Life Giving

Life Giving

How Zaya Gilmer became an answer to a three-year prayer

By Linda Sladkey | May 23, 2018

Zaya Gilmer had been attending New Life Covenant Church in Palatine, Illinois, for just one month when she noticed John Moon’s name on the prayer list in the bulletin. Diagnosed with renal failure at age twenty-six, John had been on the national registry for a kidney donation for three years. The New Life community was praying that he would find a donor.

Zaya did not know who John was—he worked in the sound booth during the services so they had not met—but when she went home that day, she prayed for him and then told her husband, Dennis, “I feel like I should give him my kidney.”

He responded, “If this is from God, you better obey him. And I will support you one hundred percent.”

It wasn’t the first time she had so clearly sensed God’s direction.

Zaya, who works at Covenant Offices as coordinator of administrative support for Serve Globally, left her home in Mongolia in 2002 to go to school in New York City. She earned an associate degree then found a job as a medical assistant. But she felt dissatisfied. She began to explore different religions but still felt no purpose or identity.

Then she remembered the missionaries that she had known growing up in Mongolia. “My childhood years were difficult,” she recalls. “I mostly went to the mission activities for the food that was served.” Thinking of those missionaries, she decided to try out a nearby Christian church. She immediately felt God’s presence at the new church, so she kept returning and eventually went on a winter retreat. One night there she sensed God telling her that he would always be with her. She says, “I decided to give my life to God and surrender everything in that moment.”

Her new faith led her to Mount Zion International School of Ministry in Grantville, Pennsylvania. While she was there, she met Dennis Gilmer. They began dating, but Zaya felt called to ministry back in Mongolia after graduation. She left the States, trusting that God would bring her and Dennis back together somehow. After a year she returned to marry Dennis, and eventually they moved to Chicago. By this time they had a newborn daughter.

It was a while before Zaya and her young family began attending New Life Covenant—three years in fact. They had visited several other churches but had not felt settled in any of them. Then, in January 2016, Zaya visited New Life Covenant and immediately sensed God’s presence. “I felt certain that I had found our new church home,” she says.

It was February when Zaya noticed the prayer request for a kidney donor. Within the week she contacted Joon Hwang, New Life’s pastor, telling him what she wanted to do. With her pastor’s support, she looked John Moon up on Facebook and sent him a message saying, “I would like to talk to you about giving my kidney to you. Do you have time to meet on Sunday?”

Initially John was guarded. He had been working in Korea at the time of his diagnosis but had to move back to Chicago to receive dialysis three times a week. He knew how unlikely it was that Zaya would be a match.

Almost 122,000 people are waiting for organ transplants in the U.S. Of those, over 100,000 are waiting for a kidney.

13 people die each day waiting for a kidney transplant. 

National Kidney Foundation

The following Sunday when Zaya asked Joon to introduce her to John, he was shocked. He hadn’t realized that she didn’t know John at all.

Kidney recipient John Moon and donor Zaya Gilmer

“I had seen his profile picture on Facebook, so I knew what he looked like before we actually met,” says Zaya. When they sat down together, she asked him what steps she needed to take to give him her kidney. She remembers that he looked quite ill and didn’t show much emotion other than shock that this complete stranger would make such an offer. He provided her with the contact information for his doctor.

Zaya immediately called the hospital to begin the long process of determining whether her kidney was a match for John. She underwent multiple examinations—blood tests, MRIs, x-rays, and a
visit to a specialist to measure the size of her kidney. As each test was completed, Zaya continued to be a perfect match.

Throughout the process, both Zaya and Dennis remained confident about her decision. “I felt this was a moment that God was giving me,” she says. “Like I was born for this and I did not have room for doubt. Now when I think about it, I do freak out a little. My daughter was just three years old and my family had some fears about what this would mean for my health.”

In July Zaya learned that she was a total match with John and that the transplant would go forward. “I couldn’t believe it,” wrote Joon in an all-church newsletter. “She demonstrated that God has called us to ‘do life together’ because the church is a family.”

The morning of August 15, both Zaya and Dennis felt at peace as they kissed their daughter, Liana, good-bye and headed for the hospital. Joon met them there. With her husband on one side and her pastor on the other, Zaya headed in to be prepped for surgery.

While Zaya was in the operating room, John had one final dialysis treatment. Each surgery lasted around four hours, and they were both brought to the same floor for recovery. But John was moved to intensive care for observation when his body began showing signs of rejecting the kidney.

Zaya came out of anesthesia in a great deal of pain. “I thought, maybe I should have listened to the part where doctors explained what to expect after the surgery,” she says. Then she heard that John’s body might be rejecting her kidney. “I was so disappointed because I always believed that this was from God and would be right,” she says. “I just had to wait.”

After a short time, however, they received word that the kidney was functioning and that John was going to be okay.

Six weeks later John was able to go hiking with friends. And Zaya was headed to India on a ten-day mission trip with her church, traveling to remote villages to evangelize and to train and pray for pastors. “Dennis carried my backpack for me, but otherwise I was able to dance, jump around, and walk long distances,” says Zaya. “My biggest concern was getting enough clean, bottled water.”

For the rest of her life Zaya has to drink about three liters of water a day. She has discovered how healthy that simple practice makes her feel. She says she has never felt better.

And John’s mother, who raised John and his sister alone after the death of his father when he was young, now greets Zaya at church with a hug, often calling her her “daughter.”

John says the whole ordeal has brought him closer to Christ. “Everything went so smoothly, it just couldn’t have happened without God.”

Zaya agrees. “God opened my eyes to see how much he blesses us,” she says. “Jesus gave his life to us, so I think giving our lives back to him can be such a blessing. Giving is definitely more blessed than receiving.”

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  1. An amazing story of hearing God’s voice and responding with obedience. God bless you richly!

  2. The church is made up of people and people fail. But God is good all the time. Hopefully the story turned your frown upside down again. You’re nature is too positive for you to dwell on the negative.

  3. We had a similar situation at our church except the two people did know each other. Ended up a person who did not like needles and couldn’t give blood without fainting was able to donate a kidney to someone else. Both people recovered. The person who received the kidney went on a number of mission trips after that. It truly is amazing what God does when we say yes!

  4. Thank you for your example of sacrificial giving!! I am blessed to have gotten to know Dennis a bit at NPTS, I’m looking forward to meeting you soon. Bless you Zaya!!

  5. Thank you for sharing this powerful, life-giving story! It is life-giving to look at what God is doing. I’m afraid I’ve been more focused recently on Church’s failures than on God’s amazing goodness! Good news is a rich blessing.

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