A Life Lived: Justin Alvarez

Justin Alvarez, of Vineland, died in March of brain cancer. He was 11 years old.

Alvarez family photo

The doctor had grim news. After three years, Justin Alvarez’s fight with brain cancer was ending — and Justin had lost.

Justin had barely turned 11. His parents, Jeff and Kerry, were devastated. They were also stunned by their son’s reaction.

“The doctor told him, ‘There’s nothing we can do anymore. (A cure) is not going to come from man, it’s got to come from God,’” Jeff Alvarez recalls. “Justin said, ‘I’ve waited three years for a doctor to say that.’ ... And he walked away smiling.”

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Justin, of Vineland, was still 11 when he died last month. His dad says the boy spent much of his three-year ordeal with a Bible in his hands, or in his ears.

All that reading had given him strength. It had given him faith. And it had given him a way of seeing the world that still makes adults marvel.

“I’ve met thousands of kids, been to youth retreats with 500 kids,” said Brian Jenkins, 43, of Vineland, an evangelist at the International Revival Tabernacle in Browns Mills, Burlington County, and a speaker at Justin’s funeral. “And there was no kid in the world like this boy. ... He didn’t talk about anything else. He was all about God.”

Another person who preached at Justin’s services was the boy himself, a fifth-grader who left careful instructions with his family on what Bible verses he wanted read, what Christian band he wanted to play and many other details.

“It was one of those things where nobody left crying,” said his dad, a plumber who added that Justin definitely didn’t get all this Bible-reading from his parents. “They all left with their spirits high.”

Justin had touched a lot of spirits with his fight. Jeff figures his son got about 6,000 letters in his last few months, from as far away as Germany, England and California, mostly from people who found the boy’s Facebook page. Now, his family — which includes Justin’s big brother, Jeffrey, 19 — is still getting 10 or so pieces of mail a day, from people who don’t know yet that Justin died.

After he got sick, Justin stopped watching the old movies he used to collect, gave up on video games, lost interest in the classic rock he’d always loved. He dug deeper and deeper into his King James Bible.

“He was a night bird,” his dad said. “He’d start reading at 10 o’clock and keep going until 3 in the morning.”

All that reading gave him ways to accept anything — even when his tumor took away his vision.

“He’d say, ‘Dad, we walk by faith, not by sight,’” Jeff recalls. Later, Justin decided that losing his sight was actually good news — because now his mom would read the Bible to him.

His family is still trying to figure out some of what he told them before he left. But this part, they get.

“He spoke a lot about love,” his dad said. “Love was the key to just about everything.”

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