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

Kate’s Purulia diary: “It’s not even 9am and the place is nearly full.”

In late 2016, Kate Gent visited Purulia Hospital in West Bengal to see how Leprosy Mission staff are dealing with a huge rise in patient numbers there. Here, she shares her story.

I’ve been told it’s a busy outpatients’ department here, with up to 300 people coming in every day.

It’s Monday morning and it seems like all 300 people have all turned up in the past half hour, but even more keep streaming in.

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The queues are long, but still more people stream in.

Mornings in Purulia begin before the sun rises, with people travelling from miles around to come here.  For me the sun is a low hazy glow on the horizon by the time I join the road.

The pinks and oranges filter through and paint the fields as amber.  From the guest house I see the steady flow of travellers increase, many trundling past the gate wrapped up in shawls and blankets. They were nearing the end of their long journeys.

I walk down the dusty track towards the hospital. A bullock cart trundles by; a couple arrive; a mum with a small baby, an elderly man barely able to walk, weary already from the night of travelling.

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Walking to the hospital

Before me, the waiting room is abuzz with people.  It’s not even 9am and the place is nearly full. I struggle to get past. There are queues and queues of people – the queue is snaking out of the door.  I’m amazed at the patience of the staff.

There aren’t enough seats and so many people are sat on the cold stone floor. This is the reality of the outpatients’ department of West Bengal’s specialist leprosy hospital in Purulia.

Later, it’s mid-afternoon and I hear a doctor call out “Quick, quick, come quick!”  There are over 50 people in the queue. “It’s out of control!” she says.

At the back of the pharmacy queue are the mum and baby who I had seen sitting on the floor hours ago. They look exhausted. The little girl wants to go home. Her mum strokes her head and soothes her as best she can.

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No more seats left

I make my way to a consultation room where an examination is taking place. The doctor does his best in the circumstances but it’s a shared space and there are no curtains or a quiet area to talk confidentially.

Wrapped in a shawl, a young woman looks around to see the queue behind her is now a swarm spilling out the door. It makes me feel uncomfortable as they lean on the low partition peering over while her leg is examined.

I then meet Lavanya. She’s travelled such a long way to get here, starting her journey in the dead of night. She travelled 60 miles by bus and on foot all to get to this place of healing.  I try to hide my shock as she comes into the consultation room, avoiding all eye contact.

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Lavanya

She’s beautiful, wearing a bright orange cardigan and a green sari.

She was diagnosed with leprosy recently, and is now coming to Purulia to start her multidrug therapy – the course of drugs that will cure her.

Both grace and pain linger in her eyes and something in me tells me that I need to sit and listen to her story.

Lavanya’s story had such an impact on me and I’ll be sharing the next part of my encounter with her very soon, so keep an eye out for my next post. Did you know that you can give a gift to help secure the future of Purulia Hospital’s outpatients’ department? It’s under immense strain and a new building with modern medical facilities is planned, but the hospital needs your help. Find out more.

Sounds of laughter

Reflections, as from our founder, Wellesley Bailey

As I looked into their eyes, Lord, I heard you call;
felt their sorrow heavy upon my heart;
saw their loneliness as they hoped for healing
and waited patiently for help.
By now, I knew faith’s obligation:
having begun with you,
I could not then refuse your guidance
when it came… and there they were,
an unexpected group, sharing the
sorrows of leprosy and simple joys of faith
on tiptoe waiting for a miracle. . . .

. . . Listen, as you read.
Sounds of laughter carry far
when night has lasted long and cold
and now the sun has risen at last
With healing in his wings.

Read the full version of Sounds of Laughter

© Written by Hugh McKee, former Regional Organiser for The Leprosy Mission