One of our new Board members, Amar Timalsina (second from left in image above), has personal experience of leprosy and the stigma and discrimination that too often come with it. He shared his testimony with some of us at the international office during our recent Board meetings, and it had a profound impact on many.
‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ Jeremiah 29:11.
"Before I believed in Jesus, I was worried about my life. My mind was full of tensions. But now I do not worry about my future; neither do I worry about my present. I have surrendered myself to the Lord and he has a proper plan for me, plans to prosper me and not to harm me. God has plans not only for me but for every individual who believes in Him.
I was born into a poor family in a remote village of Nepal where there was neither road access nor electricity. When I rummage through my most distant memories, I recall myself herding cattle, carrying fodder for them, cleaning the cowsheds, compromising with food and clothes but still moving on. Poverty was a daily aspect of our lives.
When I turned ten years of age, almost everything about me changed. I came down with an unknown disease. Visible symptoms were seen on my body. I suffered severely. My health worsened day by day. Hospital was a far-off thought for me. So I was taken to witch doctors. Outcome: nothing!
A relative of mine somehow convinced my parents there was nothing to lose if I was taken to a doctor at least once. Accordingly, my parents became ready to seek a physician. We wandered from place to place in Kavre, and finally dropped into Kathmandu. There, we were given the same verdict: undiagnosed ailment!
At last a senior physician at TU Teaching Hospital advised me to visit Anandaban Leprosy Hospital. We followed the advice and went to the hospital, and there, I was diagnosed with leprosy. Life has never been the same since that moment!
I was still too young to understand the full meaning of this diagnosis. But the expressions on the faces of my parents were clear enough to suggest to me that I was doomed for life. I knew for sure that things were very, very serious.
A desert of strangers
My parents left me at the hospital for further treatment, and went home. I stayed there for about three months. When I first returned home after this hospital stay, I found that the sea of relatives that shaped my dreams earlier had turned into a desert of strangers. No one was willing to come near me; no one would extend a hand to hold me. Eyes stared from a distance, and kept me at bay as though I was an outcast in the midst of my own people.
I wept bitterly. Nothing, nothing would console me. For a child, the pain of being deprived of a mother's touch and father's caress is next to death. My siblings became far-off; they were out-of-bounds for me. My life turned into a series of sleepless nights and restless days. I sometimes wished it would soon end, but the series of breath would linger!
Every now and then, I was required to visit Anandaban Hospital to keep a track of my progress. I was repeatedly admitted to the hospital due to ENL reaction (a painful and debilitating leprosy complication), which was unbearable. It felt just like cutting through flesh with a blade. At every visit, I was admitted for investigation, and I passed weeks there, before returning home again. During those intermittent stays at the hospital, I received great motivation, love and encouragement from the staff of Anandaban Hospital, and slowly, life started gaining some greenery again. My lost hopes were back, and I started loving life!
I continued the courses from 1989 to 1995. Those six years became like 60 years for me. During this period, the news of my ailment escaped the walls of my family and reached out into the neighbourhood. I was stigmatised by a wider community.
Everywhere I went to join a group, I was outright rejected. I was isolated even by my closest relatives and friends. Social gatherings and functions were out-of-bounds areas for me. Feasts and parties, which I naturally loved to partake in, were no-entry zones. All I did was languish at home, weep out the whole of my heart, and curse my fate. The hospital was the single ray of hope for me, though a faint one.
Worst of all, I lost my school! When the hospital told me I had progressed fairly well and could attend the school, I tried. But the teachers and my peers were equally scared of me; no one wanted to exchange a word with me, and I became a subject of derision. The question of reading, writing and learning was pushed to the fringe of my life. Poor me! Out of school, after everything else! I deeply pined to die, and prayed each night: "Let this night be my last!" And yet, I was doomed to see one more sunrise every day, and with it, volleys of curses, ill-treatment, foul words and segregation!
A new start
Another big change came to me one day, when Dr Wim at Anandaban Hospital recommended me to St Xavier’s Social Service Centre—an orphanage—for my education. I was obliged to accept the offer and stay there as an 'orphan' though my parents were alive in the countryside, far away and I still had a family.
I completed my higher studies with the support of the orphanage. Thereafter, I joined a school as a primary teacher which helped me to survive in Kathmandu as well as pursue my further studies.
My association with St Xavier’s Social Service Centre instilled in me the urge to make a difference in life. In spite of all the good things there, I had failed to find an answer to the question: why was I treated as an outcast, though the disease was not my invention or invitation? I had no hand in planting leprosy in myself, but I was being made a disgrace. I had innumerable queries and tumults inside myself, and there was nothing around which could suggest for me an answer. What I am today is due to the amazing grace of my Lord. I thank the Lord for transforming and giving me new a life, a life that is full of dignity, peace, harmony and blessings.
I would like to share the facts of my family life: One day, my father informed me that it was time for me to get married. I was told that he had found a suitable girl for me from a distant village. Everything went on well until my wife came to know that I once had leprosy. No sooner had she learnt this grim fact about me, then her behaviour towards me changed and eventually I was compelled to sign divorce papers. That was probably the worst moment in my life. Then, I felt like committing suicide. However, I did not lose hope!
Life was in no way smoother yet. My higher education got halted in the middle, as I was pulled into existential problems, one after another. I was searching for the means to survive at that time. By God's grace, I found a teacher's job again, and resumed my study. In the meantime, I found my soulmate and shared all my stories with her. Hail her greatness; she accepted me for her man, and we finally married! These days we are happily living together with an 18-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter.
The love of Jesus
In 2016, I was invited to join a Leprosy Mission Nepal meeting. I enjoyed the devotional sessions in the meeting. I learned there the love of Jesus for people affected by leprosy. At that time, I wanted to raise up my hand and say yes, I want to believe in Jesus. Immediately after the session I shared my feelings with Pastor Ashok Adhikari (Chair of TLM Nepal). He invited me to his church and led me into a further faith journey. With his help I accepted Christ as Lord and Saviour. He also baptised me and offered me leadership training. He invested greatly into my spiritual mentoring.
At present, I am the principal of a school in Kathmandu, and have been elected the president of IDEA Nepal (an organisation of people affected by leprosy), serving as a Board member of TLM International and Global Fellowship and am on the panel of people affected by leprosy that advises the International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations (ILEP).
Today, those villagers, friends, teachers regard me as a reputed and dignified person in the community, and I am respected and welcomed to everyone’s home. I am proud to pose myself as an example of faith: if you trust the Almighty – the Lord Jesus, and continue to work, your day will come! As an insider, I know what it feels like, when you have leprosy, and the stigma associated with it. I shall, throughout my life, work to restore affected people back to normal life, the life of dignity. I staunchly believe, we too are equal stake-holders in our communities, and we do have the right to live a dignified life as any other citizens.
I caught leprosy and underwent indescribable suffering. Thanks to the Lord, it was His invitation to me for His kingdom. Had I not suffered from the disease, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the love of Christ. Thus, I pray that all our leprosy-affected friends around the globe, like me, may taste the love of Jesus and enjoy a new and regenerated life. I am happy today and want to see happiness in the faces of my brothers and sisters around the globe.
Thank you and may the blessings of Lord be with you all!!!”
Amar Timalsina is a member of The Leprosy Mission International and Global Fellowship Board. He found holistic transformation through the love of Jesus and prays that all leprosy-affected people around the globe will also taste of the love of Christ so that their lives can be transformed. At present, he is the principal of a school in Kathmandu, President of IDEA Nepal (an organisation of people affected by leprosy), and a member of ILEP’s (International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations) advisory panel of people affected by leprosy.