, South Pacific Division Record
He shouldn’t be here.
Before the age of 20, Dennis Perry should have died three
Yet his firm handshake testifies that he is still very much
alive. And many people in Papua New Guinea are very glad he is.
You see, Perry, a retired Seventh-day Adventist businessman
from Australia, has devoted his life to helping those who cannot help
themselves. With a former business associate, David Woolley, Perry co-founded
Operation Food for Life, an organization that, among other things, feeds
desperately impoverished people with little access to food and clean drinking water,
and takes food to prison inmates and hospital patients, particularly those with
severe disabilities, tuberculosis or HIV/AIDS.
"When I give a wheelchair or a frame, I see myself
there," Perry said in an interview. "All they need is crutches, and
it can change their life."
Perry knows something about a life being changed. His has
changed drastically — several times.
When Perry was 4 or 5, he fell ill with encephalitis, an
infection of the brain. His recovery in the hospital and the intense
rehabilitation that followed lasted more than 10 years. Even though doctors
managed to save his life, he only slowly regained full use of his facilities.
Shortly after he was rehabilitated, Perry was abducted
following school one day. Perry, perhaps a little naïve after spending most of
his life in the hospital, was lured by an offer of candy. He suffered terrible
things and was left for dead in remote Australian bushland. Stripped and
exposed, he barely survived the night. By some miracle he was found the next
day by hunters who thought he was a dead kangaroo.
Perry nearly died on the way to the hospital, but somehow
again he survived.
"I didn’t really know God back then, but God knew me.
He kept me alive for His purpose," Perry said.
To help Perry recover from the traumatic kidnapping, his
father took him on a vacation that led to his third brush with death. Perry
tripped while running with a heavy glass bottle, suffering a deep wound that led
to enormous loss of blood.
With such a traumatic start, you could forgive Perry if he
had sought a life of comfort far away from any criminals. But you can find him
today in prisons, ministering to the needs of some of Papua New Guinea’s most
“My mess is my message." Perry said with a smile.
"After all God has done for me, I just have to share it. It’s not me doing
anything. It’s all up to God."
You can tell that Perry uses some of those phrases a lot. In
the mouths of others, the words might sound rehearsed or clichéd, but Perry speaks
with a genuine belief, the tone of a man who has seen firsthand the power of
God to change lives.
He’s quick to deflect any praise, however.
"I didn’t even finish school. None of this is me. It’s
all God through me,” he said. “I don’t do anything special. We just do what
Jesus did: feed people physically before we feed them spiritually. He saved us
Then he threw out another quotable quote, which turned out
to be his organization’s motto: "Our passion is compassion, witnessed by
Compassion? A visit by a reporter to a Papua New Guinea rubbish
dump where Perry works did instill the emotion of compassion. But the feeling
was accompanied with fear, unease, nervousness and a heightened sense of being
far outside one’s comfort zone.
Perry and his fellow volunteers, however, allow compassion
to outweigh all other considerations.
Perry also has opened a grade school aimed at helping children
break the cycle of poverty. His organization counts national politicians among
its patrons. All because a boy who nearly died three times dedicated his life