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Paul Piari.

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Piari, Paul (1927–2010)

By Kenneth Vogel

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Kenneth Vogel, M.A. Hons. Leadership and Management (Avondale College of Higher Education, Cooranbong, NSW, Australia), serves as the associate secretary of the Australian Union Conference, Melbourne, Australia. Pastor Vogel has served the Church as a pastor, church planter, missionary pilot (Papua New Guinea), college principal and teacher, departmental director, conference president, and union conference secretary. He has authored The Fighter, a biography of the conversion of Paul Piari. Pastor Vogel is married to Marlene. They have a son and a daughter and four grandchildren.

First Published: January 29, 2020

Paul Piari, born as a tribal warrior from Engan Province in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, became a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, opening new territory in the country, often in the face of fierce persecution.1

Early Life

Piari was born in 1927 in Niunk village beside the Lagaip River.2 At 7,200 feet above sea level, it was an isolated high-altitude region (now known as Laiagam) in Engan Province of Papua New Guinea. His family was part of the Piolai clan of the Piapri tribe. His father, Nun, and mother, Titam, in the way of their ancestors, taught their children to respect the eternal God and His law, including not to fight and kill. They believed in a personal God from “the land of mystery” who created the world and to whom each person is accountable.3

Piari rebelled against all this. Given the name Amusa the son of Nun at birth, he became known only as Piari from an early age due to his fighting spirit and his skills as a warrior. “Piari” in the Engan language means warrior or fighter. He became a feared fight leader, injuring and killing during tribal warfare.4

The world changed dramatically and quickly for Piari’s tribe once the reach of colonial government impacted their highland home. Tribal fighting was outlawed by the government, but that did not deter Piari and his tribe or their enemies. Ultimately, Piari was imprisoned for a period due to his involvement in tribal fighting, although his fighting spirit could not be broken.

When Christian missionaries did reach this highland region, Piari was surprised at how close Christianity was to the beliefs and teaching of his godly parents, both of whom were deceased by this time. Initially, he attended mass as the Roman Catholics were the first group to enter his village. When the Lutheran Church came, his sister, Sanison, began attending. Piari joined her after the Lutheran pastor made the point to him that Mary, the mother of Jesus, should not be worshipped as she was an ordinary person, albeit with an extraordinary role as the mother of the Savior of the world.5

Piapin, Piari’s younger brother, left the area to attend a school operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church at Rakamanda near Wabag, a two day walk east of Laiagam. After some time, Piapin visited his home and shared what he was learning about Christianity, using his small Bible in the process. For the first time Piari, heard of worshipping God on the seventh day of the week. In time, he built a Seventh-day Adventist church on his land at Niunk, his home village.6

Those opposed to the work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church burned the new church to the ground three times. Local government leaders were fearful that Piari would unleash his fighting spirit to payback. But no reprisals took place.

Education and Marriage

In search of education, in late 1956 Piari travelled east on foot to the Seventh-day Adventist school at Rakamanda. He did not remain there, walking, first, further east to the Church’s school at Moruma in the Chimbu region, and then, with another young man, to the Kabiufa school in the Eastern Highlands. However, he returned to Moruma and spent 1957 attending school there to complete Grade 1.7

In 1958, he retraced his steps to the school at Rakamanda and attended school there.8 During that year, he was given work teaching small children how to read and write. These two years were his only years of formal education. Though not baptized himself, he began telling Bible stories to the children and encouraging them to follow Jesus. Subsequently, he was in the first group to be baptized and join the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Lagaip region on September 1, 1958.9

Following a practice that had become popular to take a Christian name when baptized, Piari chose to be called “Paul,” after the great evangelist missionary in the early Christian church. He also decided to keep the name his tribe had conferred on him, Piari (warrior/fighter) as he had now understood himself to be a “warrior” on God’s side of the great controversy between God and Satan.10

During his time at Rakamanda, Paul Piari married a Lutheran girl more than ten years his junior, Kinduruwan. She also attended the school as a student in 1958. They were married on October 5, 1958, after Kinduruwan’s baptism. After her baptism she also adopted a Christian name, Dorcas.11

Paul and Dorcas Piari became the parents of six children: Wason, Ellen, Nathan, Opah, Paita, and Popone.12

Career / Ministry

Piari’s formal career began in 1958 with a teaching position in the school at Tambai. Piari was based at Tetemanda during this time.13 In 1960, Piari was asked by expatriate missionary, Alexander Campbell, to commence church work in a new area as a sub-district leader at Yakananda or Kulita.14 Here, Piari was attacked with sticks and stones by about forty men. If it was not for the intervention of a leader in the village, Piari would have been killed. Covered in blood, he stood up and shook hands with his assailants. A local young lad observed all this, felt sorry for Piari, and lent a hand. He followed Pairi who enrolled him in the Seventh-day Adventist school that was at that time being established in Laiagam. That young boy, Timothy Pailitu, later became an ordained pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Pailitu was not the only witness impressed by Piari’s response. Others were also shocked by the violence perpetrated on Piari and amazed by his Christian response.15

In 1961, Paul and Dorcas Piari were sent to open work in Sirunki. Piari was again a sub-district leader in the Laiagam district.16 The people in this high-altitude region (8,000 feet above sea level) between Laiagam and Wabag reacted angrily to the Piaris’ presence. A large group of men severely assaulted Paul Piari. The leader of that group was imprisoned for three months by the government officer. Piari used aids such as picture rolls and fingerphones.17 These small plastic gramophones were turned using just a finger. Everyone wanted a turn in spinning the record with their own finger and hear their own language coming back to them from this machine, all the time hearing the gospel story of Jesus. Once a church was established on one side of Lake Sirunki, Piari worked to establish a church on the other side of the lake.18

Paul and Dorcas Piari were often asked to initiate the work of the Church in new areas in Enga. One such area was Maramuni, still in the Laiagam district but between between Enga and West Sepik.19 In 1962, Paul and Dorcas Piari, along with Pastor Martin Pascoe, walked from Laiagam to Maramuni, encountering steep slopes, raging rivers, snakes, and leeches while carrying personal effects and building materials with which the Piaris could set up their home. The establishment of the church was in no small part due to a kindness that Piari had earlier shown to a man from Maramuni by inviting him to sleep in their small house, giving him food, and sharing the gospel story with him.20

The next assignment for the Piaris, in 1963, was at Porgera and Paiela, over tall and rugged mountains west of his home base at Laiagam.21 Piari was now working closely with expatriate missionary Len Barnard, who was based in Laiagam beginning in 1962. In late 1963, Piari was asked to lay the foundations for a school at Aiak. Ultimately, this was to become a very important training center for lay missionaries. Piari was by now a well-known and respected pioneering missionary. Robert R. Frame, secretary of the Australasian Division, wrote of him:

Piari is a man of Christlike character who has repeatedly been beaten, stoned, jumped on and thrown into the swamp. When his enemies have done their worst he gets to his feet and extends his hand with a smile, suggesting, “Now you have done what you wanted to, let’s be friends.” In this spirit he usually disarms his opponents and gains permission to tell his story of the Saviour who loves them.22

In 1964, the first Adventist-owned aircraft, VH-SDA was brought into service with a dedication on June 27.23 It was based with pilot Len Barnard at Laiagam. Soon after the arrival of the aircraft, Paul and Dorcas Piari and their children were ferried to Kopiago.24 What would have taken five days of walking over mountainous terrain took just forty minutes in the new aircraft. Here Piari and his family were to establish the church for the first time amongst a language group totally foreign to them.

For the next two years, 1965 and 1966, Piari served beside Barnard, based in his home village of Niunk in Laiagam.25 Often accompanying Barnard, together they were to establish over 200 church congregations. During this time, Paul Piari attended the General Conference Session in June 1966, held in Detroit, Michigan, United States, as a delegate of the Australasian Division.26

Paul and Dorcas Piari and their family were transferred to the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea in the second half of 1967. New work was started with the Imbogu- and Kewapi- speaking people of the Ialibu district.27 On October 28, 1967, Paul Piari was ordained during the Western Highlands Mission Session being held at Laiagam.28 He was the first Engan to be ordained as a pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Following his ordination, Piari worked for three years at Kiunga in the upper reaches of the Fly River where he again established the work of the Church in the district.29 In 1971, he was transferred to Menyamya in the heart of Kukukuku territory.30 The Kukukukus were a warlike mountain people who had a reputation for treachery, a quick temper, and violence. Since the Seventh-day Adventist Church had already been introduced to the Kukukuku people in Menyamya, Piari’s assignment was to extend the work of the Church into the uncharted region around Aseki. Initially, his family remained at Menyamya, but once ground was made available, and a home and church built, Piari relocated his family.31

In 1973, Piari and Dorcas Piari were asked to commence the work of the church in Wau and Bulolo, located in the mountains of the Morobe Province.32 However just some months after settling there, Dorcas Piari became seriously ill and church leaders returned the family to the Western Highlands in order for her to have ongoing medical support. Piari cared for the church congregation at the Adventist Togoba Health Facility.33 While there, Piari started a school. He also travelled to the Baiyer River region and established a church there despite strong opposition.34

In 1977, Piari was approached by some government leaders to make himself available for the national elections, contesting the Laiagam Open seat as a member of parliament. He was conflicted about how to proceed, but after prayer, he stepped aside from ministry for a time to contest the national election. He was not elected and Piari recognized this as God’s will for his life. He then served as a layman for nearly three years. During that time, he continued to establish a number of congregations, including one at Tomba (high in the mountains between Mount Hagen and Wabag), where he started a church and school.35

Paul Piari returned to fulltime ministry late in 1979. He was given leadership as district director for the Wapenamanda District in the Enga Province.36 In 1984, Piari and Dorcas Piari were appointed to work in Mount Hagen, the capital of the Western Highlands Province. In that year two new churches were started.37 Their ministry in the Mount Hagen region continued through 1987.38

Later Life

Paul Piari retired at the end of 1987, staying near Mount Hagen. In retirement, he continued active service, running branch Sabbath Schools, preaching in the marketplace with a picture roll, and visiting churches. Later, he and Dorcas moved to Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, to be close to their first-born daughter, Wason. Piari continued running branch Sabbath Schools till his untimely death on September 3, 2010, when hit by a car as he was crossing the road.39

Legacy

For more than four decades, Paul Piari, with the dedicated support of his wife, Dorcas, served as a pioneer missionary. He opened new areas to the Seventh-day Adventist Church across many regions of Papua New Guinea, often in the face of fierce opposition.

Sources

Barnard, L. H. “Only Truth Will Triumph.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, September 26, 1966.

Barnard, L. H. “Helicopter Visitation.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, January 17, 1966.

Barnard, L. H. “The Spreading Wings of Evangelism.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, June 17, 1968.

Barnard, Leonard. Banish the Night: Fighting Kur, Timango, and Other Devils in New Guinea. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1969.

Beach, W. R. “General Conference Session Reports: Sketches from the Secretary’s Report.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, August 15, 1966.

Craig, A. R. “Menyamya Reporting.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, February 8, 1971.

“Flash Point.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, October 7, 1968.

Frame, R. R. “National Leaders Developing in Mission Fields.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, February 4, 1963.

Keith, J.B. “Introducing the General Conference Session: Paul Piari Visits the General Conference.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, July 18, 1966.

Neufeld, Don F. “Mission Pageant, General Conference.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, August 1, 1966.

“Ordination During Camp-meeting.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, October 9, 1993.

Parker, Marie M. “Let’s All Go to the Annual Meetings.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, November 6, 1967.

Palmer, Nelson W. “Eighty Laiagam Laymen Go Out as Evangelists.” Australasian Record and Adventist World Survey, April 22, 1963.

“Pastor Tucker Greets Missionary L. Barnard and Native Minister Paul Piari at Notable Missionary Meeting in Detroit, Michigan.” The Quiet Hour Echoes, November 1966.

“Paul Piari.” The Quiet Hour Echoes, September 1969.

Paul Piari Service Records. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives.

Raethel, E. A. “Leadership Schools and Ordinations.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, January 29, 1968.

Soga, Benny. “Mission Continues to Grow.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, May 2, 1992.

“The Men & Women of the Trail Blazing Era.” In A family Album of the Enga Adventist Jubilee 1944-1994, compiled by Samuel J. Kopamu, edited by Laurence A. Gilmore, 115-118. Dundee, Scotland: Winter and Son, 1994.

Tully, Leslie R. “Baptism in Central Papua New Guinea.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, July 19, 1976.

“Two Forthcoming Faith for Today Programs.” Northern Pacific Union Gleaner, November 14, 1966.

“VH-SDA in Service.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, August 10, 1964

Vogel, Ken. The Fighter. Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2015.

Way, Ritchie. “Break-through at Ialibu.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, September 6, 1976.

Were, Eric. “Balus belong Seven-day he come!” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, July 20, 1964.

Way, Ritchie. “Break-through at Ialibu.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, September 6, 1976.

Notes

  1. Notice

    Much of the information contained in this article comes from the personal knowledge of the author who worked closely with Pastor Piari within the Papua New Guinea Union Mission between 1981 and 1986, from the oral records of Paul Piari’s life, and from an interview with Paul Piari by the author at Mount Hagen, Western Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea, 1983.

  2. Paul Piari Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, folder: “Piari, Paul,” document: “National Workers’ Personal History and Service Record Card.”

  3. Paul Piari, interview by author, Mount Hagen, Western Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea, 1983.

  4. Ibid.

  5. Ibid.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Paul Piari Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives; folder: “Piari, Paul,” document: “National Workers’ Personal History and Service Record Card.”

  8. Ibid.

  9. Ibid.

  10. Paul Piari, by, Mount Hagen, Western Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea, 1983.

  11. Ibid.; Paul Piari Service Records; South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives; Folder: “Piari, Paul;” Document: “National Workers’ Personal History and Service Record Card.”

  12. Ibid.

  13. Paul Piari Service Records; South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives; Folder: “Piari, Paul;” Document: “Workers’ Service Record.”

  14. Ibid.

  15. Paul Piari, interview by author, Mount Hagen, Western Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea, 1983.

  16. Paul Piari Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, folder: “Piari, Paul,” document: “Workers’ Service Record.”

  17. See Fingerphones.

  18. Paul Piari, interview by author, Mount Hagen, Western Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea, 1983.

  19. Paul Piari Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, folder: “Piari, Paul,” document: “Workers’ Service Record.”

  20. Paul Piari, interview by author, Mount Hagen, Western Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea, 1983.

  21. Paul Piari Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, folder: “Piari, Paul,” document: “Workers’ Service Record.”

  22. R. R. Frame, “National Leaders Developing in Mission Fields,” Australasian Record and Adventist World Survey, February 4, 1963, 1-2.

  23. Leonard Barnard, Banish the Night: Fighting Kur, Timango, and Other Devils in New Guinea (Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1969), 80-84; Eric Were, “Balus Belong Seven-Day He Come!” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, July 20, 1964, 1-2.

  24. Paul Piari Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, folder: “Piari, Paul,” document: “Workers’ Service Record.”

  25. Ibid.

  26. L. H. Barnard, “Only Truth Will Triumph,” Australasian Record, September 26, 1966, 13.

  27. Paul Piari Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, folder: “Piari, Paul,” document: “Workers’ Service Record.”

  28. L. H. Barnard, “The Spreading Wings of Evangelism,” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, June 17, 1968, 6-7.

  29. Paul Piari Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, folder: “Piari, Paul,” document: “Workers’ Service Record.”

  30. Ibid.

  31. Ibid.

  32. Ibid.

  33. Ibid.

  34. Paul Piari, interview by author, Mount Hagen, Western Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea, 1983.

  35. Ibid; Paul Piari Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, folder: “Piari, Paul,” document: “Workers’ Service Record.”

  36. Ibid.

  37. Paul Piari, personal knowledge of the author who worked closely with Pastor Piari within the Papua New Guinea Union Mission between 1981 and 1986.

  38. Paul Piari Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, folder: “Piari, Paul,” document: “Workers’ Service Record.”

  39. Paul Piari Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, folder: “Piari, Paul,” document: “Workers’ Service Record.”

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Vogel, Kenneth. "Piari, Paul (1927–2010)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 29, 2020. Accessed February 29, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=882O.

Vogel, Kenneth. "Piari, Paul (1927–2010)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 29, 2020. Date of access February 29, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=882O.

Vogel, Kenneth (2020, January 29). Piari, Paul (1927–2010). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved February 29, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=882O.