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

Savings group looks forward to a more secure future

Saving for the future: the farmers’ group in Chai village, Mozambique. Photo: Paul Salmon

Every two weeks on a Sunday morning, a large group of people from the Chai village farmers’ group – including many who are leprosy-affected – gather under the shade of a large tree to shelter from the sun.

Each member puts 10 Mozambican Meticais (about 10 pence) into an old flag laid out on the ground, before the coins were gathered up and placed in a secure box. This money goes into their community chest, from which anyone can borrow in an emergency.

Next, each household deposits whatever else they can afford into a separate individual savings pot. Security is high, with this secure box placed into another box and then into a third even sturdier box. All three boxes are locked individually with keys held by three different people.

Every two weeks, the farmers’ group get together to do this so they can save up for a very different future for their families.

Farming is the main way of earning a living in this very rural part of northern Mozambique. The majority of the group are mothers like Olencia, who wear their youngest children on their backs while working the land, growing maize, cassava, beans, peanuts and potatoes in small community plots.

Olencia, a member of the savings group, who has been putting money away to save in case of a medical emergency.

Olencia told us that the 500 MT she deposited in the savings box that day was for medical emergencies. The mother of four, whose two older girls are married, has a one-year-old and a five-year-old and wants to do the best she can to ensure a better future for them.

Driven by love, the stories of each of the savings group members were similar. Parents who had never had the opportunity to learn were saving up to give their children a better chance in life through education; others were putting money aside simply to ensure that they could pay for treatment should their children become ill.

With no public transport and the nearest bank many miles away, putting money aside for emergencies wasn’t something the farmers living in Mozambique’s remote villages could do in the past. The knock-on effects of unexpected costs – such as a relative’s funeral – could be longlasting and utterly devastating.

Judy Atoni, Programs Manager with Food for the Hungry Association – The Leprosy Mission’s partner organisation in Mozambique, said “When there was, say, a relative’s funeral, they had to sell their grains to get cash. It left them with little food for the rest of the year and resulted in malnutrition.”

Adelino counts the money before it is locked away for safekeeping. Photo: Paul Salmon

As a result of the Feet First campaign in summer 2015, more than 60 savings groups have now been set up across Cabo Delgado province by The Leprosy Mission in partnership with Food for the Hungry. These life-changing groups have only been made possible by your overwhelming response to Feet First, where every donation was matched pound for pound by the UK Government.

“As word gets around we are finding that more and more people are getting interested in joining the groups,” said Judy.

Adelino, who is leader of the Chai group, told us: “If there is an emergency – for example, someone is sick and needs to go to hospital – they can borrow money from the community savings pot.

“People can also borrow from the individual savings pot for any needs or purchases. If it is less than the amount they have saved then there is no interest to pay.”

Adelino is a father of four boys and said that the money he put into savings that day was to help pay for his two older sons’ education.

“There is no secondary school in this village. The nearest one is 45 kilometres away,” he said. “I want my sons to get good jobs so they can help improve the lives of people in the village.”

Your amazing generosity means families like Olencia’s and Adelino’s can now rest easier, knowing they have financial security, and that they can plan for the future.


Getting a village back on its feet

Antonio, with wife Gabrielle, can work again and is now in charge of his local self-care group. Photo: Paul Salmon

Last summer, during the Feet First campaign, we introduced you to Antonio Habibu from Cabo Delgado province, northern Mozambique. After contracting leprosy when he was just a child, he lost all feeling in his hands and feet. This meant it became very easy for him to injure himself, particularly while working in the fields or cooking over an open fire. The ulcers he developed became infected and eventually, Antonio lost his toes. When we met him last year, he was only able to walk short distances, using crutches. He was no longer able to work and struggled to see his wife, Gabrielle, work so hard on her own.

So when Antonio received his first pair of protective sandals last autumn, he was delighted. Thanks to his new footwear, he found he was able to work again and his mobility was improved. He still needs to walk with a stick but crucially, the sandals protect his feet from further injury. He and others were provided with footwear thanks to your generosity in responding to Feet First, where every donation was matched by the UK Government and the impact of these gifts on the lives of people in Mozambique has been immeasurable.

“The sandals helped a lot and have made working in the fields much easier,” said Antonio, who is a village elder and also in charge of monitoring his local self-care group, where members meet regularly to help each other keep leprosy-affected hands and feet safe and injury-free.

Recently, we became aware that a year’s wear and tear on Antonio’s sandals had left him in need of a fresh pair. So on a visit to Nancaramo, The Leprosy Mission Mozambique’s Country Leader, Dr Arie de Kruijff, brought with him more pairs of sandals and shoes for people to try on.

Antonio tries on shoes. Photo: Paul Salmon

“Gripping the sandals because of the way my feet are can be difficult, so these shoes are much more comfortable,” Antonio said as he tried on a pair.

As two women came forward to choose shoes of their own, he said: “Some people can work without shoes. But these two would not be able to work on the farm without them.”

One of the women, 61-year-old Mariana, was so delighted with her new shoes that she danced an impromptu jig for the group.

Mariana was also delighted with a new pair of shoes. Photo: Paul Salmon

Your support for Feet First has meant we’ve been able to identify many more people who need care and provide them with shoes and self-care training. By safeguarding them from further injury and disability, you’re helping them get back on their feet – literally and metaphorically.

During his visit, Dr Arie spotted a boy called Manuel, who appeared to have white patches on his face. He immediately examined Manuel to check whether the white patches were the first signs of leprosy.

He called to Antonio, who said: “Yes, we too spotted the white patches on the child’s face, and two members of the footcare group are looking into it.”

“That is what it’s all about, making people aware that they should react as soon as they detect any signs of the disease,” said Dr Arie. “It’s very heartening to see that the self-care group is doing exactly what we hoped it would do. It’s great that they are learning and it’s really encouraging to see the community being vigilant.”

While the difference made by a new pair of shoes is obvious and immediate, the long-term impact of the training and support offered through the self-care groups is equally important and means that more people like Manuel will be diagnosed and cured of leprosy as soon as possible.

Dr Arie de Kruijff examines Manuel, a boy with skin patches that could indicate leprosy. Photo: Paul Salmon.