Proverbs 17:17

A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need. (NLT)

Above is a photo of Michael and Daniel with their Papua New Guinean grandparents, Stanley and Maria Balu, taken almost 20 years ago. In 2003, Stanley and Maria adopted me into their family and I gained two brothers and two sisters: Alex, Patricia, Steven, and Esther (all of us pictured below in 2018). Sadly, my PNG parents passed away several years before my return to PNG in 2018; our mama, Maria, died from oral cavity cancer.

This adoption story comes around full circle, when in February of 2019, Alex asked me to adopt his daughter and my namesake, Little Jenny. Him and his wife, Grace, have 10 children and live in a rural, poverty-stricken area. One of Grace’s sisters and myself are raising two of their children while they are raising the other 8. Below is a photo of them with all ten of their children.

I began praying for my PNG family’s salvation as soon as I met them in 2003. After nearly 15 years, I learned that my brother, Alex, and his wife, Grace, became believers. Now, Alex is an elder in his church and a Bible teacher. He has become a respected leader in his church, our family, and our community. Alex’s life has been totally transformed by the Gospel. He is a new man in every sense of the word; he has been made new by the power of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit. It has been an honour and joy for me to see him learning and growing spiritually over the past several years.

Him and Grace are a huge support to me with my work here in PNG; I could not do the work that I do without them. They have prayed with me and cared for me at my lowest and most discouraging moments, and now it is my chance to return the blessing and support them as they have blessed and supported me over the last several years. They have truly lived out Proverbs 17:17, loving me and being there for me in my times of need. Now I want to be that for them. (Alex and Grace pictured below, July 2022)

Last year, while I was in America, I had a dream one night: Little Jenny and I were in Port Moresby and Grace called to tell me that Alex was sick and that I needed to come right away to help her take care of him and all of the children. I made arrangements for Little Jenny and I to fly out to Hoskins the next day. When I arrived, I asked Grace where Alex was. She said he was lying up in their house and that I should go see him. I was shocked to see him lying on his bed lifeless, unconscious, and very close to death. Somehow I knew that he was dying from mouth cancer, just like his mom.

I definitely felt like this dream was a warning for Alex. I prayed about it for a few days and then I video called him and told him about the dream. I told him that I felt that it was a warning for him and that he needed to make some changes in his lifestyle or he too would develop mouth cancer and die like our mama Maria had. He was grateful and asked me to pray for him that he could quit smoking tobacco and chewing areca nut (both are very strong cultural practices in the Pacific Island nations). Both of these substances cause mouth cancer; Papua New Guinea has the highest rates of oral cavity cancer in the world due to these cultural practices.

In July, Alex and Grace traveled with me to Port Moresby and I made an appointment for him to have a screening done with an ENT Specialist/Surgeon. My fears were confirmed when the doctor identified numerous pre-cancerous lesions on the insides of both of Alex’s cheeks. He recommended that Alex immediately stop chewing and smoking and take a high-dose of vitamin A for a few weeks. Often, the lesions heal on their own when lifestyle changes are made. He recommended following up every 3 months to monitor the lesions for any changes.

Alex came out for his first 3-month follow-up two weeks ago and unfortunately two of the lesions have changed and are very concerning to the doctor. He fears it is developing from a pre-cancerous state to cancer, and he is alarmed at how quickly the lesions are changing. Papua New Guinea has no chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or any other kind of treatment for cancer. His ENT Specialist told me that all of his patients eventually die because surgery alone cannot heal them. They need some sort of cancer treatment following surgical procedures. From the time of diagnosis to when people succumb from oral cavity cancer is approximately 5 years in PNG.

Alex’s prospects are not good without some sort of intervention. I believe that God gave me that dream so that his life could be spared. His lesions, while they are mutating and becoming more concerning, are still either pre-cancerous, or in the very early stages of cancer. With proper treatment, his story can have a successful ending.

I had already planned a trip to the US for October-January (2022-2023) to visit family, friends, supporters, and churches, and to see my son, Michael, graduate from University in December. Alex was successfully granted a visa to come along with me. This will be a huge walk of faith for my brother who has never left his island country or experienced cold weather! I have total faith that Alex will get the help he needs at no cost or low cost and that God will use the church to bless him with whatever needs he has in the next few months.


Stay Tuned for part 2!