By Lutheran pastor Ruben A. Pederson
I served as a pastor to the congregation at the Mkalama leper colony in Tanzania, where we had services in a small chapel. At a communion service one day I had an remarkable experience. One of the worshipers, seated on the bench near the back, slid from the bench and crawled up to the communion table. I placed the wafer in the palm of his finger-less hand, with the words, “This is the body of Christ for you,” and he smiled. I couldn’t help but notice his positive outlook on life and his joy, seldom seen in that throng of over 300 colony residents.
At the close of the service I asked him, “How do you account for the joy you seem to have?” Then he told me about his life. Because of his leprosy he was driven away from his home by his family. He learned of this leper colony and found his way to it.
He said, “After I arrived here, I had an experience I will never forget. The nurse not only received me and touched me, but proceeded to wash the pus from my open sores. I thought this must be a powerful God who can plant that kind of love in the heart of another person, because there was nothing about me that would encourage such attention. It was a deep concern and love, very unlike the pity or the rejection I had always experienced elsewhere.”
I wanted to know more about that God. I enrolled in the catechism class, learned about the Savior Jesus Christ, and was baptized. My new name in my baptism is ‘Yohana’ (John).”
John looked at me, and with deep, emotional conviction, shared his goals for the rest of his life. “I want to be certain that all of the other half of me serves God, as long as I live.” I looked at him and I knew what he meant by “the other half.” That’s about all that was left of him. Like many leper, he had no fingers and no toes. He had lost one eye. His nasal septum was horribly shrunken. Physically he was a horrible sight. There was, indeed, only about “half” of him left. But he wanted to be sure that all of the other half served God. He said, “I will never be able to be an evangelist back home. I am confined to this isolated and lonely enclosure for the rest of my life. But I ask God to let me serve him with all that is left of me.”
Luke 17:11-19 — On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then said Jesus, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
Luke 7:22 — Then Jesus answering said unto them, “Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached.”
Mark 1:40-41 — A leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!”
Jesus embraces, then heals a leper. From the 2016 movie Risen
Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed;
save me, and I shall be saved. You are the one I praise. (Jeremiah 17:14)
I am not worthy, O Lord, but only say the word and I shall be healed. (based on Matthew 8:8)