By: Roger Kruse
I still remember the first time I encountered persons with leprosy in India back in 1976. We had come to the city of Varanasi, where Hindu pilgrims came to wash away their sins in the Ganges River as well as cremate their dead. Scores of lepers were lined up along the shore begging for alms. As I gazed at the many deformed limbs, missing fingers, and in some cases disfigured facial features, I was stunned. For some, there was also an odor of decaying flesh, from wounds and injuries that would not heal. Part of me felt great compassion, but there was also a sense of caution. Would I be infected if I got too close?
Most Americans have little understanding of a disease they only read about in the Bible. We know that lepers were required to separate themselves from society in biblical times. If they got near to uninfected people, they were required to call out in a loud voice, “Unclean, unclean!” Consequently, they typically found solace among fellow lepers, struggling to survive by begging for alms. Jesus shattered the preconceptions of his day by reaching out and touching a leper. The Bible says that he was moved with compassion and healed the man who was yearning to be made well. Such an audacious act would have made Jesus unclean according to Jewish law. But for Jesus, love superseded law. No wonder people longed to be close to him!
During a recent ministry visit to India I spent time at a leprosy hospital. Wellesley Bailey, who spearheaded the work of The Leprosy Mission in India wrote, “I felt that if ever there was a Christ-like work in the world, it was to go among these poor sufferers and bring them the consolation of the Gospel.” We began with a 2-hour worship service in the chapel. Over 100 gathered, including 25 patients. I enjoyed sharing briefly the story of God’s sovereign touches upon Joseph’s life, somehow bringing His good purposes out of Joseph’s sufferings. After a cup of tea in the courtyard area I was briefed on the working of the hospital by the Director. It was shocking to find out that over 100,000 men, women and children are newly afflicted with leprosy annually in India. Next, we began an 80-minute ministry adventure through the wards, greeting many of the 150 in-house patients. Typically, the hospital also treats 500 outpatients daily.
As I made eye contact with each leper, I sought to see through the eyes of Jesus. I wanted to communicate the love of the Savior with a heartfelt smile and greeted each person with respect. That meant putting my hands together with palms touching in front of the chest, with a slight bow of the head. With a translator’s help, I also asked questions, made kind comments, and shared a blessing or a prayer. Perhaps the most important thing was to reach out and touch the person, even holding the very hands affected by the cruel disease. For a person carrying the stigma of leprosy, perhaps nothing is more desired than a loving touch. Most patients responded with eyes bright with hope, smiles warm with appreciation, and hearts eager for love. Of course, we all need love. At times we are not very “loveable”. Nevertheless, God persistently offers us His magnanimous grace. I will not soon forget the privilege and blessing of being Christ’s ambassador among those precious people.
Roger Kruse has made over thirty trips to India in his lifetime. While there, he always discovers a joy rooted in sharing the love of Jesus. Several years ago he visited the very place where Mother Teresa lived, daily blessing the poor, destitute, and dying of Calcutta.