A Son’s Last Wish

Young Life played an important role in Peter’s life as well as in lives of his other family members. Sue Delong met the Lord through Young Life in high school. Their two older children, Luke and Monica, also attended club and Campaigners, and they were also WyldLife leaders. Mark and Sue Delong wanted to be involved not only in Peter’s life, but also in the lives of his friends by volunteering as Young Life leaders.

The Delongs are currently fulfilling that desire in a manner they never anticipated.

Young faith matures
Peter was involved in WyldLife in middle school. He went to Wildhorse Canyon for WyldLife camp after sixth-grade and his older brother, Luke, was his leader. Peter knew the Lord before he went to camp, but at camp he realized how much he wanted to live his life for God’s purposes. Peter’s realization at Wildhorse was an important step in preparation for what was to come.

Throughout his seventh-grade year, Peter developed a strong desire to share his faith with the people in his life, especially his friends. During family devotions, Peter often read this verse: “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12).  “We have to tell them,” Peter would say to his mom. Peter began to pray that his friends would experience God and the abundant life He promises.

Peter went to the doctor in the winter of his eighth-grade year because of a pulled muscle in his leg. The CT scan revealed a tumor on his hipbone. The next day the family was at Dorenbecher’s Children’s Hospital where Peter was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.

As Peter’s body weakened, his faith grew. When told that he would never play soccer, ski or skateboard again, Peter responded by saying, “I better work on my golf game.” When his oncologist asked him what he would tell his friends when they asked him if he was going to die, Peter told her, “I’ll tell them that God has a plan.” He continued to pray for his friends, family and others he came into contact with.

Peter battled with the cancer for 22 months. As he went through chemotherapy, radiation and several major surgeries, no one ever heard Peter complain about the fight.

“Peter is my hero,” said Tim Nguyen Pham, one of Peter’s soccer teammates. “He taught me an immeasurably valuable lesson.  He showed his friends that life should not be wasted by feeling sorry for oneself and bringing others down, but to keep on a bright smile because smiles are contagious.”

Peter did experience a four-month reprieve, when he was thought to be cancer-free, only to discover later that the cancer had spread to other parts of his body. He was told that he had only weeks to live. “We’ll all be together in heaven,” Peter told his parents, with tears streaming down his face. “Whether the years of your life are 16 or 100, the important thing is how you are living and who you are living for.”

Peter died in October of 2005.

A desire redirected
It seemed as though Mark and Sue Delong weren’t going to be able to follow through on their plan to lead Young Life club at Peter’s high school until last summer when the couple received a call from Clark County, Wash., Area Director Rob Schreiber. Schreiber needed more leaders to take kids to camp and he asked the Delongs if they would be willing to go.

“Knowing that it was Peter’s desire that his friends know Jesus intensified our desire to serve,” Delong said.

At camp, on what would have been Peter’s 17th birthday, Mark Delong took two boys out for some ice cream at the Sarsaparilla, the snack bar at Wildhorse Canyon. Delong’s conversation with them became a memorable part of his own healing process as he listened to one of the young men talk about being at camp several years before with Peter and
his brother.

During one of the cabin times at camp, as Delong, his co-leader Bret Nelson and the boys talked about the messages being presented at club, they were reminded of the life Peter lived. And as Delong talked about his son’s zest for life, and his love for His Creator, he wanted them to consider the opportunity they had at camp to think about the direction of their lives, just as Peter had done at this very camp only a short time ago.

“I told the boys that they were given a rare opportunity to reflect on the question, ‘Is the life I am living now where I want it to be spiritually?’” Delong said. “I was embarrassed because as I shared Peter’s story my voice cracked several times with emotion. I did not look around the room until after I finished. There was not a dry eye in the group.”

“They understood that the faith that Peter lived so fully is available for all who ask,” Delong said. “They want to be men for Christ as well.” That week, all the campers in Delong’s cabin committed to living out the faith Peter demonstrated.

A legacy continues
Peter’s legacy is his commitment to share Christ with others. The Delongs are committed to carrying on his legacy by serving as Young Life leaders together. They do it not for their son, but for his friends and classmates.

And Peter’s story has given the Delongs a unique starting point with the kids. The Delongs’ experience often serves as a springboard into conversations with kids about matters of the heart. The couple is candid about their lives, and the kids respond to their frankness.

“Going through this with Peter opened our hearts to people who are hurting,” Sue Delong said. “It’s easier to share with people who are in pain.”

And whether being Young Life leaders means talking to kids who are going through hard times, taking them to camp or laughing right alongside them at club, the Delongs are called to carry out the vision Peter had for his peers.

“We serve unto Christ in honor of Peter’s request,” Mark Delong said. Peter carried his passion for Christ as far as he could, even uphill through a treacherous, life-ending battle with cancer, no doubt a heroic feat. And now, his mother and father have stepped in to continue their son’s legacy — pointing other kids to the ultimate hero, the One who can rescue their hearts.