Did you hear the one about the high-powered Panamanian jewelry executive who threw a lavish party eight days after discovering that he had terminal cancer? His name is Carli Jelenszky, and 600 people showed up for his 49th birthday last August.

Jelenszky told guests that he wanted no gifts and no tears. "I wanted to celebrate God's goodness regardless of the cancer," he says.

The Jelenszky name is well known in Panama. His father started the nation's most prominent jewelry business in 1961. Carli Jelenszky's brother Pepo is a trusted adviser to the president of Panama. Another brother, Javier, is a prominent doctor.

Jelenszky is known most for his years of helping to run Mercurio Joyeros, the family store. But since cancer struck, the once high-living executive is increasingly known for leading Bible studies for crowds packed into his condominium overlooking Panama City's majestic harbor.

There, rich and poor alike are placing their trust in Jesus.

Getting High

Jelenszky's journey with Christ began on September 12, 1986, because of misplaced hopes about a drug deal. The previous day he had met Jack Smith, a friend of three of his brothers, at a party. Noting Jelenszky's excessive drinking, Smith asked if he would like to have the same high with no side effects. Jelenszky agreed to meet him the next day in Smith's hotel room. He had no idea the presumed drug dealer was a missionary.

"I thought Jack had access to some new American drugs," Jelenszky says. "I was shocked when I got to his room and saw him sitting with an open Bible on the table." Smith shared the gospel, and after 20 minutes Jelenszky knelt to receive Jesus into his heart.

He notes, looking back, that he was ripe for conversion. "I was always looking for something and ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.