“I used to dream about becoming an astronaut,” says SIM worker Chris Zoolkoski. “But here, rather than exploring barren planets devoid of life, we get to venture into uncharted territories where there are living beings made in the image of God.”
Chris and his wife, Nancy, work at Galmi Hospital on the south edge of the Sahara Desert in Niger, West Africa. His childhood dream may actually be playing itself out in unexpected ways.
“I felt like the captain of the first mission to the moon,” Chris says, referring to a recent adventure to follow up with a patient, five-year-old Faroukou.*
“Or maybe that’s an understatement.”
Caring for Faroukou
Several months prior, the child, who had checked into the hospital, was merely skin and bones—too weak to eat, drink, or hold up his head.
His mother, Machie,* had done all she could, feeding him through a nasogastric tube, but nutritional supplementation was not enough. She didn’t know why until the diagnosis came:
Faroukou was suffering an extrapulmonary form of tuberculosis. Meaning, he needed medicine, and quickly.
They stayed in the hospital for two months. Faroukou received the intensive care he desperately needed, and Machie listened attentively to what Chris and Nancy shared with her from the Bible.
She had never heard of Jesus, His miracles as the Great Physician, or His free gift of eternal life.
When discharged, Faroukou was still too weak to walk. But his condition had stabilized, and their family needed Machie back home in their village of Tounga.
“Travel between Galmi and Tounga is difficult,” she said to the couple.
“Let us embrace; we may not ever be able to do it again.”
Making it to Machie’s
When the Zoolkoskis and their traveling companions arrived in Tounga many weeks later, Machie was shocked. Not only was their visit a surprise, she personally knew the “mission to the moon” experience Chris and his team endured to get there.
The trip involved five hours of travel over either rocky or sandy terrain, neither conducive to a vehicle of any kind, though they were blessed to have one to use.
The route was unclear; they dodged thorns, deep gullies, and termite hills, frequently guessing where one path would lead to the next village.
After fighting discouragement and stopping at a dozen different villages to ask directions to the next one, they finally made it to Machie’s doorstep.
As she recognized the people who had cared for her son at the hospital those two long months, she covered her mouth with her hand in disbelief as tears filled her eyes.
“Faroukou!” she called.
Sharing the gospel
The child rounded the corner of their hut, walking steadily, looking stronger and healthier than ever. A few minutes later, having received the message of their visit, his father returned early from working in the fields.
The family, the village chief, and many neighbors and children emerged, curious about the visitors. Before long, everyone was sitting down in the shade and listening as Chris and Nancy explained who they were, the reason for Galmi Hospital, and their desire for people to receive not only good health for their bodies, but also forgiveness of sin and life everlasting through Jesus Christ.
One young man asked, “So who, then, do we worship? Allah or Jesus?”
His question was met with a challenge for the whole crowd:
“Consider the identity of Jesus and listen to what He said about Himself in the holy writings.”
Machie still had the MegaVoice player that the Galmi staff had sent home with her months earlier. This is a solar-powered tool for listening to “The Way of Righteousness” (the Bible) in the Hausa language.
The Galmi Hospital visitors then presented the village chief with one, as well.
And for the children? Refreshments!
Chris and Nancy passed out strawberry milkshakes that they’d prepared the night before. In a place far from electricity and refrigeration, it was undoubtedly the first time many of them had enjoyed a treat so cold and creamy.
Goodbye, for now
As they headed off to re-enter the vast, barren landscape separating Faroukou’s home in Tounga from Galmi Hospital, the hospital crew keenly sensed they were likely the very first group of believers to ever set foot in Tounga.
Certainly, they were the first to ever engage the chief and such a large group of his people in the challenge to learn more about Jesus.
“I’m so thankful God is far too loving to give me what I want,” says Chris. “My flawed sense of priorities would have had me choosing to be a part of the Apollo 11 mission to be the first man on the moon, rather than [this] mission to Tounga.
“But now I can see the strong probability that eternity will show our mission to Tounga to be far more significant and profitable.”
Thank you for sending SIM workers like Chris and Nancy to make Jesus known in places like this where He is the least known.
Please join us in prayer:
- PRAY for Faroukou, that he grows to be strong in body and accepting of his identity as a child of God.
- PRAY for the many people in Tounga who are struggling to make sense of the religion of their culture and the truth of the living God.
- PRAY that God will raise up more SIM workers, like Chris and Nancy, so more hurting people who have never heard the good news will come to know Jesus.
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*Names and photos may have been changed for the sake of privacy and safety of our workers, ministry partners and those we serve.