Yesterday you met my friend Lakshmi and heard a bit of her story. Today I’ll bring you up to speed on what she’s doing to bring God’s loving touch to those the world calls “untouchables”.
Have you ever thought of what life is like for a leper?
To be honest, my first response to the word was shock, fear and an internal cringing. “Do I want to hear about this?”, I thought to myself. I knew that Jesus healed them in the Bible, but I didn’t realize that leprosy was a thing of today, a thing I needed to think about, a thing God was thinking about.
The truth is, God is thinking about the lepers, people He created in His own image. He is compassionately upholding their cause.
“I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.” Psalm 140:12
Indian culture operates within a caste system, a social order that separates people depending on their social class. The lowest group is called the “untouchables” and are treated as less than human. Being a leper, however, means that you are even lower than an untouchable– no matter what class you were born into. To be a leper is to be the lowest of the low, the poorest of the poor. Not even worthy to be seen.
According to the World Health Organization, in 2010 there were over 200,000 cases of leprosy worldwide. In India alone, there are approximately 1,000 leper colonies, communities where lepers live isolated from the general public. Leprosy is a treatable disease, however, these people have remained without the care they need to be cured.
After contracting leprosy, an irremediable stigma follows and a destiny of poverty awaits these people. A disease that is treatable confines these people to isolation and robs them of hope and dignity. Daily life for them exists within the borders of a leper colony, unseen by the general population.
Because of the contagious nature of the disease, the only opportunity these families have for income is begging and even then, people avoid them at all costs. Not only are those who suffer from leprosy isolated, so are their children, many of whom show no signs of the disease, yet. As a result, they have no opportunity for schooling, no chance for a better future.
Why am I talking about such a difficult subject, especially at such a happy, holly-jolly time of the year? Because these lepers are seen and loved by God. The same God who SENT HIS SON as a baby to bring peace, healing and restoration to us, sent His Son for them as well. For God so loved the WORLD.
We have all heard the Christmas story countless times, the story of humble love coming from heaven, the love that brings transformation, healing and deliverance. It is the story we love to celebrate this time of year.
But have they heard this story? What does Christmas mean to those in a leper colony? Have they heard of the baby Boy who brought heaven’s power to heal into earth’s reality of brokenness?
Jesus said of Himself in Luke 4:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
This is the work, the message, the gift my friend Padma offers the members of a leper colony in rural Calcutta. She literally preaches good news to the poor. This is the Christmas story lived out.
Lakshmi’s work is spiritual and practical, as was the ministry of Jesus. She has started a school in the leper colony and by educating their children, she gives them the gift of hope for their future that otherwise they would never know. She is also training teams of leaders to staff this growing school, and developing young women who can follow in her footsteps to care for the poor and to preach the Gospel of forgiveness, reconciliation and new life.
Not only does she help meet their daily needs, but every Christmas she sets up a beautiful party for them. She hosts a “banquet” and invites the poor, the lame, the blind! This annual Christmas celebration includes a time of song, dance, scripture reading by the school children, and Bible teaching, as well the distribution of food, blankets, clothing, life essentials (cups, plates, toiletries) and medical care for their disease.
Since my path intersected with Lakshmi and her family eight years ago, I have been consistently inspired and challenged by her work with the least of these. After one particularly touching email from her detailing a day in her life, I was moved to host a fundraiser at my church to help her be more equipped to lavish the leper colony with Christmas love.
For the past 5 years, my family’s favorite Christmas gift is the donation we have been able send to Lakshmi so that she can continue to pour out the Father’s love on those who are “untouchable”- on those who are deemed unclean, unworthy, unwanted, unseen.
God sees them and is using His people to give them love that restores them to their rightful place of being cherished and valued humans, made in His image.
As Christmas quickly approaches and you feel your stress level rising, hoping your turkey dinner doesn’t burn, that Uncle Joe likes the sweater you bought him, that you didn’t forget something on your list, pause and remember the lepers.
Say a prayer of thanks for Lakshmi, for these people to whom she ministers. Thank God for His provision and compassion. Ask Him to move you deeper into His heart, to see the people He sees, the ones who feel neglected, isolated, and rejected in your own neighborhood or city.
It is my prayer that we would see the “lepers” within our reach and be intentional to offer them the love we have received. Would we consider following Padma’s lead and inviting them to our own Christmas party….?! (Luke 14:13-23)
“The glory of His righteousness and wonders of His love. Let every heart prepare Him room.”
If you feel compelled to give to Lakshmi, this Christmas or any time of the year, feel free to contact me and I will pass her information onto you. francie.h.winslow at gmail.com.