Akim Zhigankov, a young massage therapist, kite surfer, and missionary to the Philippines died on Tuesday, February 17, of apparent poisoning, according to his parents. He was 23 years old.
As news of his death spread, messages of grief, disbelief and support for Akim's family members flooded social media.
Akim's parents, Oleg Zhigankov and Elena Zhigankova, both professors at the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies (AIIAS) in the Philippines, wrote a five-page message calling Akim's death a murder.
Dear Friends, the most dreadful and unthinkable thing happened, our beloved son Akim got murdered. He died on February 17, 2015, at 5:25 at the morning, just before the dawn. He died on my hands, he died after two weeks of dreary struggle with the poison he's been given. We want you to know what happened, and we want the world to know what happened.
The letter descibed Akim, the couple's firstborn, as "the love of our life," "a very special, different child," and "a dreamer." In some ways, he was also a typical child. "At some period of time, while in Canada and Russia, going through adolescence, Akim tried different things (such as smoking, beer, etc.), but those things didn't excite him and didn't stick to him. He just had to try them," the message said.
Akim's mother and father hoped that he would turn his love for theological thinking and his desire to serve people into a life of missionary work. In the end, he gave his life in the mission field, though certainly not in the way Oleg and Elena imagined or hoped.
Akim caught a vision for health work on the Philippine island of Tablas in the Romblon province. In July, 2014, work began on cleaning a site and constructing a road to the location designated for the Tablas Health Harbor (alternately known as Tablas Sanitarium), a health clinic to serve the people of Tablas.
In late 2014, he wrote a letter asking for support of the Health Harbor project. In the letter, Akim anticipated his future with the project:
I decided to volunteer at least 2-3 years helping this project. And although I'm a massage therapist, and not a builder, at this stage I take part in the construction of the first buildings that could accommodate other volunteers. I'll probably continue with this project for much longer.
Akim's death came as a heartbreaking shock to the AIIAS community who hoped for a miracle. "So many people prayed for him. So many people saw dreams and visions that Akim will recover. He didn't," his parents wrote. In a remembrance published in the Adventist Review, Akim's friend Aimee Grace Tapeceria wrote,
No one thought that death would be the result of our intense prayers since the news emerged just days earlier that Akim Zhigankov had fallen seriously ill. Akim . . . had been helping his family build a wellness center to share Jesus with people on Tablas Island in central Philippines when he came down with a fever and infection that baffled doctors.
Disbelief mixed with grief and loss. Akim's sister Sasha wrote on her Facebook page, "My heart is broken after losing my best childhood friend, my brother and my role model for life Akim Zhigankov."
On Saturday, a memorial service was held at the AIIAS auditorium. The AIIAS International Youth Chorale sang, and pastor/professor at AIIAS, Michael Campbell gave a homily in which he called on the gathered community to mourn as people of hope.
"This evening we are gathered to honor the memory of our friend, son, brother, student, teacher, and so many other things, Akim Zhigankov," Campbell began. "At times like these we are at a profound loss of words. No words can adequately describe the feelings that the Zhigankov family are feeling right now. Our hearts are broken. Together we bleed as a community."
Campbell used the letters of Akim's name to form an acrostic, describing the person Akim was:
A - Adventure Akim loved to explore. Whether it was on our Russia trip last summer, we could always count on Akim being a true pathfinder in helping us find our way. In fact, he often knew the way when others did not. I remember when some of our faculty got lost shopping in a grocery store. It was Akim who went back to look for them to help re-united them to the group. And some times Akim liked to do crazy things. One of my favorite pictures of Akim is the one where he is barefoot exploring through the mall.
K - Kindness Akim had a heart of pure gold. He cared for other people. He was someone who was easy to get along with, and he just loved spending time with people. It didn’t matter if he was playing the guitar, singing with friends in the choir, or hopping on the jeepney to meet up with friends, he was someone who cared about others. One incident that I remember especially was when we were in Russia. One of our tour members lost their passport. While the rest of us continued seeing amazing sites in St. Petersburg, Akimw as the one who helped the person retrace their steps. And then later when some kind stranger turned in the passport, helped her find the embassy to get it back. When people were in trouble, Akim loved to lend a helping hand.
I - Intelligence I don’t have to tell you that Akim was very bright. Not only did he have a gift for instruments and a love for people, but he an amazing ability to learn. He had a phenomenal mind. One thing that stands out his love of languages. He had a gift to be able to quickly learn new languages with ease and accuracy. Any of you that speak Tagalog can readily testify of this fact.
M - Mission Last but not least, Akim not only loved Jesus, but desired to share God’s love with others. That was the whole reason why he was on the island of Tablas. I don’t know how many trips he made to that island, and I’ve heard stories of some of the adventures, but his whole reason why He went was to serve others. Akim was a man on a mission. And I believe that if he were here today he would challenge us to pick up the mantle where he left off. We are as a people a prophetic people. Akim loved to study Bible prophecy so he recognized the significance that we are living at the end of time waiting for the soon return of Jesus. And we have the GOSPEL COMMISSION from Jesus, and so we pick up in the footsteps of those like Akim to honor their memory, and most important of all, to bring glory to God.
While Akim's Tablas Health Harbor dream went unrealized in his short lifetime, his family and friends are determined to see the dream fulfilled. Writing to supporters in 2014, Akim said,
Together with some like-minded friends from Russia we've purchased about 3 hectares of land of the tropical sea harbor. It's got white sand seashore, a rainforest, and a mountain. Here we want to create a health center and sanitarium, based on the natural remedies approach and on the faith in God, an organic farm, and a disaster response center. We welcome volunteers and any donations, including tools, humanitarian items, etc. We hope the Tablas medical center, The Health Harbor (Гавань Здоровья) will be instrumental in saving and improving many people's lives.
His parents indicated that in the immediate aftermath of Akim's death, they wanted to leave the place as quickly as possible. But something made them reconsider.
On the following day we woke up with one desire: to pack our things and to go home, to go as far as possible from this terrible murderous place. Than we both prayed silently. And we both came to realize that nothing else would make the enemy so happy as to see us quitting on Akim's project. We came to realize that we can't allow it to be destroyed. We will continue it. We'll do what needs to be done. We'll do everything to make this project to happen.
Family friend Tatiana Romanova created a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the Health Harbor, calling the fundraiser "Akim's Dream." Romanova wrote on the fundraiser page,
Today our hearts are breaking with unspeakable pain. Akim left behind the most loving and humble missionary parents, a sister and a little brother, as well as a slew of faithful friends. Today we would like to attempt to look past the gut-wrenching pain we are feeling. We would like to see Akim's dream fulfilled!"
As of publication, the campaign raised $6,335 of its $20k goal from sixty-three donors.
The circumstances of Akim's death remain somewhat unclear. We were not able to independently verify the cause of his death. Romanova wrote on the GoFundMe page that
A battery of tests carried out by the doctors in a small hospital where he was brought was unable to pinpoint the cause of his illness. After more than a week in the ICU, this bright and handsome godly young man died a terrible and excruciatingly painful death. He suffered a massive internal hemmorage and terrifying damage to most of his internal organs. Again, no particular poison, virus or bacterium was implicated.
In their five-page letter, Akim's parents wrote,
Four days before he died Akim had a vision of Jesus Christ Who came to him and had a long conversation with Akim. Akim never told me the details of this conversation: he was very weak at that time to talk, and also I think that there were some things that he was not supposed to, or at least unwilling to say. He only said that Jesus told him that he will not die of this disease, and that many people will get involved with him and will be blessed because of it.
The message seemed to direct a measure of animus toward the medical facilities where Akim received treatment:
His ultimate dream was to build a sustainable model of the holistic Christian medical center were people would be healed through the natural remedies and the loving care. His idea was to establish a medical center where people would not think of the astronomical medical bills, but to get all their treatment for free, and only to leave a donation of gratitude for the healing received. Two hospitals tortured my son's flesh for two weeks, weakening him and eventually brought him to an agonizing end. And we are yet to pay those astronomical bills that are coming. It's such an evil irony that my son died in the cold embrace of the medical establishment he wished to reform.
We were unable to reach the medical facilities that treated Akim for comment. As details emerge, this story will be updated.
Jared Wright is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6653