Let all the trees of the forest sing for joy

Today’s reflection is from James Pender, Programmes and Advocacy Officer at The Leprosy Mission England & Wales.

Today is when we remember Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem at the start of Holy week, when the crowd were shouting: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

In Matthew chapter 21:1-11 we read that Jesus came riding on a donkey and that people waved branches from trees to celebrate Jesus’ coming, for which we name the day ‘Palm Sunday’. In Psalm 96, King David, an ancestor of Christ himself, calls the whole earth to rejoice and again in 1 Chronicles 16 after another triumphal procession to Jerusalem carrying the Ark of the Covenant.

Psalm 96 declared that the trees, fields and all Creation should praise the Lord or ‘the trees of the field shall clap their hands’ as the old chorus goes, ‘for the Lord comes’. On Palm Sunday the Lord did indeed come physically into Jerusalem and branches from the trees were giving praise as people waved them and a young donkey that had never been broken-in worshipfully submitted to Jesus its Creator riding on its back.

In Colossians 1 it talks about Christ creating all things and then reconciling all things to himself through his death on the cross, while Romans 8 talks about all Creation (humans and nature) suffering, groaning and yearning to be set free. So, it is fitting that through the donkey, the palm branches and the people waving them, the desire for all Creation’s redemption was represented as Jesus entered Jerusalem to die for ‘the whole cosmos’.

In Mozambique through our Feet First appeal we raised funds that are being used to bring new life to people and the fields they farm. Fields that are suffering through drought, climate change and environmental degradation. ‘Farming God’s Way’ encourages environmentally sustainable farming using organic techniques such as mulching, composting, crop spacing, weeding, thinning, and legumes, alongside Biblical teaching on good stewardship and creation care. As a result, the Kingdom of God that Christ birthed at the First Easter, is being expanded to transform the lives of people affected by leprosy and their communities in the north of Mozambique. For as a result of better care of their fields and ensuring the goodness of the soils are replenished, farmers are having larger harvests and feeding their families. For All Creation it is a time for rejoicing instead of groaning!

 

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Farming Gods Way Mozambique
One of the Feet First Agriculture Groups in Mozambique
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Good news for leprosy communities in Nigeria

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

Luke 4:18-19

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Imad stands among his crops, grown thanks to agricultural training and a new well.

Imad came to live at Ammanawa leprosy community in Sokoto, Nigeria not long after developing symptoms of the disease in 1979. The community has grown up around the local hospital and his neighbours told him it would be the best place for him to go to get help.

Fortunately, completing his course of medication combined with diligent self-care of his hands and feet has meant that Imad, now 67, is free of disability. But even this did not stop people stigmatising him – prejudice against people affected by leprosy in his village was strong, so Imad stayed on at Ammanawa and has been there ever since – marrying, raising a family and farming on land near the hospital.

In this notoriously dry area of northern Nigeria, farming isn’t easy and families like Imad’s have often struggled to grow crops successfully. For an already-marginalised community like Ammanawa, that means greater poverty and uncertainty about having enough food.

This year, however, residents have seen some enormous changes take place, as part of a new project focusing on improving the lives of people living in leprosy communities.

“When I arrived at Ammanawa, I was amazed to see how people’s lives are being transformed,” said Programmes and Advocacy Officer Gareth Shrubsole, who visited Nigeria recently.

“We don’t often hear good news coming out of northern Nigeria and it is challenging place to work in, but in this project I really saw the scripture of Luke 4:18-19 being brought to life.

“The good news is that people are learning to farm their land to grow food and generate an income; those imprisoned by disabilities are getting freedom through provision of wheelchairs, crutches and prosthetic limbs; the blind are recovering their sight through cataract operations.

“What’s more, those who have been oppressed by leprosy stigma are being released as greater awareness is spread about the real causes of leprosy and people affected by it are empowered to speak out against stigma.”

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Imad at his new well.

In addition to learning more about farming, Imad has found his life revolutionised by a new tube well. The result is that, helped by his sons, he’s now growing numerous different crops – an impressive feat on land that is known for being so dry and difficult to farm.

“People like Imad are now benefiting from better hygiene and clean water thanks to new boreholes and latrines too. The Leprosy Mission team working in the area are doing wonderful work and it was a real privilege to be able to see it firsthand,”said Gareth.

“As I talked to Imad, it was wonderful to see the range of crops – fat onions, bright red chillies, sturdy cassava, and many more – that he has been able to nurture in this often barren land. It’s all thanks to the water supply from his new tube-well and his training in farming techniques.”

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Working the land.

It’s all thanks to your support and prayers that people like Imad are acquiring the new skills and resources they need to live life to the full – and it’s a huge encouragement to see the way people living in communities like Ammanawa have seen their lives turned around in the past year.

Feet First one year on: 5,000 lives changed

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Steve Besford (left) with staff from Food for the Hungry, The Leprosy Mission’s partner in the Feet First project.

Steve Besford is our Programmes and Advocacy Officer for Africa. We asked him a few questions about his most recent trip to Mozambique and how you’re helping people there following your overwhelming response to our Feet First campaign last summer, where every gift was doubled by the UK government.

Mozambique has been a special place for you for a long time, hasn’t it?

Yes – every time I have to visit Mozambique I’m just so delighted to be back. I first went to work there in 2002 when I was taking a year’s sabbatical from my job in the aviation industry. I worked in an orphanage, with an organisation called Maforga. It was a life-changing year for me, not least because I met my wife there. She was also working at the orphanage, as a nurse. After some time back in the UK we moved back to Mozambique, this time with our children.

I’ve been based in the UK again since 2010 and was looking for an opportunity to use the expertise I gained working in Mozambique in a UK context. So when I saw my current job at The Leprosy Mission advertised it seemed like the perfect opportunity. I really believe God led me to the organisation.

What was the purpose of your latest visit to Mozambique?

I went to visit the small team of staff and the communities that have been helped by UK supporters in three areas – Macomia, Chiure and Pemba. The trip also involved taking part in training workshops and teaching project support officers more about leprosy signs, symptoms and treatment. These are local people who really initiate change across the communities in which we work.

What’s life like for people living in the places you visited?

There is terrible poverty. For several months of the year – the ‘hungry months’ – people don’t know where their next meal will come from. Sanitation is lacking and drinking water is often filthy, which as you can imagine makes sickness very common. Construction of houses is very basic, which means that heavy rains can cause them to collapse. The culture is very much based around the extended family – everyone looking out for each other. Community is so important.

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Residents of a village in Cabo Delgado province. Photo: Paul Salmon.

How much of a problem is leprosy?

Cabo Delgado province, where much of The Leprosy Mission’s work is, has the highest prevalence of the disease in the whole country. It’s common to see people with clawed hands and missing toes and stigma is sadly still a huge issue. People still hide the symptoms of leprosy because they’re afraid of the prejudice they know they could experience. We’re doing all we can to change this, but it takes a long time to change deeply-held beliefs.

How has the Feet First project been making a difference so far?

Leprosy Mission staff in Mozambique are thrilled that people in the UK are enabling them to work with so many leprosy-affected communities. Leprosy is endemic in 11 out of 16 districts in Cabo Delgado so a lot of help is needed but thanks to gifts to our Feet First appeal, more than 5,000 people have benefited from the project so far in various different ways, including disability care and ulcer treatment.

We have worked with people to set up savings groups, where members pool their savings, creating a fund that they can apply to for credit if they want to set up a small business or buy new farming tools and seeds, for example. Once they have paid back the loan, the money is available for someone else to borrow.

Feet First is also training people in new agricultural techniques to improve crop yields. As more people in the communities we’re helping see their leprosy-affected neighbours benefiting from better harvests, we’re hoping that even more people will get on board, giving greater food security for everyone.

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Members of a savings group in Mozambique learn about money management and how savings can be used as microcredit to improve their lives. Photo: Paul Salmon

And what about leprosy detection? Are many people being newly diagnosed?

Yes. A new mapping initiative has already seen 80 new cases of leprosy diagnosed and treated. People are also being diagnosed due to greater awareness of symptoms. I talked to one couple who, as a result of leprosy awareness training in their village, spotted that their 18-year-old daughter had a lighter patch on her skin – one of the first signs of the disease. They took her to the local health centre where she was diagnosed and given the cure. Cases like this are such a huge step forward. Whereas once they might have been afraid for their daughter and reluctant to be seen to be going to the clinic, they now know that early treatment is the best option.

You took piles of ‘prayer feet’ decorated by UK supporters last summer on your trip. What was people’s reaction to receiving them?

They were touched that so many people so far away were thinking of and praying for them. Many people asked me to say ‘thank you’ on their behalf. I also took a ‘map’ of Mozambique decorated with prayers and messages to the Leprosy Mission office where it’s now hanging on the wall.

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Prayer feet’ decorated with messages by people in the UK last summer.

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