Cover Story from "Volume 1 - Issue 4"
American Leprosy Missions
Most people would be surprised to find out that leprosy is still a very real and terrible disease in the modern world. Countries in Asia, Africa, and South America are some of the hardest hit by the condition, and someone is diagnosed every two minutes in the world each day. Even the United States sees some 150 new cases of leprosy each year. This skin and nerve disease is caused by a bacteriaum called Myscobacterium leprae, and it can be spread by prolonged contact with an infected person. Primarily, this may be spread through coughing or sneezing, but approximately 95% of people across the world have a built in immunity to leprosy.
The leprosy of the Bible actually referred to several different types of skin diseases, and many were incurable outside of Divine intervention. Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is a curable disease today. Treatments began as early as the 1900s, but a true cure did not come until the 1980s. Today, a combination of three separate antibiotics is used to get rid of leprosy in usually six months to a year. The treatments cost around $348 on average and include medication, surgeries, and education through the American Leprosy Missions.
In 1906, Christian missionary Thomas Bailey called together a group of seven prominent ministers, mission executives, and businessmen in New York City to found what is now the oldest and largest Christian leprosy organization in the United States. The American Leprosy Missions, based in Greenville, SC, continues to bring medical care, Christian outreach, and much more to 14 countries. This non-denominational organization also focuses on bringing those affected by leprosy back into their communities and rebuilding their lives.
Just like in Biblical times, people affected by leprosy are often outcasts in their communities. There is fear related to the potential spread of the disease, fear related to the often gruesome appearance of those affected, and fear that their condition may be caused by evil spirits or witchcraft. The Jewish people were given detailed instructions (Leviticus 13 & 14) on how to deal with those affected by leprosy. To avoid the spread of the disease, people with leprosy were put outside of the camp and isolated. The stigma related to leprosy still finds many people in modern day being unnecessarily ostracized.
Leprosy has devastating effects on the body beyond just the appearance on the skin. Discolored spots on the arms, legs, or back are often some of the first signs of the disease. Nerve endings are attacked and cause numbness to many parts of the body and can even cause paralysis of small muscles. Fingers can become curled from the paralysis and many appendages also can become shortened and deformed from cartilage being absorbed into the body. The loss of feeling in the hands and feet can result in injuries that sometimes develop into major infections. These infections can cause tissue loss.
The eyes and nose also have the possibility of being affected. Loss of the blinking reflex can result if the facial nerve is damaged by leprosy. Dryness, ulcers, and blindness ultimately follow. The nose can become internally damaged by the bacteria that can eventually cause the nose to collapse.
There is also a flesh-eating disease related to leprosy called Buruli ulcer. This terrible disease affects mostly children and often causes the victims to have severe deformities and disabilities. Those affected are similarly ostracized by their communities while facing health issues where flesh and sometimes bone is eaten away by Buruli ulcer.
American Leprosy Missions strives to bring dignity back to the people suffering from leprosy and Buruli ulcer, while sharing the love of Jesus. This global non-profit organization brings world-renowned health care workers to some of the most remote parts of the world. While presenting the Gospel in word and deed, American Leprosy Missions cures and cares for many of the estimated four million people affected by leprosy and related diseases worldwide. The organization also works closely with the World Health Organization, The International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations, and other important partners to make life changing impacts.
There are many ways that churches and the general public can help the American Leprosy Missions. The first thing is prayer. Pray for the organization and its staff, pray for the individuals and families affected by leprosy, and pray for the Lord’s work to be done. Donations are always a necessity to continue the good work, and there are many ways that churches can support the ministry through projects, including Vacation Bible School and Sunday School. There is also an Artist Program that allows musicians to raise awareness about leprosy and the mission field related to it.
Jesus Christ spent much time healing those affected by leprosy and even sent out his Disciples to do the same (Matthew 10:8). American Leprosy Missions continues this calling to heal both body and spirit. God has gifted many amazing physicians and scientists with the ability to heal the terrible disease called leprosy through modern medicine. We are all called to join the Body of Christ in healing and caring for the sick. To find out more about American Leprosy Missions and how you can help, visit...
(Photo courtesy of Tom Bradley/American Leprosy Missions.)