The Knopper family, 1987: from left, Jonathan, Peter, Rochelle, Talitha, and Sherry.

Photo courtesy of Corinne Knopper.

Knopper, Peter Andreas (1955–1988)

By Lester Devine

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Originally trained as a secondary history teacher, a career long Adventist educator, Lester Devine, Ed.D., has taught at elementary, secondary and higher education levels and spent more than three decades in elected educational leadership positions in two divisions of the world Church, NAD (1969-1982) and SPD (1982-2005). He completed his forty years of denominational service with a term as director of the Ellen G. White/Adventist Research Centre at Avondale University College in Australia where his life-long hobby of learning and presenting on Adventist heritage issues became his vocation. 

First Published: January 29, 2020

Peter Knopper and his wife, Kerry Sharelle were appointed as missionaries to Papua New Guinea at the beginning of 1985. In 1988 at Homu in the Eastern Highlands of the country Peter was killed in the course of his service.

Peter Andreas Knopper was born to Jan and Reitje Knopper on December 10, 1955, in Dordrecht, Holland, where his father was the pastor of the local Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) Church and led the literature evangelists in Holland.1 Peter was the second in a family of four boys, Rever, Peter, Eddy, and Willem.2 When Peter was a child, his parents found him hard to manage, but from the time he could talk, he wanted to be in ministry like his father.

About the time Peter was six and beginning school, the family was called to mission service, initially in Zaire and later in Tanzania, so he spent 10 of his growing-up years in Africa.3 There he almost died from cerebral malaria. As he got older, Peter attended boarding school in Nairobi. When his father, Jan, became the publishing director for the Northern Europe-West Africa Division of the SDA Church, the Knopper boys attended the Stanborough Park School in Watford, England.4 His restless nature was not a good fit for his new school environment, but the then principal of Newbold College, Dr. Roy Graham, worked out a special one-year work-study program for Peter, and this enabled him to start preparing for a life of ministerial service. However, before he could begin the ministerial training program at Newbold, the family transferred to Australia as his father, Jan, took up his new role as the Publishing Department director for the Australasian Division in 1975.5 Thus in 1979, Peter graduated with a degree in theology from Avondale College and was appointed to be a ministerial intern in Perth, Western Australia.6 Because of his ultimate interest in mission service, Peter also trained as a pilot while he pastored several churches in the West Australian Conference. While there, Peter met Kerry Sharelle “Sherry” Turner, who had been born in Perth on May 23, 1962.7 They married in the Perth City SDA Church on August 29, 1982.8 Sherry knew from the beginning that Peter wanted to be a missionary and was prepared for living in the remote and isolated location to which they were eventually appointed. In time they had three children: Ellenjae Talitha, Belinda Rochelle, and Jonathan Andrew Ross.9

At the beginning of 1985, Peter and Sherry were appointed as missionaries to Papua New Guinea, where Peter was to be the district director in the Eastern Highlands of the country. He was also to conduct the Laymen’s Training School in Homu and be one of a number of mission pilots.10 He was very practical by nature and was ideally placed in that remote mission outpost.11 He and his family saw themselves as missionaries for the long term.12 Peter was ordained to the gospel ministry in July 1986.13

On March 4, 1988, Peter preached the Friday night sermon for the ministers’ meetings in Homu, where they lived. He spoke on Acts 20:17–38 and described how Paul had been faithful in preaching the gospel at Ephesus for three years and that he would see their faces no more, and finally, how they had all wept as they said goodbye. He spoke with conviction, challenging the workers to be faithful. This was the last sermon Peter ever preached. Chester Stanley, Ministerial Association secretary for Papua New Guinea, later wrote, “If it had to be a man’s last sermon, it could not have been a better one.”14

At around ten o’clock on Wednesday night, March 16, 1988, Peter left the family home to turn off the generator in the adjacent shed, and as he returned to the house, he was shot in the head and neck.15 After Sherry found him, some laymen were called, and Peter was placed in the back seat of the family four-wheel-drive vehicle. With the children being cared for, Sherry began the very slow 90-minute, 40-kilometer (25-mile) drive to Goroka along the rough and muddy track in the rain and darkness. While driving, Sherry sang and talked with Peter, hoping that would help keep him alive. She would periodically reach back between the seats to touch him and realized that his body was growing colder, but she had no option but to keep driving. Once at the hospital in Goroka, Peter was rushed into the operating theater, but it was too late; he had already died. After a final hour with Peter, Sherry was taken to the home of Graeme and Kay Humble in Goroka.16

On Monday, March 21, a memorial service was held on the Eastern Highlands Mission compound, with an estimated 8,000 people in attendance.17 Peter’s and Sherry’s parents had flown to Goroka for the service and to support Sherry and the children. Peter’s father, Jan, had dedicated Peter as a baby, later baptized him as a teen, then married him to Sherry, dedicated Peter’s children, had a part in Peter’s ordination, and now, less than two years later, had the unexpected task of assisting at his son’s funeral.18

Following the service, the crowd followed the coffin to the airport, where it was loaded onto the SDA mission aircraft to begin the long journey home to Perth in Western Australia, where Peter was to be finally laid to rest. As the crowd waited on the airport apron, Sherry walked, alone, to the edge of the runway and sat on the grass. She and the children had often been there to watch “Daddy” take off when he was flying the mission plane. Small and vulnerable, she was alone this time. There she sat patiently until the plane lifted off, and then she waved and watched until it disappeared from sight. Then she returned home to Homu alone.19 Shortly thereafter, she returned to Perth. A funeral service was conducted in Perth, Western Australia, on March 25.20

The prime minister of Papua New Guinea, Paias Wingti, sent the following message to church leaders: “I was shocked to learn of the brutal murder of Reverend [sic] Peter Knopper. Such an act of barbarism must be denounced in the strongest possible terms. . . . I join all Papua New Guineans in mourning the late Peter Knopper as a bearer of the message of love and peace to our people. To Mrs Knopper, her children, relatives and friends, I convey my heartfelt condolences during this moment of grief and sorrow. I hope that those responsible will be apprehended swiftly.21

Sherry later wrote, “I don’t know why God didn’t guard Peter that dreadful night. I guess ‘Why?’ is the question wrung from countless aching hearts. But I do know that when we meet again as a family when Jesus comes, and we ask that question then, we will find the answer from Jesus Himself completely satisfying.”22

Sources

Knopper, J. T. “Knopper-Turner wedding.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, October 2, 1982.

———. “Life-Sketch of Peter Andreas Knopper.” Record, May 28, 1988.

Knopper, Sherry. “On Reunion, Sherry Will Ask Jesus Why?Record, May 28, 1988.

“Missionary Pays Supreme Sacrifice.” Record, May 28, 1988.

Peter Andreas Knopper Biographical Records. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives. Folder: “Knopper, Peter Andreas.” Document: “Biographical Record.”

Peter Andreas Knopper Biographical Records. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives. Folder: “Knopper, Peter Andreas.” Document: “Worker’s Biographical Record.”

Peter Andreas Knopper Service Records. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives. Folder: “Knopper, Peter Andreas.” Document: “Worker’s Service Record.”

“PM’s Message.” Record, May 28, 1988.

Stanley, Chester. “Missionaries in PNG Pay Tribute to Compatriot.” Record, May 28, 1988.

Tonkin, Mervyn. “Peter Knopper obituary.” Record, May 7, 1988.

Notes

  1. J. T. Knopper, “Life-Sketch of Peter Andreas Knopper,” Record, May 28, 1988, 13.

  2. Ibid.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Ibid.

  5. Ibid.

  6. Peter Andreas Knopper Biographical Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, Folder: “Knopper, Peter Andreas,” Document: “Worker’s Biographical Record.”

  7. Peter Andreas Knopper Biographical Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, Folder: “Knopper, Peter Andreas,” Document: “Biographical Record.”

  8. J. T. Knopper, “Knopper-Turner wedding,” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, October 2, 1982, 14.

  9. Peter Andreas Knopper Biographical Records, “Biographical Record.”

  10. Peter Andreas Knopper Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, Folder: “Knopper, Peter Andreas,” Document: “Worker’s Service Record”; Chester Stanley, “Missionaries in PNG Pay Tribute to Compatriot,” Record, May 28, 1988, 11.

  11. Sherry Knopper, “On Reunion, Sherry Will Ask Jesus Why?,” Record, May 28, 1988, 12.

  12. J. T. Knopper, “Life-Sketch of Peter Andreas Knopper,” 13.

  13. Peter Andreas Knopper Biographical Records, “Worker’s Biographical Record.”

  14. Stanley, “Missionaries in PNG Pay Tribute,” 11.

  15. “Missionary Pays Supreme Sacrifice,” Record, May 28, 1988, 11.

  16. Stanley, “Missionaries in PNG Pay Tribute,” 11.

  17. Ibid.

  18. J. T. Knopper, “Life-Sketch of Peter Andreas Knopper,” 13.

  19. Stanley, “Missionaries in PNG Pay Tribute,” 12.

  20. “Missionary Pays Supreme Sacrifice,” 11.

  21. “PM’s Message,” Record, May 28, 1988, 8.

  22. Sherry Knopper, “Sherry Will Ask Jesus Why?,” 12.

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Devine, Lester. "Knopper, Peter Andreas (1955–1988)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 29, 2020. Accessed February 27, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=77YS.

Devine, Lester. "Knopper, Peter Andreas (1955–1988)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 29, 2020. Date of access February 27, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=77YS.

Devine, Lester (2020, January 29). Knopper, Peter Andreas (1955–1988). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved February 27, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=77YS.