Wapi was knee high tall when World War 2 soldiers occupied Chambri Island in Papua New Guinea (1942-43). During late night pow-wows, he detailed for me the atrocities of war and the hardships of growing up in a war-ravaged village. Eventually, Wapi ascended to chieftain status as a fierce warrior and leader among his formerly headhunting people.
Chambri villagers were not friendly towards our initial gospel efforts during the late 1980s. Wapi was the only one of four chiefs I was able to befriend. Years of tumultuous opposition ensued as we forged the message forward. But gradually, a toe-hold for the gospel was dug into the Chambri swamps.
Josie Koski, one of our dear Papua New Guinea (PNG) sisters, and a faithful co-laborer in the gospel for more than 30 years, recently informed me of Wapi’s death. She simply stated, “Chief Wapi has gone to Jesus.” As best I can determine, he quietly died on his pallet bed in Kirimbit village (Chambri), sometime in February.
Several humorous Wapi stories are preserved in my book Reckless Abandon. As I reflect upon his recent home-going to Jesus, I remember when he first believed. He pranced about (hobbled with a cane) with the giddiness of a child. He was so conscious of how the Lord had embraced him with his love, and Wapi joyfully, wholeheartedly, embraced Him back. Before we could even get him baptized, he had evangelized the remaining three chiefs. As we prepared for the baptisms, Wapi blurted out to me with a toothless grin, “Brother David, you know I never beat you up when you first came here with the gospel (the other chiefs did), so you have to baptize me first!” One of the happiest days of my missionary life was watching my good friend, Rod Conner, baptize Wapi first, and then the other three chiefs, in the ocean in the town of Wewak.
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (Ps. 116:15). Precious to my heart also.