A man of 28 arrived, limping awkwardly into our clinic. Several stockings covered each foot and his hands were quite deformed. His kind, gentle spirit was obvious as he began describing his story. His illness had begun four years prior, in his little rural village, hours from the city. He began with a strange feeling in his hands and feet and soon lost the ability to sense touch. He lost his feel of the ground under his feet and his feet felt like the ends of wooden posts. He didn’t mind too much at first because when he got wounds and saw blood, he felt no pain. But, not long after, he noticed that his hands and feet were becoming deformed. Never feeling sick, he didn’t think of seeking medical attention (medical attention here is most often a last resort because it’s a long way to help and can be costly).
After some time, a friend told him that he thought he had a specific disease, that could be treated with medicine, and that he should seek medical help in the city. He went to a health post and was treated rudely, immediately shunned and told to never come back as his illness would harm the children he touched. He went to another post and again received no help along with the same disinterest. He returned home and continued to incrementally lose his hands and feet. At one point he tried a hospital in the city several times over a period of a few months and they told him they were out of the medicine that could treat his illness, coldly offering no other options.
He arrived at our clinic last week with huge, painless ulcers on the soles of his feet. One foot has no remaining toes and the other is pretty much intact. His hands are quite deformed. An odor of dead tissue surrounded him and no one sat near him. I listened to his story and shared about Jesus’ love for him as I explained that we would clean and daily dress his wounds. I prayed for him, emphasizing to him that God has a purpose for his life, still. We got him some crutches because he must not bear weight until his feet are well healed. We arranged for the medication for his leprosy so that the disease itself will stop progressing. We educated him on foot care and the disease that has caused his deformities.
He returns every day for dressing changes and warm water soaks. He smiles. He has a long road ahead but will face it now with knowledge of his disease and knowledge of a God who created him with purpose, who loves him dearly and invites him to eternal life without deformity, hate and indifference. He also has a clinic to come to where he will be treated with care.
An hour later I saw another young man who was treated for his leprosy a year ago and has been having a painful reaction common with leprosy treatment. Many of his large nerve branches were so inflamed that he couldn’t touch many parts of his body. We had begun treatment a week prior and he had experienced profound relief. Like the other man, his body is scarred, but far more scarred is his heart from the abusive hate and indifference he has experienced from other human beings because of his illness. What is it about this illness that has prompted similar reactions from people for over 2000 years?
We can have hateful or indifferent attitudes toward people (especially health care professionals) even as we serve them. Jesus didn’t just heal people, He loved them, and in the context of loving them He healed them. These lepers highlight the difference. In our work and in our relationships, are we serving people because we can earn a good living or because WE feel better? Or are we loving them because they have value, value sufficient for their Maker to create them, to care for them (though you!) and then to redeem them at such cost? These men have experienced such hate from some, indifference from others, and little true care for their struggles. HIV people still receive similar treatment today. We blame people for their illnesses. They smoked, ate too much, chose aberrant sexual practices, etc. Yes, they made poor choices. So, did many people highlighted in the Bible chosen by God to be healed or to be used by Him to reveal Himself to men. And so have I! We must love, serve, and share the truth indiscriminately, because this is how our Father loves. It is our service that helps in the moment, but our love, hate or indifference which has a long-lasting impact. These men were wounded by the attitudes of their fellow men, far more so than by their leprosy!
As I was completing my morning walk, and having an especially difficult morning (I ended up being ill all day), I heard calling behind me, “Doctor!” “Doctor!”. As I turned around, I saw a man running toward me, having left his motor bike running along the road. He looked OK but I wondered about his likely medical emergency. As he drew closer, I recognized him but couldn’t place him. Out of breath, he excitedly and profusely began praising God for being so good to Him and telling me that his son was back in school and living a normal life. I finally remembered him as the father of a boy with a huge internal abscess who we had treated several weeks ago. It is so remarkable that this boy survived (I would have given him perhaps 10% chance). We drained over a liter of pus from this gravely ill little boy’s back, around his kidney, without anesthesia, and had cut a long strip from a latex glove to stuff the wound and use as a drain. The father was holding down the boy and almost passed out during the procedure which involved me putting my hand deeply into the screaming boy’s little back to break up thin walls that form within abscesses, in order to completely drain the wound. We don’t do surgery at this hospital…
This was a man who had been profoundly impacted. There on the street, he went on and on about how his faith in God had grown and how he now believed that God was real and that He truly loved him and his son. He so unashamedly and excitedly expressed his gratitude to God and to me for his son’s life. I was so blessed by his testimony and his heart of gratitude. How similar to the story of the ten lepers and how blessed God must be when we acknowledge His hand in our life and the countless gifts that He sends our way every day. This man refreshed the desire in me to be the one leper that returns and thanks and praises the life-giver. A grateful heart is so beautiful to behold! There is likely nothing better we can do for our Father today than to “see” all He gives us, recognize that He is the giver of all good things, and express to Him our gratitude and worship.
I wonder about the percentage of lepers that returned to give Jesus thanks. Does this represent the human race? Does this represent the number of people who will acknowledge God as God, worship, honor and thank Him? Does this represent the narrow road, the many called and few chosen (those who trust)?
In ministry, we must remember that always the “few” will respond, the few will be grateful, the few will acknowledge our Father for who He is. Most won’t be grateful, most won’t trust, most won’t love, most won’t follow. Yet He came, He loved, He died, and He pursues… them all… He healed ten, and one responded…
This man renewed my desire to work hard for them all, the grateful and the grouchy, the ignorant and the knowledgeable, the respectful and the disrespectful, the lazy and the motivated… because this is my Father’s way.