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Denis Applebee

Ministering to Missionaries
"I was reliving my own parenthood again with a borrowed family. What a responsibility!"
By Rachel Elwood, Staff Writer, 2012

From the hills of England to the cornfields of Indiana to the highlands and plains of the mission fields, Denis Applebee traveled around the world ministering to missionaries and support staff as an international pastor for World Gospel Mission.

Born on March 3, 1928, in Kent, England, Denis and his family moved to the Greater London area when he was 6 years old. In 1946, at age 18, he was drafted into the Royal Army Medical Corps, where he served for two years. While he was serving at a military hospital, he accepted Christ after meeting a group of Christians who gathered each night in one of the hospital bathrooms for prayer. After his conversion, Denis had two life goals: to serve Christ and to be like Christ in life. Three months later, Denis attended a Bible study where a missionary spoke. That night, he experienced entire sanctification and felt God’s call to go into Christian ministry.

After leaving the army, Denis enrolled in Emmanuel Bible College in Birkenhead, England. He completed a course that was geared toward missionary training, but he did not feel a particular call to any foreign mission field. After graduating in 1952, Denis accepted a pastorate at the college church and also began teaching evening college classes in evangelism, children’s ministries, and homiletics (the art of preaching), while also pursuing his own studies in children’s ministries and teacher training.

During this time, he achieved two big milestones: receiving his ordination by the Emmanuel Holiness Church in 1953 and marrying Mary Flenley, whom he had met while attending Emmanuel Bible College, in 1954.

Denis and Mary accepted a ministry position in the mining valleys of Wales, where they served for six years. In 1968, they were called back to Emmanuel Bible College to again assume the pastorate of the college church. Denis also served in leadership for the denomination. During this time, they raised their two children, Jonathan and Grace.

In 1982, World Gospel Mission invited Denis to serve as international pastor, ministering to missionaries and homeland staff. The Applebees moved to Marion, Indiana, and they spoke at events across the U.S. and traveled to all of WGM’s mission fields.

Denis was a prolific writer for Call to Prayer with his column “The World Is My Parish.” He also invented characters for children’s stories that he told to the missionary kids as he traveled the world. In his first article for Call to Prayer, Denis quoted John Wesley’s statement that the world was his parish, saying, “To put myself alongside such a fellow countryman may seem a bold claim as well, but I dare to do so as I answer God’s call to minister to the missionary family of World Gospel Mission.”

While traveling to WGM’s mission fields, the Applebees had many opportunities for adventures. Once, Denis and Mary missed a hijacking in Central America by mere minutes. While they were on their way to the airport for their flight, the plane had been taken over by guerillas. When they were finally able to leave the country the next day, all the passengers on the other plane were still being held hostage.

In another Call to Prayer article, Denis wrote about ministering to the missionary kids, “Lumbering around much like an elephant with one child on my back and another swinging in my cradled hands in front of me was heaven. I was reliving my own parenthood again with a borrowed family. What a responsibility!”

Denis also lectured at Wesley Biblical Seminary (Mississippi) during the Applebees’ time in the U.S., and he received an honorary doctorate in 1987.

The Applebees retired from WGM in 1996 after 13 years of service. They returned to England to be close to family, including four grandchildren, and Denis maintained a busy preaching schedule until recent years. His beloved wife and ministry teammate, Mary, passed away in February 2004.

World Gospel Mission joins with Denis’ friends and family in celebrating his life and service to the Lord. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18 NIV). Denis truly fixed his eyes on the eternal as he served to build up the church in the United Kingdom, in the United States of America, and around the world.

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