Marking 37 years of active ministry
By Pr GODFREY WIPPON
I WILL never forget that day, May 31, 1981.
It will always be on my mind until death takes it away from me.
It was a Sunday afternoon and I was picked up by a Greek family of five at a two-storey residence my family and I were living in the Victorian suburb of Northcote, Australia. At that time I was employed by the Papua New Guinea Service of Radio Australia.
The head of the Greek family had met us briefly for the first time the previous week in the street close to where we lived.
My wife Helen, (now fallen asleep in the Lord), refused to accompany us and stayed at home with our children, Flora and Jeffrey. Since our arrival in Melbourne in 1980, Helen was always extra careful whenever we were invited by people whom we met for the first time, especially on the streets. Therefore, I said goodbye and took the front seat beside Peter the father of the family and my friends to be.
What were we going to do on that dull drizzly autumn Sunday afternoon in a place like Melbourne?
The answer was we were going to attend a religious assembly. This was another major reason why my late wife had refused to have anything to do with any other religious denomination in Australia where all types of church groups existed.
As for me, it is a long tale however. In brief, I was an altar boy, a seminarian, educated and brought up by Catholics in East and West Sepik provinces. My father wanted me to become a priest so that I could shepherd the people in Fatima Parish in the Lumi District where the mission land is owned by him and his clan. Unfortunately, I failed Latin so I left St John’s Minor Seminary on Kairuru Island and began my broadcasting and journalism career with Radio Wewak in 1969. For 28 years I was a die-hard Catholic.
Getting back to the Melbourne experience, I was invited to a Sunday service at the headquarters of one of the fastest growing church groups in Australia, the Revival Centres of Australia. The service was held at an old cinema hall known as the Palace Theatre. The main part with the communion service started at 3pm and ended about 5.15pm.
“Following an hour of tea break, the service continued with bright gospel singing, and then followed by a talk based on the Bible by one of the pastors. The Sunday service ended at about 8 pm. Everything that happened on that Sunday was something I had never experienced in my life before.
“The atmosphere was completely different to what I was used to. I talked to friendly, happy people with smiling faces who seemed to have one thing in common. Discipline and order were also applied in the assembly where more than 1,500 people were in attendance.
“Other things that took place were bright gospel singing and prayer for the sick, talks taken directly from the good news and each attendant had his or her own Bible, which was referred to when the pastor read the scriptures. Perhaps one thing that really caught me from within was when the pastor talked about being born again and receiving the power of the Holy Spirit with the Bible evidence of speaking in an unknown tongue” as the early Christians did in the Bible days (Acts 2:4). With reference to speaking in tongues (see 1Corinthians 14). Here, the pastor was referring to full waters of baptism our Lord Jesus Christ himself showed us as an example when He was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River (Mathew 3:11).
As I sat there recalling my past experiences I did not remember being baptised by full immersion as the pastor said. So many things came to my mind but I controlled them all and concentrated on two thoughts which I considered to be of great concern for me. They were my previous church and if I got baptised what effects would it have on my entire family in Melbourne and back at home in Sandaun? What would my other relatives and friends say and think of me?
I was also suffering from lobar pneumonia – collapsed right lung and my Indian doctor told me that I would not see the next summer. I had tried everything, churches, medicine, witch doctors (glasman) but all failed. I wasted a lot of money knowing my days were numbered.
“While these thoughts were on my mind there was also the burning desire within me to give it a go and see what happens. After all I had sat right throughout the service and observed it all and who was going to stop me? I said to myself, “nobody”. This is me and this is what I have been looking for. I want God to heal me. I want to feel the power of God all over me through His Holy Spirit that the pastor was talking about.
Furthermore, I want to speak that unknown language which I heard after the communion service. What happened here was that immediately after the people had taken the grape fruit juice (symbol of Christ’s blood) the whole assembly then prayed away to themselves.
And out of the blue came a non-stop voice speaking in a language I could not understand within the assembly for a couple of seconds or so and faded away or stopped. Then it was followed by an interpretation from one of the pastors on the platform. In all, there were three people speaking in unknown tongues and each tongue was followed by an interpretation in English. Then there were two or three at the most speaking one at a time. (I learned afterwards that God spoke to the church through its members – 1Corinthians 14:29).
The interpretations were so powerful and meaningful and I felt as though they attributed to me alone – God was calling me.
At that moment I forgot everything and anything around me and the most important thing that mattered in my whole entire life right there and then was adhering to the word of God as I boldly took the step. I was baptized by full immersion that Sunday evening. I did not receive the Holy Spirit but I was miraculously healed of a collapsed lung. I was able to breathe easier and walked with ease as soon as I came out of the baptism tank and climbed the steps so the pastors would pray for me – something I could not do for the past eight months of suffering. The heavy load on my body was gone. I felt lighter and full of joy and felt like laughing all day.
On my way home I did not think of what my late wife’s reaction would be, but my mind and heart was thinking of how I would receive the Holy Ghost and when. When I arrived at home I did no tell Helen my experience at the Revival Centres of Australia but she could see there was something good in me. My face was shining, with a big smile, no more sick looking and depressed. When she asked me what had happened my response was that I would tell her everything later.
This was because I wanted to be alone and seek the Lord for His Holy Spirit and speak in that unknown tongue first. Therefore, I had my dinner and retired to my room leaving Helen in the lounge room watching television.
After closing the door I took out my new Bible which was given to me by the pastor and followed his instructions in reading the first two chapters of the book of Acts.
After I read the two chapters I got down on my knees, closed my eyes and prayed to the Lord and just within five minutes, I burst out speaking in tongues. I did not know what I was talking about but I kept talking for 10 minutes or so. Then when I came back to my senses I realised that my sickness was completely gone, and I was full of peace from within and felt very different. I had received the Spirit of God (Acts2:4).
Helen came charging in through the door thinking something must have gone wrong with me, however, when she saw me kneeling down, she closed the door and returned to her television.
After a while when I came out Helen was still there and eager to know what I was talking about. She commented that I was speaking like an Italian, Greek or some language of the Middle Eastern countries. Speaking in tongue was strange to her.
What the Lord did to me still did not convince Helen one bit – she preferred to remain in her old church. However, we agreed that we just pray to God about it.
After five weeks my prayers for her to be saved were answered and she joined me at the Revival Centres of Australia. She got baptised by full immersion and received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues on her first attendance (on July 7,1981).
Then things started to change. The country we loved and initially wanted to live in and take up citizenship there because life in PNG was tough for us and not on our minds anymore. The city was like a modern Babylon to us now. We wanted to return home, sweet home.
Since then our lives have tremendously changed and we praised God for the things He has done for us physically and spiritually after we departed from Australia in March 1982.
I was employed by Ok Tedi Mining Limited as a press publicity officer at Six Mile in Port Moresby for a year. In August of 1982 I took the family for a break at home, Karaite Village in Lumi District of Sandaun. It was on this trip that I prayed for my mother and elder brother who were bedridden for weeks and they were healed instantly.
My story and the healing through the bush telegraph went out fast far and wide. Within days relatives and friends started pouring in to see me.
I began testifying to them about how this God of Israel who had healed me and at the same time offered prayers to the sick. Many people were healed by the grace of God. As a result on the first September of 1982 I baptised the first nine people – eight brothers and a young sister. Thus began the Revival movement now known as the Revival Centres of PNG.
Little did I know that what started out in this small remote village in Lumi and high up on the hills of Karaite would change the lives of so many people in Papua New Guinea today.
I could not fathom – but as the days passed so quickly – it now dawned on me that it was definitely my calling to bring the gospel of repentance, baptism and receiving of the Holy Ghost to my people.
I encountered many great challenges and persecutions on the way especially when boldly stepping out onto a stronghold Catholic territory to humbly tell the people to be saved. And with a tremendous response from my people who happened to be my close relatives believing in the Word of God with signs, wonders and miracles following – nothing could stop them coming to receive the Holy Spirit.
The numbers just kept growing and it has ever since its inception in 1982. Despite numerous persecutions by the already established churches over the last 30 years this ministry has grown to a membership of over 100,000 including children and is in all the provinces. An average 130 to 200 baptisms are conducted by this Fellowship every week.
This concludes my personal testimony – but the Lord’s work doesn’t end here because He is doing mighty things, wonders and miracles and calling his people through the power of His Spirit.
So if you want to hear more from other Papua New Guineans whose lives have been changed by God, we invite you to come to our fellowships right throughout the country.
Papua New Guinea needs a big spiritual revolution to take itself out of the rapid social doldrums that are on the rise throughout the country. Without God we are nothing or, we say “there is no survival without revival” (John 3:3-8, Acts 2:38).