The least of these

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Ali has suffered a lot of stigma as a result of leprosy. The damage the disease has caused to his hands means he can not work.

Regional Manager Jarrett Wilson reflects on his recent visit to Nigeria.

Imagine a destitute community with unsafe buildings amidst uncollected rubbish, ravaged by unemployment and disease. The air is heavy, thick with heat. Dust kicks up as motorcycles travel past uneven, pothole-riddled lanes. Behind the haze are similarly dishevelled houses, banked onto decaying slopes. There are piles of litter everywhere, while streams of dirty water snake through junctions and behind walled corners. Wherever water and rubbish meet, stray dogs come panting for relief from the relentless heat as they scavenge restlessly.

That’s Dakoko, a slum neighbourhood in Minna, Nigeria, where people affected by leprosy strive to live alongside those without the disease, themselves marginalised and outcast.

But no-one wants to eat the food they cook, and few make any attempt to bridge the divide and befriend someone with leprosy. Those living here with this disease are outcasts in a community of outcasts, another example of how we see, again and again, that people affected by leprosy are the poorest of the poor.

Zachary, whose 50 years of living with leprosy have left him severely disabled.
Zachary, whose 50 years of living with leprosy have left him severely disabled.

Among them sits a 70-year-old man, sheltered in the dark of his tiny home. His name is Zachary, and he has been afflicted with leprosy since the 1960s. Cured of the disease, but with no sensitivity in his extremities, the ravages of the bacteria are evident in the stumps ending each of his arms and legs. Zachary no longer has any fingers. His feet are gone. His ulcers slowly weep into thick bandages, prepared and regularly applied by Leprosy Mission staff.

Beside him sits one of his only friends, Ali, who is also affected by leprosy. His hands are clawed, making it difficult for him to work, but he has newfound purpose as informal carer for Zachary. Now in his 40s, leprosy snatched his life as a herdsman away. Friends shunned him. His wife deserted him.

The Leprosy Mission came to his aid and cured him of the disease, but they are still working daily to help his sense of despair and prevent his disabled hands and feet from developing further problems.

Sitting before them both, the temptation is to feel numb, to succumb to the same cynicism sometimes encountered when leprosy callously steals one’s opportunities and ambitions. There is no ‘quick fix’ for their problems. But to give into cynicism would betray Jesus, whose face appears so starkly and formidably on the faces of Zachary and Ali. The words of Jesus, recorded in Matthew 25:40, offer a challenging corrective: ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’.

We choose to look into the faces of Zachary and Ali, and to see Christ. In that moment, the heat and dirt, the sweat and grime condense into a fixed point, claimed by and for Christ. When as we clothe and feed and visit and care for these neglected among neglected, we do it for Jesus.

In a tiny, dark corner of Dakoko, the healing ministry of Jesus is being birthed again.

As you pray this week, please remember Zachary and Ali and pray

  • that people affected by leprosy in places like Dakoko are embraced by the communities in which they live
  • that The Leprosy Mission would encounter open doors to bring education and awareness to marginalised communities about the facts of leprosy, raising awareness and combating stigma
  • that all work carried out by staff and volunteers there would demonstrate the love of Jesus

From fear and desperation to hope for the future in Nepal

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Surroundings of Anandaban Hospital. Photo: Tom Bradley

Laura Stopczynski shares her experiences of visiting Leprosy Mission projects in Nepal.

Nepal is a breathtakingly beautiful country. Despite the devastation of the earthquake two years ago, it’s also a very resilient country, with an incredible testimony of survival through great hardship. I don’t think I could have fully prepared myself for what I was about to encounter there.

There is not one word which can describe my trip to Nepal. Meeting people affected by leprosy and seeing the Mission’s work for the first time was quite an overwhelming, burdening and sad experience, yet at each hospital that I visited, I saw an outpouring of God’s love and the hope of Jesus and realised that being part of the Leprosy Mission family means we are all helping to transform the lives of people affected by leprosy, in many different ways.

But I also felt overwhelmed by the amount of desperation and need. I wasn’t sure how to process everything. Over and over again, I kept thinking about what was next for these people? What was their future going to be like? What will happen to them? It’s hard, knowing that ultimately there is no ‘quick fix’ for people whose lives are so affected by disability and poverty.

Despite this, I repeatedly saw the staff interact with each and every patient, showing them kindness, love, support and ultimately hope through their actions. It showed me that whatever role we have, whatever we are doing, if we act with love; genuine and integral love – we can make a lasting difference.

There are many stories which I could share about my trip but one in particular has stuck with me. I would like to tell you about meeting Suman.

I met Suman when I was in Surkhet, a beautiful and peaceful place. The clinic there is relatively small but is a safe haven and beacon of hope for so many in the rural western parts of Nepal.

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Suman at the Surkhet clinic, where he receives ulcer treatment

Despite the huge cast on his foot and his struggle to walk, Suman had so much energy about him. He had the biggest smile on his face and was quick to make me smile too.

It was obvious to see his joy and comfort from being at the clinic, especially when he saw counsellor Gyann Gurrang.  It was wonderful to see their undeniable friendship and the strong bond between them.

Gyann is so invested in his patients and my admiration for him is unbelievable. His role is to listen to patients day in and day out, trying to help them deal with the mental and emotional pain of having leprosy. It takes a lot of inner strength to carry those burdens.

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Gyann, the clinic counsellor

Suman’s leprosy journey began when he first noticed a loss of feeling in his hands and feet and then also discoloured patches on his back. A devout Hindu, he was terrified that he had done something to upset the Gods. He was so afraid that he went to a local healer straight away. When his patches didn’t disappear and his loss of sensation only grew worse, he was in complete desperation.

“Why have the Gods done this to me, what have I done to deserve this?” he remembered thinking.

After confiding in his uncle, who directed him to the clinic to get help, Suman was diagnosed with leprosy at 50 years old. To his amazement, the doctor explained to him that the disease is curable, totally changing Suman’s outlook on what was happening to him. He started to take multidrug therapy and was soon cured.

However, Suman’s story didn’t end there. He has been in and out of the Surkhet clinic for the past 11 years, suffering with recurring ulcers, a common side effect of leprosy. Even though he has disabled hands and feet, he still has to provide for his family. As a manual labourer, he has little time to rest and little chance for his wounds to heal. Sadly, this is the case for a lot of people who are affected by leprosy. The need to earn a living and provide for their families has to take precedence over recuperation.

When I asked Suman about his future and what he hoped to do, he got very excited. His eyes widened and I could tell he was extremely pleased to tell me this part of his story. He explained he has been provided with five goats and that he has sold some and made a profit, but will rear the others and sell their milk.

It was just so wonderful to hear him so proud of what he was achieving despite his struggles.

Suman’s life has been transformed, from being full of fear and desperation, to healing, joy and excitement about what the future holds. This wouldn’t have been possible without your support. We are all playing our part to help Suman and so many others like him.

Abandoned by my husband – Geeta’s story

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24-year-old Geeta and her daughter © Ruth Jones

Former intern Ruth Jones remembers her trip to India to visit some of the many people who will be helped by the CREATE project, a new Leprosy Mission project in India that aims to challenge negative attitudes about leprosy and help people affected by the disease into job training and the workplace.

The opportunity to travel to India and to see the work of The Leprosy Mission and the CREATE project was so eye-opening for me. During our trip we travelled to many different places and met many leprosy-affected people; all were warm and hospitable to us despite the often sad and desperate situations they were facing.

One person I met whose story had a particular impact on me was 24-year-old Geeta.

We had only been in India a few days when we made the long journey to Geeta’s village, travelling along dusty rural roads. When we arrived at the village, Geeta and her young daughter greeted us. She was happy to see us, but also a little apprehensive as she didn’t want our arrival to draw attention to herself – and I was soon to learn why.

We entered Geeta’s home. This home was once a place that had contained joy and excitement for Geeta as she started married life with her husband and as they had their first child together. Now, however, it is a home that feels empty as she raises her daughter alone, without the love and support of her husband.

Geeta’s husband has abandoned her because she has leprosy; her mother-in-law is trying to persuade him to divorce Geeta. She first noticed something was wrong two years ago, when she started to experience tingling in her left hand. Now she’s cured of the disease, but the stigma surrounding it remains and Geeta has been rejected by the people who should love and care for her.

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Geeta’s hand affected by leprosy © Ruth Jones

What struck me is that Geeta is a similar age to me. I am engaged and excited to start married life with my husband and we are looking forward to living in our first home together. I just can’t imagine how terrible it would feel to suddenly be rejected by someone you love because you have leprosy, a disease which is curable but is still surrounded by stigma so powerful that it tears families apart.

But despite this, I have hope for Geeta. My trip showed me how Leprosy Mission staff are working hard to raise awareness in villages like hers about leprosy, showing them that leprosy is not something to fear. Training up ‘Leprosy Champions’ to advocate for an end to stigma and discrimination and for better treatment for people affected by leprosy from employers, schools and authorities will make such a huge difference to people like Geeta.

My prayer for Geeta, her daughter and every other leprosy-affected person I met, is that the CREATE project will be able to help them find acceptance from their families and communities once again, and that the fact they are leprosy-affected won’t hold them back from living happy and fulfilled lives.

You can give a gift to fund the training of a Leprosy Champion to help someone like Geeta live life to the full.