Lest we forget

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For three years, Pastor Peter Knopper and his family had served the people of Homu in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. They were the ideal missionary family in the prime of their lives. They didn’t just get to know the locals; they loved them. And in return, the people loved the Knoppers.

Then, on March 16, 1988, it all came to a most brutal and abrupt end. 

We feel very honoured to be able to provide a permanent public memorial to those from our church family who gave their all in service for Jesus, and the enormous sacrifice of their families.

Peter was outside his Homu home when a group of assailants fired a shotgun blast at him, striking him in the head. Peter died on the way to hospital, leaving behind a wife and three young children, along with a truckload of questions (the killers were never caught). He was 32—far too young.

It’s impossible to imagine the kind of impact Peter’s murder would have had on his family and close friends. What we do know is the pain of the tragedy is still very real.

“I was very close with my brother,” Eddy Knopper says. “While I’ve had some really healing experiences since his death, there are things that keep bringing the pain to the foreground.

“Things like the hymns that were sung at his memorial service. I still struggle to sing them. It makes it all come flooding back.”

Despite the pain, Eddy says when he looks back he can clearly see the leading hand of God. For example, after Peter’s murder, the highlands community had a massive baptism, with approximately 2500 people giving their lives to Christ.  

Still, that doesn’t prevent thoughts of what might have been.

“You could tell he was always missionary material,” says Eddy. “I can’t help but wonder about where my brother would have ended up.”

It’s safe to say the Knopper family will always remember Peter’s life and sacrifice. But what about Peter’s church family—are we going to remember? Jesus said “greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Will we allow the selfless love of Peter and our other fallen missionaries to fade into obscurity?

No. Never.

To help all of us remember these ultimate expressions of love, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific has set up an online memorial. It’s a page dedicated to the men and women who paid the supreme price while in active service in the mission fields of our Division; a place to remember the Peter Knoppers, Pearl Tolhursts and Terai Solomons of our church family.

“We feel very honoured to be able to provide a permanent public memorial to those from our church family who gave their all in service for Jesus, and the enormous sacrifice of their families,” says South Pacific Division Communications director James Standish. “We believe this memorial is the first of its kind in our church community.”

The memorial page doesn’t just recognise our fallen brothers and sisters. It also pays tribute to the faithful heroes who suffered so much loss, yet remained committed to “preaching the gospel to the entire world” (Mark 16:15).

Ask any parent who has suffered the grief of losing a child and they’ll tell you it’s heartbreaking—but imagine losing three.

In a span of six years, Pastor Walter and Christina (Chrissie) Ferris lost three infant children—two girls (Shirley and Jean) and one boy (Ronald Bobbie, aka “Ronny”)—while in the service of the Church.

Shirley passed away at birth in Euroa, Victoria, in 1931, shortly before the Ferrises were called to mission work overseas. Ronny and Jean both died while Walter served as a deep sea captain in Fiji.
 

Pastor Walter Ferris.

The circumstances surrounding Ronny’s death were particularly tragic. 

In June 1933, the Ferrises decided to return to Suva from the outer eastern Lau Islands (where they were serving) to get a heavily pregnant Chrissie to hospital. However, strong trade winds struck the little mission boat during the voyage and in the midst of rough seas Chrissie was thrown from her bunk onto the floor. The company reached Suva a few days later, where Chrissie gave birth to a stillborn Ronny. 

But for Walter, the tragedy didn’t end there.

In 1955, Chrissie passed away in Wahroonga, NSW, while the Ferrises were on furlough from Fiji.

One might assume such loss would be enough to break your spirit, or at least persuade you to give up a life of mission. Not Walter. 

After Shirley’s death in 1931, Walter would go on to spend 32 years in active service overseas (24 years while married to Chrissie; nine years while married to his second wife, Myrtle).

“He was loyal to his maker,” says Elwin Ferris, Walter and Chrissie’s fourth and only surviving child. “It was in his blood to serve in the mission field. The Ferrises are a family of service.”

Shirley, Ronny and Jean Ferris are among the dozens of children whose names are listed at our online memorial. Their names serve as both a reminder of tragedy and a “thank you” to the parents who pushed through the sorrow for the sake of mission.

But the memorial page is not just about recognition. 

As I gathered the list of names and read some of the stories, I couldn’t help but wonder about my own life and what I would be willing to give up in order to share the Gospel. Christians are called to “forsake all” and follow Christ (Luke 14:25-33). But how many of us have truly considered what that means? How many of us have given “I surrender all” an actual shot?

<www.spd.adventist.org/in-memoriam>. Visit it, interact with it, and be inspired by those who have given up so much in sharing the Gospel of Christ.

Finally, to those who know of other names that should be on this list, please get in touch. We owe it to those who gave up so much in the service of our Lord, to remember.
 


Linden Chuang is assistant editor of Record—digital.