthinkable.
He burns all the text books and retains only the Holy Bible.
Passing of an old guard
Fabian Walipe Apurel was a pioneer cathechist who established the church in Ialibu in 1951.
Kevin Pamba, while a senior journalist with The National at the time of the passing of Apurel, wrote in the Weekender: “At the time of his death (on Dec 5, 2002), Apurel was still a committed Catholic attached to the newly formed Papa Group (a fellowship of Catholic men in Ialibu and a the deputy mayor of Ialibu town.
“The death of Apurel, the father of renowned evangelist, Ps Francis Apurel, closed another chapter of leadershipof the area who stood up for peace and harmony, making him an oasis of the same,” Pamba wrote.
Indeed, says his sons Francis and Louis, Apurel senior had such an amazing command of oratory skill and tact that he was able time and again to quell even the most volatile of situations where armed confrontation seemed inevitable.
Because of his skill he had stood out and the colonial administration was attracted to him, making him a didiman. He worked with the then Department of Agriculture, Stock and Fisheries (DASF).
Son Louis says the first kiap into the area, selected Apurel among others because he was wearing rosary beads – and made him an interpreter.
The enterprising man was also the first to establish a cattle ranch on land he had purchased from his wife’s people which is now an inheritance to his sons. Daughter Marie says, in his wisdom, their father had even invited his daughters to also build themselves houses on the land.
When Pauline Apurel gave birth to their first born Howard, the old man Apurel knew that his days were coming to an end because of his dream many years ago. He died when Howard was 13.
A call to full time ministry
Francis spent some time after leaving university to seek God’s direction and when that became clearer, he left for ministry training. After training both here and in Australia Francis begins to minister alongside Ps Charles Lapa and others and soon he grows in the work of God. When a ministry team visits from Australia, his eyes fall on one member of the group who later becomes Pauline Apurel.
Francis and Pauline have four children; Howard, Melody, Christine and Esther.
Pastor/evangelist Francis Apurel has been a peer of Joseph Walters, Charles Lapa, Joseph Kingal and others in the 1990s.
He had also tried his hand in politics, vying unsuccessfully for the Southern Highlands regional seat but his prophecies about leaders like Sir Michael, Paias Wingti and Anderson Agiru have borne out.
At a church service at the Miracle Christian Centre at Ensisi Valley, Port Moresby following the arrival of the family with the casket, Ps Apurel called on believers to change and reach a level of spirituality.
“I have found that there are 12 levels in the spirit. After the ninth level the devil cannot touch you. A lot of believers run around in circles and keep repeating the same mistakes without ever getting out and reaching higher.”
Message to Christians
As a Highlands man, Ps Apurel knew what the death of his son, a chief’s son at that, meant. Because of the costs involved, he had planned to cremate the body and take the ashes home for a quiet burial next to the graves of the old man Apurel and Francis’s sister Doris who lies next to the father in the family cemetery at Ialibu.
However, through what could have only been divine intervention, things fell into place and the family was able to repatriate the body to Port Moresby. Even’s Louis’s four sons were able to travel to Brisbane to accompany their brother home.
Through all this all, the scripture in Luke 13:37 – Wherever the body is eagles will gather – was impressed upon his heart. So while speaking at the Miracle Christian Centre, Ensisi Valley, and later at Ialibu, Ps Apurel told Christians that they were like eagles gathered to receive a message of revival to impact their communities and churches.
“I have a message for you eagles. I have a message for you widows and divorced women. You will provide for pastors and servants of God.”
He said further that his return to the country after 17 years was to bring a message to the nation. He urged believers to strive for personal change and sanctification through fasting and prayer.
“Let’s build the walls of our nation…we need to rise up.
“I return 17 years later to find a nation in a mess. I’m here to declare to the demons: ‘Enough is enough.”
Against the grain of custom
Howard’s funeral last Saturday was a new thing in Ialibu and perhaps the highlands region at large.
Traditionally, as he was the grandson and son of a chief, there would have been an elaborate and lengthy mourning process involved. Tribes and clans from around the Koke tribe would have arrived with gifts of garden produce and live pigs for the family.
The body would have been held for several days to give time for people to travel in with their gifts. Then when the burial is complete and the haus sel removed there would be a large feast.
But over the past weekend, nothing of that sort happened. Howard’s body arrived on Friday afternoon and following a brief funeral service at the church ground, he was laid down next to his grandfather.
The only gifts presented to the family were two large pigs and garden produce by brother in-law Kingston Albert from Mendi who was accompanied by his parents to the funeral.
For the Koke tribe and others who attended the funeral this was completely new thing; albeit a welcome relief for the tribesmen and family members as they would not be burdened with repaying pigs, foodstuff and cash afterwards.
It was the first such experience for this part of the Highlands where traditional mourning can take days and weeks – and cost a lot.
But Howard’s passing has changed all that. In the words of his uncle Lous, the funeral and burial on Saturday “was against the grain of custom.”
Francis Mano Apurel, chief of Koke tribe, declared to believers and his tribesmen that he now loved God more than when his son was still alive.
He is certain that God has called his son home for a reason and for him to deliver a message to the living.
A word of thanks
I was priveleged to have have accompanied the Apurels to bury their son and brother at Ialibu. Thank you to the Apurel family and other members of the community!