I remember watching Samana’s story play across the big screens in my church and being moved. Not just at the sheer tragedy of her mother’s death because of a curable disease. But also at the hope in Samana and her family’s perseverance in the face of Samana herself developing leprosy. Samana’s story was one of the motivating factors in my decision to apply for a role at The Leprosy Mission Australia. I’ve now been in this role for a year and a photo of Samana and her father Shivaram sits on my desk, reminding me of the vision of The Leprosy Mission: Defeating Leprosy and Transforming Lives.
While I never intended to work in the non profit sector, I am glad I followed God’s calling to The Leprosy Mission Australia. It is interesting to look back at my life, and see previous connections with people affected by leprosy. I grew up in Tanzania, in the village where the Jungle Doctor stories took place; where there was also a community of people affected by leprosy. My parents tell the story of how when we were on a stopover in Singapore they ran into Dr. Grace Warren while I was throwing a tantrum. I can still remember stopping to give money to a man affected by leprosy in Kenya, and his hands still stay in my mind. I wouldn’t have been older than ten at the time, and I can still remember being afraid of catching leprosy.
I now know I wouldn’t have caught leprosy from that interaction, but the memory stays with me. The vision to defeat leprosy and transform lives sticks with me. The stigma people affected by leprosy face is one of the barriers to that vision. The stigma is great enough, that even as a ten-year-old, I was afraid. I’m fortunate I was able to learn leprosy is a curable disease, and I’m thankful God used that as a teachable moment for me.
You may have picked up from this that I grew up overseas. My parents worked for the Church Missionary Society. I’ve ended up on the other side of the fence, as it were, working to help raise money to cure, care and restore people affected by leprosy like Anjali. I am always humbled by the supporters of people affected by leprosy who I speak to frequently. So many of you give selflessly and generously to ensure people don’t have to face stigma, and have access to treatment.
In the past year at The Leprosy Mission I have been so encouraged by people who want to live out Jesus’ example; reaching out with compassion to people affected by leprosy. I’ve learnt there is still one person diagnosed with leprosy every two minutes. I’ve learnt it overwhelmingly affects people affected by poverty. But I’ve also learnt it’s curable. I’ve learnt there are thousands of people in Australia seeking to change the futures of people like Samana.
I’ve also had the great privilege of getting to know people like Amar Timalsina. His story reminds me that, to modify a quote from Meghan Markle ‘People affected by leprosy don’t need to find a voice. They have a voice. They need to feel empowered to use it, and people need to be encouraged to listen.’ People ask me what my role entails. And I think that idea sums it up. As we follow the advice King Lemuel’s mother gave him in Proverbs 31, to speak for justice, we are also transformed. The vision for The Leprosy Mission is defeating leprosy and transforming lives. I think when we follow Jesus’ call to defeat leprosy we ourselves will be transformed. I think this is what has happened to me since I saw Samana’s story, and I am very proud to work for people affected by leprosy, and the wonderful people in Australia who pray and give to ensure leprosy is being defeated.