Waddup this week #3: ‘Running the race...village by village, house by house, person by person’

Peter Waddup, CEO. The Leprosy Mission Great Britain

'And let us run the race with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of faith.' Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

When I meet people for the first time and they hear what I do for a living, they are usually surprised. ‘Leprosy? I didn’t know leprosy still existed today’ is the standard reply. Then I remind myself, how would they know that leprosy is still a huge burden? The truth is leprosy is part of a far greater problem. It exists today because of extreme poverty. After all it was improvements to living standards here in the UK that saw the last indigenous case of leprosy diagnosed in 1798.

It is meeting young children with leprosy that I find the hardest. On an emotional level, it is knowing their tiny bodies, made so perfectly by God, will become disabled unless they are cured quickly. Then there is the anger that this is a complete injustice. Leprosy affects the poorest of the poor and shouldn’t even exist today! Yet these innocent children with their lives ahead of them are bearing the brunt. Then there is the realisation that if young children are showing signs of leprosy, then the disease clearly has a firm grip on the whole community. (The bacterium causing leprosy is renowned for being extremely slow in multiplying.) The bottom line is leprosy is not going away on its own.

All these thoughts swirled around my mind on a recent visit to Sri Lanka. It was easy to fall into a false sense of security on arrival in the northeastern district of Batticaloa. The warm sunshine and the exceptional beauty of the palm tree-lined coastline is so inviting! Yet it didn't take long to see the toll of neglect a bloody 25-year civil conflict had left on the people of Sri Lanka and their beautiful country.

It was an honour to spend the day visiting a local village where they had recently diagnosed leprosy in eight households, and in every one of them a child was affected and needed the antibiotic cure. Delightful families like Thibekka and Ajai’s who you can see, now smiling, in the picture. It wasn't such a happy day when the young parents stoically faced the news that they and their beautiful twin girls all had leprosy.

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It soon became apparent that not one of the families we visited had a toilet or access to running water. It was so clear why these lovely children had become susceptible to disease, despite the very best efforts of their parents. Each day a parent would walk long distances to collect water which wasn't always clean. The children would have to stop in the fields on the way to school to relieve themselves. This is not just an indignity but a real public health problem.

I was overwhelmed with happiness when I was shown this joyful photo of Thibekka, Ajai and their twins when back in my Peterborough office! Because of our wonderful supporters in the UK, the family were gifted a well and a toilet. They had a clean water supply! Basic healthcare and sanitation are things that I take for granted each day. Yet they are lifechanging gifts. I gave thanks to God that this entire family had been found and cured before leprosy had further damaged their bodies, and that through the kindness of our supporters they can now live healthy lives. It is a joy to be part of such an amazing mission at times of celebration like this.

My mind immediately turned to the people in some of the surrounding villages who we have not yet reached. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Our partners carry out this life-changing work in Sri Lanka. Village by village, house by house, person by person, they steadfastly do all they are able to do each day. We would love to reach more villages and pray that people will learn how a little money can go such a long way in Sri Lanka.

Will there ever be an end to poverty? Sadly I don’t think so.  But if each of us reaches out to one person in need then we can perhaps be the miracle that is needed.