“Our chief of staff and surgeon at the Hospital of Hope needs your prayers. Todd has been hospitalized and his infections do not seem to be responding to medical treatment.”
Within minutes, the post was flooded with comments as people began to pray.
Later that day, Todd’s wife, Jennifer, shared a hopeful response to the hundreds who had rallied around the world to support her family:
“God has been answering [your prayers], and we believe Todd is now heading in the right direction,” she wrote. An exploratory surgery had revealed no infection or other issues and Todd’s labs and appearance had shown some improvement. His high fever was lower, and the abdominal pain and nausea had subsided, but “Todd is still very ill and has a long way to go,” Jennifer continued. “We need God to continue to restore his body.”
Three days later, however, Todd’s condition relapsed. After several frightening episodes following the procedure, it was decided that Todd should be evacuated from where he was serving as a medical missionary in Togo, West Africa, to a medical facility in Cologne, Germany.
Enroute, the extremely rough roads of Togo pushed the ambulance to its limits, and it ultimately had to be towed the rest of the way by a semi-truck. Still, Todd tolerated the difficult voyage, and was met at the air strip by a medical team who placed him on a ventilator in order to make him more comfortable for his journey. He was awake and able to follow orders as he was loaded on the jet, and conscious enough to say goodbye to each of his four sons.
Back at the Hospital of Hope, the DeKryger’s faithful missionary team prayed desperately for a miracle for their beloved surgeon.
But on February 26, 2016, just 13 days after the initial onset of the infection, the devastating news came.
“Todd is in the arms of his Savior.” He died shortly after arriving at the hospital in Cologne. He was 46 years old.
Standing on the runway, wrestling with the immense pain rising in her chest, God brought Psalm 9:9-10 to Jennifer’s mind. It was one of the many Scriptures her family had memorized and held close to their hearts.
“The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.”
As Jennifer watched her husband of nearly 20 years being loaded into the medical jet, she continued to plead for a miracle. She cried out to God, reminding Him of His promise to her.
But deep in her heart, she sensed the end was near.
“In that moment, I felt forsaken.”
It had been 12 years since the DeKrygers followed God’s calling and left to establish their medical ministry in the harsh, rural region of Mango, Togo, West Africa. They started in southern Togo at Hôpital Baptiste Biblique, before moving north in 2013. Out of a barren and dusty field, they joined a team in praying, fundraising, and supervising the building of a 40-bed facility, which saw approximately 18,000 patients the year it opened.
Exactly one year after the center opened, Todd—who had dedicated so much to the opening of the ministry where he longed to serve the people of West Africa—was gone.
“Todd had accomplished all that God had for him on this earth,” Jennifer would say later. But in that moment, questions and doubt burned in her mind.
Why would God take away her husband, and the father to their four boys?
How could this be God’s desire, after everything that they had accomplished through the ministry of the Hospital of Hope?
Several days later the doctors discovered Todd died from a West African virus called Lassa fever, which he had contracted from one of his surgical patients.
Lassa is spread through direct contact with the blood or other bodily fluids of an infected human or animal, and affects several major body organs, including the liver, spleen, and kidneys. While the majority of those infected with Lassa never display symptoms, “1 in 5 infections result in severe disease,” reports the World Health Organization.
In cases where symptoms do occur, they often mimic other diseases like Ebola, malaria, typhoid, or yellow fever, making the virus easily misdiagnosed. Victims may suffer a headache, sore throat, cough, muscle and abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, and diarrhea. Severe cases can cause facial swelling, fluid in the lung cavity, low blood pressure, and bleeding from the mouth.
The vague symptoms make Lassa more difficult to catch and treat early in its course. By the time the fast-moving disease is caught, it can be too late. Death occurs within 14 days of the onset in fatal cases.
The discovery of Lassa in the country of Togo was a surprise, but identifying the disease would later save the life of another infected missionary nurse, who was able to evacuate to the United States for immediate treatment at a hospital in Atlanta after falling ill.
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [Matt. 28:20]
It’s a promise that Jennifer clings to as she strives every day to faithfully carry out the ministry God called her and her husband to now 14 years ago, when they first committed their lives to go and reach all of the nations with the gospel.
God had been continually, faithfully preparing the DeKrygers for this journey by drawing them closer to full reliance on Him through His word, Jen reflects.
In a ministry as exhausting as their medical ministry, and in living conditions as harsh as those of Mango, Togo, Todd and Jennifer knew that they were helpless to successfully minister without the constant flow of God’s word into their hearts and minds. That is why they made scripture memorization part of their family’s daily routine.
“[God’s word] speaks so often of our life being a battle,” she said. “Satan knows the name of Christ is being proclaimed and that medical ministry is a door for that to happen. And he wants to destroy it.
“If we’re not on the offensive with prayer and intimate time with our Savior every day we can’t make it. We can’t survive.”
Even their sons learned the importance of keeping the Word close to them from a very young age. They joined their parents every morning, scrawling passages that highlighted the promises and the faithfulness of God on index cards.
And at their greatest point of sorrow, surrounded by questions of why or how this could possibly be God’s plan for their family, Jennifer said that she and her boys had a choice to make.
“Were we going to cling to these truths we had memorized, and spoken into the lives of our West African friends for years?” she asked, “Or were we going to doubt the faithfulness of God, and wallow in self-pity?”
Now was the time to show that they truly believed the message they were teaching.
“Despite my feelings, we had to choose to trust…to trust that in all of this, God was working out a great plan.”
Of course, moving forward after Todd’s death was not as simple as waking up one morning and deciding eagerly to continue ministering in a foreign country.
“I had physical pain because the grief was so extreme,” Jennifer said.
But in the midst of the pain, Jennifer found therapy for her grieving soul and the strength to press on, as she shared the truth of the gospel with the patients who walked through the hospital’s doors.
After Todd’s homegoing, Jennifer chose to devote herself full-time to the chaplaincy ministry at the hospital.
“When God called Todd to glory, I knew that [chaplaincy] was the role I needed to be more deeply involved in,” she said. In support, the missionary team at the hospital quickly stepped in to take over her previous roles, so she could follow that call.
With the exception of herself and two others, the chaplaincy team is made up entirely of West Africans who came to saving faith out of the predominate religion of the region, through the ministry of the team of missionaries in Mango.
Before Jennifer and the chaplaincy team begin their rounds, they spend over an hour filling their own hearts with the same truth they are preparing to share with the patients, through studying Scripture and time spent in prayer.
Then, after the doctors have seen the patients, the team follows in their wake, reaching out to each patient, connecting with them, learning about their lives and their families, and praying for and sharing the message of the gospel with them.
Jennifer said most of the patients accept prayer from the hospital chaplains. They comprehend the importance of prayer and know Jennifer and the team are going to be praying with them in the name of Jesus. Patients value prayer, and most are thrilled that someone is willing to pray with them.
“Every time I’m in that hospital and I sit next to a bed and look into the faces of these sweet women, I think ‘this is amazing…’ To open the Word of God and speak truth into the lives of West Africans, many of whom have never heard the name of Jesus, and to see them respond to the word.”
ALL FOR THE KINGDOM
Looking back, Jennifer remembers one night, a month before Todd died, when he sat down with their boys after the news had reached them of a terrorist attack in a town 250 miles from their own. Thirty people had been killed. That night Todd told the boys plainly, “That could be us [one day]… And we can be okay with that.”
“At that point,” Jennifer said, “my mother’s heart was thinking that maybe Todd should stop talking. But today I’m so very grateful that Todd shared those words with our boys.”
This is the realistic, biblical view of missions—that Christ is worthy of the cost. And that those who obey the call, who sacrifice worldly comforts to invest in the Kingdom work and the advancement of the gospel, will face trials.
Some may even die.
“I am beginning to learn more and more each day,” she said, “that some of the deepest valleys we are called to walk through become the well from which we draw to have the greatest Kingdom impact.”
A LEGACY: THE HOSPITAL OF HOPE
The Hospital of Hope has had a tremendous impact in the community from the day it opened on February 26, 2015. Thousands of West Africans gathered to share in celebration, and the president of Togo even came to tour the facility. It was a glorious day for the Mango missionary team and everyone who had been involved in the years of preparation, construction, recruitment, and training.
In a very short time, the ministry and its reputation have reached far beyond the hospital grounds. Although they are stretched thin, the hospital staff is devoted to providing compassionate healthcare in the name of Jesus.
“Our hospital opens many doors,” Jennifer said. “We lived here for several years before [it] was open, and established some good relationships. But nothing has opened doors for truth to be spoken like the medical platform of the Hospital of Hope.”
Several miles from the hospital, a small house church exists in a village where there was no church three years ago. It was founded by two of Todd’s first surgical patients—patients who heard the gospel through the hospital chaplaincy team, accepted it, and eagerly took it back to their own village.
What began as a house church with only a handful of members has since grown to more than 75 people. The church held its first baptism—welcoming over 40 new believers—this past April.
This is just one example of the tremendous way this “God-sized ministry” is shining light into the darkness of Togo.
The legacy that Todd left behind was that of a “life restorer in a country that others have neglected,” the pastor of the DeKrygers’ supporting church said. In Todd’s year of service at the hospital, he was often the only surgeon, working on-call 24/7 for weeks on end. He also managed the hospital and the outpatient clinic. It was a trying and exhausting task, but Todd never failed to pour the love of Christ into everyone he interacted with.
Today, you can find Jennifer and her boys faithfully carrying on that mission; Jennifer praying and ministering at a patient’s bedside, and her boys serving in various areas of the hospital.
Before returning to the States in August to start college, Jennifer’s oldest son, William, worked in the operating room, where he once worked alongside his father. Grant, Jennifer’s second oldest, continues to help in the lab. Her two youngest boys, Luke and Drew, help out in the pharmacy.
In addition to her chaplaincy ministry, Jennifer also leads a Bible study in a local prison—teaching the gospel to inmates chronologically using an evangelism resource called The Story of Hope. And every Friday morning, she makes the 45-minute motorcycle ride with a group to the house church started by Todd’s former patients to help with their village ministry.
When Jennifer is asked what motivates her and her boys to remain in Togo, she points to the many doors of ministry God has opened for her to walk through. Even Todd’s death, she said, has sparked new opportunities for her to share the gospel in ways and with people she wouldn’t have been able to before—like the husband of a dear friend, an imam who was close with Todd, who now comes to sit and talk with Jennifer when she visits his wife.
“It’s all the more reason why we have chosen to remain in Togo,” she said. “Even though it’s hard, and obviously there are days when our grief is severe. It would be wrong not to use this as a platform to speak the truth.”
“I don’t want to waste my grief. Years from now, I want to look back and see that my grief accomplished [lasting] things for the Eternal Kingdom.
So we press on, and we know that He will pour out the grace each day to enable us to keep walking forward.”