At the beginning of 2020 Halamehi 'Akau'ola from Joyful News Wesleyan spent two weeks working the Leprosy Mission in Nepal. Today, Mehi shares her life-changing experience with us.
'A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.'
Matthew 8:1-4 reveals one of Jesus' many miracles where he heals a man with leprosy, a disease that many who live in developed countries would not believe still exist in other corners of the world, including myself. This short article is about my experience witnessing Leprosy in Nepal.
In 2019 the biblical concept of ‘loving others’ finally dawned on me. As believers of Jesus Christ, we are commanded to love one another (John 13:34) not only those we know, or those within the walls of the church but also non-believers, people of all races, sizes, shapes and colours. Why? Because we are all children of God.
But the love the Bible talks about is not only a warm feeling one should feel towards each other but rather a deep inward shift, that moves an individual to act out of love, as Christ did for us. I knew I had to put my love for others into action, to step out of my comfort zone and try something new.
One day, I saw a poster at school inviting me to apply for a Youth Advocate Scholarship with the Leprosy Mission for a trip to Nepal. It sounded too good to be true, but I applied faithfully. After a face-to-face interview and fundraising (via the Auckland Half Marathon) for 'cure-one person of leprosy' - I got the email, I was one of eight students accepted for the Nepal 2020 trip!
On the18th January, we took the long commute to Nepal. Our group was hosted at the leprosy hospital, Anandaban Hospital. We had the privilege of attending morning devotions with the hospital staff, and once a week we attended Bible study sessions with the leprosy patients, which personally was my favourite part of the trip. We met many individuals battling the physical effects of leprosy including, skin pigmentation, claw hands, loss of sensory feeling in hands and feet. For some, they experienced a deterioration of bone structure due to infection.
These defects made it difficult for individuals to carry out regular everyday duties such as eating, cleaning, cooking. We heard of stories of spouses and family members who were abandoned because of their leprosy diagnosis, and leprosy-affected people running away from their homes in order to protect their family from the shame leprosy would bring on the collective.
The desperate need to be accepted in society was reflected in the way the prosthetics department tailor-made shoes for patients to ‘appear normal’, in order to be treated equally in society. The disease impacted all aspects of an individual's life. With the stigmatisation around leprosy, individuals experiencing symptoms are less likely to seek help due to the discrimination they may receive for this disease. Thus their treatment plan would be more extensive the longer the disease is left untreated. Sadly even those fully cured of Leprosy still experience the physical deformities leprosy has marked their bodies with.
In all honesty, in the two weeks, I was in Nepal, there was not a lot I had to offer. Rather, the experience of meeting leprosy affected patients changed my life.
Driving around Nepal reminded me of my homeland Tonga, the humility, how resourceful the people are. It sure reminded me that happiness based on anything that can be taken away from you is meaningless. Having God equips you very well for what life has to offer - no matter what you have, God's love securely provides joy.
The circumstances in Nepal are different from those in New Zealand. In New Zealand, we have access to health care, clean drinking water, nutrients and vitamins which nourish our bodies, as well as vaccines which bolster our immune systems to fight against diseases. But for the many others who don’t have access to health care, clean drinking water and healthy food - they are the ones at risk of not only leprosy but other diseases as well.
Each year's Youth Advocates Team fundraises for a project to help Anandaban Hospital. This year, we are providing the hospital with a water pump that will source fresh, clean drinking water for leprosy patients and staff.
A life source we take for granted in New Zealand, Nepal is in demand for. It didn’t sink in how much a clean water source meant to the Leprosy patients until an elderly man with leprosy thanked us for taking on this project with tear-filled eyes. For 2020, the Youth Advocates contribution to help aid and support the transformation of lives in Nepal is to fundraise for the water pump at Anandaban Hospital.
The Leprosy Mission NZ is a Christian organisation which strives to break the chains of leprosy, empowering people to attain healing, dignity and life to its fullness. Using initiatives such as the Youth Advocates programme, The Leprosy Mission NZ seeks to raise awareness, educate, and fundraise to help alleviate the health and social concerns leprosy raises in Nepal. If you wish to be a part of changing the lives of leprosy-affected patients at Anandaban Hospital by helping to donate for the hospital's water pump, please visit the link below with a donation of your choice.
For more information on the Youth Advocates Scholarship, please contact Mehi at: firstname.lastname@example.org