By ALPHONSE BARIASI
REMEMBER when Bill (Sir William) Skate declared publicly that Jesus Christ was the Prime Minister of PNG?
It was April 1999 when well-known evangelist Benny Hinn visited the country and spoke to a huge gathering at the Sir John Guise Stadium.
Other prominent preachers like Creflo Dollar and Morris Cerullo also visited then in those heady days of what was to have been a great revival across the country.
Those were also some of the darkest days in PNG’s history with the festering Bougainville Crisis. Preachers and Christians of all shades were drawn to the call for repentance and seeking his intervention in national affairs.
Those were the times when loal evangelists like Charles Lapa and Joseph Walters, among others travelled around PNG preaching repentance and drawing the young and old alike to abandon the old ways for a better life of submission to God and his goodness.
One might wonder why, after that supposed revival, we are where we are today as a country. What has become of it all now?
I leave that to the reader.
Back to the story. Those were to days when another shining star of the revival movement Francis Mano Apurel came into the scene and, not to be outdone by “his seniors”, set out on his own preaching and reaching out to the lost and sinful.
In fact, he was also very much actively working behind the scenes to bring some of those famous preachers to the country.
His family, tribe and the many believers whom Apurel has inspired are now in mourning over his passing in his family home in Ipswich, Brisbane, on July 30, only 11 days shy of his 63rd birthday.
He had posted on his Facebook page a video of Benny Hinn on his Port Moresby crusade referred to above and commented: “In April of 1999 at this Papua New Guinea crusade and prayer meeting was healing evangelist Benny Hinn who was invited by the late Hon Bill Skate on advice and facilitation of Ps Francis Apurel with the support of the Ministers Fraternal Port Moresby. The highlight to this event was that the Prime Minister (Bill Skate) declared Jesus as the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea.”
Apurel, the first of 13 children born to a tribal chief who was one of the first converts to Christianity in Ialibu, Southern Highlands, has followed after his dad to touch and influence lives.
Daughter Esther presented him his first grandchild earlier this year.
Many adult Christians throughout the nation would recall the ministry of the pastor and prophet when he stood with with others in the great Pentecostal wave and revival during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Younger brother Louis Apurel said Francis was a brilliant student, right from the moment he entered primary school at Ialibu station. Later on at Mendi High School he topped the grade 10 class and won entry to the PNG University of Technology.
But six months to his university graduation, which his Koke tribe had planned to celebrate with a huge feast, he withdrew from his studies. He was doing double degrees in electrical and mechanical engineering when the Lord visited him in his dormitory room, an encounter which was to set him on a path of serving God fulltime.
At home he sought further direction and or confirmation for his calling into full-time ministry as a preacher/evangelist.
That was surely confirmed in due time and the young pastor travelled to the capital city and quickly established a rapport with Ps Charles Lapa of the Jesus Centre at Morata.
He was part of the great move of God through crusades around the country in what was known then as Operation Brukim Skru between 1996 and 1998.
While he was youth pastor at Morata a Youth With A Mission (YWAM) delegation visited Port Moresby and among the group was his wife to be Pauline.
In fact when his family and tribe had wanted him to get married, he told them to wait as “God showed me that my wife would be a woman taller than me and from another country.”
With his young family, he established a church in Mt Hagen which held worship services the town’s old movie theatre.
Later when they moved to Port Moresby, his congregation held fellowship at a night club. Patrons would litter the place the night before and on Sunday morning, his congregation would sweep and wash the place reeking with the smell of alcohol and other unpleasant odours.
It was his belief that church held in such places would be a lot more relevant and better-placed to win converts. Whether that worked is be best left to individuals whose lives had been touched by the life and preaching of the man of God.
Apurel led his congregation to prayer nights at Brigadier Hill behind the Murray Barracks praying for Bougainville and PNG during the crisis. His church gathered clothing and other necessities to send to Bougainvilleans caught up in the crises and the resultant embargo placed by Waigani.
Date with politics
He had also rubbed shoulders with politicians like the former Ialibu-Pangia MP Pundia Kange, the late Southern Highlands Governor Anderson Agiru, Western Highlands Governor Paias Wingti and of course his university cohort, the late Sir William Skate. His prophesies about Wingti becoming PM, and Kange Correctional Service minister under Sir Michael Somare came about as foretold, Louis said.
His passing is a big loss to his own Koke tribesmen in particular, who are mourning over the fact that he was not only a man of God but a chief who they had looked up to, who was called by God to serve in other places away from them.
Louis said tribesmen George Tame Aiye posted on Facebook that: “We (Koke tribe) have to be careful as Apurel was our watchman and intercessor between us and God. He was our connection to God.”
Apurel stood for the national elections a few times but lost. His younger brother Louis said the candidate, unlike others, never campaigned but merely distributed posters to the electorate.
Ialibu todayenjoys peace and order compared to other parts of Southern Highlands, thanks to the influence of the gospel.
Apurel’s father, the late Fabian Walipe Apurel was one of the first to meet and befriend the pioneer 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 4am when he fell asleep that the senior 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 Walipe Apurel would die. That white boy was to be his grandson, Howard Israel Apurel, Francis Apurel’s first born, who sadly passed away in February last year and was buried next to his grandfather and an aunt at the family cemetery at West Kuri, Ialibu.
A vision of the nation
Throughout his life he was pondering upon one of his visions of the nation which he had shared with believers.
“I found myself looking down upon the nation of PNG and saw trickles of smoke rising from several parts of the nation. Suddenly the smokes exploded into one big flame. Well, I thought it was a flame but realised it to be some highly charged energy of indescribable glory. It began to spread right through the nation of PNG and this glory began to literally lift up hosts of people.
“Our feet were in the air and we were floating, carried by this incredible wave of glory. We were singing and worshipping God. We assembled under a banner.
“The Lord did not allow me to see the inscriptions on it. Nevertheless, I saw the Holy Spirit as a dove above the banner. I found myself in the frontline with a number of others and we were talking, singing and praising God right across to Australia. Australia began to be hit by this tidal wave of glory.
“From there we assembled under the banner and the Holy Spirit above us. We found more people around Australia and New Zealand joining the moving host. Australia became the melting pot. From the eastern coast of Australia, we turned north-east. With this conglomeration of hosts, we began to walk across the Pacific nations to the west coast of the United States of America.”
Louis said following his death, his family now realised that his vision would yet come to pass as he would be witnessing this great move of God “from above” as he himself had been shown then.
Due to the current Covid-19 restrictions, Pauline and daughters Melody, Christine and Esther did not accompany the body to Port Moresby on Wednesday evening. They will visit the grave later when international travel returns to normal.
A funeral service will be held today at the West Kuri church field (where the grandstand used for the 1999 Benny Hinn crusade stands today).
The pastor and prophet will be laid to rest in the family cemetery at West Kuri tomorrow, Aug 15.
To God be the glory for Francis Apurel’s life and ministry!