Let’s finish what Jesus started

Today’s reflection is from Gareth Shrubsole, Senior Programme Manager at The Leprosy Mission England & Wales.

“Let’s finish what Jesus started”

This has become a big motivation for my work at The Leprosy Mission. After centuries of fighting this cruel and highly stigmatising disease it’s exciting to see that we could soon have the means to defeat it completely. That means a lot to me, that idea of progress, of doing what we can to make life better for other people, especially those who are so often ignored, rejected or even abused simply because they got an illness.

The Leprosy Mission is like a family.

We’re all quite different from each other, and some of us are even a bit strange! – But we have a common purpose and that gives us great love and friendship with all others who share that purpose, wherever in the world we find them.

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Gareth Shrubsole with colleagues from Chanchaga Orthopaedic Workshop, Nigeria.

I do a lot of travelling in this job which is both exciting and tiring, usually to India and Nigeria. What I love is the opportunity this gives to build relationships with our global partners. After a while some of the places can start to look the same, and then it’s the people who stand out, especially when you start to see how your work is making an impact.

When you see someone lying on a hospital bed in abject suffering and then you see them again 6 months or a year later, sometimes still in the same hospital and other times back in their community; but either way looking healthier and sounding more confident, that’s really rewarding. Especially when you see the real miracles like people regaining the use of their hands after reconstructive surgery or whose sight is restored by cataract surgery.

When you meet an old woman who says she used to beg to survive, but now she’s running her own shop and has spoken out on a public stage – both to demand her rights and to encourage others like her not to succumb to the silence, stigma and shame.

When these things happen that’s when we see God’s hand in the work we do.

When Jesus walked the earth he healed people with leprosy, encouraged the broken-hearted and welcomed in the outcast, sometimes all in the course of a single day. For us mortals it’s harder and can take much longer, but that makes it all the more rewarding when you get to see such transformations happening.

We have a lot of fun in our office, there’s a lot of laughter and often cake, but – like any other office – our day to day work involves spreadsheets, reports, budgets, meetings and many hours staring at a screen. These things can easily get you down, and the commute home in heavy traffic after a long day at the office is as tedious in this job as it would be in any other.

The big difference is that it really is all worth it.

Not only do we get to work with and for so many inspiring and wonderful people, but when we do get to sleep at night we can do it with the satisfaction that we’re making a difference. That’s the real X-factor!

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Help people like Avinash celebrate life again.

Today is St Patricks day. A day that celebrates the life of the patron saint of Ireland. To all our Irish friends Lá fhéile Pádraig sona duit (Happy St Patrick’s day in Gaelic).

Patrick was born in Britain circa AD 387 and kidnapped as a slave at the age of 16 he was taken to Ireland. He escaped six years later but around AD 432 he heard God’s call to serve the people of Ireland and share the Good News with them and so returned to Ireland. He purportedly baptised 12,000 people in a single day near a town called Killala – what incredible favour from God!

In Luke 4:17-19 we see a story about Jesus sharing his calling:
‘and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him [Jesus]. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “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.”

This moves me to think about the people The Leprosy Mission meet every day in many countries. People who find themselves on the edges. People who find themselves hearing the ‘bad’ news of having leprosy. People trapped by folk law and the chains of stigma. Prisoners of depression and fear, people who have little hope once they hear those words… ‘You have leprosy!’. Unlike Patrick people affected by leprosy feel there is no escape, but that is where people like you and I come in to the picture.

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Avinash is from a very remote area of Nepal. He was finally diagnosed with leprosy when he was 17 years old at Green Pastures Clinic in Pokhara. He regularly attends Anandaban Hospital where he receives care for his ulcers. 

We have the opportunity of sharing the Good News – ‘Today there is a cure. Today there is hope. Today you can escape the oppression you feel. Today you can be free!’  We may not be able to say this face to face but by being generous with our gifts and by praying we can help people know the favour of God.

Today Irish people all over the word celebrate with parades and parties sharing the joy of their heritage and feeling connected to people like themselves across the globe.

We can help people affected by leprosy celebrate life again.

Together we can help people like Avinash who since being helped by people like you says… “At festival time when people gather I go with my friends and pray out loud.” He is no longer afraid to be seen or heard. He is no longer afraid to shout out loud and show the effects that leprosy has had on his body, because he is free! He can now, like others, celebrate at festivals and be an unashamed member of his culture and society.

Thank you for all that you do for people like Avinash. Thank you for hearing God’s call to proclaim Good News. Thank you.

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Avinash at Anandaban Hospital, Nepal.

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