12-Year-Old Dies of Cancer, Still Inspires Thousands to Never Give Up

A "celebration service" for the life of Jessica Joy Rees, a Southern California girl who spearheaded a national campaign to help children suffering from illness while she herself had inoperable brain tumors, is planned for Wednesday at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.

This past Thursday, Rees’ family announced that the 12-year-old had lost her nearly yearlong battle with cancer. On Facebook, they posted:

"Dear friends...we have prayed and prayed and prayed for sweet Jessie to be healed here on earth but God's plan was to use heaven for healing. Jessie earned her wings today and is with Jesus now!!! No pain..complete vision...spreading joy. Please pray for our family as we walk out of the valley of death and towards the mountain top … Please join us in carrying on her joyful spirit and Never Ever Give Up attitude."

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Rees chronicled her daily life through a blog and Facebook, and with the help of her father, Erik Rees, a ministry pastor at Saddleback Church, began the NEGU (Never Ever Give Up) Foundation.

One of the NEGU projects, “Joy Jars,” had groups and individuals, including celebrities such as Eva Longoria, pitching in to provide gifts for hospitalized children throughout the U.S. Funds received by the foundation go toward pediatric cancer research.

The “Jessica Joy Rees” Facebook page has more than 77,000 followers at the time of this article’s publication. Since her passing, the numbers of “likes” have rapidly increased by tens of thousands.

Saddleback member Robert Specht told The Christian Post that he and his wife have been following the story of Rees since March of last year when she was first diagnosed with cancer. Although the couple does not know the Reese family personally, her death on Thursday affected them deeply, he said.

“We were praying along with the Rees family along with everyone else that God would let her stay here a lot longer. We wanted to be selfish and keep her here,” Specht said.

“During the past year, watching what she did with her NEGU Foundation and how she was so unselfish in giving of her time more so than I think a lot of people could do in her circumstances made us take a look within ourselves and how selfish we are at times, and how more unselfishly we should give of ourselves,” he explained.

Kimberly Collins Colombero, also a Saddleback member who is on the NEGU Foundation team of volunteeers, messaged CP that Rees has been a major inspiration in her own life.

“On days when it seemed my problems were weighing me down, I'd look to Jessie's blog and remember her simple words of advice – Never Ever Give Up,” Colombero wrote. “I was daily inspired by Jessie to be a better person. She showed me that simple acts are all it takes to make a huge ripple in the lives of others.

“I'm honored to be part of Team NEGU and if I could post one more thing on Jessie's blog for her to read it would be this, ‘Jessie, I promise, I will Never Ever Give Up encouraging kids around the world...EVER! See you in Heaven someday Sweet Jessie, your Team NEGU work here on Earth will carry on. Have a great time in Heaven! Love you!’"

"Jessie's Celebration Service" is open to the public and scheduled for 6 p.m. at the church's main worship center.

Later this month, music composer and entertainer John Tesh is scheduled to perform a concert in Dana Point, Calif., on Jan. 21, to benefit the NEGU Foundation. For more information on the foundation and to order tickets go to

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