By Pete Garratt, The Leprosy Mission International Office.
Here in the UK, the snow seems to have finally gone, the daffodils are out in front of my house, pancakes have been made and consumed – all the sure signs that Lent is in full swing and Easter will soon be upon us.
Nearly two thousand years ago Jesus knew exactly where he was headed, to the cross to die for our sins. At the hands of Pontius Pilate, at the prompting of the Jewish Sanhedrin, he received a death sentence.
I feel that there are some parallels for people affected by leprosy. Receiving a diagnosis of leprosy can feel a lot like receiving a death sentence too. Sadly for some this will lead to complete rejection by their family, their friends and their community; they’ll face the prospect of being forced out of their home, away from their school or place of work. They may face the prospect of a lifetime of struggle with physical and eyesight related disability, a lifetime of inner hurt and depression. For them it can feel like their life is over. It felt this way for Alpana, a young woman receiving long-term treatment for leprosy and leprosy reaction at Green Pastures, a hospital we support in Nepal. When she was diagnosed with leprosy, people started to treat her differently and talked of sending her away. “I felt like I was drowning”, says Alpana, remembering how she suddenly felt avoided, rejected. “I felt like I wanted to die.”
Of course, Easter doesn’t end in death; it ends in Jesus’ victory over the power of death; it ends in the hope of new life. One of the most important things that The Leprosy Mission brings in our relationships with people affected by leprosy is new hope. We show the new life that Jesus has for them, we help to bring cure, we help to bring physical rehabilitation, we bind up wounds, we support people to explore how they can sustain themselves and bring value to their families and communities, we help people to understand what leprosy is and isn’t, we promote inclusion rather than exclusion, we help people find comfort in their identity. Alpana feels much safer now that she’s at Green Pastures. She’s also had the opportunity to learn some knitting skills. She dreams of finding work nearby and earning enough to buy a home and a small piece of land so her younger brother can come and live with her.
A diagnosis of leprosy is a shock but it need not be a death sentence. Yes, it can mean a different life, but actually this can be one full of hope and wholeness, indeed a new life. Alpana came to know Jesus Christ through Green Pastures and has accepted His love for her. She laughed with joy when she was baptised. “I also pray that those like me can find this hospital,” she says, “so they can get the care, support and encouragement that I’m getting.”
This is one of the reasons I enjoy working for The Leprosy Mission; the world can write off people affected by leprosy as a life ended, but we see what Jesus sees, a precious new life worth living. Though Alpana is still concentrating on getting better, thanks to the support of TLM and Green Pastures, she is looking forward, thinking positively about her future and looking to God for guidance.
Pete Garratt is Head of Operations Support at The Leprosy Mission International Office, based in London. He joined the Mission in 2014, bringing more than 16 years of experience in leadership positions with a range of international development and humanitarian organisations, working predominantly across Asia and Africa. Pete is especially motivated about seeing leprosy defeated within his working lifetime.
Photo © Tom Bradley.